Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lovelier the Second Time Around

All Entries Taken from my Travel Notebook

The Premise

Practically everyone knows why I want to go back to Sagada:

a. It's hard not to fall in love with the place and the people
b. It's adventure enough to initiate my newly-graduate sister
c. I need someplace quiet to gather my wits about me.

The Preparations:

We packed:
1. Semi-warm clothes good for 4 days
2. Slippers and rubber shoes for hiking
3. Toiletries and Medicines
4. A borrowed digicam
5. Money (due to absence of banks in Sagada)

The Puttering About:

You could tell Ella and Ryan were excited the way they kept packing and repacking their bags. Ella's OC vibe is kicking in and she wants everything to b perfect inside her backpack. Tsk, tsk. If she only knew how her neat little world will be turned upside down by the next 4 days. She will know dirt, dust and discomfort as her traveling companions, haha! Ryan keeps on asking me if he should bring more clothes. I told him we weren't going to a fashion show so he better pack just the essentials. Truth be told, they make me nervous and I'm not sure if they'll survive our trip at all.

Getting There

Since this was a budget trip, we took a bus (Victory Liner) to Baguio. I decided not to shock Ella and Ryan with a straight Baguio-Sagada trip. We left Manila around 5 am so that we could spend the night in the City of Pines.

Manila to Baguio tickets costs Php 380 each and Victory Liner is pretty reliable when it comes to punctuality. When we got to Baguio, we immediately reserved our tickets back to Manila. In the end, it proved to be good thinking because of the Sunday rush we met going back.

Staying in the Summer Capital

I wanted to stay in Hotel Veniz -- that upscale place in the heart of Baguio City. But -- it costs 3,000 for three pax. So I ended up booking us in Hotel Supreme which costs half of that. I was too late in booking the budget place in Beredo's and I didn't want to stay in transient houses. We made do with the old building that Supreme was. And to tell you the truth, it wasn't that supreme at all. Both Ella and Ryan were looking for airconditioning and I had to explain that most hotels in here do not need aircon. Buti na lang, they saw the cabled teevee and that sent them to their happy places alright. ;p

Day One has officially started!

Where Has Baguio Gone?

Our family last went to Baguio in 2001. Even then, we saw the changes which were changing the landscape of the once-pristine city. When I saw it again, I was a little bummed. It definitely looked like a dense, overpopulated and congested city now. Everything that's mystical in it almost completely erased. Sayang.
BUT ---it did amuse me to no end to visit SM Baguio. We've heard so much about it when it was new. I suppose, it is pretty. But it looked like a small, glorified Mall of Asia lang actually. And hello! It is true that if you've seen one mall, you've seen all others. Still, we took pictures inside, for posterity's sake. We had lunch here and ate at Carlo's Pizza (yes, a branch of the one found in Tagytay). Quite expensive for such small servings. Anyhow, we were discovering new things and we all refuse to eat in places we'll find in Manila. We need everything to be distinctly Baguio. (A feat nowadays, truth be told).

Ella and I doing the touristy thing. Picture picture!

Ryan spent php 20 (Php 5 per 3 minutes) on the telescope found at the promenade (3rd floor) just to see rooftops and whatchamacallits. Ok lang, knock yourself out, we said.

Baguio in Half a Day

We were just basically commuting everywhere so we had to forego the usual tour to Mines View Park, Mansion House and Pink Sisters. What we did do though is to stick to Session Road and its roundabouts. After freshening up in the hotel, we rode a taxi to the Central Terminal to check on the schedule of buses leaving for Sagada. Afterwards, we traipsed to Baguio Cathedral to pay our respects to the church. Then after that, we took pictures, of course.

Outside Baguio Cathedral

After Baguio Cathedral, we took a right turn and decided to hide from the sun at a nearby cafe. I wasn't familiar with it, but our discovery-theme was right on cue. We had our meryenda at Cafe Zola, right bside the Hotshots Burger Resto in Session Road.

Ella ordered a mocha frappe as usual. A shot of the interior of the place. Obviously catering to the students and the yuppies. The prices were unbelievably cheap. The whole place was swarming with pretty mestizas and teenaged Sam Milby wannabes. Ella's eyes watered with the number of cuties around. ;p

We had a funnel cake for Php 45 and a delicious peach crepe for Php 55. And they were both very good. The shakes we ordered weren't extraordinary though. Ok lang. Still, for a discovery, it's a 90 percent. ;p
What trip to Baguio would be complete without hitting Burnham Park? Again, we just walked to the place. Easier and faster due to the unbelievable traffic in Session Road. Hay. Parang Manila na rin. Anyhow, just took a couple of quick shots and left na rin. Gabi na kasi and Ella and Ryan were already complaining they were tired from the trip. I told them the trip we took is nothing compared to what they have to go through in Sagada. I think I actually saw real fear in their eyes. hehehe...

Hay, tulog na....

Conquering Sagada Day 1

From Baguio, we took a non-aircon bus (Lizardo Transit) at the Dangwa Station near the Public Market. A ticket costs Php 220 per person. You get a discount if you're a student or a senior citizen (Php 182). Their trips start at 6 a.m. and every hour afterwards (until 11 am, I think). The best time to take would be the 6 to 9 am trips, because travel time is 7-8 hours and you wouldn't want to reach Sagada in the evening.

Spectacular view dots Halsema Highway. It doesn't reall matter which side of the bus you sit on. Just make sure you are not near the wheels unless you want your face powdered with Highway Dust along the way.

Thankfully, there were stopovers during the trip. Absolutely necessary for taking a pee.

After 7 hours of traveling, we arrived in Sagada by 1:00 p.m. Our first stop was Masferre Inn beside the Municipal Hall. Ella was pooped and looked like that. We ordered dinner plates which costs Php 160 each but was large enough to feed 2 pax per plate. Good food.

The view of the Mission Compound from Masferre's Inn.

After lunch, we roamed around town to window-shop. This pic I took in front of St. theodore's Hospital.Note the halu-halo stand by the road side. To sagadians, the cool weather we found there was hot enough for halu-halo.

Resting by the curb side on the way to rock inn. Happy to be in Sagada, curves and all. hehehe...

How often do we walk slowly here in Manila? Almost never. We took our precious time to walk to our hotel, a good 2 km away from town. Sounds daunting? Ha! You wouldn't even notice it in Sagada. Walking is a pleasure there.

But we did get tired. So when we espied the marker on the way to the inn, it caused a minor celebration.

Walking the path (rocky, of course). Almost there!

Home Away from Home

You can say it's just me who feels this way, but I really do look at Rock Farm Inn as my home away from home in Sagada. I refer to it familiarly when I talk to friends and I encourage them to take a vacation there. Yes, I've been there just twice now, but I became so comfortable there that it felt like I can move as if I'm in my own place.

Ryan buddying up to the bul-ol outside the lobby.

The welcoming dap-ay where the inn caretakers lit up a campfire for us.

Our room the first night we stayed in Sagada. It's bunk bed style and costs Php 300/head. The next night we transferred to a first class room and it costs Php 1,800 and fits 4. Yes, it is a bit expensive for Sagada standards, but you are assured of a clean room, with clean beddings, clean bathrooms, beautiful service and exquisite surroundings.

Our view from the window. SO far from the hustle and bustle of the town center where tomorrow will be market day.

Eating is a leisure in this place.

Be sure to order their tuna, mushroom omelette with wheat bread for breakfast. Also try their Spicy Chicken and Chicken Curry.

You can also opt to dine outside and be close to nature.

The dap-ay which served as our main hang out for our stay.

We also went to the sprawling orchards and took this pic atop the rocks. That's Rock Farm in the background.

Honestly, even if this is the only place you'll visit in Sagada, it will still make the 13-hour trip worthwhile. It wasn't splendidly cold up there during the summer, so Ella was a bit disappointed. But the people were nice to the point of a fault and the food was delicious so it made up for everything else.

Me and Bangyay, son of the owner of Rock Farm who also deals such an expert hand managing things at the place. And he's younger than I am, imagine that.

Yeah... Rock Farm truly rocks. ;p

Contact Rock Inn and Cafe: rockfarm_sagada@yahoo.com / Bang: 0920-9095899

Sagada for Non-Athletes

Business first. I went to visit Sagada National High School again to monitor the Smart Schools Program we installed there. I was met by the teacher-in-charge, Mr. Daluyen, and everything was going smoothly. I can see that the school really value the laboratory and they are taking very good care of it. This is a quick pic inside the school compound.
Next stop was Sumaguing Cave. Oh hoho no! Not to go spelunking. I'm not yet ready for that. I just showed to Ryan and Ella our future conquest that is the Big Cave. I plan to go back to Sagada, and this is the last barrier I must break. ;p

The way down to the Cave.

Gaongen (Bangys' brother) was our tour guide/driver/joker/photographer seen here with my sister. Nope, hehe, not matchmaking at all... well.. maybe just a little.
i call this part of the Sumaguing entrance as the Enchanted Stairs. I took a pic of it the first time. Now I made sure I'm in it.
Next stop, we went to the burial caves. To get there, we had to go down down down to a cave and heck! I almost atrophied my leg muscles on the way down and up. But the view was fantastic!

This was the easy part of the hike. You'd have to pass by narrower ledges without handrails and uneven rocks to get to the destination. My partial fear of heights kicked in (given that I was also getting tired fast and couldn't trust my body nor my balance anymore) and made it difficult for me to complete the trek...

But we got there!

There must be hundreds of coffins here. Gao told us that this tradition started when the Sagadians found the need to hide the body of their deceased because nearby tribes (bontoc and Ifugao) were keen on dismantling graves and taking skulls for decorations and souvenirs. He also pointed out that the greenish-reddish moss growing there actually grew from blood that seeped out of the bodies. Macabre, I tell you.

After the coffins, we went to the Mission Compound. This is the field in front of St. Mary's, the school where both Gao and Bang graduated from. Gao had a lot of funny stories about how the students (especially those who were detained for unruly behaviour) were the ones to cement the walkway and clean the compound up to the coffins. Gao, being one of the more infamous ones in their school, had first hand experiences on this. I think he even managed to etchhis name in cement somewhere there. :P
We also visited the Episcopalian Church of Mary. I thought it was funny how Ella wasn't sure if she should make the sign of the cross or if we could enter inside, since we were Catholics. Had to explain to her that we were all Christians anyway. I was awed by the way light streams in from the windows. I also love the glass work behind the Black Christ. Solemn and beautiful.
Front view of the Church.

Then we headed off to Campo Santo, the Sagadian cemetery. It must be one heck of a sight to see it on All Soul's Day, when the natives will light up fires 9as in camp fires) instead of candles. Gao and bang's family plot has about 7 or so graves that they'd have to cut down one tree to light up their fire. Gawin ko kaya dito sa Manila yun, sa graves ni Mummy and Daddy? Hindi kaya ako sipain palabas ng Ever Memorial?

Inside the Mission Compound, we hiked down to Echo Valley as well. Eto monumental. The hike was easy, and that's saying something when a lampa and non-athlete like me says so. But, Ella and I got a load out of shouting to Mummy and Daddy. es, it was easy to let out the pain out there. We cried and Gao ended up asking why we were making senti. When we told him, we found out that he also lost his dad three years ago due to heart attack as well.

Before we went, we had a photo opportunity with this old wheel, one of the first found in the American kalesas when they came to Sagada. We had to forego a pic at the old bell though. because we were hungry.

Asked Gao to stop a while for me to take this pic. And since I asked this while driving on a narrow road, it was a little bit disconcerting, hehehe, for him.

When Gao mentioned that we were yet to see Kiltepan Tower, we forgot our hunger. Let's go, we said. And man, the view was breathtaking. It felt like, truly, being on top of the world. ;0

You could see the Sagada Rice Terraces, the other towns, the clouds... Whew.

We had lunch in Rock Farm, but later in the afternoon, we went out again to see the sunset at Lake Danum. On the way there, we took out Yoghurt from the Yoghurt House. Institusyon!

Sunset at Lake Danum.
Di ba? Niiiice....

The day is done and both kiddies are exhausted.
But a little more optimistic about the world. We neevr wanted to leave. ;p
When are you going there?