Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Sagada Way

Sagada is one of the best destinations in the Philippines with so much activities and picturesque landscapes to offer.

Hiking, spelunking, culture, rice terraces, gastronomy, arts - they have it.
Famous for its magnificent caves, rice terraces and rustic lifestyle, Sagada regularly attracts thousands of tourists specially on weekends. Even made more famous by the movie “Tadhana”, more and more people come to Sagada to find their own “tadhana” (fate).

Viewing sea of clouds in Marlboro Country.

But before going there, make proper preparations. Sagada is a highland with climate different from the usual tropical setting.

Here are several things to consider when visiting Sagada
The sacred lake Banao / Danum.
  1. Be Culturally Sensitive. This is the most important of all. Don’t go around asking stupid questions like where you can find Igorots. The kind of Igorot you’re looking for does not exist. Igorots are the ones who live there and they’re the ones you meet around the place. The Igorots are not uncivilised, short, dark-skinned with kinky hair. They are educated, fair-skinned (unless they work in the farm constantly exposed to the sun), they have average height like most Filipinos, and many have aquiline nose and maybe better looking than those seeking for the ugly Igorot. Be respectful of the local traditions and culture. Don’t vandalise around especially their sacred places. Sacred places include their burial grounds and their mountains. You can shout at the echo valley but that doesn’t mean you can scream in every mountain top you visit.
  2. Wear sensible outfits. Don’t wear a skimpy short and keep complaining about the biting cold while waiting for sunrise in Kiltepan or Marlboro Country. Sagada is a highland with cold temperature and winds are freezing especially at night and at dawn. When going spelunking in the caves, wear shoes that you can dunk into the waters as you will be passing through underground rivers. Be prepared to get dirty especially when visiting the caves and the hanging coffins.  
    Underwater river system inside Sagada's caves.
  3. Bring emergency kit. Some of the trails are slippery so bring your med kit. With the freezing wind, you might like to expose yourself to the sun but this will give you sunburn. Use sunscreen protection. Also bring mosquito repellent.
  4. Register - All Visitors are required to register and pay an environment fee. Your receipt will be checked upon entering tourist areas.
  5. Guide is a must - Sagada is filled with beautiful canyons, cliffs, caves, streams, fields and forest but you could get hurt or get lost so make sure to ask for a guide when go venturing around the municipality. Children are not allowed to guide so ask for legit guides at the registration area. If you plan to sleep somewhere other than the guest houses, let someone know. If you don't turn up where you plan to be, the community will come looking for you. Get the emergency numbers when you register so you could call anytime you get lost. 
  6. Gastronomy adventure. Be daring to explore the food culture. There are the pleasantly surprising yoghurt house and lemon pie. But you should also try the locally-popular “etag” or smoked ham. This traditional way to preserve meat has survived for centuries and it is one of the local delicacies. And don’t forget the Sagada Oranges. Because of its popularity, even imported oranges are named after this Sagada native fruit. Make prior arrangement for your meals if you go out on tour to make sure they are ready when you return.
  7. Manage your own garbage - Sagada has no waste disposal system and every household and business establishments manage their own garbage. Do the same and bring home what you brought with you. 
  8. Get immersed with Art and music – We have some music and art hubs in Sagada. Art includes the weaving industry that have designs unique to the place. There’s also the Sagada Pottery where you can try out for a small fee. Of course we also have visual artists, check out some artworks you see around the place. Some of them were made by the locals. There are some folk dens to visit when you want to listen to music.
  9. Walk, don’t drive. Sagada gets pretty crowded during weekends and Holidays because of tourists insisting to drive around. Be prepared to walk if you visit Sagada and leave your cars in your accommodations or in designated parking areas. They have new ordinances that only public transport are allowed inside Sagada to avoid gridlocks especially during long weekends. So if you don’t want to walk, visit somewhere else. 
  10.  Don’t forget number 1. I can write more about things you need to consider when visiting Sagada but these to me are the most important. If you forgot what I’ve written here, the most important really is number one, be culturally sensitive. Like that famous phrase “When in Rome, do what Romans do,” when you’re in Sagada do it the Sagada way.

See you on the road.

The hanging coffins.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Mountain Trail Thrill

The distant mountain on the left is Mt. Pulag while the peak on the right is Mt. Timbac

The Queen's Curtain in Sumaguing Cave is one of the
tourist destinations in Sagada.
Cordillera has many beautiful places to visit like Sagada and Banaue. But the saying goes “it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”

So while we will surely enjoy our visits to these beautiful spots, we sometimes forget about the sceneries we pass along the road. If we are on a bus, we may even opt to sleep on the way.

That’s the beauty of riding a motorbike coz you can’t sleep and you will surely notice all of the beautiful spots on the road. So let’s talk about the main highway connecting the provinces of Cordillera, the Halsema Highway.

The Cordillera Mountains as seen along Halsema Highway.
This is a challenging highway with sharp curves, steep inclines and declines. But passing here, you will be rewarded with scenic picturesque views along the way.

The vegetable terraces of Buguias.
It’s an adventure from La Trinidad, Benguet  to Bontoc, Mountain, Province. It also connects to Sagada and to the rice terraces of Ifugao via Bontoc. This road is an engineering feat with continuously eroding mountains and solid rock formations. The half tunnel in Atok was carved from a steep ravine of solid rock.

Benguet offers views of terraced vegetable and flower gardens. The mountain ranges of Kibungan that can be seen after about 30 kilometers of travel (km. 38) are dubbed by some visitors as the Switzerland of the Philippines because of its grandeur.

Mount Pulag, the second highest mountain in the country can be viewed in Atok. Atok is where the highest point of the Philippine Highway system is situated at 2,300 meters above sea level (MASL) (7,000 feet).

Majestic Mount Pulag in the Background as seen in Atok.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can take a short detour to Mt. Timbac where you can see a burial cave of some of Kabayan’s mummies. Another short detour you can do is to Mount Usdong in barangay Madaymen, Kibungan where you will see some of the best views of beautiful vegetable terraces.   Mount Usdong is 2617 meters above sea level; there you can see the view of Atok, Kabayan, Kibungan and Buguias.

The first municipality of Mountain Province in Sinto also offers vegetable terraces but as you go deeper into the province, you will see it transforms into rice terraces.

Not only is the road scenic but historic as well. This mountain highway formerly known as the Mountain Trail was named after Eusebius J. Halsema in 1953 under Republic Act 933. Halsema was an American Engineer who became the Mayor of Baguio from 1921 to 1937. It was originally a horse trail called the Mountain Trail used by gold prospectors and traders during the Spanish and American time. Some of the remains of the old trail not converted into a road is still called Spanish Trail.

When Halsema became the Mayor for Baguio, he fought for the improvement of the road.  The national government complained of the enormous amount needed to finish the road but Halsema insisted that it will bring progress to the region and eventually to the country, making use of the mining industries in the nearby towns as one of the reasons.

To augment for the needed labor, the locals were utilized. Having no money to pay for their taxes, they contributed days of labor per year in the road construction. Some of them complained about this forced labor and they called Halsema “busol” or “buso”, a mean person who takes advantage of others. Halsema’s methods maybe mean but without that resolve, this road may not have been built during his time, or perhaps not at all.

Road construction started in La Trinidad and Bontoc. My grandmother told us that they would put the workers on suspended barrels and lowered over the mountain sides to dig holes for dynamites. So next time you pass by these rocky mountains, especially from Gueoeng to Balangabang (km. 40 to 48) or in Sabangan in Mountain Province, try to imagine how hard it was to build this highway back then with no heavy equipments.

Eventually, the road construction slowly crawled but it did crawl.  And in 1933, after eleven years of hard labor, the first car arrived for the first time in Bontoc.

Next time you pass by this road, you may want to reflect on the blood, sweat, tears and even people’s lives that were sacrificed during its creation and have better appreciation of this mountain highway.
See you on the road.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

My Tublay Scenic Detour

Recently, I served as a guide to a group of riders going to a wedding in Kapangan, Benguet. I suggested to take the scenic Alapang – Alno – Tuel – Ambongdolan Road. This scenic detour is a single lane road perfect for motorbikes. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the conditions of their bikes and their expertise in driving on mountainous roads as they all came from the low-lands.

This road has very steep inclines and declines. A 110 cc bike with two passengers had its chains broken, thankfully, someone brought an extra. The ones driving scooters complained of muscle strains for the continuous and strenuous use of their brakes. This is the very reason why I did not buy a scooter coz I’m an extreme user of engine brakes and I need that a lot in the mountainous Cordillera. I’m pretty sure, my chains stretches faster than some bikers. These are some things to consider when you go riding around Cordillera's terrains. 

The steep inclines

My trustee 125 cc bike I hope to upgrade someday into 150 cc
So this road is not for every bike and although concreted, some parts are already deteriorating. This place, however, is very scenic and having a picture of yourself riding on this road is very picturesque.

You will be passing by some unique views of Benguet like the terraced flower gardens . And if you have time, you can visit the beautiful falls in Tuel. There are also hot springs in Tuel area if you want to take a dip. Just drop by the hot spring resort by the road.

Tuel Hot springs
Also in Tuel, you will see a centuries-old historic balete tree that was instrumental during the Filipino guerilla’s fight against Japanese army in World War 2. This tree served as guerrilla leader Bado Dangwa’s guard tower. 


You will also pass by some of the historic caves in Ambongdolan that you can visit by hiring a guide at the Barangay Hall, the Bengaongao and Paterno caves.

Entrance to Bengaongao Cave
These caves served as the guerrilla forces’ hiding places. The Paterno cave has an older history named after Pedro Paterno who made use of this cave as one of his hiding places from the Americans in the early 1900s until his capture.

Try this road sometime if you want an adventurous short ride.