A couple of months ago. I decided for the first time in my entire working career to have an out-of-town vacation. It is also appropriate use that opportunity to celebrate a particular occasion as well. I was choosing between Ilocos or Sagada for it. Given that I always have the fondest of the great Ilocos region where my half of my parents spent their childhood from. Not in Ilocos itself mind you. It’s just that I prefer traveling north and I love anything that is related to it.
I choose Sagada for a few things. One, I never been there. Two my mother never been there either. Three its cold and mountainous. As I’ve said in my intro. I love mountains. Not a fan of trekking the said mountains. I just like going to the mountains. Fourth is their fresh greens, which I even today I still miss one I’ve tasted.
No. I did not see that Sagada movie. So its not one of the reason.
Planning trips isn’t always a fun thing to do. Particularly, when you never been to the place. Then there’s the hassle of finding the right people and the right itinerary to make the trip memorable. As such, I’ve decided to try out going through a travel agency. No, not the ones you see in Malls mind you. It’s one of those agencies that usually advertise in travel FB groups. Thanks to the internet. Despite the ubiquity of getting the information needed to start going on an adventure. These travel agencies manage to find a lucrative market that made the entire process of finding an adventure a breeze and its shared travel.
What it basically is that you pay them to join a group that is also planning on trip. Basically, since vans serve around 12-14 passengers. Groups who are less that can opt and reserve a slot to join the trip until such that the entire van is filled. Not everyone can afford to travel solo and the shared expense of getting there is distributed to the entire lot. In my case, i paid around 2,600 pesos for a 3 day tour and all I have to mind are the food and entrance fees on the trip. Their responsibility is to get you there and have them arrange the accommodation. The big burden for travel is already solved. Just bring your things and money.
For this occasion, I used 5 Angel’s travel and Tour. I’m going to guess that 5 Angels are basically named after the owner’s 5 children. But essentially, I choose them mainly because they posted the date I want in a FB travel group and I contacted them. All the travel agencies has the same rates but it mere chance that I happen to know them. Due diligence checks that they are reputed and the glowing reviews in their group made me convince that they are worth enough to be given a chance.
Overall they did provide the services they promise. Our driver was very accommodating throughout trip. He even let us go to other places that was not in the itinerary which is neat. If I were to give him a fault is perhaps is rough driving. For us, a group composed of millenials wouldn’t mind the brash driving that would make to think he’s driving you straight to afterlife. My mother would freak out if she experience that kind of driving. But despite that, I can see to his driving that he does know what he is doing. I could compare it to a drunken master in a way. It may seem reckless and chaotic. But its actually pretty calculated in a way.
Our home away from home for this trip is commuter high-ace van. Nothing fancy, its a little spacious van compared to the ones you see in the streets of Metro Manila as UV. But that’s mainly because they only fit 3 people per row than the usual 4. It wasn’t the most enjoyable part of the trip, mainly because I seated in the reclining seat. It has no headrest so it’s near to impossible to doze and too shaky to watch anything while on the trip. This also one of the things I gripe in the tour, and that’s having the option to reserve a seat for the trip. They fetch people on the Buendia point and then at Trinoma. Mainly, the Buendia people would’ve gotten the best seats while the Trinoma people would get what’s left. I got the worst and that 8 hour travel are both taxing and grueling at the same time. It is annoying indeed.
Basically, I spent three days for the entire trip. I left Manila hour before midnight of Sunday. Got home shy of midnight of Wed. For the sake of order, here are the destination we went to and share my thoughts on them.
This is the first non gas station stop we had called Las Vegas Lodge and Restaurant. Its a small pub along the Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao road. You can see the coordinates in the picture so you’ll find it in no time on Google maps. This is where we took our breakfast. It has a decent view on the mountains and it is best fit to your breakfast sipping coffee or tea on the way to Sagada.
The food is mediocre at best. They only offer their breakfast menu, which is mainly compose of the usual -logs (i.e: Tapsilog, hotsilog, Tocilog etc …) . They all price 100 pesos and it has decent servings. I wasn’t in the mood to eat and given the swerving road and our driver’s Vin Diesel driving acumen. I just opted for their chocolate drink, to which my disappointment was just some choco power drink diluted in hot water. For 30 pesos, I should’ve just bought my own chocolate power and just asked for hot water.
All in all, it has a nice view but terrible breakfast menu. I saw a lot of half-eaten plates which reflect the disinterest of the guest to finish their meal. It was a sound decision to NOT dine there for the morning. Still, they had a nice view and has a decently stocked bar. Though drinking in the morning isn’t exactly my thing.
Just a few kilometers away is the famous Banaue rice terraces. It is considered our country’s national treasure. The vast field of rice planted on mountainous terrain. The sheer ingenuity of the Ifugaos to triumph over nature to survive. The scene reflect how hard life is in the mountains and that they have to an extra mile just so that they can survive as a group. Without the aide of modern tools, they manage to carve a place in the mountains in order to start an agriculture, created 2000 years ago by the Ifugaos. It makes me wonder what the Spaniards things when the first saw this when start exploring the northern part of the country. There’s very little info on what happened to the region during the Spanish rule. But it does indicate that their influence in the area was very little.
After a grueling 8 hour travel. We manage to get to our accommodation, Sagada Homestay Inn. Sagada is a pretty small town. You can basically walk to the tourist spots if you want. Plus most of the stuff, like souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. We ate lunch at the Sagada Homestay Inn Restaurant. It was a busy day and foods were being sold out fast. As for their food, it was fine. They’re a bit expensive ranging 100 – 200 pesos each. But as most travelers would say, the servings were plenty. The dishes aren’t exactly unique, so I didn’t bother taking pictures. I ate pansit canton for lunch. In fact, I only ate rice once at Sagada. I often opt for either Pansit Canton or their greens. Since that’s what they are known for: Fresh vegetables and fruits. I’ll discuss more about the town later in the post.
After eating, some of my travel mates decided to hit the caves. While I decided to stay and catch my needed shut eye. The travel and being seated at the worst part of the van made me want to just shut myself down. Basically, this is where I ended my day.
Our second day started at the wee hours of 4:30 in the morning. Our first stop of this one of the most exhausting day in so far in my life that is not attributed to work, is seeing the sun rise at Klitepan. Thousands of tourist flock to this summit every morning to enjoy the warm glow of the vitamin D rich sun. It slow rise greets its distinguished guest showing their latest and greatest smartphones for all the sun to see. Some are not contended with just snapping a picture. They even used their quad copters to just get the best shot. Well, some people just have the money to burn.
Aside from the sunrise viewing. You can also enjoy a warm meal while waiting or after viewing the sunrise. They offer the usual Arozcaldo and Champorado. They also offer coffee for those who likes to get their caffeine fix. There are not souvenir shops in the site. The parking is muddy and it does get crowded so just bear in mind the people.
To get to Klitepan, you can either walk from town to there. It roughly a few kilometers. Doable but it will get you warm and hungry. You can also rent a jeep which cost around 50 pesos per person. It appears the best way to enjoy your jeep ride is by riding on the roof. Not something my old body could tolerate so I just sat in front of the car and my travel mates being young millennials they are, did the yolo.
Our next adventure is the Bomodok Falls. It’s basically a falls that you would have to take an effort to get to. From the summit, you have to trek the rice fields (with a spectacular view) to get to it. For flat landers like us, treking the rice fields may seem trivial, but no amount of walking through the streets of manila or walking down the highway when there’s no jeep could compare the difficulty of going here. Both ways, down and up is tedious and exhausting. Going down, your knees absorb your body’s weight as you go down, acting like a suspension to stop you from crashing down the steps. Going back up, your hips absorb the burden for pushing your body up to the steps. My hips and knees were sore the next day. But despite that, the falls itself just makes it worth it. It stands around a 100 meters and blasts cold water and air from the mountain top. The load water rushing and the cold air hitting your skin washes away your tired body’s stress away. As you go closer, the cold air pierces you and slowly but surely invite you to take a dip into its cold waters.
Dipping in the cold water on a cold weather might be silly to some. But your body will get you to that feeling. We stayed there for mostly an hour before we get back to the summit. As I mentioned going up is equally or perhaps more grueling to do than going down. The mountain people made it easy. My travel mates decided half-way that enough is enough and we opted for taking the jeep a few hundred meters away. The fare cost 250 per jeep and with battered hips and knees. It was something everyone of my group wanted to relief themselves of.
The next part in my adventure is the Samaguing Cave. A 30 min drive from the town proper. This is the largest cave in Sagada and host a lot of beautiful rock formations. Caving here is not for the faint hearted as many would say. The entrance itself is already steep and slippery. The rocks are covered with bat piss and shit so for the germaphobe this may not be for you.
Treking the cave is a challenge. My crocs are slippery so I had the extra challenge of walking the cave barefoot all the way. I have to be slow and careful for not to wound my self as well as not crash down into sharp rock below. There is an actual part where treking barefoot is required. Those are fun since the rocks were rough due to the constant erosion by the water stream. The water inside the cave are clean and cold. Well, clean is a subjective term since bats would’ve poop and pissed on the waters so I would still suggest to stick to bottled water. Though the cold nature of the cave, you won’t necessarily break a sweat there. Basically its like an air conditioned cave. You’ll be more wet in the waters than being sweaty throughout the cave trip. As for the treking. For the a first timer like me, it was challenging it did test whatever youth I still have in me. The crevices were narrow and some are filled waist deep of cold water. But all in all, the journey in the cave was worth it.
The entire journey cost us 3 hours of our time and 1000 pesos for a group of 6. Since half of our mates did it the day before. We had two tour guides and they were patient and caring for the group. We gave them 50% more as a tip for their splendid service and helping us getting through the rough parts of the cave.
While we didn’t do this. There is an option for a cave connection. Basically, you’ll enter on one cave and leave another. This one is more expensive, around 800 per person and it will take you 7 hours according to the locals to finish. While its tempting. I’ll stick to the basics for now.
Our second to that part of our journey for that day is lake Danum. Well, by name it is. The lake looks like it needed more water and appears to be stagnant. The place was littered with live beef and manure that venturing deeper was not worth it. The place wasn’t exactly worth the trip. But I would say, yougurt vendor by the lake made the journey worth it. Great yougurt. We tried most of their flavors. My bet was the mango. But their best seller was the guyabano flavor.
After that we went to a sidetrip to Sagada Pottery. According to the local guide. An american who fell in love with the place decided to put up the pottery shop as livelihood for the residents and also promote the local potteries of Sagada because of its exquisite clay. These are handmade pottery and they do fetch steep when you want to take one home. For tourist, they offer a live demonstration of how they make their pottery for 100 pesos. Another 100 pesos if you want them to give you a crash course. I’m not particularly interested in pottery so i didn’t volunteer. After the pottery we went home, wash our filth and hit it home.
The next day is where we sadly had to part our ways with this beautiful place. Our next destination is Baguio before we head back to Manila. Its a 4 hour drive from Sagada to Baguio again, it is one grueling ride. On the other had, we did made 2 side trips along the way.
One is dubbed, the “Highest Point” as the name implies is the highest point of the highway at 2255m or just refer to the picture above. There isn’t much of a place beside the great view. Just a few shops and vegetables you can take home with you. After this we continue our journey towards Baguio.
Along the way we encounter a low-lying cloud and the group decided to take pictures along the highway. For some who is used to going to Baguio, this isn’t new. But of course, it is still a site to behold and we took advantage of the moment.
The last leg of our official trip is La Trinidad’s Strawberry farm. Which is where people go and pick their strawberries that you can take home with you. La Trinidad is different from Baguio but people not familiar with the era just lump the two together. La Trinidad was the Spanish military output in Benguet province as well as the capital of the province during the Spanish occupation. Then when the American arrived the capital was moved to Baguio but reverted back to La Trinidad when Baguio became a city.
Going back to the strawberries. I’m not really a fan of the fruit so it is one of those trip I am not invested much. But on the other hand, my mother and everybody else in the family like this so I bought some stuff for them instead. Highlights for this trip are the assortment of strawberry goods like their taho poured with hot strawberry arnibal. Then there’s also the strawberry ice cream. Both I didn’t taste but it does look great from the pictures.
Before we go down the mountain. We had our late lunch at this large restaurant called Goodtaste Restaurant in front of the famous Burnham park. While we were there, we went to the part to do one lap to see how much of the place has changed. Burnham park, named by the famous Daniel Burnham whom help built and design dthe city of Baguio during the American occupation. The Americans like Baguio because of the weather and it was their getaway whenever summer hits the Manila capital. The park itself is nothing short of spectacular and I’m glad that despite the commercialization of the city, they still manage to keep its essence alive. After our short walk. We resumed our journey back to Manila.
Observing the Sagada Town
Sagada town can basically describe as a sleep town in the middle of the mountains. The place is cold and narrow. Rather than walking straight. You navigate the area by stairs. The public market is a building compose of many floors. There are a lot transient houses for tourist wanting to spend their vacation days at this wonderful town. There are a mix of local tourist probably hailing form Manila. Then there are foreign tourist both young and old.
As for the town itself. Expect little to no night life. No disco or parties at night except of the occasional “inuman” with the locals or you friends. There’s plenty of food places to choose from. But expect to pay a bit more than you usual in Manila since food cost upwards of a 100 pesos. At its cheapest, you’ll spend roughly a 400 a day in food. But in exchange for its slight steep price is the freshness of it all.
One such freshness we encounter is this Garden salad we happen to encounter in one of the restaurant near our accommodation. The crispiness of the lettuce and the greens of Pippino, kamatis and shreds of carrots. Top on a sauce that I can describe as spicy with probably extract from the Pippino, vinegar and fish sauce? I’m not exactly sure, but it screams freshness on every bite. If you are interested on getting it. Find the restaurant that serves fish and chips. It’s not in their menu so you just have to ask for it.
Another curious observation I have in the town is the frequent brown outs. Which is typical for provinces. Then their buffed up stray dogs. I think the healthy lifestyle reflects a lot on most of the stray dogs in the town. All of them are built for the mountains and they hardly smell like wet rag. You would mistake the dogs there as foreign. But the diet of the locals in addition to the cold climate may had adapted the dogs to the state they are. One thing to nice as well is that you hardly see any poop in the streets. It makes me wonder if the dogs are also mindful where they do their business. Or the locals just quietly swept their poop without us noticing. obviously. Littering is something you should never do be ashamed of doing. As they say, when in Rome, do as Romans do.
One of the things you should never forget to do in Sagada is to taste their food. As I had iterated multiple times in this post. Besides the scenery you have to try their food. While most of the choices in Sagada aren’t special. Perhaps the exception of their own version of Tinola called Pinipig. My suggestion to people would be to try vegetable dishes. Like Chopseuy, brocolli smothered in beef or pork. My preference is always their ordering pansit canton since that’s already considered a dish with assorted vegetables.
Off to baguio, we went to Good Taste, which is a famous restaurant in Baguio serving large dishes at super affordable price. Buttered chicken for 10 people? Pay only 300 pesos. Want a large portion of chopseuy for 4 people? Pay 120. Want sweet and sour pork for four people? Just pay 195. Need to feed 6 people? Just pay 160 for a bowl of rice for 6 or 7 people. The food taste super fresh and amazing. I personally ordered their pansit canton but I was underwhelmed. The noodles are soggy and the the vegetables are are over cooked. The other food we choose taste great. This is a perfect place for large families to eat out when you either first arrive or leave Baguio. Its worth the money.
Finally, to cap of my long post about Sagada. I just want to share what souvenirs I bought. Well, besides the strawberries which was consumed immediately. I mostly bought an assortment of wines and a bottle of pure honey which my mother is fond of for some reason. I bought the rice wine from Sagada cost 150 pesos. I should’ve bought the clear wine from the falls when I had the chance. The strawberry wine, I bought at Highest point. This one is cheap costing me only 80 pesos. Then the Mangosteen wine is the most expensive at 250 with free small bottle of blueberry wine. Though I think the bottle really cost 200 and the store owner just duped me into buying one more wine. Either way, I like their blueberry wine. I still haven’t opened the the rest of the wine. I’ll just report to you on that when I get the chance.
Finally we are at the end of the road. Going to Sagada has been memorable for me. This is my first trip that I fully sponsored myself after graduating 8 years ago. It took me that long to finally break out of my comfort zone and start going out of Cainta. Sagada does have that special aura that makes you love it. No wonder foreigners who can afford stay there for months. Some just live with the people for the rest of their lives. Being there made me interested in the culture and history of the place.
So this beg the question: Will I go back to Sagada in the future? Give me a comfy seat and I will. This place is amazing and I would really want to show this place to my mother once I have the chance. Everybody should go at least once to this wonderful town but do mind the customs and tradition as well as don’t bring your city attitude into this town. Keep your littler with you and conserve water. Also, don’t waste food. While the view is beautiful. Living in the mountains is hard.