With the expectation of a 16-hour commute by land, we meant to leave early to catch the 10 p.m. trip to Sagada. By the time it was decided we’d pay a visit to the Mountain Province, purchase of the bus tickets were no longer allowed on their website. (You can’t book online on the day of the trip.) We knew we were in for three days of adventure but little did we know that the tribulation would start as soon as we left our homes. Apparently, four hours of lead time wasn’t enough on a Tuesday night.
Because of our consistently inconsistent transpo system, we made it to Coda Lines terminal just one minute before ten o’clock. The last bus was getting ready to leave with exactly two vacant seats left. We hopped on, the lights dimmed inside, and our 12-hour bus ride to the Mountain Province began.
We were greeted by the15-degree centigrade breeze as we arrived in Sagada the next morning. The word ‘refreshing’ wouldn’t even give the feeling justice. We walked a steep kilometer uphill to the Misty Lodge and Cafe and the cold made it easy despite our heavy backpacks. We had breakfast at the café and tasted the best yogurt of our lives to date. By the way, P350 per night for one person might be the cheapest accommodation you’ll ever find.
Just before noon, one of the caretakers was kind enough to drive us back to town for free and introduce us to a seasoned guide for an Echo Valley Walking Tour. As the name suggests, you can scream at the huge valley and you’ll hear your own words shouted back at you. We were like kids again, saying various things towards the vast space in front of us, only to giggle in amusement at the echo of our own voices. It makes you think that in life, we have to keep our words kind and loving towards others because we wouldn’t want the same hurtful words we say aimed right back at us, especially in the same intensity. We get what we give and the world needs kindness now more than ever.
Twenty minutes into the tour, we finally saw the famous hanging coffins. It wasn’t as creepy as we thought it would be because it felt very spiritual in the area. After climbing over and under rocks, we had to go through a small cave with a river flowing inside. It’s 2018 and our flashlights were of course, our smartphones. We were practically blind inside and it felt like we were the only three people in the whole mountain valley. You’ll never appreciate something more than after you lose it. Seven (long) minutes of darkness made us miss the light. We finally arrived at the other side and trekking for a few more meters led us to a serene waterfall. The entire tour lasted only three hours but it was definitely worth triple that of a leg day.
We ate some well-deserved lunch and one thing we eventually found out in Sagada is that their serving sizes are huge. Definitely more than enough to fill you up after a few hours of trekking. It’s no surprise really since the most common mode of transportation in town is walking. It was a stimulating change of pace from all the jeepneys and tricycles of the city. Strolling further downtown, we stumbled upon the most amazing lemon pie coupled with a steaming cup of mountain tea.
While we looked forward to a blazing sunset at Lake Danum, unfortunately, massive clouds covered the mountain tops. However, it was still a relaxing experience as the warm orange light blanketed us from the chilly air. We made our way back to the lodge, satisfied in both heart and mind.
After a hot shower and dinner (plus more of the life-changing yogurt) at the inn, sleep came before we even knew it. There isn’t much to do in town anyway once the night falls since it gets very dark outside and transportation is either hard to come by or a little pricey. Except to enjoy the hum of the mountain and inhale the scent of the Benguet pines. We were all set to wake up at an ungodly hour for the famous sunrise above the sea of clouds at Kiltepan Peak.
Arriving just a little past five in the morning meant that the 12C air had us shivering among the pine trees. The sun wouldn’t be up for another hour but we could already make out the mesmerizing sea of clouds stretched right in front of us. As the ball of fire finally broke on the horizon, the clouds glistened as if in reverence to the star. We too, felt cleansed and renewed that another day has come. We climbed over the ledge overlooking a small town with rice terraces surrounding it. It was a breathtaking moment to be so high up yet so humbled by all the beauty. It was a sight we’ll carry for the rest of our lives.
By a stroke of luck, we were there to witness and experience the first day of their annual Etag Festival. The town was alive with parades, sports competitions, food stalls, and merchants selling everything from frying pans to pajamas. The nostalgia was almost overwhelming.
Ready or not we finally dived into a Short Course Caving and explored the hidden world inside Sumaguing Cave. It was incredible and the loss for words was very real but so was the immense effort it took not to slip and die inside the majestic rock formation. No amount of photos would properly translate the astonishment we were feeling throughout the spelunking.
As we emerged from the cave, we trekked another kilometer uphill to Gaia Café which was unfortunately closed at the time probably because of the festival in town. Later in the afternoon, we went to Sagada Cellar Door and found the best assortment of Sagada-crafted beer into the night.
Having gone through cemented streets, rocky trails, caves, and rivers, we can attest to the Palladium Boots Crushion SCRAMBL Fuze’s incredible traction on concrete and protection against the elements with notable comfort. The Pampa-Hi also held up against the wear and tear of the trip. Slippery rocks are very dangerous no matter what you wear so always tread with caution. As a general tip, make sure that sneakers are properly broken-in if you plan to use it for long periods of time. Inserting another insole also helps double the comfort especially during rough activities. For adventures like this which are done only once in a while, lifestyle sneakers will do the trick but frequent physical exertion will easily wear away any sneakers.
We wrapped up the trip the next day by having another round of amazing yogurt but this time, from the Strawberry Café. We couldn’t say no to souvenir shopping and the Sagada oranges were irresistible. So our three-day escapade came to its conclusion and we finally settled on the long bus ride home.
Through traveling, your perspective expands from all the people you meet but also, in all the times you’ve been on the road, seas, or skies, you will inevitably be faced with yourself even for a short while. You are given the perfect moment to reflect and look at where you are in life which is why traveling will always be transformative and unforgettable. Once you’ve gotten a taste of life’s exhilarating journey, you’ll never go back to just settling for normalcy.
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