not a bad christmas, definitely (a.k.a. sagada chronicles)

as luck would have it, no make-up classes during the christmas break. what a pleasant surprise! woohoo.

good thing i learned about it while still on the way to sagada two weekends ago with rhea and three of her co-volunteers, mish, maj and hazel. mish came to visit the philippines (she's from uk) and was on her last week so the group decided to take her to sagada.

the pre-departure itself was so eventful that the trip almost didn't push through.

i almost got left behind because i dropped by our block's christmas party at carol's place in marikina. was still on my way there when rhea texted me that the bus was to leave at 9:30 pm, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. i arrived at carol's place around 8:10 pm, only to find out that my bag did some travelling of its own. after donning a sotanna for a costume, eating a little and having some photos taken while waiting for my bag to arrive, i rushed to dimasalang where we were supposed to take a bus. rhea would later text me i should head to espana instead, because unfortunately for them, they learned firsthand that it was the wrong place to go.

thanks to a very efficient taxi driver, i arrived at the autobus station right on time. then i was told the bus actually leaves at 10 pm. so much for the adrenalin rush eh?

but the adventure didn't stop there. because we dilly-dallied for a while, some other people were already occupying our seats by the time we boarded the bus. we were told we might have been left behind by the bus that had just left. panic overcame us, soon we were embarking on a fruitless chase. we hailed a cab to take us to the gasoline station where the bus was to refuel; too bad the driver either didn't know his way or was just taking us for a ride in the streets of legarda. when we got to the gas station, we were told it was the wrong station. so we took a tricycle (just one for the five of us) and passed by the flowers of dangwa on our way to the "right" gas station. we were rejoicing when we saw buses parked in the gas station only to be told that our bus had already left. as it turned out, we boarded the right bus; why we got off escapes me now, come to think of it.

was a bit annoyed at this point because i already missed the block party, now i'm missing sagada as well? it didn't help that dec. 15 had been a terrible day: no-show prof for a make-up class early that day for which i cancelled a class i was teaching; no lantern parade; no malcolm madness (at least for the block because of the christmas party). can't pin the blame on anyone though so i tried hard not to look pissed off. besides, i promised rhea i was joining the trip.

the great thing in being with volunteers however is that their spirits never seem to waiver. after having our tickets refunded, we decided to take the baguio route. at 2 am of dec. 16, we were on board a bus bound for baguio en route to sagada. the trip, from then on, fortunately went without a glitch. maybe dec. 15 was just "inauspicious," as the chinese or japanese would say.

the trip to baguio took 6 hours. it took 6 hours more to get to sagada. despite the duration, the trip was surprisingly light. or maybe it was just because we were either sleeping, talking or feasting on passion fruit the whole time.

we arrived in sagada around 4 pm, saturday, dec. 16. the place is way way colder than baguio. it helps that the trees are very much untouched and that not too many vehicles pass by the place. although there are plenty of inns and restaurants, with architecture ranging from the modern to the traditional, the structures have not overshadowed nature's beauty.

we settled in a place called alfredo's inn and restaurant. it looks simple from the outside but the interiors are richly decorated with local wood, providing a homey ambience with a native feel. it used to be the house of one of sagada's greatest sons, mayor alfredo lameng, a legendary figure in that part of the country and the first igorot to run for the senate. two years ago, they converted the place to an inn and restaurant, managed by lameng's granddaughter.

on our first meal in sagada, we feasted on chicken curry, pork adobo, sauteed vegetables and stir-fried vegetables. what's the difference between a sauteed vegetable and a stir-fried one? the former has some sauce, the latter is dry. but basically they have the same kinds of vegetables. talk about vegetables, they have plenty of them in sagada that we never failed to have some in every meal (even during breakfast) in the next two days. the people there really know how to cook their vegetables, not raw, not too cooked, just...right. and they'll cook it especially for you.

after that sumptuous dinner, we were ready to...sleep. at 8 pm, we were already in bed. that's because it's already dark outside, and the place is really quiet. great for relaxation (that explains why we saw a lot of children in sagada, hmmm...). either that or we were just tired from the trip. off to dreamland we went. i was deep asleep for the longest time in months. it felt good just to stay in bed, if it weren't for the sightseeing and the caving that awaited us.

not too early the next day, we visited the hanging coffins and the sumaging cave. we only saw the hanging coffins from a distance (but that, i guess was sufficient to satisfy our urge to pose for the camera). the descent down sumaging cave was the more challenging one. situated 30 to 45 minutes from the poblacion, it took another 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to the bottom of the cave. the trail was tricky, with rocks all over the place. they were either slippery at some point, or had dungs of bats in them. one time, we had to rappel our way down. at another, we had to hold on to the guide for support.

there was no light inside the cave so our guide had to bring a petromax, a gas-fueled lamp, so we could see our way. and if you expected silence, it will come later as the bats will first greet you, seemingly cheering you on to explore the depths of the cave.

what is remarkable about sumaging cave are the stone formations inside. one looked like an elephant. another looked like a woman's behind. the others, i can't recognize anymore but they were astonishing up close. we were told part of the cave used to be submerged in water which accounts for the variety of stone formations we found.

the descent in the cave and back left us hungry and so on our way back, we dropped by the yoghurt house. yes, they serve tasty home-made yoghurt but they also have great meals in generous servings. i opted for pan fried pork with vegetables.

since it was to be a leisure trip, we didn't want to stress ourselves with too much activities. we decided to hit the souvenir shops before...eating again! we were supposed to try shamrock and masferre's but shamrock didn't have much to offer and masferre's chef was on vacation (make that holiday for the britons), we went back to yoghurt house.

to complete the holiday, we decided to give ourselves a much-needed swedish massage. there are a lot of them offering their services in sagada, from shiatsu to the traditional hilot. at 300 pesos, may massage ka na, room service pa! (now this is not a paid endorsement)

the next day, monday, we packed our bags and bid sagada goodbye. i rode my first topload ride (on top of a jeep) from sagada to bontoc. mish was saying we should take some pictures just in case we don't survive. i wanted to tell her that among the superstitious, having your photos taken before a trip was the surest way to have yourself killed, but i didn't want to scare her. too bad we didn't take a photo but i did tell mish the trip's gonna be fine since the drivers know their way around.

i don't think i heeded my own advice because at the start of the trip, both my hands held on to the railings. one side of the road was a cliff afterall, and while the view of the mountains and the valleys below was spectacular, it was also a surefire way to end your life if you fall several hundreds of meters down. i decided i wasn't ready to die yet hehe.

the view from above was nothing less than breathtaking. as we approached bontoc, we passed by chico river, all clean and green, great for whitewater rafting. i find it unbelievable how only 2 or 3 decades ago, marcos would have wanted to put up a dam on it, which would have ruined everything.

the trip to bontoc took a little less than an hour. soon we were on our way to banaue to see the rice terraces. but the fog was heavy that day, and it started to rain. by the time we passed by the viewing deck, there was no view, just fog. we took our late lunch instead, shopped for more souvenirs, and headed straight to the bus station since we didn't want to miss our bus, not this time around. except for mish and me, work awaited the others.

just when we were 30 minutes early, it was the bus that arrived late. we were supposed to leave at 5:30 pm, but 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm came, there were no signs of the bus. the bus apparently got stalled somewhere and they were sending a "rescue" bus so to speak. hungry by then, we requested a resident to cook sardines for us (since it was the only one they were selling and we didn't want to go far just to eat). for the next hour, we feasted on family sardines, rice and spicy oishi prawn crackers dipped in fruit vinegar. that's fish and chips, filipino style, my companions, who have all been to uk for their volunteer work, quipped. now that's a volunteer, i said.

finally, at 9 pm, the bus arrived and we were on our way home.

simulblog with pics at: driven 2

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