Realization: indeed it is more fun in the Philippines. However, uplifting the archipelago’s tourism through purposeful ads here and there inviting millions of tourists worldwide is unintentionally desecrating the little towns too small to handle massive swarm of people. I felt like Sagada is one of the many little boroughs that has been imprisoned by this harsh truth. Ever since a romantic-comedy indie film has featured the beauty of this mountainous region, commercialism instantly ate the town’s soul. The narrow streets of Sagada was jam-packed on a long-weekend holiday last February. And yes, sadly, I was one of the ruinous element of that weekend. I actually like planning my trips on low season so that there would be less people, lesser chaos, lesser exasperation, but for some reason, I gave in last CNY holidays.
We went to the north from Manila without any booked transport tickets or hotels. Well, not so long ago you don’t really need it but we regretted it that night when all buses bound to Baguio City were fully booked. Private vans took advantage of stranded chance passengers by offering tiny seats of the vans for higher price. The only option is to take this van or we cancel the trip, of course we took the van. Lol.
As expected, it was just the start. From Baguio City, buses bound to Sagada were as scarce as f*ck, and people are lined up waiting endlessly until the sun already has risen up. Thankfully, private vans “helping” the chance passengers were always around and we happened to find one. We saw a group of Manilenos looking for more passengers going to Sagada to share the van rent. I can still vividly remember how he was deliberately talking aloud to his friends about their problem – that they need 2 more people – so I and Jonald can hear them. . Good call though. Laughs, random jokes, and travel stories in a 5-hour long journey, it sure started a good friendship. 🙂
And there we were, reaching Sagada. We, for a moment, bid goodbye to the group coz unlike us, they have a hotel reservation. Jonald and I walked from end to end of the major street of Sagada looking for accommodation. What we found? A sweet young couple looking for a room too. . Jonald and I laughed about the thought that if they couldn’t find one, all 4 of us are screwed. We befriended the couple and asked if they’re ok to join us to rent a shareroom in the attic of one of the hostels we found but it was good for 13 people. . We thought, if we could find 3 or 4 more, the price should be ok. So all 4 of us walked back and forth the street looking for lost travelers with no home. Yes we found 3 ladies willing to share after an hour or more of trek-like traverse.
It’s not just the hostels. The tiny eateries, the Sumaguing Cave, the hanging coffins, souvenir shops, everywhere, people coming in are just non-stop. The waiting game is a challenging one when you are starving and you just wanna relax and have fun.
But don’t get me wrong. I still want people to see Sagada. The rice terraces on the way, spelunking in Sumaguing cave and the hanging coffins are still a must see. I guess just avoid the crowd and go on low season instead.
The hotels, at least for all that we visited and inquired with, have designs with the feel of common modern household rather than luxurious or very traditional. The price ranges from P500 per night a person for a hostel bed with shared toilet, or at P2000 per night on a huge private one. According to my friend, Jonald, you can just walk-in from one hotel to another along the main street of Sagada on non-holidays and you can surely book one.
What to eat
One of the popular dish in Sagada is the pinikpikang manok, a roasted chicken dish which is prepared by hitting a live chicken with a stick over and over again until it dies from blood clot as practiced by the Igorots. It is said that this method makes the white meat tastier. I didn’t try this though after I’ve heard one of the couple’s opinion about it. haha. . Lemon pies are a refreshing treat that shouldn’t be missed too. And you can also take home a few boxes to share it with your family and friends from your hometown. Vegetables are indeed sweet in the north of the Philippines in general. I remember my Japanese AirBnB host in Furano, Hokkaido, Japan who said that fruits and vegetables are sweeter when grown on highlands or during the winter because as the plants produce sugar via photosynthesis, they store more sugar in their cells to fight the possible damage of the cold weather or frost. Enough of the “smartie” explanations, but yeah, vegetables are really sweet and taste really fresh in Sagada. 🙂
What to Do
Spelunking in Sumaguing Cave. But imagine the number of people who visited the cave that CNY. too much, too much, too much! The cave is indeed beautiful though, and the sliding, jumping, rappelling and climbing made me energetic one afternoon of our trip.
The hanging coffins. Well, because I was very eager to leave Sagada to catch the jeep to Bontoc and then to Buscalan, I didn’t have the chance to see it up close. The queue is just too long for my patience to endure. But if given a chance to go back, I will surely not miss this one again. A cemetery and a church on the way to this main attraction is also instagram-worthy if I may say.
Mount Kiltepan and the ocean of clouds. Nope!!!! We didn’t see it. We waited from 4:30 in the morning, early enough to reserve a good spot to see the sunrise, but alas! It was too foggy and the clouds were too high. Google the photos of Kiltepan to see what we’re actually after.
Hunt and hoard souvenirs! T-shirts, ref magnets, filipino sweets, Igorot style accessories!
Hiccups on vacations can be inevitable and rants can be endless. But it’s the positive attitude, the grateful feeling that you have the means to see things and go to places others may not be able to, and the warm hearts of the friendly souls you meet on the road that make the trip most memorable.
PS. Some photos are from my friend and fellow backpacker, Jonald, aka facelesstraveler in Instagram.