Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sagada: Stairway to Mountain Province

I never expected that a road trip to Mountain Province would be a very long one – 17 hours on the road from my home province in Cavite to Sagada! And I experienced all the harshness on the road – bumpy roads, broken vehicle, dusty road and long non-stop drive while admiring stunning mountain views, river valley scenes, mountain-side waterfalls and verdant rice terraces. This road trip is the longest road trip I experienced in my entire travelling life. It was sure my unforgettable road trip! It was pain in the ass but what the heck! Arriving in Sagada was worth the entire long road trip with the best travel activities I experienced there.

Welcome to Mountain Province! Peace to the Mountains...
Mountain Province, at last! After a long road trip...
 I leave Cavite with my travel companions at 10 in the evening to start our road trip to Sagada, Mountain Province. It was a long road trip and drive to the mountains. We passed through other northern Luzon provinces like Tarlac, Pampanga, Baguio and Benguet before reaching Mountain Province. We arrived 6 am in Baguio where we had the longest stopover so we did a side trip for two hours.

It was a long trip again on the way to Sagada. 6 hours on the road while admiring the mountain scenes, cliffs and rural life of Benguet province. I’m even lucky to have a glimpse of Mount Pulag – Luzon’s highest peak and be on the marker of Philippine’s highest point of highway system in Atok, Benguet. Even tired on a long sit, when I we arrived in Mountain Province, everything seems to be a relief after a long journey. Beautiful mountain sceneries and verdant pine trees greeted us alongside a clear blue sky as we neared our destination. Cliffs as dangerous it can be on the roadside as our vehicle runs through beside it provided me numerous stunning panoramic sceneries of Mountain Province. And the cool mountain air breeze that refreshes along with its lovely cool weather made me feel the long journey worthy. We arrived in Sagada at 3 in the afternoon. It was a long and tiring road trip to reach Sagada. I uttered – “at last!” But it was just the start of my Sagada journey.  

Mount Pulag - Luzon's highest peak and the country third highest mountain seen as we drive through Benguet.
Mountain sceneries en route to Sagada.
I just rested for an hour after a long road trip in our accommodation when we were informed by our tour guide that we’ll do a spelunking of Sumaguing Cave was our first activity in Sagada.  It was my first time to do a cave spelunking so I was very excited to do the activity. But what I didn’t expect is spelunking in Sumaguing Cave was a one hard activity! It was a physically demanding activity so it’s a warning for those who want to try spelunking and who’s not much into a physical activities like me. At first, I’m quite hesitant to try it because at the mouth of the cave, it so looks deep and scary to explore it. But when a group of spelunkers who just finished exploring the cave advises us to go ahead with the activity because it was beautiful underground and worth a try, I said to myself – ok, the reason why I’m in Sagada is to do this spelunking experience. So I proceed to try spelunking. 

Accommodation at George Guest House.
Sumaguing Cave is really deep. It is said to be six feet below the ground but I think it is more since it has many chambers and deep caverns to explore. There were 4 levels of the cave that our cave guide, Albert told us that we will pass through. It was in the 2nd level that I find it the hardest to pass through because it is slippery and wet because of bat cave’s guano so extra caution should be done because this level is dangerous and risky. But when we reached the 4th level where the amazing rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites can be found, I felt awe and relief. I saw all the magnificent and amazing rock formations of Sumaguing Cave. There were large wall rock formations flowed with cave water and there’s even a river-like formation where cold water flows!

The mouth of Sumaguing Cave... look how deep it is.
Spelunking to 6 feet under of Sumaguing Cave.
One of the amazing rock formations and pools that one will see at the deepest part of the cave.
When I looked up where we came from, I realized how deep we have reached Sumaguing Cave. It looks like I reached the deepest side of the earth and how are we going back up to the surface. It is an hour trek going up, the same time of going down to the cave. It is easier going up to the surface but prove to be a difficult task for me. Our guide told us to do a faster climb up since it is getting dark already so out of panicked, my foot and hand wrongly land on one the stones and I got bruised and broke my thumb nail. When I reached the surface, I’m almost out of breath and gasping for air. Still I’m glad I recovered after a moment of rest. I survived Sumaguing Cave, I told myself.     

Breakfast at Strawberry Cafe.
My first taste of Mountain Tea!
Heavy breakfast for a tiring activity for rest of the day.
The following morning, I had my breakfast with my travel companions at Strawberry Café, a famed eatery in Sagada where I also had my first sample of mountain tea.  After a while, we went to Lumiang Cave, one of the burial caves in Sagada. It was discovered in the 70’s and remained to be a must-see sight when visiting Sagada for its intact century old coffins. Lumiang Cave is a traditional burial site of the Igorot people. It shows how the Igorot people highly pay tribute to death.   There is a guided trail going to Lumiang Cave that involves a 30 minute trek. A cave connection spelunking can also be done in Lumiang Cave with an exit to Sumaguing Cave’s entrance. The spelunking is said to lasts for 6 to 7 hours.

Guided trek down to Lumiang Cave.
Lumiang Cave's burial site. Files of coffins found at the mouth of the cave.
Then I prepared myself for the highlight activity of my second day in Sagada, which is trekking the rice terraces to visit Bomod-ok Falls. Together with my travel companions, we were brief at the tourist center of what we will do and what is to expect during the trek. It was a two hour trek going through the rice terraces up to the falls and back. So it’s a total of 4 hours trek for first timers like us. We have a trek guide named, Gloria or Ate Glo which we fondly called her so we have no problem going through the rice terraces trek of Sagada.

Trekking the rice terraces of Sagada...
A closer look to the "palay" - rice plant.
The sun is at its highest point when we started our trek so it is really hot and humid. My trek companions have themselves with covered cloth and long sleeves for protection while I sprayed myself with sunblock protection since I don’t have long covered cloth. We were also given bamboo sticks each to use as a balance control which was helpful while doing the trek. The first 40 minutes of trek was hard, sweaty and hot until we reach Baranggay Fidelisan, one of the baranggays nestled in the middle of the rice terraces and mountainous valleys of Sagada that serves as our stopover for the trek.

We continue our trek through the rice terraces after a brief stopover in Baranggay Fidelisan. There was a high viewpoint along the trek where one can viewed the vast verdant rice terraces of Fidelisan and its surrounding mountain sceneries. The trek let me have a closer look to the rice terraces of Mountain Province. It also let me see how life is going on Sagada and how irrigation system works in the rice terracing farming.  Another hour trek through the rice terraces, we reached Bomod-ok Falls at last.

Our friendly trek guide to Bomod-ok Falls - Ate Glo!
Hidden through the mountain sides and nestled down in valley location, Bomod-ok Falls was a sight to behold. It was a very tall feet waterfall with strong currents of water going down to its base river. I can feel the mist of waters spraying on me even I’m standing far from its base. My companions took the opportunity of our stopover here by swimming near the waterfalls. It’s rock boulder filled river is amazing scenery as well as enticing for a swim. The water is crystal clear and clean. While I didn’t took a swim, I photographed Bomod-ok Falls in all angles that I can like a professional travel photographer just to savor my first time encounter of a waterfall. Bomod-ok Falls is a stunning beauty of nature. It is a place that should not be missed when in Sagada for it is really beautiful and divine. I was really stunned by its beauty! It was truly stunning!

Bomod-ok Falls - I was really stunned by its beauty! It was truly stunning!
After another two hour trek back from Bomod-ok Falls, we took a mandatory rest and take our lunch so that we’ll have energy for the next itinerary of our exploration of Sagada. Around 4pm, we visited St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a prostestant church in Sagada. The church is known as the mother church in Sagada and the seat of Anglican Mission at the north. Built by American Missionaries during the early 1900’s, the church was founded by the Reverend John Staunton who came to Sagada to spread the Christian faith to its local people. Sagada is predominantly Protestant by religion, with 95% of its population sharing the faith.

Near the church is just a few walk that leads us to Sagada’s Public Cemetery and Echo Valley. Although I find it creepy roaming through Sagada’s Public Cemetery, I’m glad that we were greeted with picturesque views of pine trees and mountain in every corner in Echo Valley. The afternoon rays of the sun is silhouetting the ridges of the mountains creating a dramatic shadow scenery at that time that makes a pleasant view to my eyes. These beautiful Sagada sceneries is joined by a cool afternoon weather which I assure every visitor will like. The breeze of cool air in Sagada is fresh and cool. Echo Valley is actually a cliff that when you shout a word or phrase aloud facing the cliff, it echoes back at you, hence the name of the place. Going to Echo Valley is quite risky. The path down the valley has side cliffs and narrow foot ways so extra caution is needed when trekking the trail here.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Sagada's Public Cemetery... not really creepy.
Shout a word that echoes back at you at Echo Valley.
Echo Valley's beautiful scenery - mountains, sunset and pine trees.
From Echo Valley, I can already see the famed Hanging Coffins of Sagada as instructed by our tour guide. The coffins are placed on cliffs by attaching it to a huge tall stone making it look liked hanged on the stone walls. According to the Igorot beliefs, the purpose of suspending the coffin from the mountain rocks is to bring the deceased closer to heaven.  From Echo Valley’s platform, one may follow the trail down to Sagada’s famed Hanging Coffins.  We did not proceed to go on a trek to have nearer view of the coffins as we are dead-tired from earlier rice terraces trek and its getting dark already.

The following morning I got up as early as 5 in the morning because our guide instructed us that we will watch sunrise in Sagada. I thought it will just be an ordinary sunrise viewing and did not expected much as I still prefer sunrise viewing by the beach over the mountains. So I proceeded riding the van with my travel mates to the viewpoint. It was heavily foggy and very cold when we arrived at the viewpoint so I wore my cardigan. I walked with others to the sunrise viewpoint called Kiltepan Viewpoint. I waited. And as the sun rises from the horizons, it was an “awe moment” for me. The rays of the sun intertwined beautifully with the dawn clouds. It revealed a panoramic view of ridges of the mountains, the morning clouds that hugs it and the rice terraces below with beautiful reflection from the rice paddies’ water.  The Sagada Sunrise highlighted the beautiful scenery that I saw at the viewpoint, actually enhancing like an Adobe photoshop application! It wasn’t just an ordinary sunrise viewing that I expected. It was the most beautiful morning in Sagada!

The most beautiful morning in Sagada is best experience at Kiltepan Viewpoint.
After spending more than an hour in Kiltepan Viewpoint, we went to Rock Farm Inn and Cafe to see Sagada orange farm. Rock Farm Inn is a recreational place in Sagada where visitors can stay for accommodation, dine at their restaurant and do Sagada orange picking just like what we did. We were led to the farm where my travel mates enjoyed picking Sagada oranges which is a variant of an orange fruit. Rock Farm Inn has a vast plantation of these oranges in their various locations.  After the picking activity, we went to explore the inn’s premier restaurant, Café Bodega. The rattan native-inspired restaurant was famous for being one of the settings of the local movie Don't Give Up on Us starred by Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual.

This way...
Sagada orange farm at Rock Farm Inn and Cafe.
While my travel mates tried to sample a breakfast at Café Bodega, I tried to explore the places to see in Rock Farm Inn. While it has many viewpoints of its Sagada orange farm, it also has many gardens sites to walk through. There are also nooks where visitors can sit down, relax and admire the beautiful nature scenes around. The colourful flowering plants and shrubs along with numerous lines of pine trees makes the place a very relaxing one!    

Cafe Bodega - one of the shoot location of Don't Give Up on Us movie.
Mandarin bloom at Rock Farm Inn and Cafe's Sagada orange farm.
Rock Farm Inn was the last place in the itinerary that we visited in Sagada. We have to leave early as we will embark again in a long trip on the road. We had a sidetrip to the town of Bontoc, Mountain Province’s capital as it is one of the places along the way that we will pass through. Then we get a stopover at Bay-yo Rice Terraces, one of Bontoc’s scenic rice terraces and part of the “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras” as inscribed by UNESCO.

Bontoc's rice terraces.
Bay-yo Rice Terraces marker.
The scenic Bay-yo Rice Terraces at Bontoc, Mountain Province.
And we head off to a long journey on the road again. But before we go home from a long road trip, we made a short side trip to Banaue, Ifugao to admire its magnificent rice terraces. We continue driving on the road passing Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya as well as Tarlac and Pampanga before finally reaching Manila and then home in Cavite. It was an exhausting trip, but I will never forget this road trip. I will never forget along with it, the cool fresh air of Sagada, the scenic mountains of the Cordillera region, the stunning mountainside waterfalls while on the road, the verdant valleys and rice terraces, the cool mountain weather and the scenic slopes of pine trees, of course! These are just “icing on the cake” when you embark on a road trip to Sagada. So what’s more that awaits you when you’re there already?  I say, every step and every trek are all worth it in exploring this place of Mountain Province.   

Sagada: Stairway to Mountain Province is part of my Cordillera Region Tour blog series to Mountain Province where I explore Sagada as my main destination to the province last October 5-8, 2012. I also had a side trip to the province’s capital, Bontoc.  Part of the tour is also side trips to Baguio and Banaue, Ifugao in which I will have a separate blog stories.

You may also like the other parts of my Sagada blog series:
  • I survived Sumaguing Cave 
  • Igorot pays tribute to death 
  • A rice terraces trek to Bomod-ok Falls  
  • I survived Sagada! 
  • The most beautiful morning in Sagada
My Cordillera Region Tour is courtesy of Hannah Julianne Travel and Tours – 111 Fiesta Homes, San Jose, City of Dasmarinas, Cavite. For travel tour inquiries, contact 0916.6853413.
*This is not a paid article.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Road to Sagada

I never expected that a road trip to Sagada, Mountain Province was a real road trip challenge experience. It is my first time to do a road trip travel! And that road trip was 17 hours on the road from my home province in Cavite to Mountain Province while passing through other provinces like Tarlac, Pampanga, Baguio, and Nueva Ecija. It was a tough trip - especially on my butt! I experience all - rough and bumpy roads, side cliff roadsides (mga "buwis-buhay" na daan), dusts, mechanical problem of our vehicle, mountain-side roads, long waits, boredom and stony roads but not without admiring mountain views, seeing Mount Pulog (Luzon's highest peak), valley scenes, waterfalls from mountainside, river valleys, mountain life and rice terraces while on the road! What a amazing experience! Don't you agree?

So here's a minute video capture of my roadtrip experience in Sagada, Mountain Province while en route to Bontoc for you guys to have a "feel" of what I experience on road trip travel!

This is a teaser posts for my trip to Sagada series - Sagada: Stairway to Mountain Province. Stay tuned for my upcoming posts about my trip to this province.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 is a great year of travel!

Last year, I consider my 2011 a year of travel but 2012, unexpectedly surpassed my 2011 travels! 2012 was a great year of travel for me! Imagine 7 travel destinations in one year? That's an amazing achievement for me who's just a newbie when it comes to exploring places in and around in the world of travel blogging. 2012 is an amazing year of travel for me and so far my best year of travel since 2010. 

I know I have lots of backlogged post for these destinations that I have went on for 2012 especially the series posts that I started but haven't continue yet. But I rest assured that I will get all these travel stories series up to date this year as I'm planning to share them all. And I'm excited to finish it all. I'm excited to share my unforgettable moments and stories that happenedto me in these trips of 2012. Hopefully, I will able to share them all before the first quarter of 2013 ends. Yikes! (Pressure!)

March - Beijing China, July - Iloilo and Guimaras, October - Baguio, Sagada, Mountain Province and Banaue, Ifugao, and November - Anilao, Mabini, Batangas.
As the year ended, let me share to you a rundown interesting facts of my 2012 travels that made it as my great year of travel in 12 facts.
  1. My trip to Beijing and China is first time but been planning to land here since 2010.
  2. I revisited Iloilo after 4 years! My last trip was back in 2008 which actually not a visit to the province but used it as a transit to Boracay. This time I tried to explore the province and the capitol.
  3. First time to experience meeting a sea turtle in Guimaras.
  4. I returned to Baguio after 15 years! I think I was a kid since my last visit there. Weather there is sooo good!
  5. I won't forget my spelunking experience in Sumaguing Cave in Sagada. It was really "buwis buhay" moment for me but very worth it after all the experiences.
  6. First time to see the famous Banaue Rice Terraces in flesh! I really made sure to bring a new 20 peso and old 1000 peso bill to compare it magnificence right before my eyes.
  7. First time to visit Anilao, Mabini Batangas with my workmate friends.
  8. Climb the Great Wall of China in one winter day. I feel like I conquer China on that day! Yey!
  9. Did a "Church hopping" in Iloilo. It was my first time to do that since the churches are the pride of the province because of its rich history and heritage.
  10. Amazed by the marvelous sights of Concepcion in Iloilo. The municipality is truly Iloilo's hidden gem! I promise I shall return to that place again even if it takes another 4 hours on ordinary bus ride!
  11. Became addicted to Bintanghulu or Caramelized fruits - a street food being sold in the streets of Beijing. In my four days stay there, I think I ate 6 sticks of it!
  12. It was my first time to do a rice terraces trekking in Sagada. It was a phenomenal experience for me - trekking under the heat of the sun for 2 hours! But in the end it was a very worthy activity - Bomod-ok Falls was waiting for my eyes to see at the end of the trek. It was also my first time to see a waterfall face to face.
A memorable 2012 - Top photos/Left to right: No.12 and No. 11. Middle photos/Left to right: No. 9 and No. 7. Bottom photos/Left to right: No. 6 and No. 5. Description of the photos are the numbers listed above in my 2012 rundown facts.
No wonder why my 2012 become a year of travel because most are "first time" experiences. First time experiences that I won't forget! I hope to share these memorable trip experiences of my mine soon here when I posted my upcoming travel stories about these places I have been in 2012. I'm proud to say that my 2012 was filled with "experiences of a lifetime". A very unforgettable year of travel!

So much plans to visit places for 2013 but I wish this year will also become a great year of travel - definitely! Cheers to that and Happy 2013 everyone! 
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