Week 4 – A Taste of Batad and Sagada

This was the trip to clear my mind.

I recently decided on a change in my life and this trip was supposed to give me more perspective.

Before I tell you more about this trip, here are some tips which you would later deduce from the story below:

1. Smart – The strongest cellular signal in Batad, Sagada and probably in our other mountainous area is Smart. Make sure you have it.  The accommodations, service vehicle drivers and most people living/working in this area are using Smart.

2. Sagada first, Batad later – I would willingly go down Sumaguing Cave again.  But will probably think twice for Batad.  Batad was SOOOOO TIRING.  My sister vowed never to come with my trips again because she got so exhausted on our Day 1.

3.  More fun in groups – It’s great to exchange ooooh’s and aaaah’s of this magnificent place with friends or new-found ones.

4.  Bring cash, instead of cards – ATMs, EPS and credit card swipers are not really that famous in this area

 

Heading on

My friend told me about going to Sagada and I readily said yes. I told her I would bring my sister along. She told me she will bring a friend along. Then I told her that there’s a friend who wanted to come along too. And she was okay with it and told me that another friend and her cousin would also like to come along. So come D-day, there was 7 of us, and they/we hardly knew each other. But we are pretty easy-going people so we bonded during the trip.

 

First Stop: Batad

This native village is in Banaue. Which was 12 hours away from Manila via bus (around Php 200).  Ohayami bus terminal can be found in Manila and leaves at regular intervals.

When we got to Banaue, we were so famished, we ate our hearts out at Las Vegas Lodge and Restaurant. There was nothing Las Vegas-y about it. We ate Filipino breakfast there. There were wooden idols akin to native Filipinos. Anyway, when our host, Mang Ramon, beckoned us, we left most of our luggage there. We only brought our overnight necessities. This would be our epic Day 1.

The trip to Batad was about an hour, no traffic.  The road meanders but was well-paved. It was punctuated with the mesmerizing rice terraces. At a good vantage point, we would get off the van and take photos. Little did I know, there was SO MANY rice terraces in the whole of Mountain Province, especially in Banaue.

Excited much
Excited much
This is the viewing deck for the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces
This is the viewing deck for the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces

And SO MANY tourists from Western countries.

Our group with Mang Ramon (3rd from left).  This is the money shot.
Our group with Mang Ramon (3rd from left). This is the money shot.

We came to a stop in these little stores.  Mang Ramon told us we might need to RENT our walking sticks (for Php 10) as this would help us in the walk down.  I was like, “Walk down where?”  Well, it was another 30-minute walk to get to Batad.  And Mang Ramon’s accommodation was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down on the mountain.

The cane really came in handy.  Look at the road -- long, rocky and treacherous
The cane really came in handy. Look at the road — long and treacherous

But we didn’t know that yet.  We were chirpy and took lots of photos.  Three in our company have been in Banaue (and Sagada) before but never in Batad.  So all 6 of us were newbies in the Batad trek.  We just started to feel tired as we sip our water and asked Mang Ramon how far along were we and he told us we weren’t even halfway through.  We trudged forward while kids from around here run past us. Yes, they ran the entire trek more than twice in a day.  Some of them even have heavy carry-on’s.  We were screwed.

We were in over our heads and we didn't realize it yet in this photo
We were way in over our heads and we didn’t realize it yet in this photo

That 30-minute walk turned out to be more than an hour for us.  It was way past lunch time and were once again famished. We were served with traditional Filipino which we quickly annihilated. Check out this page to see the food we had and breathtaking views.

We took the afternoon to rest our tired bodies. We stayed in a traditional Ifugao hut.

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Our overnight accommodation (Php 250 per head for 6 pax)

 

Too tired?  There are masseuse around here!
Too tired? There are masseuse around here!
This is the breathtaking view from our humble hut
This is the breathtaking view from our humble hut

We were supposed to visit the falls but we (mostly them) was too tired so we called it a day.

At night after dinner, Mang Ramon, told us native stories by the bonfire.

The following day, I skipped shower.  Ahaha!  The water was dreadfully cold.  I think it may have been straight from the mountains.

I took my breakfast and along with my two friends, then Mang Ramon took us to the small chapel in Batad.  We walked through the rice paddies and rice terraces.  It was so cool.

The chapel was made of simple steel.  And the interior was rudimentary.  But was still a commanding presence.

Batad Church
Batad Church
Inside was a simple set up
Inside was a simple set up

We offered our prayers and started to our way back up.

We joined the rest of our companions and we were shown around Mang Ramon’s Homestay.

 

After lunch, we started packing again and prepared for our trek back up where our service vehicle was waiting.  Good thing, one of my phones was Smart.  Globe and Sun cellular signals were almost non-existent there. If going DOWN took us about an hour, going UP, took us almost twice longer.  It was an unexpected leg exercise.  I devoured bananas and chocolates as soon as I got my hands on them from the stores.

We took a ride back to Las Vegas Lodge and Restaurant to pick up our luggage.  I also made a side trip to the ATM to get some cash. It was hard to look for an ATM around here.

We negotiated with another van to take us to Sagada.  Our Day 2 was about to take off.

 

Second Stop:  Sagada

After about two hours, we started seeing a different breed of pine trees lining up the road.  This signaled that we were in Sagada already.

Days before going there, we already booked an accommodation in Gecko Inn.  This trip was done on a Holy Week which was a peak season for travel in the Philippines.  We secured a couple of rooms here.  But we later on realized that Gecko Inn was too far from the center of Sagada.  The place was beautiful but we needed to leave after one night.  The innkeeper was pissed at us.

On our first night, we ate at the Yoghurt House.  It was famous for its yoghurt cake, which tanked for me.  And the service attendants were rude that day because there were so many people during our visit.  My post about this is here.  They say there used to be a cool vibe around this place with musicians playing at the sides.

The next day, we moved on to Indigenous Inn.  It was at the center of EVERYTHING.  The restaurants were near, the Tourism office was walking distance away, all vehicle pass by it.  The price was affordable and the innkeeper, Ate Juanay, was so nice.  It was perfect.

It was on this day (Day 3) our 7th companion has arrived from Manila already.  After a quick lunch at the Strawberry Cafe, we went to the Tourism office to arrange for our Sumaguing Cave trip for the next day.

Some of our us couldn’t move their legs anymore since the Batad trek.  But me and some, decided to go to Echo Valley and visit the hanging coffins.

I first heard of Sagada because of the hanging coffins.  Supposedly, the deceased were put in coffins and hanged at the cliffs so the deceased may watch over their family.  So this thing for me made Sagada the mystical place that I they say it was.  When I got there, we traveled up and down to Echo Valley, by foot, to visit the famous burial site.  It took us about 20 mins or so.  The walk entailed you to pass by this cemetery.  I was a little freaked but there were other (living, breathing) people walking with us. There was no need for tour guide this time.

Hanging coffins at Echo Valley
Hanging coffins at Echo Valley

I thought that was all the hanging coffins (I saw only a few but I thought the others are on the opposite side of the cliff or  valley).  To my surprise, coffins– hanging and not–are all over Sagada.

Bunch of coffins again
Bunch of coffins again
Coffins on the ground (Note: not under the ground)
Coffins on the ground (Note: not under the ground)

Good thing I was with friends all the time. It made me freak out to think that there are bones and coffins EVERY WHERE. But despite this, you will quickly forget about the cadavers once you get back on the main street.  Food, people, music, hotel and souvenirs proliferate.  I was starting to think that Sagada is losing its mystical feel and starting to creep on the edge of commercialism.

We called it a night and eagerly anticipated our caving trip.

We started Day 4 EARLY to catch the sunrise at Kiltepan.  It was so beautiful.  I gushed about it in my TripAdvisor.

The majestic Kiltepan sunrise
The majestic Kiltepan sunrise
Available breakfast
Available breakfast at Kiltepan
Side trip after Kiltepan
Side trip after Kiltepan
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Inside a smaller cave. Kind of scary because it was just four of us there and nobody knew.

 

This water goes into the cave and then... we don't know
This water goes into the cave and then… we don’t know
It was a beautiful morning
It was a beautiful morning

 

We then took heavy breakfast at Shamrock Cafe and headed to the cave. We just picked our guide from the opening of the cave.  Good thing he was free and ready to take another bunch of tourists.  We were wearing simple shirts, jogging pants and our trusty mountaineering footwear.  And our new companion brought her camera.  It’s good to bring a water resistant bag that you could put your stuff in.

We were slipping and sliding down the cave because the rocks are made of lime (slippery) plus they were covered with bat poop and pee.  It was pungent there.  As we struggled to keep our balance, our tour guide was just hopping on the rocks.  He was that GOOD.  And he was assisting me and 6 other people in our group.  He was agile.  I asked how many batches of tourists does he manage in a day.  He said he can only handle 2 batches.

We took photos of each other.  The guide took our group photos.  We continue treading the dark, slippery cave.  If it weren’t for the hundred of people present there, that cave would have been scary.  But because of the non-stop chatter and clicking of cameras, you would start to feel that this was just an ordinary place.  Which felt wrong to me.

Tourist destination it is
Tourist destination it is

There was a point that we needed to take off our slippers because apparently  rubbers would react badly to the waters of the cave. The waters was cold, cold, cold!  I WAS REACTING badly to it.

Cold and dark
Cold and dark

Then there was another point in the trip where we need to go down by using our guide as a human ladder:  stepped and held on to him as we traversed our way further down the cave.

To go back up the cave, we needed to rappel.  I have never rappelled before but I got through it.  It was like a crazy team building exercise.  The guide would sometimes pull us or push us.

It was then I realized why he can only manage 2 batches of tourists.  Imagine assisting fourteen to twenty people a day who are mostly novices in cave adventures. He needed to push, pull, act as ladder, hop around in order to get the trip done.  And one trip is about 2 hours long.  Whew! That was one physical job.

We took our lunch at Gaia Cafe and Crafts (read here).  It was beautiful there.  It is, for me, the most beautiful restaurant I’ve ever been in.  The food, the view. Perfection. There was a time that the fog was so thick, it enveloped all of us. Then in rained as we walked away from this place, but it didn’t dampen our spirits for the rest of the trip.

Let it rain!
Let it rain!

The following day, there was even supposed to be a problem with the bus to Baguio.  It was the end of the Holy Week and people were trooping back to Manila.  Buses were beginning to become scarce.  But we were able to secure a bus ride from Sagada to Baguio.  Then from Baguio to Manila.

Happy ride
Happy ride

This is one feel good trip everyone should take.

 

Contact numbers:

1.  Mang Ramon at Batad – 0929.612.4423

2.  Gecko Inn at Sagada – Dempsey  0920.289.5471 | Marcy:  0948.455.9323

3.  Indigenous Inn – Ate Juanay:  0921.645.5679

If you have any questions, just post a message.:)

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