Tuesday, April 12, 2011

[The Sagada Chronicles] The Immersion

First Published on November 12th, 2006 

November 4, 2006 

Mornings are misty and foggy in the mountains. 

From our penthouse view, we could see the outline of nearby ranges capped with clouds. Splendid is the sunshine, solid and vivid. Wonderful especially when it hits one’s sleep-cold face. The city felt like a lifetime ago. 

So we went down to breakfast. Masferre’s Country Inn and Restaurant is a dream. Streaming sunlight on wooden floors and tables add to the country feel. And the food – simply heavenly! It was the perfect way to start that particular day. 

On the menu: Cheese Omelet for me, Continental Breakfast for Ramil (most recommended!), Farmer’s Pancake for Jaja, Filipino Breakfast: Tocino for Candice, Tapa for Ivee

Getting Lost, Going Forward, Finding the Way

Armed with maps, confidence and guts, we braved the road to Kiltepan Tower, the highest viewing point where one can actually see the Banaue Rice Terraces. It was supposed to be an hour’s hike away.

We didn’t make it.

To Kiltepan, at least. The first track we found was actually the wrong way. We were told to take the jeep to Bontoc, but decided it was too far for the morning. We took the road to Echo Valley instead. We’re not to give up hiking, after all. 

We passed by the Episcopal Church, with Candice hoping that there’d be a workable restroom. She was not rewarded. So we went on to the trail hike, with a grouchy friend in tow. 

Little did we know that the map has its own way of reading. We got lost along the way. We hiked upward steep, slippery ravines. All the while questioning “how the hell are we going back this way?!” 

We got passed by two foreigners, father and daughter, asking if that was the right way to Echo Valley, we said we’re just groping around as well. They, bless them, went back to the Municipal Hall to get a tour guide. We found that out later, when they passed us yet again on the right path. 

So they went back and we went even farther up searching for the echo (which will obviously mean we were in the right place already). I was screaming murder when I nearly slipped on a particularly steep climb. There was still no echo. I was pushed upward from behind before I could slip (thanks, friends!). And then it was Calvary Hill, although we did not know the name at that time. 

Ivee, Ramil and I chilled down under the big cross on the hill while Jaja took off for the rock terraces beyond, not giving up yet on the Echo Valley. Candice went to the bushes and did her long-awaited business. 

From the rock terrace, Jaja found the Hanging Coffins way, way down below. And there, my friends, was the Echo Valley. To think that we were so high up there, and the valley was about fifteen stories down. Funny thing when you get lost. 

Good thing there was someone down to lead us to the right path. “Manong” (from way down below) told Jaja to take the path to the right. And we were on track. Finally. Candice, feeling all new after her stint, decided to take on the hiker-leader-mode. “Energy, team! Energy!”

So we went down to the valley, passing by the cemetery, another cliff road and steep rock formations. Halfway down, there were the two foreigners, Sarah and her Father, with their tour guide.  They went past us, as we were too slow on the down slope. 

We finally get to see the Hanging coffins up close. And there was the echo, at last. We also caught a whiff of some information from the foreigners’ guide. A little awkward, it seems we’re just tagging along. 

Okay, so now we go back up. A little tricky, what with our scratched fingers, shaky leg muscles and sore backside. But we managed to get ourselves up alright. It was bothersome when Candice started cracking jokes in the middle of a Cliffside climb. We all had to stop for a while to laugh it out first, lest we break our neck falling down. The Nth Blooper. 

We came back exhausted and hungry. On to Shamrock III for a big lunch!

On the Menu: Vegetable Fried Rice with Fried Chicken for Ja, Vegetable Fried Rice with Pork Steak for me, Buttered Chicken with rice for Ivee and Ramil, Fried Tilapia for Candice

Sumaguing Cave: God’s Mysterious Work

It makes me feel blessed and thankful that I was able to experience Sumaguing Cave once in this lifetime. Inside the cave is an exotic and mysterious aura that is purely nature. 

On the way there from our Inn, we were saved from a long walk by a passing fierra. We were only too glad that Kuya Biag (Biag means “Life” in Ifugao), our tour guide, knows the driver of the vehicle so we were able to hitch a ride up to the crossing. From there, it was still a 15-minute misty hike to the caves.

The road to Sumaguing was winding and scenic. We stopped at intervals to photograph beautiful rice terraces bordered by mountains. 

It was gone 2pm when we reached the Cave entrance. The rock formations were majestic even from there. We almost hesitated when we saw the immediate steep drop made of massive rocks. We were made even more panicky when Kuya B took a while to make our gas lamp work. After several tries, we finally had a stable light. 

On we went to the steep drop of rocks, which was actually only the start of a series of extreme rocky plunges. We made the most of the “hand, feet and rear side coordination”, which Kuya B (or Kuya Life, as Candice prefers) suggested we do. It was crucial, he stressed, as we would hike down a slippery path of limestone. He was right. 

The coldness of the cave interior did not matter as we were hanging on rocks and dirt. Bats residing at the cave ceiling were probably laughing at the awkward positions we made while going down to the promised spectacle below. 

We hiked past various huge rock formations, the names of which are beyond my memory now. At that time, I was only concerned with which rock I was going to step next. 

The key to survive during those kinds of escapades, I realize now, is the ability to concentrate on the now. It was crucial not to lose footing, as it could be fatal. The act of a simple step could make a difference to the whole journey, to everyone who is with you at that moment. I myself slipped a couple of times (fortunately at the least deadly spots), because I was thinking of something else. Subconsciously, the adrenaline flows in relation to the level of danger we were faced. 

Upon reaching the bottom, the “sandstone country” as I termed it in my head, we were asked to leave our footwear to one side and proceed barefoot for the rest of the way. 

Sandstone, as Kuya B explained, is not slippery as long as you walk through it flat-footed. Though water flows through every surface, we were able to hike without hassle.
Downward still, we were confronted with a series of small lakes and cascades of little waterfalls. There was even a place they call “King’s Palace” where smooth, pillar-like, asymmetrical structures makes up one wall. It was such a glorious view that I forgot all the pain we went through going down. I did not even know such a place existed in our country! I thought of all the trouble the natives went to preserving it, and felt a surge of pride for them. I said a prayer of thanks to the God who made all these.

We were yet to come to the bottom of Sumaguing, where we would have to pass through a small opening and wade through an underground river. During a meeting of sorts (yes, underneath the cave) I and Ivee decided not to go through the last leg, as we were claustrophobic. Ramil and Jaja opted not to go, too. Candice was ready to trek on her own. Fortunately for her, Sarah and her Dad, the two foreigners from early on, came on the scene. 

So Sarah and Candice, with their guides, hiked down to the rest of the drop. We stayed on the other side to wait for them to come out. 

So then we rappelled upward to start the rest of the journey to the mouth of the cave. It was kind of easier going up, though still slippery nonetheless. It seemed faster, too. I guess that’s because the anticipation of going down adds to the delay. Still, we were able to breathe many sighs of relief when we reached the top. Flatland once again! 

This time there was no fierra to bring us home. We hiked all the way to the Inn. That’s when we all learned the true meaning of exhaustion. We were dead on our feet, having hiked all day. Add to that, the adrenaline was wearing off. We were walking in all directions, bumping to each other along the way, stepping on each other’s foot. We were only too thankful to be back in our room, to have that well-needed hot bath. Oh, and the dinner was a thrown-in sort. 

On the menu: Mr. Chips, Snickers, Piattos, Pan de Sal ala Pan de Manila (from Candice’s Baon) Coke, Yoghurt for all!(We suddenly had a craving, so Ramil, Candice and I went down to Yoghurt house to take out some yummy dessert. Sort of a treat for having survived Sumaguing!)

You would think we’d all drop on our backs to sleep after the bath and dinner, but no. We decided to recap all the bloopers we have so far. Below is the account of the ones I remember. 

Blooper Summary:
The Taxi incident (Ramil) - “Magkano share ko?”
The Gate incident (Candice —late kasi!)
The Laundry Confusion (Ramil) - “Sa Sagada mo na lang sana ipina-laundry!”may offshoot pa yan na “Sana dinala mo na! Eh di may extra bag ka pa! O, diba?”
The Head Butt Incident (Ramil & Anj)
The Yoghurt House Scene (Ramil) – “Hello, Direk!”
The Kiltepan Joke (The whole team)
The Echo Valley Blunder (The whole team din) – “Are we, like, lost?!”
The Cliffside Joketime (Candice) – “Lean to the right.. and shake it to the left!”
The Bat Spell inside Sumaguing (Ivee) – “Eww!”
The Cave Novena (Ramil) – “This is so not worth 100 bucks!” na one hundred times niya atang sinabi!
The Slip-over (Ivee) – “Salamat mga friends. Love ya all!”
The Almost-Domino Effect (Jaja) – Na buti na lang eh hindi natuloy! Hahaha!
The Cave Excuse (Ivee and Paul) – “Eh nasa loob kaya ako ng kweba non!” – On a phone conversation with Paul on Saturday night. We assume na nagtanong si Paul kung bakit hindi sumasagot si Ivee ng phone earlier that day.


  1. This was so fun! Sayang I missed the first Sagada adventure! Haha!

  2. OMG, LOL!!! I was laughing like crazy dito sa office habang binabasa 'to. WE MUST GO BACK TO SAGADA!!! :D

  3. Ja, yes, we MUST! :D December ulit? :p
    Kel, we missed you rin that time. Remember, iniinggit ka pa namin noon?