Sagad-sagad sa Sagada
- Larry Leong-Faypon () - April 11, 2004 - 12:00am
Tired and exhausted but excited, we arrived in Sagada, known for its mountain hiking trails, caves to explore, hanging coffins, rice terraces and cascading waterfalls that can be swum. Here, pine trees line the mountain ranges, shrouded in mystery and beautiful scenery.

At the Banaue Trade Center we had our breakfast of fried rice, eggs, hotdogs and slices of pineapple. The view from the restaurant gave us our first glimpse of the lives people in Banaue lead. But on the way there, the road to Sagada is mostly muddy, unpaved and in bad shape.

Our first stop was at Viewpoint, right before going up to Mt. Polis. Stores here sell homemade products from figurines to necklaces, clothes and local foods. It is also here where you can glimpse the famous rice terraces. On our way to Mt. Polis fog started to cover our way. It started to rain not because there was a storm but because of the fog. It was freezing but the picturesque view of the mountain was exhilarating. Our cell phones had no signal so there was nothing to do except admire nature.

We stopped along Mt. Polis where there is a huge statue of Mother Mary and with the place covered in thick fog, we began to wonder if we were in heaven with the Blessed Mother. The road is not easy to negotiate. Mostly made up of rocks, clay and mud, the road is so narrow it can accommodate only one car. Looking outside the jeep is useless since the surroundings were covered by fog and the only thing that filled our senses was the sound of the jeepney’s engine.

Farther along the road, we saw the rice terraces clearly now. The last stopover before arriving at Bontoc was the Balitan Jumbo Bridge. The picture of a bridge over a river between mountains is such a beautiful sight to remember.

Around 2:30 p.m., we arrived at Sagada and checked in at St. Joseph’s Resthouse and Restaurant, a place we would soon christen "The Shire" for the setting is really like the Shire in The Lord of the Rings.

The community lives a simple, peaceful life. We stayed in a house located at the back of the Saint Mary the Virgin Church, a simple gothic-style church that reminds one of the mission undertaken by the Americans in the Cordilleras.

The next day, we woke up early for a trek to Sumaging Cave and the hanging coffins. Before going down to the cave, our tour guide equipped us with lamps and warned us of slippery rocks. We were also advised to ask for light in case our way was too dark. At the entrance of the cave, cold breeze began to enfold us. The first part of the cave is made of limestone and we crawled as if we were Gollum. There was a weird smell, which we later found out was coming from the bats flying around the cave.

Sumaging Cave has the best formations of stalactite and stalagmite. One of them is called the King’s Curtain and it does look like one. I think the most crucial part of the trek is passing inside the smallest and narrowest holes and the only way is to bend, crawl or twist your body. We were doing moves like gymnasts! We were surprised then to learn that we came out from the same way we entered. Tired and wet, we started again to climb out, this time it was harder since we were so tired and our feet ached. Sumaging Cave really tests your stamina and strength.

Next on our list was the Sugong coffins. It is a 20-minute walk from Sumaging Cave. A wooden gate serves as a marker which leads to the coffins. The trail to Sugong is mushy and full of weeds, and limestone cliffs and pine trees dominate the scenery. The coffins are stacked in groups and a closer look at some of them reveals details such as a lizard design on the cover.

The next day we wanted to go to Echo Valley. On our way there, we met some of our schoolmates around the area of the cemetery and they warned us not to continue since it was getting dark. We agreed to stop and join them on their trek. With them was a young tour guide named Douglas. No more than a child, he was very talkative and liked posing for the camera. He knew the shortcuts to all the sites and I began to wonder if in the near future he would still be working as a tour guide in Sagada. He would make a good one since he loves to share stories and is not at all shy when asked about his family.

According to Douglas, going to Bokong Falls will take us 30 minutes. He said he lives near the site with his two brothers who work in Baguio. He kept telling us during the trek that we were too slow and he was getting bored. Right then, we saw other schoolmates telling us not to continue since it was already 5 p.m. and we might not be able to come back easily since it would be dark soon.

Douglas suggested we go to the nearest site instead: Latang Underground River. For the second time during the day, we changed our plan. Two kids named Joel and Sherwin, playmates of Douglas, joined us. The sun was starting to go down and the fog rising. After more than 15 minutes of walking, we arrived at the underground river. We were so amazed and agreed that it was more beautiful compared to the Sugong coffins. We were able to see some more coffins though it was getting dark. Gladly, one of our classmates brought his flashlight. Unlike the other caves, this one was full of warm sand.

On our way back, the three kids led the way through the shortcut. Later, we saw more classmates ahead of us and we shouted for them to wait for us. With all the beautiful scenery around us, the echoes of Sagada went back and forth.

Our immersion trip to Sagada did not only give us a glimpse of the vernacular architecture of the Philippines but also a glimpse of new friendships. Sagada did not only offer memorable places but also memorable people.

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