Batad To Sagada

Our morning in Batad was greeted with a dreamy view of low-lying clouds rolling across the rice terraces as I opened the window of our room in Hillside Inn. It's a humbling, inspiring experience, reminiscent of what I felt when I saw the Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Macchu Picchu in Peru bathed in the beautiful light of early morning.

Manang Vilma served us corned beef with vegetables, fried eggs and steamed rice while the splendour of the rice terraces continued to amaze us right across our breakfast table. For most of us, the breakfast was made even tastier because of this wonderful view. I could only wish this is what I see each morning when I wake up. Never mind if I don't have breakfast.

My itinerary originally involved hiking today from Batad to Cambulo and Pula and then onwards to Banaue the next day. Harley however, seem reluctant at the prospect of negotiating steep mountain trails again after yesterday's walk to Tappia Falls. To the delight of Ramir, Mario, Giselle and Harvard, we decided to go with them to Sagada instead. I've been to Sagada almost 7 years ago and I'm a little curious to find out if this little town up in the mountains has maintained its idyllic charm.

We left Batad for the one-hour hike to the "saddle", confident that a jeepney would be waiting for passengers up there. It's a pleasant hike at this hour of the day when the sun isn't bearing down heavily on us. We meet up with Mang Elyo who maintains one of the huts along the trail selling drinks and souvenirs. He had with him an airgun for hunting birds later in the day.

At the "saddle" there was indeed a jeepney waiting for passengers and the driver was willing to bring our group all the way to Sagada for 2800 pesos. We managed to recruit additional passengers, Alex and Emma, two young British nationals on a backpacking trip around the country. Emma had a huge gash on her left knee after falling on an earlier trek to Taal volcano. I got Betadine and cotton and covered her wound with adhesive strips - Emma was so surprised that Filipinos are not just friendly but helpful. Of course, Pinoys are naturally friendly and helpful.

Harvard, Harley and I took our seats at the jeepney's rooftop and had a commanding view of the mountains. We felt the rush of cold air. The ride up there was exhilarating as the jeepney negotiated rough terrain and our bodies got yanked in every direction. I was afraid I would lose my grip and who knows if I'll fall into the road or worse, into the ravine down below. As soon as we reached Banaue, we decided we've had enough of rodeo ride on the rooftop.

The road from Banaue to Bontoc is another two-and-half hour of butt-busting journey. It was so dusty that our faces were caked with dirt by the time we reached Bontoc. Alex and Emma, tough travellers that they were, took everything in stride. "Oh, there must be a bathroom somewhere". Yes, there's plenty in Sagada and most of them have water as cold as in Batad. Honestly, I didn't care if the water is bone-chilling, all I wanted was just to get rid of my "wild wild west" look.

We asked the driver how long is the journey from Bontoc to Sagada. He mutters: "Ah, only twenty minutes". Apparently, his concept of time in minutes is actually multiplied 3X as it took us a full hour to climb the last stretch of dirt road to Sagada. By the time we reached the Municipal Hall of Sagada - where we were expected to register - we were exhausted and starving. Ramir and Mario felt they're too tired to explore Sagada and decided right away to continue their journey back to Manila.

The four of us left went to check for available rooms at the St. Joseph's Resthouse where I stayed when I first came to Sagada. This place is managed by nuns of the Episcopalian convent. I noticed some changes though: there are now more rooms and more cottages with more amenities. Internet is available and they now have rooms with hot and cold shower for 1200 pesos. Only less than seven years ago, "hot shower" meant ordering for a pail of water that has been heated in a huge kettle. It cost 30 pesos then and reception has to be informed the night before!

Sagada has more houses today than I remember. Even the cars have started to get into the picture. Thankfully, Sagada retains a quiet atmosphere even at midday. I'm really glad videoke has not invaded this mountain town. I can not imagine Sagada with loud karaoke bars full of patrons singing off key. Sagadans should know by now that tranquility is one of the charms of their town. Many tourists - who spend money - go here because of that. Hopefully, cars and concrete houses wouldn't overrun Sagada and turn it into another Baguio.

For lunch, we went to Masferre Inn and Restaurant where vintage black and white photos of the Ifugao adorn the walls. Eduardo Masferre, father of Philippine photography, took gorgeous photos of the Central Cordillera people between 1934-1956, depicting their traditonal way of life in the mountains through his lens. I got so absorbed looking at the photos that I forgot we were here to eat. The Filipino dishes we ordered came out great. We went out fully re-fuelled and ready for a walk around Echo Valley.

I was by myself when I first went around Echo Valley in December 2000 searching for the famous "hanging coffins" . I was armed then with the Lonely Planet guidebook and used the little illustrated map to navigate past the Christian cemetery where cows grazed. From a lookout, the coffins were visible and I thought initially it was kind of spooky having to go through all these bushes and muddy trail in order to see someone's coffins up close. I ended up bumping into a pair of American backpackers who looked dazed and lost, their hair full of twigs and their boots full of mud. We all laughed at ourselves.

Nothing changed around Echo Valley. I reassured Giselle the walk around here is nothing compared to what we did yesterday. We walked past the Christian cemetery where cows where still grazing. After a while, we reached a steep incline overlooking the rock faces on the other side. Some of the coffins were visible from here. Harley was not about to forget why this is called Echo Valley in the first place: he screamed his lungs out to hear his own voice echoed back.

We walked down and went through the maze of bushes. Thankfully, the trail is not muddy this time. From here, the "hanging coffins" were visible, perched up there on the rock face. Only a few privileged Ifugaos are ever buried this way. Some of the coffins are really very old. We walked closer to the rock face until we encountered a small cave with bits of bones and the remains of an old coffin right by the entrance. It was then that I notice another trail going up to where the "hanging coffins" were. We followed it and sure enough, we stood almost at eye level with the hanging coffins! I've never been this close before.

It was drizzling as we made our way back to the Christian cemetery. We went inside St. Mary's Church and sat at the pew in silence.This Episcopalian church was established by the American missionary Rev. Fr. John Staunton in 1904 alongside what is now known as the St. Mary's School. American missionaries have long played an integral part in the education of Sagadans. It's not surprising therefore to find many of the locals in Sagada speaking English fluently. I remember my guide to Sumaging Cave and Bomod-ok Falls during my first visit to Sagada: he knew I was Filipino but insisted on speaking in English as the only other language he's comfortable with was Kankanaey.

Back at the St. Joseph's Resthouse, I decided to get a massage while Harley, Harvard and Giselle hunt for souvenirs. The blind masseur gave me an hour-long rubdown for 300 pesos. It felt so good that by the time my group came back, I almost fell asleep. My only worry was that I would have to take another freezing shower if I have to get rid of the oily concoction the masseur rubbed on me.

We had dinner at Yoghurt House, a popular hang-out among visitors. It's a small place with tables crammed near each other. You could be lucky if you snag a table here during its busiest hour, even luckier if your table is next to the fireplace. We find Alex and Emma also getting ready for dinner. What a small world indeed!


  1. Thanks for a very nice post. Wow, youve been travelling a lot. I am also maintaining a spiritual travel blo and i hope i can update it soon. Thnks again

  2. The Pilgrim,
    thanks for passing by and hope to 'see' you again here soon!

  3. lovely story. now I'm more excited with my Sagada trip..

  4. Batang Lakwatsero,
    thanks for the visit - have fun on your trip to Sagada!


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