Blog Updated! June 17, 2013
Story Updated! August 2, 2012

DAYS FIVE & SIX: Bontoc & Sagada

The Bay-Yo rice terraces on the road to Bontoc. Most of the mountain scenery looked like this.

Travelling through rice terrace country took us right into Bontoc, our original rice terrace viewing destination. The ones there, while still beautiful, lack the majestic scale of Banaue's. We tried to visit the Banaue Museum, supposedly the best mountain museum, but it was locked. The caretaker was out for an extra long lunch break. I hit the town's glorious, functioning ATM and we had lunch at the Pines Inn Kitchen. We ate Filipino. I should probably point out that up here your options for eating are Filipino or Ilocano. Ilocano is like Filipino with jalapenos in it.

Not having all day to wait around we continued to Sagada. Sagada is an outdoorsman's paradise. Before even checking into our hotel our guide took us out behind the Episcopalian Church of St. Mary the Virgin to Echo Valley, a place for hiking and practicing your dragon shouts, if you're dovahkiin. It's also home to the most easily accessibly hanging coffins.

I thought the church had a certain country charm to it.

Echo Valley; Does anyone remember the dragon shout for making fireballs?

Sagada is famous (sort of) for its traditional practice of hanging coffins off the sides of mountains in lieu of burial. According to Lonely Planet cave burial requires the sacrifice of 20 pigs and 60 chickens, so hanging the dead like a giant rope ladder with coffin steps is good enough. Or you can just charge tourists to play with grandpa's bones. Whatever.

The Hanging Dead.

Sagada has a lot of hikes and even spelunking to offer, but to do a lot of them you have to hire an official Sagada guide to come along. We hired a guide at the Municipal Hall/Tourist Center. That's built right above the Rural Bank of Sagada, home of Sagada's only ATM, which is only accessibly while the bank is open, five days a week. Welcome to Filipino Mountain Mayberry. The town has a nice rustic quality to it, its brighter than Banaue and not near as run down.

Downtown Sagada

Sagada from my hotel walkway

A really cool jeepney that followed us to Sagada. It makes me want to go where the flavor is! Jeepneys are a very common, cheap and definitely the most colorful mode of transportation in the islands.

Our guide took us on a quick hike down to the Lumiang Burial Cave and pointed out more hanging coffins on the way. The Lumaing cave reminds me of a city dump, that is if dumps were composed solely of coffins. An earthquake in the early 90's disturbed the place, but it appears no one has bothered to put the coffins back in any order. Honestly if I was to be buried this way I'd want my 20 pigs and 60 chickens back. (That's what gets sacrificed for the honor of a burial.)

The Sugong Hanging Coffins are that tiny spot in the center of the cliff.

Coffin close up. Had to tweak this image to make them clearer. The second from the top has spilled open and it's contents are atop the coffin below it. After all this morbidity I feel like I should show you a kitten or something.

Lumiang Burial Cave

After Lumiang we went spelunking down in Sumaging Cave which meant I had to put in swim trunks and bare my extra white legs.  I'd never been spelunking before. I've been in some pretty level man-made caves but nothing natural that descended lower and lower with water running through it. It was awkward too because I had to wear flip-flops then after we hit water, go barefoot. Audrey teased my about my clumsiness down there. In my own defense I may be clumsy, but I don't get winded unlike some people.

Bats and tourists inhabit the cave, as we went lower the bat screeching was incessant. We also had to occasionally slow down so as not to overtake the group ahead of us. For light Audrey was given a headlamp and our guide walked with a gas lamp. 

Once we hit water the cave changed, the liquid seems to have smoothed everything out and created amusing formations of rocks and shapes with names like "Dinosaur's Footprint," "Birthday Cake," "King's Curtain," "Pregnant Woman" and... a rock shaped like that which impregnated her.


The Pregnant Woman

It was a little dangerous heading down but that made it more fun. One bad spill and getting you back out could be problematic.  I didn't have any major slips till the way back up. Our guide stopped to set down the lamp. He turned his back to me, which put my path in darkness. I stepped into a waist deep pool of water, skinning my knee and water-logging my camera, which thankfully still worked afterwards.

We only used the rope to get back up, getting down was a more... adventerous proposition.

We spent two hours in the cave before returning to the surface world. After celebratory halo-halo we had lunch and planned for an afternoon hike. The hike ultimately didn't happen. It would have been to a waterfall that was way out in the country. Up and down the hilly landscape and through jungles kind of thing. Which is fine. Then the guide said it was 2 hours. Oli and Audrey suddenly had a change of heart on how much they wanted to see a waterfall. I was still game. Then he clarified, two hours there, three back. It was 1 PM and quite hot out. A five hour hike was beyond any of us, so we went back to the hotel.

We did wander about the town a bit that day and visited the Ganduyan Musem. It's a small museum above a store and full of the same artifacts as the Baguio, Ifugao, Banaue and Bontoc Museums, but it's owned by an older lady named Christine. She is Ifugao so for her telling us about these things isn't a study in history or someone else's culture but rather her own. It was much better to listen to her stories of Ifugao life than it was just reading about it at the other museums. She also has a Japanese helmet and an old M1917 on display. She didn't know what the American M1917 helmet was or where it came from so I explained it to her. It's what I do.

HOTEL: Sagada Homestay

The original house and main building

We stayed at Sagada Homestay,  which is actually a house with cottages. There was no air-conditioning and internet was confined to the main house dining area. The wi-fi was kind of like dial-up but much slower.  The room was nice though and the woody decor just right. Also it was cheap, even though we did pay extra for a private bathroom. By bathroom I mean a shower stall with a toilet and sink inside it. The lack of AC wasn't a problem here though we were nervous about leaving our windows open, unlike Benaue our room had an exterior walkway one could use to get into our open windows.

We stayed and ate at this cottage

Eating in town is about the same all over so we mainly ate at the Homestay's restaurant located beneath our room. We once we tried to eat at the Log Cabin. Supposedly it's the best place in town according to the Lonely Planet guidebook. So we stopped in at 3:30 PM to see when it opens for dinner. The guy working the counter says it opens at 6, but we have to have reservations. So we made a reservation. Then he says the food has to be pre-ordered. So we start perusing the menu. Then he says since it's after 3 we can only order off certain pages. Then I say, screw this place we're going back to the Homestay. So Log Cabin can eat me. But only with a reservation, of course.


I hope you enjoyed the travelogue so far, next we'll continue the journey to Vigan, the last of the old Spanish Colonial towns.

Philippines Vacation 2013: Manila-Capas

Philippines Vacation 2013: Baguio-Banaue

Philippines Vacation 2013: Vigan I

Ghosts of Seattle

Mariveles, Bataan Province, Philippines

This metal 'Soldier's Grave' is part of the Death March Memorial at Kilometer 0, where the march began in Mariveles. An identical sculpture is on Corregidor as well. We found this by accident, we were driving to the bancay boats to get to Corregidor when we missed our turn. I noticed the Death March marker we passed said "2 km" on it, so I asked our driver if he could go another two kilometers before turning around. Sure enough two kilometers down the road, across the the beach and nestled in a quiet little park next to a Jollibee fast food restaurant was the Death March Kilometer 0 Memorial Park.

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