Honeymoon Recap 5: Serene Sagada
(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)
From bumpin’ Baguio we took a 7 hour bus ride to remote Sagada through the winding, mountainous regions of North Luzon. Unlike our relatively cushy ride from Manila to Baguio, this one took some courage and concentration. Courage to not think to hard about the winding roads and how far there would be to fall were our bus to find itself but 2 feet to the left of it’s current position, and concentration on said winding roads to avoid motion sickness from all the bumps and turns. (I tried to neglect the latter, but a mere 10 minutes of watching Penn and Teller’s Bullshit on the iPod-of-fun had me distinctly nauseous.)
So there was a balancing act to be done. And really, once you wrapped your mind around having faith in the driver as truly an expert in his navigating his native terrain, the views were quite breathtaking. It was a rainy day with lots of fog and clouds rolling through the hills and valleys, and a look down from the bus into a nebulous gray mass gave a certain awe and reverence for nature, not unlike the Cliffs of Insanity. Also etched into the hills everywhere were step-like terraces for farming such uneven land. These weren’t necessarily the ancient Ifuego rice terraces, but never the less a treat for the eyes and a remarkable display of ingenuity.
During our bus ride there were two stops in little villages for snacks and restroom breaks. At the first of these was where met Peter, a friendly fellow from Canada who was exploring the country with his girlfriend Kate from Korea. It’s great how fast you can make a friend while comparing how the flan in little plastic cups which you both just bought tastes (it tasted good, by the way–a nice remedy to iPod-induced wooziness). A good thing, too: Peter and Kate would turn out to be instrumental in making our time in Sagada awesome.
When the bus arrived after nightfall in Sagada us back-packer types all dispersed to find lodging, with an agreement to meet Peter and Kate for dinner. After a nice dinner at the Log Cabin (during which Peter reinforced Canadian stereotypes by tending to the un-staffed fireplace like a pro–he also admitted to indeed keeping an ax in the back of his truck), our foursome went back to their room for what was perhaps the greatest throwback to collegiate days that I can remember. In their dorm-like room (you know the style: you enter and there’s a bed on the left, a bed on the right, and not much more) we partook of the bounties that Peter had so wisely procured in one of the small bus-break villages: a bottle of reconstituted brandy from Spain, and a loaf of freshly baked banana bread. I assure you that the latter well complimented the former between shots as we passed the bottle: there’s nothing quite like cheap booze and minimal furniture to foster good times and camaraderie.
In our inspired state caused by bread and brandy we plotted to the next morning all do the 4 hour cave tour, because why not? Seems cooler than the 2 hour version, and apparently part of it calls for swim trunks.
We were rewarded for our outstretched curiosity: what we got ourselves into we probably wouldn’t have done with full knowledge of it up front, and we are more hardcore and experienced for it. This was serious climbing around and through some big rocks and slippery formations, with ample opportunities to misstep and fall a good 20 feet. The whole experience was probably nothing you could ever get away with in a litigious society, and I’m glad we were where we were so as to enjoy it.
Our guides were nothing short of bad-ass. While we were at times crab walking along with butts touching down every foot or so for stability, they were walking along casually in flip flops while brandishing the large kerosene torches which provided our only light, and carrying our backpacks to lighten our load.
For this, and other feats pertaining to expertly having our lives in their hands, we tipped them well and eagerly so.
After 4 hours of climbing through crevices, balancing on boulders, wading through water, and finagling footholds we were finally greeted by sunlight at the cave’s other entrance some 2 miles from where we initially descended. We were sore, tired, a little damp and a lot muddy, but all the better for it and feeling triumphant.
Rest and recovery sums up the remainder of our time in Sagada, which suited. There’s a certain stillness of the tiny, remote mountain town that is hard to describe yet easy to recall. Within 48 hours of our underworld adventure we were on the bus back to Baguio, and on to the surf district of San Juan.