That Place Called Sagada

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Nestled at the heart of the mountainous regions up north, surrounded by the lush green pines, and blessed with such rich culture and friendly people, certainly, one can’t go wrong with Sagada. Here’s a long lost letter from all of me who loves everything about Sagada.

Dear Sagada,

I want to take this opportunity to tell you how bitter I’ve become during that February 28 dawn I was trying to get to you. Not really bitter, just sad, that kind of hopeful sad that just takes time.

To tell you honestly, I cursed you more than the number of times I have done my own laundry. Wth, we were just some tiny speck of dust under the open skies and we’re denied with the tiniest comfort there is that night. But don't worry, I’ve moved on soon enough.

I couldn’t exactly remember how happy I was the moment I set foot to Banaue and experience its fresh morning air. The chilly mountains bathed in unsullied dews was a beauty I will reckon forever.

And I will never forget that face-to-face BanaueRice Terraces encounter along the road towards you. For a moment, I really enjoyed it. Because it’s finally happening. It was like that kiss that made me know that I was never so happy in my entire life.

I truly enjoyed those hours of riding topload and take pleasure with those 360 degree view of naturely sights while riding those long and winding roads towards you. And finally, that exceptional rush in my veins, thrilled me with such prospect of adventure, shit-scared of the great unknown.

Also, thanks for a comfortable place to stay. So clean. So good. So..rry, wrong tagline. It provided me so much peace in the midst of coldness and heartaches. LOL. You've got the best of hearty  foods, too.

I will forever cherish those lessons off your culture, the beautiful sights you offer, and the incomparable experiences they’ve brought me, which were unexpected treasures far more valuable than any material wealth there is.

And then the people, I built bonds with when I was with you. I travel, to seek other places, other lives, other souls, and it was made possible through you.

Finally, there you were breaking my heart for the second time, as I leave such haven for home – and I was both happy and sad at the same time of that moment. Going through the trip has changed me in more ways than I than I can count. Since then, I am not me any more, at least not the same me I was.

If only I could, I really want to go back to your loving arms and carefreely stroll along those roads again. And see if that F. Scott Fitzgerald quote is true – “There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice”

Love always,
Me


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Day 2: Lumiang-Sumaguing Cave Connection

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For the record, this was my first official caving adventure. And thinking back about that four-hour psychedelic tour on depths of stunning labyrinths, effortlessly re-furnishes my thirst for more deadly quests, hopefully in the very near future. The mouth of the Lumiang Cave is creepy but a sight to behold in itself with those piles of coffins encasing the remains of their ancestors who passed away due to old age, for the past couple of hundred years. 

Lamps’ on, hearts out, and we were all ready to jumpstart with the traverse. The dizzying descent of the Lumiang Cave welcomed us via an initial taste of adventure through those intrepid spelunkers ahead of us who descended and disappeared in no time among the rocks. We eventually crept into those very same tight gaps until the natural light eventually turned into a thing in the past. In no time, the cave took us on hands and knees through network passageways depths further into the earth.

Descending from the Lumiang caves’ narrow trails is a dispute to reckon as each passage requires squeezing into tight rock formations, getting through and sliding through and drop down those steep crevices. There were certain stunts which were difficult to execute in the absence the tour guides’ legs and shoulders that literally served as our feet’s landing spots and ladders to cross and avoid dropping off those jagged rocks. But being the egoistic traveler that I am during that time, I refused to accept much assistance and rather opted to figure things out on my own most of the time, of course making sure to obey and respect the guides whenever they try to offer me their assistance :) Waterfalls and streams of underground waters as well as arduous hill-y rocks are abundant later on with the spelunking jaunt, to which I honestly lost count. Wading through and passing across those waist-high cold waters, climbing a storey-high rock formations, getting through those slick rocks and downward slopes, while hanging on to ropes strategically tied along the shallow roads, were all part of this orchestrated obstacle course. The adventure is obviously for the relatively fit ones with huge determination and heart for extreme adventures at that. Hours later, we reached the second half of the cave course: the Sumaguing Cave where we marvelled at awesome rock formations including those that resembles a mermaid, an umbrella, king’s curtains, animals such as an alligator, a frog, a turtle and some pincers, as well as some naughty and pervy sights. It was joy beholding those high-ceilinged, echoey cathedral-like caverns prepped with those precious stalagmites and stalactites.

At the end of the Sumaguing Cave, was the much coveted sunlight. But we still went sideways to indulge on those glassy, limpid, underground pools and bone-chilling crystal clear rivers right before us before going up. At the end of it all, we climbed back up approaching that illuminating light, and was welcomed back by that signature sweet earthly smells and high-pitches squeaks of bats, until we completely made it to that final 120-step assault.

And things couldn’t get more surreal at that time, definitely one for the books.
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Top 14 Tracks of 2014

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While 2014 was a year of me visually and emotionally experiencing life no less than life itself, there were certain instances when spending afternoons and those wee hours drowning with the good grace of the sound of music was still the best thing there is. And as this blog’s annual yearend tradition, I sifted through the goldmine of rarities and obscure finds once again to come up with this list of the best tracks that came out this year (at least according to my ever reliable taste, lol). My pc unfortunately crashed towards this year’s last quarter, hence, unlike the previous years (2010, 2011, 2012a, 2012b, 2013) in which the ranks were based on each track’s total number of plays on my iTunes player, this list will simply rely on my ever reliable ability to remember which among those tracks have accumulated the most play time. So, Here then is the list of the 14 of the most substantial pieces of my 2014, alphabetically arranged.

                                                                                                     
1. All Of The Stars – Ed Sheeran. Fvck John Green, there’s no fault in our stars, just metaphors and complex things we don’t understand.

2. Arsonist’s Lullaby – Hozier. Thank heavens there’s Hozier.

3. A Step You Can’t Take Back – Keira Knightley. This Begin Again shit effortlessly haunts like a beating heart, it’s hard to get pass it.

4. Bakuran – Johnoy Danao feat. Aiza Seguerra. Heartfelt retelling of that classic tale on the controversial thin fine line separating friendship and romance, and all the other gray spots in between.

5. Cenuries – Fall Ou Boy. Totally out of the box, yet largely entertaining.

6. Diwata – Abra feat. Chito Miranda. Other than the fact that the MV was shoot at UPLB and Maria Makiling was played by Nicole Asensio, there’s so much lovable about the track itself, including all the underlying meanings between the lines.

7. Ikaw – Yeng Constantino. This track single-handedly deflates the argument about the questionable existence of forever.

8. Lost Stars – Adam Levine. Can’t remember any Adam Levine shit I ever liked til this one.

9. Mahal Ko O Mahal Ako – KZ Tandingan. It bagged the highest award during Himig Handog 2014, enough said.

10. Rude – MAGIC!. Bandwagon anyone? No. Used to love this track 319m Youtube views ago.

11. Seasons (Waiting On You) – Future Islands. Perhaps the most heartwarming romantic tale of despair for 2014.

12. Sabado – Eraserheads. This is nostalgia – artifacts of childhood memories, heartaches, highschool dramas, summer trips – rolled into one then put to sound.

13. Take Me To Church – Hozier. A bleakly deviant track which is an abrasive approach of presenting bunch of irony, inequality, and toxicity of life caged by the society’s faulty standards. // If I have to choose, I’ll pick this one on top of everything on this list.

14. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran. And why not, it’s Ed Sheeran.
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Day 2: Chasing Pongas Falls (Part 2)

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Once and for all, Sagada never failed to give me those moments of alexithymia.

The way to the reach the great Pongas Falls wasn’t exactly an easy walk as it offers a daring adventure, that anyone who’s not a huge fan of trekking would not welcome the idea, add the fact that the sun was at its hottest when we commenced with the hike at around 2:30 PM. It was an unfamiliarly quiet afternoon o’er the warmly welcoming rice terraces breathing waves of fresh air. The mere views at the jumpoff point and the trails were already a sight to behold.

After 30 minutes of walking, we passed through the peaceful village of Ankileng depicting their wealthy northern tradition. The locals were very welcoming as we’re greeted with the sweetest smiles one could expect. In the littlest ways, we were able to meet interesting people and were briefly immersed and introduced to their culture – a moment of feeling free, happy, and balanced with the world. The whole setting was a picture of that simple living to which I was born to with, and which the cityscape I now live to is lacking. 

Minutes later after feasting our eyes with those breathtaking views of green landscapes, passing through cliff edges, hanging bridges, and boulders, we were welcomed by the mountainous trails arched with towering pine trees, before having a glimpse and finally experiencing the falls itself, no more, no less. Much to my surprise then, validating the claim that such tramp was not as easy as it seems, we found ourselves alone in there.

The hills to the east starts to reflect the setting sun turning into a deep plum. I was physically dead tired and my eyes were impatiently drooping, but those thin gauze of clouds seemingly wrapping the green mountains with tuft cotton candies were too beautiful to mind those unecessary pains. True enough, many things, mostly the greatest ones, start out with some pinches of hardships. Right there, I found myself hugely amazed again.


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Day 2: Chasing Pongas Falls (In Photos)

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Day 2: Kiltepan Sunrise

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Although I am a huge believer of careful planning to carve out the life I choose, I am as well willing, from time to time, to leave some doors to serendipity. Case in point - that Sagada trip which turned out very surprising both in positive and negative ways, after the lack of proper preparation and whatnots. After the unsatisfactory Hanging Coffins splurge which was truly disappointing in so many levels, there’s no other way but hope for a brand new adventure for the next day. And to start it right was of high necessity, thus, we opt to catch the symbolic sunrise at the Kiltepan Peak to invite all the positivity there is to catch and outshine all those messes and negativities we acquired thus far. But it’s hard to wake up at 4am in Sagada, trust me. It’s been too comfortable in bed to venture out into the early rising, but that thought and rush of awaiting grandeur is too hard to ignore either. So in no time, we were calmly bathing over the muted twilight glow of predawn at the Kiltepan viewpoint over a cup of coffee beside a beaming bonfire. No doubt about it, the soothing mix of warm and cold air elicits that unique relaxation, less-guarded self-protection from the elements, and greater receptivity to the bathing breeze. Minutes later,


In the end, it’s not really that hard to start the day right. It’s not that hard to find a smile for a day, offer it to someone dear to you, to a stranger, to the great wide sky over your head, and for that one in the mirror.

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Day 1: Sagada Cemetery and the Hanging Coffins

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28 February 2014. Jokingly, we seemed to have gone to Sagada to sleep. The whole afternoon was all but an inviting atmosphere to lie and cuddle with pillows and blankets. That magnetic force between me and the bed was extra strong. The effortless coolness of the wind from outside and the lingering ominous silence on the four corners of that room was almost successful to spoil any adventure in store for the remainder of that day. The clock’s hands struck four before it dawned on me the real reason why we were there. The logical thing to do then was to gear-up and seal at least an item in our hypothetical itinerary since we don’t have that much time to spare. Clueless on where to begin with, we found ourselves at one of Sagada’s shopping centers for souvenir items where I purchased a comprehensive Sagada map to aid our succeeding plans. In no time, we came across their tourism office to hire for a tour guide for a trip to no less than the infamous Bomit-Og Hanging Coffins. Being the poor travelers that we were, we initiated a haggle to at least minimize the pricey four hundred bucks guide fee. But charm does not always work, apparently. Our friendly bid was harshly turned down by our "highly-esteemed tour guide" who rather virtuously rallied that poor-travelers do not exist. I was about to unleash the kuripot blood in me and defend my take on her controversially bold statement but to no avail. I quickly realized that we’re on the wrong territory to initiate a debate. Defenselessly, we agreed to pay the contracted charge and just proceed with the jaunt. After all, we were privileged to be accompanied by one of SAGGAS’ pioneers (at least according to her). From there, we walked a few meters around those refreshing lawns that seemed to be a better version of UPD’s sunken garden or UPLB’s Freedom Park, gloriously sashed with fine green landscape grass crowned with colossal pine trees around, punctuated with a palpable chill.


Further walk lead us to the Church of Mary The Virgin (an Anglican convent, contrast to the Spanish descent churches around the Philippines), seated at the nearbyCalvary Hill backyard overlooking the sleepy Sagada meadows which is the home for the Kankana-ey tribe. A couple of steps away is their municipal cemetery that somewhat resembles the traditional American graveyard. Peacefully lying there were thousands of their departed loved ones eternally in amity with nature. However, a few foreign-sounding names were also engraved on some of the epitaphs suggesting that people other than the locals are also allowed to spend their forevermore in such a home. Among these are probably the Spanish soldiers who coined the term Sagada for the place. Rumor has it that the term Sagada came from a misheard term while a group of Spanish soldiers walking from Besao met a man on his way to Danum Lake who carries a fishing basket. When asked what the name of the next place was, the man misheard the soldiers and thought that they were asking what he was carrying, the man exclaimed, sagada, from which the rest of settlement of the tribe was called since then. 

Another interesting fact about their burying customs includes their extravagant way of celebrating the All Saints’ Day. The locals gather up there and create bonfires, a ceremony called panag-apoy, instead of lighting traditional candles largely done here in the lowlands. Other than this, the locals have a lot more ways to remember their dead loved ones as they believe that forgetting the dead, is a second death, and a worse one than death itself.

In less than 20 minutes, we arrived at the shouting point of the Echo Valley where we could freely screech at the top our lungs and hear the echo in return and sparingly drank our eyes the blurry sight of the enchanting Hanging Coffins faraway. The forested area down there was a prized sight in itself but seeing the coffins close enough to catch legit photos is a necessity. From the facts we later gathered, the hanging coffins sprung from the belief that bodies buried high up the cliffs will be closer to the heavens. And in doing such, very complicated rituals are usually performed such as passing the corpse from one man to another starting at the point we were standing to the cliff where the coffins will be hanged. In doing so, they wish to be blessed with the departed’s bodily fluids that is perceived to contain the talents and knowledge off the corpse. Upon reaching the cliff, the body is then forced to assume the fetal position (a symbolic way to mimic our body’s position upon conception) before finally placing the carcass inside the coffin and hanged.

Clueless-ly, we were stuck there for around 10 minutes infinitely clicking for multitude shots, only to be disappointed by an unforgivably unscrupulous news: we can’t anymore afford to pursue further down to see the coffins because of the dumb shit reason that it Might Rain – Might Rain – Which Might cause the trails to be extra slippery, which could be difficult and dangerous for us, as if we seek for a pure comfort going all the way up there. Well I dare not question the tour guide’s decision to abort the excursion, out of respect. But my concern was that she could have informed us about such possibility beforehand to lower our expectations and rather reconsider rescheduling the tour. After all, our pockets were not some factory for unlimited source of flowing cash to waste for such fruitless attempt.

And in just like that, we hopelessly lost four hash for nearly nothing right, which felt like I was robbed, unarmed. Thank goodness this was the sole disappointment I have incurred out of the whole Sagada trip. Though the thought of it seemed like poison in the air like the presence of ghost in a feast, looking at the brighter side I could charge the lost cash to a still worthwhile experience.


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Day 1: The Final Stretch to Sagada

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Like anyone else, I have my own share of wrong things I did before I am not proud about. Regrets are part of the past which I would want to change if given the chance. But there are certain things I’m a hundred percent sure of being right about – my travels. I get lost, broke, and sick, out of travelling but I could safely say that at least I get to spend my times on earth the best way possible, by collecting the best of memories I could take pride of having lived. 

While feasting my eyes with those enormous pines flanked in those massive mountains under the sun’s glorious flames, I can’t help but drew those insane grins out of those simple things knowing that I am some place where exactly my heart is. I was all eyes on the road trying to memorize the tiniest details of what seemed to be a sanctuary to me.. until the next surprise caught me by surprise itself.

I have this childhood dream of setting foot in all the 81 provinces of the Philippines. And the 20th province I set foot to, came sooner than I expected. Doing the math, I’m officially (almost) one fourth away from realizing this dream. Of course, it’s one of those glorious days all over again, comparable to my first steps when I first walked around the UPLB grounds. For a few more moments, I took the liberty of living that dream awake over those green hills covered in refreshing fogs. And the next thing I knew, we were about to leave again to resume with that winding stroll, and do more right things along with it.


The clock read 11:19 am when we finally made it to Bontoc and it’s already sultry all around the place, though the coolness of the air never failed to tug on us as we look for the final lift to Sagada. We have had a long day behind us already and getting there the soonest was the first thing I could ever wish for during those moments. Getting to see the Banaue Rice Terraces eye-to-eye was more than enough but more things are still destined to unfold. And indeed, for the first time, I was able to ride on topload and enjoy the 360 degrees view of those naturely sights along the road, leagues away from the polluted city streets.

And finally after an hour, my numbed feet were able to feel the touch of that strange but homely land I deeply dreamed to see for quite some time previously. It was a busy but peaceful village sitting over a highly rich land with an equally rich culture, blessed with pleasant people. The next task we had to do was find a spot to stay the next two nights. Out of exhaustion, we settled for a relatively pricey place at the Central Sagada area instead of searching for cheaper ones. We finally took a quick late lunch before claiming that soundly sleep we’ve been aching to indulge for, many hours since.

I was dead tired during those moments, and for a while before I finally lost my senses, I was able to replay in mind the series of unfortunate events we had to face just to be that far, but then, without any trace of second thoughts, I knew I was at the right path. And I won’t trade the whole experience for whatever comfort there is.

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Day 1: Banaue’s Stairways to the Skies

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It’s quite hard to move away from something you’ve just started to fall in love with.

While I’m still awestruck with the heavenly feel of watching those rolling green slopes and the rest of other best things that come with it, the happiness in me have to cut short for that mean time. Frustratingly, my eyes could nearly withstand the stress and tiredness out of the previous night’s unlikely outcome but I managed to remain awake for the next few hours more because of those unbelievably incredible creations cascading in front of me. Indeed, the adrenaline and stress out of adventure is always better than the comfort in lazy days. In no time, we hopped on a jeepney chartered to Bontoc for an eventual lift to Sagada, to where we’re bound to be. The wheels began to roll as some unexpected things began to unfold. Nearly an hour later, we dropped off for the first surprise:

It’s no less than the Banaue Rice Terraces I used to scan and adore on those Sibika at Kultura textbooks during my primary years, which shows the pagiging malikhain at maparaan ng mga Pilipino. And the first grade pupil in me came effortlessly musing over the old days back then of dreaming to be on that very spot I was finally standing at.

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Day 1: Banaue Ifugao (In Photos)

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The northern trip I hoped for didn’t go well as planned (or the lack of it) early on with the trip. But the instant I hopped into that bus bound to Kiangan, Lagawe, and eventually to Banaue, all my worries were swept away, quickly forgotten all the ill-related consequences of not researching well-enough, despite the fact that we had to squat for most part of the trip due to the lack of available seats. The chilly mountains bathed in dews were largely welcoming with the ultimate rural feel (birds singing, clouds rolling, and so on), the wildest one you could ever imagine, as we crawled our way to that winding road that caused us thgat crazy rollercoaster ride. And just right before the sun fully comes out to its full form, we arrived at the drop-off point where we quickly registered and broke the fast at a nearby food stall, before roaming around their highly-praised landscape. And of course, capture some of those wondrous moments that features the indescribable gift of nature they unlimitedly enjoy.


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