Day 1: Sagada Cemetery and the Hanging Coffins

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.


Day 1: The Final Stretch to Sagada

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. So 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.


Day 1: Banaue’s Stairways to the Skies

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.


Day 1: Banaue Ifugao, In Photos

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.


Prelude: Trip to the North

May 3, 2014, 3 AM. Nine hours ago, I was more than excited riding that bus to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, anticipating for a supposed fruitful ride to the mountainous region up north. Little did I know that a total disaster was fully upswing to no avail, while I was enjoying the dusky sights beyond the window, from that rough spot at the backmost part of the bus travelling through that under-constructed road. But comes good news, we made it safe there, around four hours later.

By the time we set foot to it at around 10 PM, the bad news immediately presented itself – the next trip will come not until dawn. Five hours of being stranded in the middle of the road at the middle of the night was a nightmare, no less than that. We were practically waiting for a bus heading to Banaue with no clue at all. As the night gets darker, the air madly becomes colder, while the last of the night’s stars was starting to slowly fade either. Everyone was savaging over the sweetness of their sleeps savoring the comfort of their beds, except me who happened to be at that stretch creeping on the midnight shadows, partied over by countless mosquitoes. My eyes were involuntarily drooping and falling flat against my bed would precisely be the most logical thing to do but the unfortunate circumstance I stuck myself into hopelessly deprived me of the tiniest coziness there is possible. But for half a heartbeat, I let myself pretend that I will soon get away with all those inconveniences. The odds were clearly not on my favor. But all things, including such inescapable troubles, do come to an end. And after nearly ten long hours of being high and dry around those chaotic roads my saving grace finally rose.


What Will You Get Outside For?

There are countless reasons to go outside. And if you think you have the reason to go outside, all expense paid, might as well consider this one. It’s quick and would only take a couple of minutes of your time. The steps:

1. Go to Facebook and look for the Go to the What Will You Get Outside For App.

2. Click the LIKE button and authorize the App. You will see something like this:

3. Fill out the Registration Form and read the Mechanics. Create your entry by completing the statement: I am _________________ who will get outside for _____________________________. And then submit your entry.

4. And if it’s not too much to ask, I would humbly ask for your support by voting for my entry by following this step: (A) Go to Gallery and look for my name. (B) Click the icon and a big red circle will pop up. Then kindly click the Vote button.

If you have your entry too, let me know and I will cast my vote for you as well.

5. Finally, if you have more time to spare, please do support my other friends who have entries as well. Thanks!

Disclaimer: This promo is hosted by R.O.X. Philippines and I’m not affiliated with this org. This post is just for promotional purposes.

Mt. Malipunyo Climb 2014 (Part 3)

Few more minutes and we were able to reach a flat ground for the first time in hours – the first of the three Mt. Malipunyo peaks. Right there, realization struck me – I have been here before. The tagged Mt. Malipunyo failed climb last year wasn’t really a failure after all since I’ve actually been to one of its peaks. Then I’m close to knowing that we actually almost reached Peak 2 too. And it would only take only a little less than an hour before the feat to Peak 3. Only if storm did not throw its wrath on us that day, we could have fully conquered Mt. Malipunyo at the first attempt. Meanwhile, we took a substantial amount of time to rest and energize for that mean time.

I was at the sweeper’s position during the climb but I took the lead after reaching the first peak to contain the excitement I was feeling to set foot at the very peak. As we continued with our clamber, the air started to get cooler and the mountain’s diverse flora and fauna get even richer. I have seen at least eight different orchid types and other rarely seen plant species strategically thriving along the trails. The mountain also offered a wide range of diversity: mossy, grassy, thorny, and even spiral-y trails. The enthralling view started to present themselves as we go further which includes silhouettes of Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Cristobal, Talim Island, the Laguna Lake, and the rest of Laguna and Batangas cityscapes. We were further engrossed with an alternating course of ascents and descents towards the peak. The pacing on the lead was perfect for me, I was gasping at some point but the eerie feel ironically satisfies me. There were lots of short stops here and there to take some good breath and refill our canteens before the final assault bleakly came, along with the promise that sooner or later, we would find our feet finally unable to go any higher at the end of that steep trail.

And there were we, at Mt. Malipunyo’s third summit. We shortly took a moment to appreciate another scenic view of the nearby towns and other mountains atop, before delightedly feasting for lunch. And the inevitable came, the clouds turned into drops and wept hardly upon us even before we’re done eating. We waited for the 30-minute torrential downpour to cease before deciding to tarry down. And it took us another four hours of long walks, unseen tumbles, hard slides, totaling to a slight jeopardy on those wet and slippery trails, before calling it all quits.

Credits: Photos are properties of Bettina Asilo & John Leonard Eseo

Mt. Malipunyo Climb 2014 (Part 2)

With the extreme mountaineering adventure the Malarayat range (seven peaks total) has to offer, I dreamed and started my quest of conquering each peak, one at a time. I had the chance to triumphantly reach Manabu Peak last year and have been part of a failed attempt to surmount Mt. Malipunyo few weeks later. Reminiscent of the latter’s unsuccessful stint, I made it a point to go for a redemption climb which happened to be just last weekend tofinally seal that unfinished Malipunyo business.

To prevent some pre-assumed complications, we see to it to find a guide this time who will make things right since we’ve been to a hell of a crappy climb the last time we’ve been to this very mountain’s trails when we decided explore its forest-ness by ourselves alone. We lightly took the locals’ advice that we won’t need the help of a guide for this climb’s purpose, and that going up would be an easy job, which turned out to be the other way around. Tales of troubles aside, what have left now are lessons learned. We’ll not be going up there with no one to accompany us. To cut the long story short, we hired Kuya Rey as our day’s guide. Though he’s not as popular as Kuya Mario among bloggers, wonders presented themselves as we furthered our climb along with him. One striking impression about him is his apparent physical disability being a polio victim. Though this is quite an issue to begin with, it’s fair to give him the benefit of the doubt before dropping any unlikely judgment. The man might prove you otherwise. I had a good chance of exchanging words with him during the early parts of the trail, and though I could not really understand most of the things he was talking about, the eagerness in his eyes to share those things was enough reason for me to listen.

It was exactly an hour past eight when we commenced with the climb. The sun’s deprecatingly ablaze that there was no trace of rain to come unlike our previous attempt when we’re stormed during our way up. It was a gradual walk for the first hour along that familiar wide trail that eventually narrowed down to a grassy one. Intuitively, I took a substantial amount of time documenting things. Until a minor change on the trail – a residue from the onslaught of typhoon Glenda, a landslide along the trail, welcomed us as we walked further. Huge chunks of rocks and soil were substantially eroded altering the landscape of the previous trail.

After passing through it, we continued walking along a long grassy track towards a proverbial stream of ankle-deep water known to be the De Lobo River that swiftly flows from the nearby Rey Falls, named after Kuya Rey himself, by the legendary Sky Biscocho (a popular name in the hiking and mountaineering world). The falls is definitely not comparable to a faucet someone left leaking like the other falls I have been to during the previous climbs, but a fully-fledged falls to the very word itself. The way to it was short but certainly not an easy task. The ridge towards it is too steep that one could not afford to commit a fall of any sort. Extra care is very much needed to claim such a rejuvenating reward afterwards, such an awesome sight to behold.

We continued with the ascent through the thick healthy forest and reached another mini-falls which is still entrailed to the Rey Falls. We had one good rest at the place to condition ourselves for an even daring way up the slopes. Soon enough, we were welcomed by Lipa tress and teka-teka plants which were the primary hindrances during our climb aside from the steep ascent itself. While the excitement creeps down my spine, thorns (or whatever those) were hitting their way thru my skin, unknowingly. It was only later when I realized about the pain they have indelibly caused. The amazing thing was, there were no visible signs left on my skin, but I could feel the intensity of such damn pain.

Few more minutes and we were able to reach a flat ground for the first time after hours.. the first of the three peaks.

Credits: Some photos are owned by Bettina Asilo

Mt. Malipunyo Climb 2014: Flora and Fauna

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Mt. Malipunyo in Talisay, Lipa City, Batangas, is the high diversity readily noticeable through its trails, as previously reviewed on some blogs online. With this knowledge before hand, I was quite excited to capture all these shits in mind, especially with our failed Mt. Malipunyo climb last year which refused me from keeping a watchful eye on this aspect. And with that previous failure, I learned that high expectations are really a tricky thing as the chances for disappointments are also higher. So I set my mind on the neutral state and not expect too much. Fortunately, I did have a good time fulfilling the plan but alas, failed to complete the job as the camera at my hand wasn’t able to extend its life up to the very peak. Nevertheless, majority of my expectations and anticipations were fairly justified.

Our Mt. Malipunyo story comin up..

Marinduque Trip Roundup

It pays to travel to the not so obvious places, to the tough ones, it’s always an opportunity to discover and learn new things. A Marinduque trip is one of such. To make a long story short – a long story that involves experiencing the gift of nature in different range and forms, but shortly cursing the stars with a sojourn so quick to end – I’m doing this round up. 

Early May this year, we sped along that long drive from Calamba Laguna to Dalahican Port in Lucena intensely hoping to catch the 10:30 pm RoRo trip towards that heart-shaped island trivially known to be the center of the Philippines. We were six in the group, all in hurry running late. Unfortunately, dust of devils seemed to swirl around our way as we rode that hopeless bus fingers-crossed to catch the last trip. And in an instant, there they were – the anger, paranoia, heartbreak, and bitterness that raced against each other as we’re welcomed with such a bad news: we didn’t make it. Instead, we ended up waiting for the first trip to come later at around 4 am the following day. Right then, two of my main expectations were dispelled. One, that my first long ride across the sea will memorably be a good one, and two, that I may have my much-needed sleep at that time. Obviously, I haven’t had a nice sleep the whole time and aboard. It was a painstaking wait compounded by the delayed voyage and the long drift itself. But the good heavens soon presented the first wave of surprise with the breathtaking sunrise right before our eyes. And the skies were blanketed by a bloody rosy blend that slowly broke into positively uplifting hues suggesting a good day ahead. And good day it was.

We made it safely to Balanacan Port eventually after four sleepless hours. From there, we took lift to Sta. Cruz where we’re supposed to stay. We were dropped to the city proper alongside Sta. Cruz Cathedral before finally proceeding to Bancuangan. The good day officially started with a mouth-watering breakfast meal courtesy of our hosts. Indeed, the best foods in life are free. Then by 10 am, we pushed through with our first stop: Bagumbungan Cave at Brgy. San Isidro, Sta Cruz.

We then started walking back to where we have entered; eventually giving us a view of that much coveted light once more, as we finally reached the mouth of the cave, and generously gave a final sight of such sarcophagus we just came out from.  We traveled back to Bancuangan at around 1 PM. On our way back, we had this little mission, accomplished:

It was almost 2 PM already when we reached Bancuangan for lunch, keeping in mind that in a few minutes, we’re heading to our next destination: Maniwaya Island. We took a quick rest before packing up and further our way to that island.

We spent the night over the island. And before finally leaving hours before lunchtime the next day, we were able to experience the refreshing island taste through their buko at very affordable prices.

We then travelled back to the mainland and arrived just in time for lunch. We took the liberty of exploring Marinduque food through the infamous Rico’s Inn strategically located at the city proper. We did kill a substantial amount of good time there before deciding to further explore the city and buy some mandatory pasalubong. Few walks from there and we were able to find a stall that fulfilled our aim. Marinduque is known for its local delicacies such as uraro, ube jam, and banana chips, among others. After the swift shopping, we decided to go back to our base to take another break in preparation for our next trek.

It was already 4 PM when we resume with our itinerary. From where we were, Kawa Kawa Falls was an hour walk away so we wasted no time for us not to catch by the dark.

It was franticly getting dusky when we get on our feet and leave the darkling woods. And it took us just the right time to walk and manage to spare school supplies to the children along the way. It was yet another good time extending a little help to them. It’s always a wonderful feeling just seeing those wide smiles.

We took a good sleep that night, enough to prepare ourselves for the most exigent stint of this trip yet: the extra challenging climb to a hill in Hinanggayon where The Luzon Datum of 1911 is located, the wicked center of the Philippines. Within minutes, we find ourselves hitting the road again.

Running late and hugely conscious about time, we rushed our way down at around 1 PM. We were largely scarce with water at hand which made the descent even hard. But to a much shorter time than we expect, we safely arrived at the jump-off. The first thing to look for was a cold drink, but much to our surprise, there was more there is than we crave for. Coincidentally, it was there barangay fiesta that time so the locals unselfishly offered us the best food there is on their plates, all for free. Unlike the water scarce we experienced earlier, good people are still all around the place, and they do come when we least expect them. Even after treating us with a satisfying meal, their kindness didn’t end just yet. They even escorted us to where we could rent a boat for our way back to Balanacan Port.

In thirty minutes, we boarded the RoRo again, and the sad truth presented itself – we’re definitely going back to reality once more.

Note: Excuse the induced self-plagiarism


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