25 June 2019

Sagada, over and again

It used to be all praises whenever I write about my travels in the past because that’s my truth. But truth changes with time sometimes. And some truths turn out to be harder to tell when you know better.

Whenever people ask me about how I learned about Sagada's existence, I sort of lie when I say I don't really remember because it leads me back to an embarrassing event in my high-schooler life, it's during NSPC 2007 (when I instantly blew my chances to win due to a stupid mistake I did) in Baguio City after I overheard other delegates from the South heading there after the event. The place remained a mystery to me since then. And the idea of seeing actual hanging coffins kept that flame and desire to solve that mystery. As you may know, I used to have deep fascination over stuff like that.

Six years later, I finally had the perfect opportunity to tick that mystery off my list. And it’s a total dopamine hit of cultural experience as far as I remember. Had an extensive documentation of that encounter here, here, here, here, here, and there. Too fast how another six years has come and gone. And I was embraced around Sagada’s loving arms for the second time. 

Contrary to the usual diy template I always apply in most of my travels in the past, I opted to hit this one thru the current trend known to many as joiners system. Process is plain and simple – sign up then pay the required amount specified by the organizer and there’s nothing more to worry about, saving one from a roll with unnecessary punches. No brainer, this is an obvious choice for many, but for many more other reasons I still prefer the former & old school method of things. Honestly, this choice is a bitter pill for me to swallow. I just ran out of time to do the necessary research, thus, resorted to this pop scheme. There was some sort of radical detachment really with this mode of travel – no real freedom, no choice in most of the trip things.

But anyways –               We started hitting the road by midnight, targeted to arrive at our first destination by morning the next day. Guess your guess was good as mine, things didn’t happen as planned. The mad tales about the Nueva Vizcaya roads hold true most of the time, our time being not an exception. Heavily behind the itinerary already, we still took a time off for breakfast in a stop at Aritao by 7AM, yawning and stretching after a good seven hours hitting the road. In no time, we rolled until we reached the fabled eighth wonder known of the world know as the Banaue Rice Terraces. Took us quite a while appreciating the artistry of our ancestry right before our eyes. But not long after, made our way through the treacherous roads over the mountains once again. Finally at around 2 o’clock we made it to our destination. We were slapped by the local government’s imposed centralized transpo system calling for an uncalled-for additional expense. Just shrugged it off by taking the necessary late meal to ease the tension, hopped for a quick Echo Valley tour to have the Sagada-feels and a quick Sumaguing cave venture to maximize whatever time were left.

Everything happened so abrupt for the rest of the afternoon. That’s the beauty of travelling on joiners approach. Or, actually not.

Ever boasting its grandeur sans the hype and attention it raked post That Thing Called Tadhana, Sagada is a beauty to behold except for a few deviations noticeably evident compared to its six years ago version. I know, comparison is a thief of joy but can’t help to compare. So, one glaring difference is the seemingly less green, more shadowy jagged Sagada hills on that December afternoon. It’s still the same sleepy community that it used to be but the ongoing activities-towards-advancement within the area made it a little more alive but not in a very ok way. Progress is on its way but to the expense of some good things that define and cut Sagada from the rest – simplicity, authenticity, and its mad state of being reserved.

What I’m trying to say is, somehow, Sagada hasn’t really changed for the better. Cliché this is, change is inevitable. Take the Echo Valley for a perfect example; most of the trails have deteriorated to a couple of folds, showing clear signs that a handful of negligent visitors have recently been there such as messy, wide, and receding trails. Then there was this rock-climbing spot recently installed in the area. The Hanging Coffins were also heavily guarded with fences which implies a lot of negative stuff. And don’t get me started with the unavailability of Kiltepan for the time being, which according to rumors was bombed due to a family feud. Truth or not, I believe we will all agree that Kiltepan is nowhere near good given all the stresses it suffered for the past three years.

With these and that, I think that this should never be a case of – it’s the way things go, and that’s all there is to it. That, it’s something that needs not just to be worried about, but also needs to be done something about. While I may say that Sagada is still as breathtaking as it was, it could be in danger given its current state.

Don’t get this wrong, I have no wish to give the slightest impression that Sagada is no more worth a try. In fact I would be more than glad to return. But the heavy influx of tourists has taken its toll on the place. In fact, in most of the other tourist destinations at this age. The thing I wanted to emphasize is that we are part of the cause for what it has become, and it’s our responsibility to make it better again.

Later that night, we spent the rest of the day over good stories, of catching up among friends, under the nighttime sky. The next day, we attempted a hike towards Marlboro/Blue Soil before the sunrise but rain poured down hard and low. Instead, we wrapped up the trip by visiting some of the spots I missed out during my first Sagada visit such as Weaving & Pottery showing off the locals’ craftsmanship, the serene Lake Danum, and a quick yoghurt indulgence.

Finally, we took another round of ride across those mountainous roads back to our regular sequence of checklists, actions, and respites. With this trip I had one outstanding realization: in travelling, it’s essential to always bring our curious eyes, sharp ears, and caring hearts. It’s worthy to constantly try to see, listen, and feel what nature tries to show, compels to hear, and endeavors to sense. Take a time off to step back to absorb and soak everything you see and feel and taste while travelling.

There’s more than meets the eye, the ear, and the heart.

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