Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sagada in 1998. There is still magic.

At the onset of flooding in Baguio City caused by Typhoon Pepeng, media is one in expressing, Baguio, the respite from the city has become one congested city too. Thus the recall of this article written in 1998 when we declared that to simulate the authentic Baguio atmosphere, one must escape farther up North, to Sagada.


There is Still Magic in Sagada

There is still magic in Sagada despite the thousand lowlanders who escaped from Baguio and the city this Christmas 1998. Like a fairy tale, it starts with a struggle of several refusals in various instances ending happily with an unexpected fulfillment.

No Ride. We missed the Lizardo Bus at the Dangwa station in Baguio for the direct trip to the town. As early as 6 in the morning of Sunday 28 December, all the 6 buses were filled up and dispatched early.

No lodging. All inns were full. Some patient travelers had to contend with the hospital bed at the community hospital. That included us.

No Food. We were rejected several times at the Log Cabin, St. Joseph, Masfierre Inn and Shamrock for food and drinks.

Still there was magic in Sagada. The Celestine Prophecy attributed it to the pure energy of the mountain. James Redfield explained it as “the need to begin expecting miracles that will reveal our true mission in life. If we stay true to our life mission and do the inner work necessary to allow us to get out of our own way, opportunities will present themselves to help you with your problems.” Yet, despite the challenging incidences that Christmas holiday, everything just flowed.

I planned this trip in December and finalized the details only in Baguio via pager with my friends in Manila the day before. All met at Chowking in Session Road Sunday from various origins. I came from Baguio, two straight from the bus from Manila and one from the beach of San Fernando La Union. Mitch Soria, a PALMC colleague, Arney Nocum, a freelance photographer and a broadcaster, Tec Mañalac, a youth leader working at the Office of the Manila Mayor and I were directed to a bus headed for Bontoc. We got off at junction and hitched a ride in an open van. We were treated to an open-air view of the Sagada Mountain together with about twenty other passegers.

Upon arrival at the cooperative store, we saw Dax and Beatrice, our friends from PSI (People Synergistically Involved) who invited us at the St. Mary's orphanage (now rented by a Canadian Funded NGO IA for Transformation). That free accommodation freed a lot of time all for us. It was a big relief to first timers Arney and Tec who had no idea what was in store for them.

How can Sagada not enchant anyone? We were billeted in an old, big schoolhouse made of wood, now a rare commodity in this town. We experienced a 10° C on our first morning, the coldest ever for the year 1998 we were told. The pine trees bursting with pine cones all over surrounding the valley contributed to the cold, clean air that lingered with us all throughout our 3-day stay. Baguio may have been like this over 50 years ago with hardly any vehicle polluting the air. Like staying in a country club, we were given a welcome treat. Beatrice and Dax put up a bonfire at the school house' spacious front yard to warm us up.

Sagada to me is one modestly-sized theme park with the exception that everything is in its natural state. The country music of John Denver and Kenny Rogers played incessantly at the buses complemented the clean country atmosphere. To move from one wonder to the next, one walks for as short as 5 minutes from the Plaza (Echo Valley) to a long half a day (Sumaging Cave or the big waterfall).

We viewed the morning sunrise amidst streaks of light and mist at the Keltepan tower at the East Side of Sagada at six in the morning (elevation about 2,200 meters ASL). The group witnessed the same sun go down from the top of Lake Danum Mountain at the west side. Instead of streak of lights, the sun displayed various shades and layers of orange and blue set in pure un-adulterated air. We stayed until the threatening clouds claimed the view and the temperature dropped.

The entire town celebrated the Cañao wedding which kept everyone, residents and a close to thousand guests alive the whole night of Monday even with the 9 PM curfew imposed. This gave drinkers like Mitch and I a chance to enjoy beer at the Shamrock.

We walked North, East, South, West and trekked from 1,200 meters to 2,200 meters ASL. Dived at the waterfalls, entered the cave, patronized handicrafts, ate a lot of red rice, drank a lot of Sagada tea, met old friends like Ronald and Avic Arcilla, forged new friendships with Raul Lejano and Ron of Toyota. We expelled the urban air of Baguio and Manila and breathed in fresh ones from the mountains.

Why it there still magic in Sagada? Sagada this year was different. Different from last summer and the 1996 holidays when there was just a handful of guests. What with all these lowlanders, I thought the place has lost its charm. But in the company of Mitch, Arney and Tec and the energy all around us, nature still worked on us. It energized us to do about almost everything that can be done. It erased all the obstacles that got into our way. Means showed up when they was no ride to the town, no inns at the Plaza, no food, no way to the sunrise and no way to the sunset and no ride way back to Baguio and Manila.

We sneaked out of Sagada in a passenger jeep at 5:30 am on the 30th Tuesday to Bontoc to take the 7 AM bus ride to Baguio via Dangwa Transit. At past noon, we were perhaps the first batch backpackers to be back in Baguio from the enchanted place.

Then with the fun group of Jerry Balignasa and Russel Aguinaldo, we met up with the PALMC Group headed by Mayan, Wing, Art, Minerva, Ivy, Rhoda, Darwin, Ruel, Juno and his wife. We got a preview of the adventures of federation climbers as Jun Cipriano, Jun Martin, Gerry Girl N., Butch Ballesteros, Resil, Rudgir, Loyd, Ann, Joy and Dulce who trekked up to Pulag that same weekend led by EL Romy Valdes. We drank and narrated with gusto our stories until the bus trip, scheduled late that night until early morning, signaled it's time to go.

Traveling back to Manila on the 31st, I kept on hearing in my mind the song of the late John Denver asking to be brought home to country road where he belongs. With all these enchantment, we asked why don't we belong there too?

Recalling these enjoyable experiences, I looked back at the 5th Insight of the Celestine Prophecy, “the 5th insight deals with how we don't have to steal energy from others but instead can absorb energy directly from the universe if only we can open up to it."

Like magic, we were under the spell of this energy. It came neither from Baguio nor Manila but from opening ourselves up to the influences of nature from Sagada and Pulag and the company we were with.

Sagada, Mountain Province
26-28 December 1996

The Serenity of Sagada and Mt. Data

A stillness in the woods.  Serenity in nature.  Or serenity amidst insurgency, if you wish.

In Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province, an Armed Personnel Carrier rumbles through the main street and helicopters fly overhead. Foot soldiers patrol the mountain roads leading to Sagada. And at the Mt. Data Hotel, helicopters and Sikorsky gunshots land men and supplies only a kilometer away, in the process destroying some vegetables. A hunt for NPA rebels is on.

Local and foreign tourists need not be discouraged, however, for the areas seem relatively safe for civilians and visitors keep coming in. But don’t travel with the military and don't go to Mt. Data at night, for the military has clamped a 7 p.m. curfew.

Sagada and Mt. Data may be reached through Baguio, with several bus lines-including Dangwa Tranco and D’ Rising Sun-plying the route  In Mt. Data, there is only the Mt. Data Hotel but in Sagada, there are several inns and resthouses-the best known being Masferre, St. Joseph’s and Daoas-all with inexpensive rates and affordable meals.

Perched 6,000 feet above sea level, the town of Sagada continues to cast a spell over Filipino and foreign writers and artists, European backpackers and cave explorers.

There are an undetermined number of caves in Sagada, some with very clear and very deep waters, and interesting rock formations. Once a native boy fell into a hole, survived on water, then emerged in another barrio a month later.

At the mouths of the caves are the burial grounds and hanging coffins of the Igorots and other tribes of Mountain Province. The tribal believe that the sprits of their departed are happier when their coffins are suspended and wedged above ground. Alas, some of the coffins with ornate designs have been stolen, and sold to antique dealers and collectors.  Some of the bones date back to 100 years.

Our native guide knocked on one long coffin and then left a lighted cigarette atop it. “Pasigarilyuhin natin siya para sumaya,” he intoned.

One large cave, Sumaging, takes a whole day to explore. Once deep inside the cave, the guide said, foreigners (men and women) have no qualms about stripping to their underwear so their outer garments won’t get wet.

Two adventurous members of our group-photographer Rex Toledo and assistant Benjie Espartero-ventured into the cave, with the help of the guides, but had to give up at a certain point because of the darkness (light from the Petromax was insufficient) and the treacherous holes.

There are pine trees all around Sagada, and a fascinating valley with well-maintained vegetable terraces. The town is not too commercialized, and it should be kept this way.  Baguio must have looked like this during the olden days.

Less publicized-but higher and colder than Sagada or Baguio-is the Mt. Data Hotel, about two-hour ride from Sagada.  From a distance you can see Mt. Pulog, the second highest mountain in the Philippines (next to Mt. Apo). And in Benguet, enroute to Baguio from Mt. Data, you will come across the highest point on the Philippine Highway System (watch for the sign), elevation 7,400 feet, with a panoramic view of the mountains and the vegetable terraces.

The Mt. Data Hotel has 22 cozy rooms, a much-needed giant fireplace, and hot and cold water, among other amenities.  By day you can hike, and watch the sun rise and set over the great Cordillera ranges.

At night, you can play chess, squabble or cards, gather round the fireplace and sing (bring a guitar along). Better still, you can, upon request, watch authentic dances and rituals of the Bontoc tribe, climaxed by an “audience participation” number in which you will be give a simultaneous massage: A Bontoc woman massages your head and back while a Bontoc man massages your feet with a stick.  (It tickles, but only at first.)

Whether Peace Zones and War Zones, surrounded by pine trees and wild flowers, far away from Manila, Sagada and Mt. Data continue to be a refuge for nature lovers. --1992

-Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Traveller’s Choice From North to South (Metro Manila Philippines: Anvil Publishing House, Inc. 1993)

Logic ng Sagada - Ang Ibang Ibig Sabihin ng Magic
26-27 December 1996

Puede Ring SAKANA for both of us or SAGAD na SAGAD. It all started when Mitch said he was going to Baguio even before the holidays. All PAL members of Commonwealth invited themselves. I didn’t. Because I was only available after the 26th. And Mitch said “magSasagada ako kung may kasama ako.” Mula noon I get inquiries and lines like “See you in Baguio on the 25th.”

Nagconfirm ako sa 074-442-xxxx 10:30 p.m. ng 25 December ”Mitch dadating ako sa 26 ng umaga. Huwag kang aalis, magSasagada tayo. Oo namang ang sabi niya.” 5 AM. Sa Session Road, malamig na malamig 12°C, nangising ng lasing “6:30 AM ang biyahe sa Sagada, magpack ka na at makita tayo sa Chowking.”

·          Lake Danum-Mitch’s favorite. Except that his meditation at the peak was cut short by my hurrying up. Some guys said 8 minutes to the Lake. True enough, exactly in 8 minutes, we were there. Pero saan ang daan papuntang Demang?
·          The Lardizabal Series-you’re not in the track. Go back and set into my lot if you want to do cross-country at Mt. Ampacao. He was accommodating enough to pick us up at the main road to St. Joseph and showed us the back down to St. Joseph. My name is Lardizabal. Sir, where is the way to Mt. Ampacao?
·          The Ramon Series-are you here for the ___? Bawal dito. Ano ang tunay mong pangalan? Come on , tell the truth.
·          The Lizardo Line Series-Senior citizen and students-No ID, No discount. Smoking With Free Ride. No Smoking, no free ride. Pero nasaan ang Pulag?
·          The Novi Encounter at Chowking-kung sasama sa Pulag, kung si Wing ay pupunta sa Sagada and kung kailan aakyat si Mayan. Most importantly kung sino ang kasama ni Noving babae.  At bakit siya hindi kasama sa PAL?
·          Go to Sagada House-is it the same as going to Sagada weaving?
·          Inn Hoping-ang Shamrock, para sa mga rockers
·          Ang Country Inn-ang most expensive sa rooms at sa beer
·          Masferre-ang pinakamatagal sa service
·          Ang Log Cabin-ang pinakamasarap at pinakasosyal. Isnubish rin
·          St. Joseph-pinakahomey. Mapiyaaw-ang pinakamalayo.
·          Village Bistro-ang pinakamadilim. Casa Olahbinan-pinakamaiinit dahil sa fireplace
·          Casa Hamada-pinaka accommodating
·          Jayvee Gayoso and Jet Araneta-sino sila? At ang gaganda ng mga chicks nila. Isama mo narin ang 4-wheel drive nila.
·          Ano ang scientific massage-pressure per inch. Magkano?
·          Ang kwento ng babaeng ma kasamang puti-ang lost camera at and lost guide from Bontoc. Sino sa dalawa ang sisipinging ko.
·          Whatever Mitch Wants, He Gets-guide sa kweba, si Willy and Exekiel. Photographs from Peter the Singaporean and Gerardo the Brazilian. Ano ang address nila?
·          Bidang bida ako-kasi sabi ng hapon sa akin “Herro.”
·          Ang mga tanong ni Mitch-Nasaan si Wing, Nasaan si Art. Nasaan ang Kiltepan Tower? Nasaan ang beer? Bakit walang mist sa bibig dahil walang ilaw. Bakit simang ang babae sa Tamaraw FX? Kasi lumampas daw sila sa Baguio. Bakit lito ang mga babaeng taga bangko sa St. Joseph? Kasi walang bangko. Sino si Mario de Vera at bakit puro Solano ang kwento nila? Kasi puro Louisians.

It was trip well worth. Pagadating sa Baguio hindi makapagrelate sa tao sa Session Road, sa mga barkada sa likod ng Mountain Crest at sa top of the world. At nagpakalasing.

Bakit? Kasi iyan ang logic ng Sagada. Happy New Year!

Chito Razon 17 Jan 1998 Revisited 11 Oct 2009

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