What Is and What's Not in Calaguas

Here's a little guide to help you manage your expectations on the island. Knowing what to expect, and not, will help you make the most of your trip to this paradise!

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Beauty Born Out of Destruction

As soon as I emerged from the trail, a magnificent beauty greeted me. Exhausted after a 1-hour-45-minute trek, the view was a pleasant reward. Who would have thought that this beautiful landscape was ironically created by destruction? It was simply beautiful.

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What is BRATpacking?

Everyone's familiar with the life of a backpacker -- those who live on a backpack to travel the world for long months, even years. They have the reputation of being grungy, spontaneous, friendly.

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Picking Our Way to Pico de Loro

I am not (yet!) a climbing enthusiast. In fact, this is my first real climb, as I consider my first two experiences of mountains as "treks" (Taal Volcano in 2005 and Sagada to Bomod-ok Falls in 2007). This is also my first camping trip as an adult, and I was worried that I wouldn't like it because of the absence of a toilet, shower, soft bed, nice linens, and all the other things that make life comfortable.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

It was love at first sight. That kind of love that makes you feel lost, and yet you know you're home. That kind of love that overwhelms you with emotions, and yet you feel serene. That kind of love that makes you feel like a fool, and yet you don't care. This is my favorite spot on earth, where the place is enchanting and the people are endearing.

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Join The BRATpacker


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sagada: Gettin' There

I know of three ways to get to Sagada, and I have tried two:


11:00 pm - Take a bus bound for Baguio at Victory Liner terminal (Cubao or Pasay). If you take the deluxe bus (12:15 am trip), you will get to Baguio before 5:00 am
5:00 am - ETA Baguio, hail a cab to Dangwa terminal (Lizardo Bus Line)
6:15 am - first trip to Sagada via Lizardo Bus
11:45 am - ETA Sagada

I personally like this route, especially if you take the deluxe bus of Victory Liner. The seats are extra comfortable, you'll get a good night's rest even if you are on the road. There are no aircon buses coming from Baguio to Sagada, but the trip is still comfortable, albeit a bit nauseous -- especially that you get an amazing view of the mountains along the way. It's a 6-hour or so trip of zigzag.


10:00 pm - Take a bus bound for Bontoc at Cable Tours terminal, E. Rodriguez Ave. (across Trinity College)
11:00 am - ETA Bontoc, ride a jeepney going to Sagada
12:00 nn - ETA Sagada

I dislike this route because I find the bus too cramped with too little leg room (and I am not even a tall person!). I took the bus going back to Manila, and it was anything but pleasant. The trip was too long, the seat uncomfortable, and even if it's air-conditioned, I hardly slept. My legs were swollen when I got to Manila because of poor blood circulation; again, because the leg room was too small!



along Halsema Highway

along Halsema Highway

Sagada: Piggin' Out

Travel Date: March 8-10, 2009
Cafe St. Joe, Yoghurt House, Lemon Pie House, Log Cabin

Food in Sagada is always a royal treat to cap a tiring day of trekking, hiking, climbing and walking. We've been to the well-recommended dining places and everything tasted good! And all at surprisingly reasonable prices! A hefty serving ranges from P120 to P250, all for sharing! A gastronomic present, indeed.

yogurt with granola, banana and strawberry preserve at Yogurt House

Lemon Pie House

egg pie at Lemon Pie House

Sagada: Trekkin' and Fall(s)in'

Travel Date: March 8-10, 2009
Bomod-ok Falls, Bokong Falls, Underground River,
Lake Danum, St. Mary's Church, St. Theodore's Hospital

Going around Sagada is never a walk in the park. If the guide tells you that you'll be there in an hour, multiply it by two, or three at times. Then imagine climbing rocks and scaling mountains. Only then will you get the perfect picture. I even told my guide that you will never get anywhere majestic in Sagada without working hard for it.

The trek to Bomod-ok Falls (big falls) is one that requires you to trek down big steps, walk on rice terraces, and balance between falling off and saving yourself. But it was all worth it.

trekking through rice terraces

majestic Bomod-ok Falls

Bokong Falls is a small falls that can be reached with relative ease, and so are the Underground River and Lake Danum. But they still require a lot of energy from going down and climbing up the trails.

Underground River

tsk, tsk -- look at that graffiti inside the Underground River!

Lake Danum -- nothing much to see, really except...

...for some grazing cows

cemetery on a hill

St. Mary's Church

inside the Episcopal church

Sagada: Cavin' and Coffin(s)

Travel Date: March 8-10, 2009
Lumiang Burial Cave and Sumaguing Cave, Sagada

You've never been to Sagada if you didn't survive at least the "basic" Sumaguing Cave spelunking. Caves have a magical appeal to me. I like exploring caves, but I didn't expect caves these hard to explore! It takes around 1 to 1.5 hours to conquer Sumaguing, depending on how fit you are. Expect to walk on rocks (big and small), slip on guano (bat poop), climb up and down century-old rock formations, rapel, walk barefoot, wade in icy-cold waters, and be a damsel in distress. But you will be rewarded with beautiful cavescape (if there is such a word) that you'd never imagine existed. 


I will definitely do the Cave Connection on my next visit. This starts from Lumiang Burial Cave, where the coffins made of pine trees (with skeletons inside) are neatly stacked at the cave opening. The place gives an eerie feel to it, maybe because of the presence of so many souls guarding the remains of the dead. One coffin even features a peek-a-boo of an ancient skull. This opening traverses to Sumaguing Cave, and can be explored in 4 to 6 hours (again, depending on how fit you are and how good your guide is).

ancient skull

pine tree coffin

some people do, apparently

bones inside

Sagada: Chasing Sunrise

Travel Date: March 8-10, 2009
Kiltepan Peak, Sagada

If there's one thing that fills my spirit with a mix of emotions, it's the magnificence of the sun. Be it sunrise or sunset, a view of the sun leaves me with a deep feeling of fulfillment and atonement, of being one with nature. That is why my favorite spot on earth is at Kiltepan Peak, where the sun wakes up in an array of vibrant colors, ready to shower the day. And to quote Forrest Gump, sunrise here is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you're gonna get. Sometimes the sun hides behind the clouds, peeking for a few seconds then goes back into hiding. At times it rises majestically, humbling the watcher with it's stunning rays.

rice terraces as seen from Kiltepan Peak

Sagada Cover: Home Is Where The Heart Is...

...and I left my heart (and mind) in this quaint little town that is Sagada.

Travel Date: March 8-10, 2009

It was love at first sight. That kind of love that makes you feel lost, and yet you know you're home. That kind of love that overwhelms you with emotions, and yet you feel serene. That kind of love that makes you feel like a fool, and yet you don't care. This is my favorite spot on earth, where the place is enchanting and the people are endearing.

That I am a rabid lover is an understatement. Understandable, it seems, because the sensual beauty that Sagada offers is just a feast for the enthusiastic traveler, for the adventure-seeking photography hobbyist, for the weary soul. A true Shangri-la, indeed. Tucked and hidden in the folds of Mountain Province, Sagada sits 5,000 feet above sea level, providing a majestic view of the mountain ranges, rice terraces, endless greens, rock formations and cloud arts just below your feet. Definitely a treat for all the senses, that only people who willingly submit to its bewitching spell deserve to see. That said, you will have to survive an 11-14 hour road trip to get THERE. Then you have to work hard (walk, trek, hike, climb) to see its hidden treasures. But everything, from sliding on guano (bat poop) to being baked by the noontime sun while trekking, was well worth it. I can't count the number of times that I had my breath taken away by the sheer innocent beauty of nature.

But Sagada will not be as enchanting if not for its people, who will surely find their way to your heart. They are endearing with their wide (sometimes shy) smile and warm affection. It is always heartwarming to start a conversation with them because they always gladly welcome your inquisitiveness, and answer with such genuine ardour and passion.

Locals having fun and getting drunk under the noontime sun

Getting a tour guide, especially for caving adventure and first-time Sagada guests, is a must. And they are not your ordinary tour guides who talk incessantly, albeit disengaging at times, about the place you are visiting. No, not even close. A good guide in Sagada is crucial to your enjoyment. He brings you to your chosen destination, educates you, chats with you, entertains you, and most importantly, takes care of you. A lot of times I almost slipped and fell off the rocks, but my guide always catches me in time. Sagada is like a big playground for them, conquering every nook and cranny with such ease and confidence. They are also there to motivate you to go on, especially at times when you feel like you can't do it anymore. He believes in you and makes sure that he's there with you every step of the way. I am lucky to have one good guide in Melvin whom we were with for that crazy 12-hour adventure that started at 5:00 am and ended at 5:30 pm. I also survived the 2-3 hour Sumaguing Cave spelunking with him. He made me climb up/down big rocks, walk on slippery bat guano, wade through freezing waters, rappel for the first time and crawl for my life: all because he said I can do it, while extending every useful limb of his body (literally!) to help me out.

Melvin the Guide (and Lifesaver!)

Now I am a forlorn lover. Being back in the city jungle that is Manila, I feel I've been uprooted from my home, away from my love. I need a homecoming soon, or I risk wasting my life in loneliness. Sagada is my haven, my home, my Utopia. I will cry on the day that this little town gets too commercialized and its innocent people gets corrupted with worldy things. I love its simplicity, its innocence, its virginal appeal. I cannot completely explain how it took over me, but I just know that I have fallen in love, and I am looking forward to live happily ever after with its enchanting beauty and caring arms. I lost myself -- and willingly so -- in the rugged mountains of Sagada.

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