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I Found Heaven in Sagada

Photo and Article by SNBS
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I was born and raised in Manila.

Needless to say, I am a true blue Manileña and consider the local “concrete jungle”  the only home I know.

I have been to places abroad– Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Australia and Canada. I’ve taken vacations in many provinces in the Philippines and have familiarized myself with the usual tourist destinations like Tagaytay, Cebu, Davao, IloIlo and Baguio as well as beautiful beaches in Boracay, Batangas, Zambales, Bolinao, Mindoro and Leyte. Everytime I  go to a new and refreshing place, I am asked, “If you had a choice, would you live here?” And no matter how amazing it is, the answer would always be “No”. When asked why, I would just shrug and give the expected cliché “there’s no place like home”.

That was until I met Sagada.

No, it is not like home at all but I would consider, or maybe even insist on, living there. Here are MY reasons why:

1. In Sagada, there are no malls.

A mall has always been my main prerequisite everytime I am asked about my ideal place. I always say, if there are no huge supermarkets, movie houses, big bookstores and various shops around, count me out. I am a person who needs to window shop every so often. I am the type who hoards at the grocery and makes sure there is a new supply before the current ones run out. I grew up in a household where the cupboards look like a mini sari-sari store. The consumer in me thrives and I flourish in my “natural habitat”. But in Sagada, there are no malls, not a single movie house, not one branded store. Did I miss shopping that much? Not really. I realized, if I don’t go window shopping, then I wouldn’t have anything I would think of buying. If I didn’t have a mall to go to, then I wouldn’t find myself salivating over those new shoes being displayed. If there are no big supermarkets, then I wouldn’t be going through each and every row, feeling intimidated to fill up my large grocery cart. But in Sagada, I understood that there is no need for excess.

2. In Sagada, there are no cars.

I remember back when I was in High School, most of my classmates were a year older than I am and they got to celebrate their 18th birthday during our senior year. It made me sad and embarrassed that I wasn’t able to go to some of their debuts because nobody would drive me. When I finally learned how to drive in College and got my first car (a thirty—yes, 30— thousand peso Kia Pride), it was pure bliss. Independence! That was how it felt like. I started staying out late at friends’ houses, partied at different bars and initiated road trips. I realized how lucky I was driving a car instead of commuting to school and getting my feet wet in the rain or my head too hot in the sun. I learned to curse the traffic and step on the pedal when angry. I drove near and far. Never mind the rising price of gasoline, I will use my car whenever and wherever I wanted because I really HATED walking outside. In Sagada however, public transportation is mainly for traveling from one town to the next, not for going to the grocery store. Private vehicles are usually vans rented out by tourists. There, we did nothing but walk every time we went out. Walk to buy eggs for breakfast, walk to buy fish for lunch, walk to buy veggies for dinner. Walk to go to the coffeeshop, walk to go to the plaza, walk to see some souvenirs. I had to wear hiking boots because the roads go up and down, skinny and wide. When it rains, we get wet, our shoes get muddy but surprisingly, I was okay with it. Far from torture, walking there always felt like an adventure.

3. In Sagada, there is no noise.

A couple of years ago, I moved in with my bestfriend in a two-storey apartment in the middle of a noisy suburban area. It took enormous adjusting on my part, being used to living inside a village where there are guardhouses at each entrance and tall iron gates fencing each house. The sounds you hear where I used to live were only of lowered cars revving up as they passed each hump, blaring bass sounds that gave your chest tremors. In our apartment however, even with your windows closed, you can hear children playing in the streets during the afternoon and videoke machines screeching till the wee hours of the morning. During the morning rush, people would walk by each other, automatically dodging roaring tricycles, half-naked toddlers and fresh dog poop. At noon, the lutong-bahay carinderia would be bustling with taxi drivers and office workers, their spoons and forks quickly scraping their plates so as not to be late from their lunch breaks. By sunset, one would hear mothers screaming for their children to come home and wash up, then gossiping with one another about another neighbor. As nights grew darker, there’s a group of men at every sari-sari store getting drunk while discussing issues in politics, or worse, their lovelives. Everywhere there’s noise and chaos which I have come to adapt to. I have learned to ignore the loud sirens of firetrucks at midnight or the inaudible megaphone announcements from the Baranggay. But in Sagada, the sounds I heard were that of birds chirping, men chopping wood and pigs grunting inside their pen. The houses are not compressed, they all had enough yard space to grow kamote and peanuts. Nobody needed to sprint to catch the bus or flag down a cab. People stride in quiet contemplation, offering a smile or a greeting when giving way on a one-lane footpath. I would open the wooden windows to let the cool air in and try to catch our neighbors’ conversation or even their TV station but they are respectful enough to tone everything down. At night, some bars would start playing reggae music but who would mind listening to Bob Marley? Definitely not me. There are times though, where one might hear the sounds of gongs being played all day and all night in Sagada. But nobody complains really, because everybody is invited and present at that party.

4. In Sagada, there are no street children.

One of my biggest pet peeves is witnessing mothers carrying their naked babies in the streets and knocking on car windows at every red light, loitering with their scrawny youngsters, making them look hungrier and dirtier than they already are to gain more pity therefore urging the common civilian to reach for loose change. My question has always been: Why bear children if you do not have the capacity to feed them? Why submit innocent beings to a life of suffering, hunger and shame? Why displace your family from the province and bring them to the city just so they can beg for alms and sleep in the streets? I thought this was a reality everywhere in our country but was surprised to see that Sagada carries no abandoned children. There I learned that their culture is to embrace their families and that whatever happens, whether a joyful celebration or unfortunate event, everyone is expected to be one with the community in carrying on the tradition. Each child is named and traced to their ancestors, each person is associated with a clan. The Igorot culture assures that each person is accounted for and that everybody has a home.

5.  In Sagada, there are no skyscrapers.

People have always associated skyscrapers to a thriving economy. The taller the buildings, the richer the city. We hear of someone who rents a penthouse and we immediately figure out his wealth. In Sagada, people have developed cement structures, 4 or 5 storey buildings as inns. But I believe they have no desire to build skyscrapers, for no building is a match to the massive mountains surrounding them. Everywhere you look, there are mountains adorned with lush pine trees, topped with a cloud or two. There, you wake up to the sun rising behind the misty green facade where you see fertile rice terraces and tiny houses with chimneys puffing thin smoke. One never tires of seeing the landscape which tells you how flourishing nature can be. Penthouses in the city signify being on top of everyone and seeing everything below. Sagada is a penthouse, too, in the sense that one is away from all the commotion below and enjoys the serenity at the top.

6. In Sagada, there are no iPhones.

Kidding. I’m sure there are, maybe two? Kidding again. My point is, people there have no NEED for iPhones. Here in Manila, it seems like everyone either has an iPhone, a Blackberry or both. In restaurants, you see a group of friends or a family eating out but no one is really talking because everyone is busy texting, browsing, tweeting or playing on their iPhones and iPads. We know each other’s whereabouts from their twitter updates, we learn of their trips not from their stories but from their uploaded Instagram pics. Whatever happened to quality time? In Sagada, people lead much, much simpler lives. I didn’t feel nor see in them the urge to buy the latest gadgets or wear the newest fad. They have small TV sets, carry old cellphones, wear ukay-ukay clothes, eat home-cooked meals and look HAPPY. Children don’t spend hours playing Angry Birds on a tablet; they run in the fields with the wind in their faces and go skinny-dipping in the waterfalls. I remember what Brad Pitt’s character said in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” We acquire all these gadgets then experience withdrawal symptoms when we don’t get to check on them every once in a while.

My first time in Sagada, I would constantly look at my cellphone to check for texts. When there were none, I’d jokingly say, “Walang nagmamahal sakin. (Nobody loves me.)” We also brought the iPad so we would have something to do in case we “get bored”. But did I ever get bored there? Never. When we went to Sagada again three weeks later, I was actually happy when there were no new messages on my cellphone because it meant there were no problems back home. I hardly checked my fb account, because we were busy admiring nature, taking in that wonderful scenery, going out for an adventure. And that second time around, we didn’t see any reason to bring the iPad at all.

7. In Sagada, there is no rat race.

This is what I especially love about Sagada. I did not for once feel the pressure of society breathing down my neck and prodding me to be who I really don’t want to be. I did not have the occasional panic attack of a 33 year old working and doing business in the city. I did not have to always think about how much money I should make in order to realize my dreams. (Dreams of owning a huge house in a posh village with the latest SUV.) Why would I need that anyway, if I lived in a place where a small log cabin is enough to keep me warm and riding a bicycle can bring me anywhere? I did not have to compare myself with others, because I did not have the ambition to be richer or superior. In Sagada, my core desire was contentment. Not for the priciest stuff, but only for the necessary things. Not for fame or fortune, but for acceptance and freedom. I need not do what everybody was doing, I only needed to be myself. My happy, jologs self.

Of course one might think, uprooting yourself from the city is easier said than done. “Give yourself a month in Sagada and you might get so restless, you’d come running back to Manila.” Maybe, maybe not. But if you ask me what I really want, it is to live freely and peacefully, and I haven’t felt that anywhere else but there. To put it simply, I have found heaven in Sagada.

Would I really want to live anywhere else?


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