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Travelogue of a Benguet Newbie

Written by Edwin Nanquil
Photos by Edwin Nanquil
Published on preservesagada.wordpress.com (2012)

Warning: For those who have an attention span of a 5 year old (like me), I included images just so you won’t get bored.

Gender: male
Age: 35
Wanderlust: 4/10 (prior to this trip)

The moment I heard the phrase “We’re going to Sagada” from my wife, I was both excited and uneasy.

You see, this would be the first time I would set foot in Baguio, let alone Sagada. I consider myself fortunate enough to have traveled to different parts of the world when I was younger, thanks to my parents: United States, Hongkong, Japan. I remember one time my uncle asking me in a mocking tone, “You’ve been to Disneyland, but you’ve never been to Baguio?!”

Our adventure began when we arrived at the bus terminal. Considering it was a long weekend (sandwiched Labor day), there were a lot of people lining up for tickets. So much so that we missed the last trip going to Baguio. Our alternative was to take another Bus line which will go another route. What this means is that more travel time because we needed to get on 1 or 2 more PUVs just to get to our destination. It was a pain in the butt, literally. To add insult to injury, we had to wait 2 hours to get tickets. At that time, I was thinking “It’s not too late to get a cab ride home. I don’t want my kid to go through this.” He’s 6 years old, by the way.

To cut a long story short (about 5 hours worth).. we arrived at San Fernando, still, a long way to go ( I hear the monotonous “hurray” on the background).

I’ll just itemize this to cut it short…

1) Another bus to Baguio – 2 hours. At least I felt the mountain chill going up La Union.
2) An FX ride in Baguio to get to another bus station going to Bontoc.

Let me just digress for minute. As this was my first time in Baguio, people have always been eager to tell me stories about it: How the air is fresh and it being the Pine capital of the country, how the city is so clean and how tranquil it is. Seeing it for the first time (too put it bluntly, and mind you, I’m actually being nice with this) was an utter disappointment. The first thing that came to my mind when we got there was… Are we back in Cubao?

Vehicles littered the streets of Burnham, the smoke belching kind. Sewer grates exposed while emitting foul odor which was, ironically enough, next to a fastfood chain. Good eats! (pffft..)

I was so thankful this was just a stopover.

3) Another bus to Bontoc for 6 hours… this is where the fun start. Are you seated? Here we go…

As we boarded the bus, we tried to get our bearing. The stopovers, bathroom breaks, where to get off, etc. We found out that we needed to get off the bus once it’s in Dantay. We explicitly told this to the guy aiding the bus driver, kundoktor, on the first stopover.

On the road again; listening to “take me home, country road” while trying to see if a foreign guy had the courage to talk to one of our friends. All the while, the bus was either swaying left or right. I was thinking, “The bus driver IS probably really used to this”. I was trying to see if he has a paper cup filled with water on the dash. It’s like seeing a professional drifter; going around 60 to 80 KPH on a narrow road with less than 6 inches on the side of the cliff. I wonder where he keeps his AE86? Lean left, right, left then straight… abrupt brake. What?! he can’t drive on a straight???? Oh well…

After a few more vulcanizing shops along the road, the countryside finally opened up its grandeur to us. Back in grade school, you only get to talk about the rice terraces and see pictures. Nothing beats actually seeing them. They are absolutely majestic. Looking at the surrounding mountain ranges, one can’t help but feel… tiny. The view is just breathtaking, or maybe it’s just the altitude getting to my head.. Nahh… it’s the view.

Nearing the end of this harrowing bus ride, the genius we talked to dropped us off in Bontok, when we specifically told him to advise us if we’re in Dantay. Jerk even had the cohones to ask us, “Was it me that you informed?”. Right… it was the altitude getting to our heads.

Our host was kind enough to get us a ride to their place where we settled in. The climate there is, humbly putting it, absolutely wonderful.

Everywhere you look, trees and mountain ranges. There’s the occasional rice paddy but there’s one thing you’ll find there that you won’t find in Manila: Peace. Ok, maybe you’ll find that in Himlayang Pilipino in Manila, but that’s beside the point. I mean peace of mind, heart and soul (a friend of mine will probably contest on the heart part). The only emotional pressure you’ll get is what/where to eat next. This is the absolute truth that I learned on that trip; It is the place to rest your weary soul for a moment and reflect on your purpose in life. Echoes of silence.

The beauty and wonder of Sagada lies in its simplicity. No malls, no traffic, awesome trails, rich culture and history and no LOUD nightlife. You get to walk. A lot. Now don’t get me wrong… I loved every minute of it. It’s not as hot or muggy even during mid day. It’s a great way to know yourself physically and spiritually.

We didn’t take the “turista” route frantically going around to see all the usual sights. We wanted to go about on a relaxed pace. Hiking to different spots just to admire everything. Speaking of soul searching, one of the more moving spots was the area of the hanging coffins. I can just imagine if it was totally open to the public; trash everywhere, vandalism on the walls, not to mention stalls of goods and cigarette vendors all around. Kinda reminds you of some churches in Manila, sad to say. God forbid this happens to Sagada!

I guess what made this trip so memorable were all the things that came together to make it such a great experience. Breathtaking view, wonderful climate, fresh food, awesome company and the rich heritage and culture of the people.

I know modernization is inevitable, especially if you’ve got city folks like me coming to Sagada, but I beg the people or officials of the place, DON’T SPOIL WHAT YOU HAVE IN EXCHANGE OF A QUICK BUCK! It saddens me to see SUVs and trucks parked along the main road that you have. The natives, even your elders, walked to get to where they needed to be. Visitors should do the same. Don’t just let them turn the place into the streets of Manila just because some are too lazy to walk. Sagada is better known for its hiking trails and fresh mountain air rather than just another tourist spot. They don’t need to go there if they don’t want to abide by your rules. They can always go to some commercialized beach resort somewhere and spoil that place with their endless chains of Starbucks and restos.

I think your elders and Anitos will be happy to know that you’ve preserved what they have passed on as a legacy, and not just embrace capitalism just to get a new cellphone or modern comforts that money can buy.

Saying goodbye to Sagada was not easy. Not only because my wife had to say so long for now to her friend, but because I guess part of me will always be with this enchanting place.

The bus ride we took going home was better. No connecting rides. Just the terminal near Cubao. Back to reality… *sigh*…

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