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A New Day Has Come

Written by Lourdes Suico

I have seen more sunsets than sunrises in my 28 years of existence. This is owing to the fact that I will never trade my 8-hour requisite of sleep every day for anything other than reading a good book. But on my second day during my first visit to Sagada, I found myself agreeing to climb up the Kiltepan Peak where, as I was promised, was the best seat in the house to catch the sun rise.

Still dazed from lack of sleep and disoriented as a result of our 13-hour trip the day before, we started our 45-minute trek up to the peak a little past 4:00 A.M. It was still dark when we got to the top and the place was blanketed by a heavy fog. Aside from our headlamps and flashlights, the only source of light was the bonfire created by our host. We were told that it was still a good 30 minutes before the sun would start its grand appearance, and so we decided to settle around the bonfire while waiting.

Just be with it, and soon enough, the dawn will break.

Sitting on an improvised log bench, drawing warmth from my mug of instant coffee and gazing at the mesmerizing dance of the bonfire, my mind drifted to the main motive of my trip: to put an end to all the turmoil and torture brought about by a recent heartbreak.

Dramatic or theatrical as it may seem, I had chosen to stage the culmination of my “heartbreak saga” during the Holy Week and in Sagada. The Holy Week being a good time to reflect on love, forgiveness and redemption and Sagada being a good place to contemplate and converse with myself.

The past year had been a constant battle between holding on and moving on. A small part of me was still harboring thoughts of the past, of what I did and how I could have done better. But a bigger part of me was looking forward to the surprises that I believed the future and the Universe had in store for me.

With these confounding thoughts of the past and the future swirling around me, I was surprised to find in myself a sense of calmness, just sitting in that time and space I now refer to retrospectively as the “in-between”. That time wherein the darkness of the past night is slowly and almost hesitantly giving way to the light of the new day. That space between what was and what will be.

And sitting in that space and time, I was reminded of a crucial lesson: that for a new day to begin, the darkness of night must fall. Each is a natural part of the cycle of life. We need to embrace the dark moments and to always bear in mind that just before dawn is the darkest night. Just be with it, and soon enough, the dawn will break.

Everything passes, even our troubles.


I was standing on a rock jutting out of an incline when the sun started to slowly peek over the horizon. I couldn’t recall how long I was rooted to that spot, but I will never fail to remember the surreal scene I had witnessed at that moment.

With the dark blue sky and dark gray featherlike clouds as backdrop, the sun slowly spilled its golden light upon the rice terraces below, across the mountains in front and penetrated the dark forest of pine trees behind me. As the sun unhurriedly ascended with its light reaching further out, the dark blue sky turned powder blue and the light from the sun colored the clouds pink and orange.

Beholding this amazing occurrence, I didn’t realize that my hands which I had tucked earlier inside my jacket’s pocket for warmth, were now clasped in front of my chest and in that instant I couldn’t help but utter words of gratitude to God for giving me the opportunity to witness such a miracle. With my face turned towards the sun, eyes closed, breathing in and embracing the magnificence of it all, I was reassured of my firm belief that nothing is permanent: not friendship, not even love, not joy, and most especially, not pain. That in this wicked, wicked world, everything passes, even our troubles.

We can always start all over again.

Going down the mountain, despite our group’s mockery of calling out to Edward Cullen and Jacob Black to come out of the dense jungle of pine trees, I found myself thinking again of the past. Sagada was one of the places we had dreamed of visiting together. He would have loved this place, and he would have been elated to see what I had just seen and to experience what I had just experienced. But instead of quickly shrugging off those thoughts, I allowed the nostalgia and melancholy to encircle me during that hike down.

This time, I did not deny myself the sadness of loss because the majestic sunrise I had just witnessed had reiterated a valuable message: that it’s okay to fail and to be defeated, because you can always start afresh. Failures serve as platforms for us to grow, for us to know who we are and what we can rise from. If we fail, we can always pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we can always start all over again.

God and the Universe often find a way to deliver us there.

When we got back to the house, I went directly up to my room, lay down on the bed and cocooned myself inside my comforter. And despite being enfolded in darkness at that moment, everything seemed clearer: I am where I’m supposed to be, I am in this time, place and position because I am meant to be here.

Oftentimes, we tightly cling to an idea of how we want our lives to be, but God and the Universe have a plan for us that is braver and better than the one we have for ourselves. And if we just stay open to it, God and the Universe often find a way to deliver us there.

A new day will come.

My first trip to Sagada certainly served its purpose. I won’t say that I have completely moved on from my past relationship and the hurt that it caused me, but I am positively and undoubtedly in a much better place right now. I know that there is no guarantee that I will not get hurt again, but still I am courageously preparing my heart for a new life and for a new love, because I have faith in myself and in my capability of loving many times more.

It took witnessing a Kiltepan Sunrise to indelibly fix into my whole being that it is virtually impossible to get through life without grappling with hardships. But no matter the setbacks, I just need to keep on going and to never give up hope because ultimately, a new day will come.

Published on (2014)


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Into Nan CLUP Tako?

When rain started pouring in the afternoons of April, I have been seeing Alapo Ikay digging the vacant piece of land in front of our house in the morning until noon. One would see her tend the soil with a tapis wrapped around her waist, a not so common thing for the modern Igorota to don these days except during special occasions, and her gentle demeanour shines with the  colorful beads around her neck while her head is wrapped with a floral scarf under a wide-brimmed hat, as she does a very laborious job of tilling the soil with a hoe and her bare hands. I approached her and asked if I could have her picture taken. After mumbling a few words  in Kankana-ey with the usual “ Ay, apo…”, she straightened her back, arranged her hat and looked warmly straight into the camera with her Mona Lisa smile.

Alapo Ikay like any other alapos of Sagada, is truly the salt of the earth. She is one of the many facets of the old Sagada, that I am afraid my son and his children and the rest of the next generations might not be able to get a glimpse of someday. No longer seeing women in their tapis tending the vacant parcels of land  may not be as much as of an issue to some as things change as time goes by, but such dismissive mindset or detachment from the past speaks of the changing consciousness of the people that I fervently hope would not completely ail this landscape. What we all see coming is that the lands they used to till could no longer be around someday. Maybe it will be replaced by crowding and towering hotels or houses or god forbid, would be for the taking by non-locals or even locals whose vested interests are not considerate and coherent with the values of the community.

Sagada is indeed teeming with blessings especially from Mother Nature and equally blessed with  a very rich culture, no wonder why it even attracts non-locals not just for a visit but with aims of cashing in on its its bounty. And again, for the record, I am not being sentimental out on a whim or being afraid of change. I just simply think that above all these, the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is very vital in directing us towards the path of sustainable development,seems to be floating somewhere with its implementation seemingly nowhere in sight.

Sagada is already way behind other places identified for sustainable ecotourism since the time it was declared as an ecotourism destination back in the early 90s, if my memory serves me right together with some places in the Philippines such as Palawan. Palawan had their strategic environmental and development plan passed in 1992. But with the rate urbanization sprawls in Sagada, I believe our  Comprehensive Land Use Plan or CLUP leaves a lot to be desired. Quite ironic though on how Sagada has been cashing in on the trend of “eco-tourism” but seems to be undermining eco-tourism’s primary goal of protecting the environment.

Urbanization or development or whatever it is called is slowly creeping outside the poblacion. Resorts with swimming pools are being built in unlikely places like in the middle of rice paddies, beautiful natural vistas are now blocked by high-rise buildings and pathwalks are now turning into narrow alleys. If building and zoning polices exist, there will be a clear delineation between business and residential areas and whatever structure that will be built should meet the requirements and policies set. Not because we have ownership over the land and all the money in the world to build a Tower of Babel-esque structure, we can just do it so without considering pertinent things as well as how it will affect others .  The CLUP is supposed to lead us to the right direction together with the culture of inayan and ayyew.

I firmly believe that the lands of this valley like any other lands, deserve the much-needed respect from its descendants and visitors. Maybe next time we pour cement on the ground, we at least leave some space for the earth to breathe and for us to be connected back to our roots, before we think of putting it up on sale and throwing our trash around, we first try to remember that once this very soil we step on right now were toiled and cared for by the ancestors with their blood, sweat and tears.

Published on (2014)

Save Sagada Posts

Sagada Caves: We Also Need Space!

Not until zoning and building policies will be implemented do we start to slow down this unabated development. People get away from the concrete jungle not to relax in another concrete jungle (the latter could mean, concrete in the middle of a jungle, pun intended). But keeping this place pristine should not be primarily for the tourists but for us. Something is really wrong when roads are paved with tourism in mind and not the people.We say, there nothing permanent in this world but change, yes, it is inevitable but the question is, do we change for the worse or for the better? Now, it leads me to wonder what’s in Sagada’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. It is time to bring it out. I hope it isn’t a plan for Sagada to become the next Baguio.

With regard to the cave, years ago this has already caught even the attention of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, which led her to introduce a resolution in the senate aiming to rightfully preserve the coffins and caves in Sagada. Got no idea what happened next. But this only goes to show this is not just a petty issue. In Palawan, there is a certain number of visitors allowed to enter the underground river daily, and one reason is not only because cave formations can be harmed by the slightest touch but surprisingly even by the slightest breath. A cave crowded with people means an elevated CO2 level. Now imagine a peak season especially during the Holy Week where the queue inside the cave is intermittently brought to a standstill because the crowd is just too big. As much as we would like to share the beauty of the cave to everyone, we have to consider that a scenario like this will eventually lead to the dissolution of the existing features of the cave.

Photo by Mae Parcon

Photo by Mae Parcon

The traffic during the peak season is yes, still the same. It only becomes worse each year. I got feedbacks from most tourists who say they don’t mind walking at all. Recently, Iloilo City has transformed the busiest district and the center of the city into a walking city. It was thought to be impossible at first but the vision of a habitable and walking city proved to be an inspiration to the Ilonggos. I would like to quote something from a blog entry here , “But if you’re going sightseeing, or even just going to look for a place to eat, for the love of all that’s holy, WALK! Leave your fumes belching SUVs on the high road where parking is permitted. Walking is what the locals have been doing even before anything on wheels were invented.”

That is why my friends leave their cars behind in Manila and travel here by bus even with kids as young as 6 years old. Because they know the situation here and what they came for is not to cruise around with their cars but to experience the joy of walking. But of course we cannot expect everyone to do the same or even forbid them from bringing their vehicles here, but at least we could try regulating the number of tourists coming, because the carrying capacity of a place is very important and should be considered all the time.  When I saw how Dao-angan up to Ambasing was turned into a one way road cum parking lot, I thought that the road in the outskirts of the town like in Nangonogan would be a better place where they can park their cars since it seems to be bigger as compared to that in Dao-angan. Why not use that space.

What I also fear is when officials start to think of paving this paradise to put a space for parking. Truly, there is wisdom in the lyrics of the song Big Yellow Taxi by the Counting Crows, Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. 

The will to be in politics is so insurmountable but where goes the political will when seated? If there is a CLUP, I wonder what’s in it and where it is leading us to. The traffic jam, absence of building and zoning polices just represent the tip of the iceberg. I believe this also speaks of the changing consciousness that is reshaping and ailing this landscape. Maybe we have become too individualistic? Unfortunately, most of the time we keep mum about things or turn a blind eye towards it and say, “That’s just the way it is”. But I believe it isn’t supposed to be. If there’s one thing that needs an overhaul, I think that would the mindset of the leaders down to the people. As I always say, change is inevitable, but it should not be a change to become worse.

Every day, I look out from my study and I see the Dap-ay sitting pensively in a bit of a somber mood not until  men gather there and light a fire. Like the smoke that float aimlessly from the Dap-ay, it makes me think, where is the Dap-ay going, where is Sagada going?

Reader Contributions

Travelogue of a Benguet Newbie

Written by Edwin Nanquil
Photos by Edwin Nanquil
Published on (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*…

Reader Contributions


Written by by Atty. Anna Iglesias
Published on


It was September 2003. We took a bus to Baguio on a whim, and hung out at the saloon beside the bus station early in the morning, watching men with cowboy hats down their beer. Sagada, my friend told me, let’s go. We didn’t know anybody there, we didn’t have much money, and I was playing hooky from school. It was an adventure of a lifetime, my longest joyride yet, off to a still unknown place that promised hanging coffins and mysterious caves.

Seven hours passed. The first half, I was asleep and my friend was awake. The second half, she was asleep and I was awake. I peered at the ravine precariously close to the rough, dirt road. We were in a rickety bus, the only tourists there (it was typhoon season), in fairly comfortable seats, sharing our space with a few squawking chickens, and families commuting from Baguio. A few minutes away from the town proper, our rickety bus stopped in its tracks. There was a fallen boulder on the road, and we craned our necks, whispering among ourselves. An elderly man decidedly hipster in appearance with his statement black hat, and horn-rimmed glasses, alighted from the bus and started walking. It didn’t take long before the rest of us followed. It all seemed so surreal that we just had to laugh. A landslide occurred just hours before we arrived, and everyone was so chill about it.

We badly needed to get to a restroom and tried our luck with one of the houses just outside Sagada town proper. The kindly woman let us use her bathroom and talked to us a little. She showed us pictures of her children and welcomed us to Sagada. What a warm welcome in one of the – if not the coldest place in the Philippines.

We stayed at Ganduyan Inn. We marveled at the sturdy brown furniture, the beautiful and simple furnishings. There was a coffee shop downstairs, and the buses bound for Baguio parked right outside. Across Ganduyan Inn, people set up tables and sold fresh vegetables.

We bought ourselves a bottle of wine and spent the night drinking and smoking by the balcony, and even spotted a member of Parokya Ni Edgar in the fancier lodge across, vacationing with his girlfriend.

We looked for a tour guide and went trekking, ill-prepared for the steep trail ahead. I had a near asthma attack, but it did not ruin the wonder of beholding the hanging coffins for the first time. The rest of us bury our loved ones under the earth, and horror films capitalize on our fear of what lies beneath the ground. In Sagada, the air was light, and the serenity of the spirits told us much more.

After our trek, we returned to the municipal hall. The local police there, Kuya Raffy, instantly recognized us. You arrived two days ago, he said, I saw you walking around. We were pleasantly surprised. People took notice of us, the eager beavers. We helped Kuya Raffy type up a police report and showed them how to watch DVDs on their brand-new computer.  Sagada has a zero crime rate, we learned.

We left for Baguio sooner than we should have. The realities of living and studying in Manila invaded such an idyllic visit. But our love for Sagada took root in that all too brief encounter. My friend would return, years later, and found her place.


I returned with my boyfriend and our other friends, for a visit, in 2010. I wanted to see the caves. Sumaguing was closed in 2003. My boyfriend and I went spelunking – such a fancy word. Light of foot, he traipsed over the slippery slopes. I was slow and clumsy, and at one point, came dangerously close to killing our tour guide. (Glad he forgave me!) The cave formations were beautiful, just like the postcard I kept. I was covered in mud, bat shit and piss but earned bragging rights. I talked about Sumaguing for days to my friends and officemates in Manila. You should come visit Sagada, I said sagely.

We ate at all the restaurants we could find – sampled the lemon pie, the yoghurt, the spaghetti, the French cuisine. We wandered around the town at midnight, and found ourselves joining an impromptu bonfire, swapping stories about Sagada. We had beer every night of our stay. Even the beer tastes better in Sagada. We visited the famous shop that showcased beautiful Sagada weaving and happily chatted with the owner. He only stayed in Manila long enough to get an education and returned to his roots.

Leaving Sagada was hard. Back in Manila, we wanted to clear the streets of noisy buses and cars. We wanted our feet closer to the earth, where its heart beat for those who would stop to listen. We wanted to feel light and free, and outside of Sagada, it’s difficult to find such inner peace.

People fall in love with Sagada all the time. I am no different.

It’s been over a year since my last visit. I miss the people of Sagada. I miss pretending to be a local. I want Sagada to love me back. I want Sagada to embrace me as an adopted child.

Save Sagada Posts

What is Save Sagada?

Save Sagada aims to promote awareness on the protection, conservation, and preservation of Sagada’s nature, culture, and heritage and  promote environmentally responsible and culture sensitive travel and tourism.

As one of the tourist spots in the country and dubbed as the Shangrila of the North, it has been attracting visitors from all walks of life, all across the country and around the globe for many years. This picturesque town in a valley is blessed a cool, highland climate, offers a plethora of breathtaking natural landscapes and a rich and living cultural heritage.

With the advent of technology and commercialization in this quaint town, Sagada is drastically being carried away in the background of looming buildings, paved and concrete roads and pathwalks and the urban-like hustle and bustle. The excessive and drastic development poses a foreboding threat in the ecosystem and socio-cultural life in this place.

This blog is an avenue for updates and discussions on any related topics with regard to the advocacy of saving Sagada or anything under the Sagada sun.


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I Found Heaven in Sagada

Photo and Article by SNBS
Published on

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?