Friday, October 26, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
THE HIGHWAY FROM HELL
Woke up quite early today, as we hoped to make the 7:30 AM GL Lizardo bus bound for Baguio.
It wasn't a good morning, that's for sure. First, it was still raining continuously, and the sky was overcast. Second, came a brownout, so i had to take a shower in the dark AND using ice-cold water. Third, we couldn't find anywhere to eat, as all restos were closed, including our beloved Yoghurt House (even though the proprietress clearly told us last night that they open every day at 7:00 AM!)
Then, the final blow. Due to the non-stop rains yesterday, there was a landslide in one portion of the Halsema Highway. Thus, the buses plying the Baguio-Sagada route and vice-versa would not be able to make their daily trips today.
After some discussion with C., we thought of skipping the Baguio leg of the trip altogether and head back to Manila. I called Cable Tours, only to find out their bus bound for Manila from Bontoc will leave only by tomorrow 3:00 PM.
Uh-oh, we seem stuck here in Sagada for another day.
But friendly locals proferred an alternative solution: we could take the Sagada-Bontoc jeepney, which would travel up to the landslid portion of the highway. Then we would transfer to where the GL Lizardo bus was waiting for Baguio-bound passengers.
Around forty minutes later, we disembarked from the jeepney. A fairly long line of vehicles were parked on the side of the road, waiting for the fallen rubble and dirt to be cleared. Among others, there were delivery vans, a convoy of cars promoting this Oktoberfest battle of folk bands, etc.
That's C. checking out the landslide up close. Note his heavy back pack and box of carrot cake he is carrying.
I stopped to take photos of the scenery below. Beautiful, isn't it?
We had to take a detour through a small path, in order to reach our Baguio-bound bus waiting somewhere below. This seemed quite easy at first. True, we were carrying heavy luggage; but the weather was cool, and no hurry naman, right?
Along the narrow path onwards to our Baguio-bound bus.
Unfortunately, this was as good as our detour path got. From this smooth paved portion, it eventually turned into a steep, muddy, slippery path. Not only was it difficult maintaining one's foothold (lest one fell into the shallow ravines below) ; there was hardly anything one could grasp to steady oneself, save for some anemic-looking tree branches.
Fortunately, both of us did not take a tumble like Humpty Dumpty. Then it was a ten-minute trek along the highway to reach the makeshift bus stop. At this point, we were both sweaty, and huffing and puffing, from the exertion (and uttering curses under our breath at the weather).
After some waiting, our GL Lizardo bus finally was on its way to the City of Pines! Okay, okay, no need to get excited, i told myself, since it was a six- or seven-hour trip under the best of weather conditions.
As a backgrounder, Halsema Highway is 2255 meters at its highest point, the highest in the entire Philippine highway system. Believe it or not, despite being opened all the way back in 1931 (NO, THIS IS NOT A TYPO), it is literally not yet finished. It is alternately concreted (in short sections) and muddy and pot-holed (in much longer sections).
And did i mention that it consists only of ONE lane? So if two vehicles come upon each other head-on, one has to back up and make way. Incredible, isn't it?
From my window seat, i could see that our bus barely had enough room in several instances to navigate the highway. The tires were just a matter of inches from the edge of the road (okay, okay, i'm doing my damnest not to think of the sheer drop below!!!!)
The ride has been called "hell on your butt"; ass-numbing; teeth-rattling; mind-bending; whatever, it lives up to its reputation. As the Lonely Planet guidebook put it, "whizzing around hairspin turns with barely an arm's length to spare, it produces either amazement in the driver's skill or terrible anxiety."
Fog. . . .
and more fog.
Compounding our woes was the persistent rain and the cold wind. I am normally not susceptible to cold weather, but this time, i was shivering and had to close the window.
Oh, and the fog! As we went into higher and higher altitude, the fog blanketed not only the breath-taking mountain scenery; the mini-rice terraces amongst which galvanized iron-roofed houses nestled below us; etc, it also obscured what was in front of us.
Forward visibility was reduced to 10 - 12 feet, at best. From my vantage point, everything seemed enveloped in a gauzy, translucent white haze.
I imagined, just one wrong turn of the steering wheel or one mis-timed press on the brake pedal, we could be hurtling down the ravine below to Kingdom come.
Not exactly a comforting thought to have in your mind for seven hours.