Sunday, November 25, 2007

(Part I)

(This is the beginning, AND conclusion, of my series of posts regarding my trip to Sagada and Baguio. As previously stated, i decided to do a little writing experiment, and wrote the posts in reverse order. So, dear reader, you can read these posts of mine either in conventional Part 1-8 order; or for best results, read them in the order i wrote them. Either way, your comments, violent or non-violent, are all welcome!)


Due to the news of heavy rains and landslides caused by a major typhoon in the Cordillera Region area, my friend C. and i were unsure whether to push through with our trip or not, until the very last minute.

In fact, most of the few people i had mentioned our trip to were discouraging. In particular, my fresh-faced friend G. exhorted me to stop being pig-headed, and actually believe in the weather forecasts for once. Being indeed pig-headed, i ignored her well-intentioned advice.

C. and i had chosen to take the Cable Tours bus, leaving at 8:30PM bound for Bontoc, as this was the quickest route. From Bontoc, Sagada was just a 45-minute jeepney ride away.

So it was, C. and i found ourselves searching for the Cable Tours bus station somewhere in E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon City. Which we eventually found, with much difficulty. Why? Because save for the Cable Tours signboard (see above pic), there was nothing to indicate that it was a bus terminal! Instead, their bus was parked inside this ill-lit, grassy parking lot, which looked abandoned.

And it was just one bus. Out of curiousity, we questioned the driver. Turns out Cable Tours has a total of 4 buses in its fleet, and plies only the Bontoc-Manila-Bontoc route. Nothing else.

After waiting for an additional 30 minutes before finally pushing off at 9PM, our air-conditioned bus had a grand total of six passengers, C. and i included. Six!

Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?

C. and i drew up a rough income statement for Cable Tours, based on information from our driver:

Revenues (ticket sales):

Yesterday's trip Bontoc-Manila PHP 6,000 (PHP600 X 10 passengers)
Tonight's trip Manila-Bontoc PHP 3,600 (PHP600 X 6 passengers)


Gasoline PHP10,000 (PHP5,000 per one-way trip X 2)
Salaries ?
Miscellaneous ?
Net Income (Loss) (PHP )

Hmm. . . . one can only hope they have more passengers taking the bus during other times of the year. Otherwise. . . .

We questioned our driver regarding road conditions, etc. He merely shrugged, and mumbled that the road was still passable "despite the landslides". Not totally reassuring, but we'll settle for it.

Finally, we are off!!!

(The Cable Tours bus station, err parking lot, is located along E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon City, facing Trinity College and right beside a couple of fast-food restos beside St. Luke's Hospital.

Daily 8:30PM departures bound for Bontoc, except during the low season, during which trips are only on M-W-F evenings. Total travel time is estimated at 12 hours, with 3 rest stops along the way. Fare is PHP600.00 per person.

Contact them at 0918 5216790)

Friday, November 09, 2007

(Part II)


Despite all our initial apprehensions, the overnight 12-hour bus ride to Bontoc was smooth and trouble-free. And the weather? Quite nice and balmy, rather windy with a touch of cloud. One would be hard-pressed to believe it was raining real hard just a day or two ago.

In fact, the only hitch was that we had to change a flat tire somewhere in San Miguel, Bulacan.
The bus driver did tell us that there were some portions of the highway which were partially closed, due to landslides; and the clearance was just enough for our bus to pass through.

After alighting at the Cable Tours station in Bontoc, we walked over to where the jeepney bound for Sagada was waiting. Tired and weary from the overnight bus trip, we were impatient to get moving.

Good thing that while waiting for the jeep to fill up with passengers, we were entertained by this Manila girl who kept on yakking on her cellphone. Among other things, she had been in Baguio / Sagada for 2 weeks; she had a mountain of bills to pay (Citibank credit card, Globe cellphone bill, company loan, etc.); and she was looking for a new job. Tsk, tsk. . . .

Finally, we arrived in Sagada just around lunch time. First order of business was to drop by the Municipal Hall and register. This is required of every tourist, i'm not quite sure why, though. Maybe it's so that they can organize a search party for you, in case you're knuckle-headed enough to explore caves on your own, etc.

Speaking of which, C. and i decided to do some spelunking this afternoon. We dropped by the Tourist Information Center to hire a guide. There were actually two caves to choose from: Sumaging ("Big") Cave, which takes around 2 hours; and Lumiang Cave, which has these burial coffins strewn around near its entrance.

Or you could do both. The guides were offering this "Cave Connection" tour, wherein you enter Lumiang Cave and exit through Sumaging. This, they said, would take around 3 hours.

Pretty intriguing, huh? I was ready to say "go sago", but C. pointed out that 3 hours was way too much time to be spending inside tight, dank, claustrophobic caves. So, we settled for Sumaging Cave only.

Our guide this afternoon was this wiry, muscular local named George, who proved to be quite reticent. I don't know about you, but i like my tour guides to be chatty, with lots of war stories. The only story George narrated was about this female guide, who brought along a troop of 3 tourists into Sumaging Cave, at the height of a typhoon around 5 or 6 years ago. Surprise, surprise, they all died, except for one of the female tourists, who had to spend the entire night inside the cave, shivering from the cold, with no food and no light, until she was rescued the next day.

Not exactly a cheerful ending, i must say. But i bit my tongue, as George was bringing along the kerosene lamp, which would serve as our light source inside the cave. So no sense antagonizing him with some smart-alecky comments, diba?

To the batcave!

The above picture shows the steps leading down into the entrance of Sumaging Cave proper. It looks deceivingly easy; but from beyond this point onwards, the steps had muddy puddles from the recent heavy rains. In fact, George mentioned that the water levels inside the cave might be higher than normal.

Uh oh, how high exactly? I wondered aloud. George just shrugged, and gave a diffident half-smile.

The mouth of the cave entrance looked forbidding. George mentioned that we would be going down up to 120 meters below ground level. Sounds awesome, no?

We scrambled amongst the rocks, George going in front with his kerosene lamp, C. behind him, and myself bringing up the rear and carrying our backpack. Man, these rocks are really slippery! In fact, i slipped and fell on my butt twice.

And the reason why the rocks were slippery? Ahh....bat guano.

Yup, in some instances, the guano was quite moist and fresh, with that distinct pungent odor and mushy consistency. Almost like freshly-made ube jam, except darker in color. Hmm. . . must have been discharged from the source only a few minutes ago, eh?

Thankfully, after much more scrambling, we reached the portion of the cave with ice-cold crystal-clear water flowing from the rocks (see picture below). These rocks were grainier in texture; and thus, had more grip. Water was at knee-deep level.

Fantastic rock formations, with refreshing ice-cold water pouring forth.

Another rock formation.

At this point, the trek inside the cave became more challenging; and the best option was to take off one's shoes and go barefoot.

We had to rapel down a smooth rock wall, maybe 50 - 55 degrees. George made it look so easy. Actually, it looked more difficult than it really was. Of course, it was also easier said than done. C. was cool about it, even posing for pics; but i hung on for dear life.

Okay! What's next? This turned out to be nothing compared to what came ahead. As George led us into the inner recesses of the cave, we had to squeeze ourselves in between some narrow rock walls. The cold water was waist-deep by now, and i had to make sure our backpack didn't get submerged.

Uh oh, are you sure we can do this? I asked him at one point. He nodded, taciturn as usual.

Now, facing us was this pool of water which we had to cross. It looked and felt deep. How deep? Ordinarily, the water would be around chest-level, but with the recent rains, definitely higher. Uh oh.

Thankfully, we made it through. The soil we were stepping on was quite soft though, much like quicksand. At this point, i was literally grasping at the rock walls as though my life depended on it, just to get better traction and prevent myself from slipping into the water.

Your intrepid adventurers taking a moment to catch their breath.

As we made our way back to the entrance of the cave, we stopped for a while to catch our breath and snap some souvenir pics. Suddenly, George came alive and displayed heretofore undiscovered dexterity with C.'s digital camera. Not only was he familiar with all the settings, he waxed rhapsodically that he preferred Canon cameras over other brands, etc. He was about to get into a technical discussion about shutter speeds, etc., when we decided it was time to get moving again.

"And God said, "Let there be light"; and it was so."

In the end, i sustained bruises on both knees; scratches on both elbows, my right hand and right foot; and enough scary moments to last me a lifetime.

Truth be told, inside the cave, i was tempted to tap C. on the shoulder and tell him that we should just turn back, instead of proceeding further, a few times; but in the end, i was grateful that we pressed on and took in the entire experience.

When we neared the cave entrance and saw the open outdoors (see above pic), you couldn't imagine how relieved i felt, to be able to see the sky again.

And most of all, thank God we didn't choose the "Cave Connection" tour!!!

(Some tips: Guide fee for Sumaging Cave is PHP400.00 for one guide [for 1 - 4 pax]. Getting a guide is an absolute must.

As much as possible, do not bring any personal belongings [wallet, cellphone, etc.] inside, as you will need both hands free. If you really have to, bring a small backpack, and make sure to line its interior with a waterproof [Ziplock] plastic bag)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

(Part III)


Fog blanketing the Sagada sky.

Our surprising good luck with the weather ended today.

C. and i were planning to do a morning trek to the Bomod-ok ("Big") Waterfalls, and we expected to be back at our room at the Sagada Igorot Inn by early or middle afternoon.

Unfortunately, the strong, driving rains just kept on pouring and pouring, thereby cancelling the day's activities.
There was literally nothing to do at all, except "play tong-its [a card game]" as the guy at the Tourist Information Center half-jokingly suggested.

This was fine with C., who has long mastered the art of taking long naps and generally doing nothing. On the other hand, i like to believe i remained non-plussed by the turn of events. C. would beg to disagree, as he noted i was already becoming fidgety after only ten minutes of enforced idleness.

Rain and fog make for a gloomy day.

To make matters worse, the streets were virtually deserted and most shops (including the few internet cafes) remained closed. The one and only newsstand in Sagada normally receives the daily newspapers from Manila around 2:00 PM; today, it was more like 3:30 PM.

To kill time, we decide to play a game: name all the songs you know with the word "rain" in the title.

Me : "Here Comes the Rain Again" by the Eurythmics
C : "Rain" by Madonna
Me : "Rhythm of the Rain" by the Cascades
C : "Ulan" by Rivermaya (well, sige na nga)
Me : "It's Raining Men" by Geri Halliwell
C : "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" by . . . .???
Me : "Kiss the Rain" by Billie Myers

But this took all of 46 seconds. . .arrgghhh, what else to do??!?!

Oh yeah, we did some walking around and checked out some of the other inns nearby. St. Joseph's Resthouse was the place where VIPs and showbiz people stayed in, but we felt it was overpriced at PHP1,200.00/night. George's Guesthouse is the new kid on the block; a double room goes for something like PHP400.00/night, PHP500.00/night if you want to have a TV in your room.

Walking past St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

We also availed of Igorot Inn's in-room massage service, and dropped by the coop canteen to order a carrot cake for C.'s friend. Aside from this, it was more aimless walking around for us.

I thought to myself, Sagada can be so quiet and too laid-back that i'd go crazy if we stay here for one more day.

But despite all my whining, i eventually felt that this day wasn't totally wasted. I realized that s
ometimes, when travelling, we get too preoccupied with the things to do, sights to see (and take photos of), restos to dine in, etc. that we forget to just savor the fact that we are somewhere new and different from our regular lives.

I have been guilty of this 'by-the-numbers' approach to travelling in the past, and i'm sure i will be guilty of it in the future.

I guess there is something about the relaxed, unhurried, "whatever happens, happens" pace of Sagada life that makes you accept that things can be unpredictable; and like it or not, you just have to go with the flow.

This realization made the slacker in me quite happy. Yey! :-D