A Different New Year in Sagada

8 years since my accidental visit to Sagada and I can still remember the feeling of being so close to heaven.

Mystic Sagada

In December 27, 2002, I went to visit Bolinao for a work-related project. With permission from my superiors, I brought along my buddy to keep me from boredom. When 6-hour bus trips become routine, it tends to be uneventful and dragging.  I was grateful to have someone to talk to.

During the day, I attended to my official business. In the evening, we decided to return to Manila to avoid the holiday rush. From mid ’til end of December, many commuters pile in bus terminals. It is, after all, the season buses hustle in and out of stations and terminals to carry passengers for their holiday vacation. I’ve been stranded in a bus terminal for at least 12 hours and it was no fun especially when all you can think of is the non-stop food binge.

We boarded the last bus to leave Bolinao at 8pm. It was an ordinary bus because the next airconditioned trip was early morning the next day. It was a bothersome ride, filled with local commuters, we could hardly move from our seat. It was then that I asked my friend if Baguio was a more likely destination than Manila. I was met with raised brows and a dropped jaw.

Reality check. We only had a few pairs of clothes. No updated information or plans of going north in the next few months. Neither of us had a jacket or cash at hand. But since I’m used to traveling via the North Luzon Highway, it wasn’t difficult to convince my friend to go farther North. Anyway, Baguio was around 3 hours from Tarlac City. We alighted in Dagupan and searched for an atm. Then we asked around for the bus terminal of buses plying Baguio. Unfortunately, there was none at that time. We took a bus to Tarlac City, where many provincial buses going to the northern provinces have designated stopovers.

The highway was dark and we were both anxious of our arrival in Baguio. We reached Tarlac before midnight. Since the stopover terminals were accessible even at midnight, looking for buses to different Northern Luzon destinations is not difficult. However, since it was the Philippines’ peak season for vacations, there are plenty of passengers on the streets and terminals. There must be at least 30 buses at a time in the old Pantranco Terminal. Though in peak season, expect to have most buses full. We coordinated with dispatchers and asked to get us in a waitlist for buses heading to Baguio.

The wait was quite long. We almost gave up hope, but by 2 or 3 am we were lucky enough that some passengers were dropped off at the terminal and we took their seats. Both of us kept fidgeting in our seats, which kept both of us from sleeping. I was occupied thinking of all the things we could do in Baguio. Then, I realized I wasn’t at all interested in going around Baguio. I proposed to head straight to Sagada.

By 5am, we reached the winding trail at Marcos Highway which reminded me that we’re just a few minutes from Session Road. My partner’s last trip to Baguio had been in his elementary days so I guess it was a good time for him to refresh his memories of his Boys Scout convention in Baguio. He is a Boy Scout and hates unplanned trips. Can you imagine how he almost turned around and left me all alone in Baguio when I pushed going further to Sagada?

Somehow, I got him to walk down Session Road to Dangwa Terminal behind Baguio Center Mall and check the schedule of bust trips to Sagada. We were actually just in time as passengers flocked to the bus scheduled to depart in a few minutes.  We got seats at the back. This was the start of our Sagada Adventure!

The seats were cushioned but the back rest was not. It was made with wooden planks that really hurt when the bus reached unpaved portions of the highway. My excitement grew as we passed by the mark: Highest Point of the Philippine Highway. Oh yeah! And the road was not yet paved back then. Our driver paused when a bus ahead had to stop and change for a flat tire. I guess nobody was willing to wait, considering that our bus was jam-packed! I had to grip and pray as the driver maneuvered our bus on the narrow patch between the stranded bus and the cliff. We were, after all, still along the highest point of the highway.

Despite the long and tiring ride (another 6 hours!), we weren’t able to sleep. Thinking about getting tipped by the cliff’s edge is not a relaxing preoccupation. After several hours of roller coaster rides and winding roads, finally, the bus drove to what looked like a small village surrounded by pine trees and beautiful terraces, which were rice fields.

Day 1

We were one of the last to get off the bus. We walked to the local tourism office and got a map.

Map of Sagada


We were so thankful for the map because we depended on it for the rest of our stay. Next stop: find a place to catch some sleep.

We tried several inns. Some lovely but far exceeds our budget. We were limited to Php1,000/day for accommodation. It was December 28 and we were expecting to stay until the 31st. Some inns had accommodations as low as Php300/room. However, we didn’t realize that a lot of visitors will be coming at this time of the year considering that it was too cold; Cooler than Baguio! We settled at the Sagada Guesthouse for the Php600/room accommodation which could accommodate 4 persons.

The bed was new as it was a new room. The bath was small but had little use for me. No hot shower so I didn’t stay long except to bathe and wash clothes. We had to wash because we only brought 3 pairs of clothing. There were areas we could hang to dry clothes. Good thing it was sunny during daytime.  Instead of catching a nap, we walked in nearby buildings to look at restaurants and grocers. Then we got sandwiches and retired for the day.

Echo Valley, Sagada

Day 2

In Sagada, you would want to bury yourself under the sheets longer. But we were so excited to see the mountain views and so we plotted our route from the map. We decided to check out Echo Valley via the cemetery.

On the way to Echo Valley we passed by St. Mary’s Church.

St Mary Episcopal Church

Unfortunately, the Sumaging Cave was closed for the season. Instead, we went to Lumiang. A smaller cave where coffins were kept. A few coffins were laid near the cave’s entrance. We didn’t have a flashlight so we couldn’t see inside, much less move further into the cave. It would have been a frightful but memorable experience since I’m claustrophobic.

We strolled back to the plaza and bought halo-halo from a vendor who just set-up for the afternoon snack. I think it is part of Filipino culture that after siesta, we have a snack.

Day 3

We wanted to walk and cover the areas in the map.  Initially, we walked along the main road. And then followed a path that lead us to a closer look at the rice terraces. On the way to Bokong Falls, we followed a trail across the rice terraces. We saw farmers tending their rice farm.

Trail to Bokong Waterfalls, Sagada

Trail to Bokong Falls, Sagada

Bokong Falls was a low-rise waterfall. It was interesting to see it in the midst of rice terraces. The walk to and from the waterfall was pleasant and leisurely. It would have been nice to just sit by the falls and dip our feet. But even during daytime, the water was too cold so we left after a few minutes of enjoying the tranquility.

Rice Terraces from Kiltepan Tower

We went back to the main road. We followed the road towards Sagada Weaving then headed had lunch at Rock Valley Cafe. It took the staff around 30 minutes to prepare our lunch. After satisfying our tummies, we decided to check the view from Kiltepan Tower. There were notes in the map provided by local tourism office where guests can find great views and trivial information.

From the Rock Valley Cafe, we walked for almost an hour on the highway towards Bontoc. I like long leisurely walks and the distance did not bother me even if there were no signs on the road. We just walked until the tower was in sight. It was our only sign that we were on the right road. We stopped some 100 meters from the tower. We were not able to go to the tower because there was a clan celebrating. They played local musical instruments and most of the younger members danced to the rhythm.

We went to the nearest clearing to enjoy the breathtaking view of the rice terraces.  Too bad, we did not have digital cameras then. We could not take too many photos since we weren’t sure if we can get film to reload. On our way back, we followed the other trail going to Banga-an. A part of the trail seemed unpopular because we could not find it. We separated, hoping to find the right trail and then call each the other when we find the right path. It took us atleast 30 minutes to traverse what seemed like a private property. And we arrived in different parts of the road.  Smart signal was not that strong in the area and we could not call each other. Eventually, we met at the inn’s lobby.

It was a long and tiring day but we were not that exhausted. The climate was great for long walks! The view and peaceful surrounding kept both of us from worrying about being lost.

Day 4

We had so much fun we decided to stay until January 1, which meant we’re celebrating New Year’s Eve in Sagada. We spent the last day of the year exploring areas near the plaza. We wanted to proceed to the old village of Demang but we did not have a guide so we just walked towards the old Spanish trail feasting on local treasures: hanging coffins, rice terraces and limestone peaks.

We were hoping to try some sweet snack at the Yoghurt House but none were available when we visited. We had a strawberry dessert, instead. We had our New Year’s Eve dinner at the Log Cabin Cafe and retired to our cabin. Later in the evening, local folks gathered at the plaza. They had set-up a huge bonfire in the middle and local instruments were played. There were brass gongs and iron clappers. Men were dancing around the bonfire. We sat at the inn’s veranda to watch their performance. Despite the freezing weather, a number of men only wore the traditional woven G-string. I guess the warmth of the bonfire kept them from getting the chill. They danced for at least 30 minutes. It was an unexpected and much appreciated treat.

On a final note, we left Sagada on January 2 (6 am) and arrived Manila dawn of January 3 (3 am). We were almost in Tarlac when the driver safely parked the bus to the side of the highway. Our bus from Baguio to Manila had an engine trouble and the bus company took so long to get us an alternative ride due to the high volume of passengers returning to Manila.

We were on the road for a total of 21 hours. Despite of the exhausting road trip, we were thankful that we had an unforgettable New Year celebration.


~ by theorangehut on December 21, 2010.

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