I can’t remember exactly for how long, but going to Sagada together had been my best friend Jun and I’s plan for years. I even turned down a number of invites to go there out of respect to our promise that we should go there at the same time.
Yes, I know it sounds cheesy but that’s how some friendships work.
Our plan to visit the famous Mountain Province town, however, seemed to take forever to materialize. I had actually grown tired of asking him to spare a few days off for that trip, but he couldn’t find the time. That’s why it surprised me that on the last weekend of September (barely a month into his new job), he said the words that sounded like music to my ears: “Sagada tayo!”
I immediately planned everything, but had to call him again before booking the bus tickets. Just to make sure.
We left second Friday of October. The bus ride was a solid eleven and a half hours.
While I very rarely able to sleep on bus rides, Jun snored most of his way from Cubao to Sagada. And I envy him.
We arrived at Sagada around 8:30 AM the following day, reached our accommodation thirty minutes after, and were on our way around town on our rented motorcycle by 9:30 AM. It was our choice not to join group tours because we only had exactly 26 hours (minus 6 hours because curfew starts at 10 PM and I guess lifted at 4 AM because that’s the time most tourists leave for the Kiltepan sunrise viewing) to go around.
We spent almost an hour going to and fro looking for the original site of Sagada Weaving. On our first try, we only learned that we were already in Besao when we reached a road construction site and was able to ask some locals. Anyway, we gave up and decided to visit the pottery site first.
Tourists are not allowed to take pictures inside the gallery (I don’t know why) but can photograph all they want in other parts.
At one point, we were approached by a woman who asked if we want to see a demo. Of course we did, but was only advised that the demo was for a fee when everything’s already set and the demo girl was already seated, holding the clay and ready to start.
It was just for a hundred pesos, but for two travelers on a tight budget, that amount could already mean a meal or part of the souvenir budget like a Sagada shirt which I wasn’t able to get.
So when we were asked after the “show” if we wanted to try it out, we said “no” almost in unison.
We finally were able to locate the original weaving site. There’s also a no picture policy inside and I respected that rule and didn’t take any, not even a video.
Really, I didn’t.
But it was cool to watch how those fabric designs are formed. Now I have more respect for the blankets at home that my sister collected from her frequent travels to Benguet when she was still working for a mining company.
Gaia Cafe and Crafts
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Gaia Cafe and Crafts is a must visit when you're in #Sagada. If you're not very fond of vegetarian and vegan meals (which are the only kinds they serve), just go there for the chill and very artsy vibe. . #GaiaCafeAndCrafts was also used as a location in one of the scenes in the local movie, #ThatThingCalledTadhana. . #WhenInSagada #travel #backpacking #food #MountainProvince #Philippines #travelphotography #iphonephotography
After Sagada Weaving, our grumbling stomachs led us to Gaia Cafe and Crafts. I have read reviews about the place, and Jun remembered it as one of the locations of the movie, That Thing Called Tadhana. I haven’t watched it, but I have heard a lot about it, being a movie about two heartbroken tourists that fell in love in Sagada.
The cafe was almost deserted when we arrived, left for a lone young woman reading a book. I couldn’t contain my excitement as one side of the cafe has glass walls, giving a picturesque view of the land below and the mountains beyond. Such scenery, indeed.
But since we were really hungry (we only ate our baon – the pork adobo meal my nanay prepared – for breakfast on the bus around 7 AM), our grumbling stomachs reminded us why we were really there.
I ordered the vegan adobo meal while Jun had the grilled vegetarian thing that I already forgot the name.
The brewed coffee was also superb. It was served on French Press which reminded me that I needed to buy one for the beans I bought from a neighbor who works at Starbucks.
Anyway, Gaia also has a roof deck. It looked like an unfinished structure and I won’t be surprised if there would eventually be outside sitting on that space… with parasols. That would be nice.
Church of St. Mary the Virgin
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The Church of St. Mary the Virgin at the very heart of #Sagada was almost deserted when we paid a visit. . Peaceful and calm are two words that come to mind when I remember the church. Just behind this church, however, the poblacion is bustling with activity. Such opposite vibes, with this structure seeming to act as boundary. . #WhenInSagada #church #travel #backpacking #travelphotography #iphone #iphonephotography #mountains #MountainProvince #Philippines #picoftheday #instapic #nofilter
After Gaia Cafe and Crafts, we headed straight to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. We were only able to admire the structure from the outside as it was closed at the time of our visit.
The Anglican church is said to be the oldest church in the Cordilleras. It was built in 1904, survived the World War II, and became a parish in 1962.
Very near the church is the entrance to Echo Valley. Guide fee was P300, aside from the entrance fee of P10 per person. They also ask for the tourist registration receipt. They won’t let you enter if you haven’t paid the P50 (per person, as well) registration fee at the tourism office.
Anyway, I’m not so fond of cemeteries but I took photos, nonetheless. I shelled P150 for the tour, after all.
That tour took the toll on us. We had to go back to the inn to rest a little before we head off to Danum Lake for sunset viewing.
Dark clouds started to overcast while we were resting. Sounds of thunder were heard while we were enjoying the instant pancit canton that we cooked using my age old portable stove from my mountain climbing days. And yes, I also brought the noodles from Manila.
We didn’t want to wet ourselves so we changed our minds and were ready to cross out Lake Danum from our list when the sun suddenly peeked. And we were soon on our way to the lake with our cameras and hopeful spirits. We are both fans of sunsets.
But not everything can be perfect. There’s always that Mayon Volcano peak that would hide behind the clouds, or that Mt. Pulag sea of clouds on a zero visibility weather.
For this trip, it’s the Lake Danum sunset on a sunny day that was ruined by a sudden overcast.
It started drizzling while we were still on our rented motorcycle. The drizzle stopped for a while and we were able to take photos by the lake, but we (as well as the other tourists) knew that there would be no sunset show that afternoon.
Sagada Cellar Door
We passed by this colorful sign by the road about craft beers, and since we left the lake early, we decided to just kill time at the Sagada Cellar Door.
There were only two guests when we arrived. Young couple, I think. Heart (male) from Samar and a very sweet young lady whose name I forgot because it’s kinda difficult to pronounce. She’s from somewhere near Taguig.
There’s a sort of entrance fee of P250 per head that you can consume with whatever. Since 5 flavors of their craft beer costs P50 per sampler glass, we ordered those 5 and drank each flavor together.
I liked Brown Ale best. Sadly the last one that we tried was Pine Pale Ale which (for me) tasted the worst. The after-taste stayed way past bed time.
Sagada Cellar Door had that chill vibe. Outdoor bar. You drink in the middle of the trees, under the moon and the stars, while Boyce Avenue is playing in the background.
Good thing the drizzle had stopped by then, or we wouldn’t have experienced any of that.
It had been “ages” since I last had any alcoholic drink, so I wasn’t surprised that after just 5 sampler glasses, I was already conscious of a grin permanently plastered on my face. It’s a sure sign that I’m drunk.
We decided to go back to the inn so I could rest for a while before having dinner at the inn’s restobar which also has a very cool atmosphere. And just like at the Sagada Cellar Door, they were also playing Boyce Avenue so I assumed the band is a big hit in Sagada.
Fast forward to the early morning after…
We just had coffee (courtesy of my portable stove and cook set) before heading off to Kiltepan peak. The sunrise view area was already full of tourists that time, but the arroz caldo was so enticing to our empty stomachs that we had to give it a try.
Unlike the Lake Danum sunset, the Kiltepan Sunrise actually showed up and gave us a nice view of the sea of clouds. It wasn’t as “massive” as the one I experienced at Mt. Pulag, but it was beautiful, nonetheless.
I noticed that souvenir items were cheaper at the Kiltepan Peak than at the shops in poblacion. But I’m not fond of giving out pasalubong so I didn’t buy any.
The motorcycle ride going to and from the Kiltepan Peak was very rough. Plus Jun delighted on hearing me (involuntarily) curse everytime we hit a big stone or a hole on the road.
After the rough path, though, we got to enjoy the cool morning breeze and the scenery that could only be found in Mountain Province, plus the fresh air with the smell of grass and fresh soil that makes me long for a provincial life.
It was still very early when we got back to our room. We wanted to explore Sumaging Cave the earliest possible time because our bus to Manila would be leaving at 10:20 AM.
The tourism office was still closed when we passed by, as well as the Sagada Genuine Guides Association (SAGGAS) office. I tried calling the contact numbers of SAGGAS but no one was answering. Not even when I tried texting. We waited until 7:30 AM and when no call/text came in, we decided to just have breakfast at the Gaia Cafe and Crafts before preparing to go home.
But sadly, Gaia was still closed that time. It opens at 9 AM. So we hopped back on the motorcycle to just go around to kill time.
We decided to go to where the Sumaging Cave is just to have some photos taken. To our surprise, the registration area was already manned and there were a couple of guides waiting for guests.
It was already past 8 AM that time. According to the guide, the tour would take 2-3 hours to complete, depending on our pace.
Even if we only have 2 hours left before the bus leaves for Cubao, we decided to give the Sumaging tour a go. We should, however, stop the tour at 9:30 so we could still catch the bus (and have time to pack our things which were still all on the bed that time).
The problem came when the guide seemed to have poor hearing. That, or he didn’t care if we were in a hurry.
I know he was trained to stop at every point where he could tell us some trivia or stories and the likes, but we kept telling him we’re in a hurry and that he could drop the explanations and we just wanted to reach at least the end of level 2 and take some photos… but he kept his deadma to our request.
He also took offense when I wouldn’t give him the DSLR because according to him, even the professional photographers would let him take the photos.
But when he got hold of the camera, my fear came true. He made us pose against every tourist-y spot which made the tour longer.
As we went deeper into the cave, we knew our legs would be in for a real workout during our way back.
At the end of level 2, we had to stop the guide from taking photos and tell him (and make him understand) that we had to go back. Good thing he understood. But he still had the camera that time and would stop at certain points to take our photos.
The guide’s intention was good, but we really were in a hurry.
And just like what we feared, our legs were put to test during the climb back.
Good thing we were able to reach the inn a little before 10 AM. We still had time to take a quick shower and stuff everything in our bags. We could just have breakfast on the bus.
On our way to the bus, we bumped into the young couple we met at Sagada Cellar Door. I really can’t remember the name of the girl but she’s the sweetest thing ever.
We made it to the bus exactly 5 minutes before departure. The ride back was exactly 12 hours, and aside from 2 unruly chance-passenger French girls who sat at the aisle, the ride was okay. We got home around midnight and Jun was able to go to work the Monday after (and it was a relief because I don’t wanna be blamed by his wife).
Sagada is really a nice place to bond, to reflect, to soul-search… Being 11 hours away from Manila, we had no choice but to leave our problems behind and just enjoy what the town has to offer.
I’m sure I’d be going back to Sagada. There are still a lot of tourist spots we haven’t gone to, but I think my next trip there would be just to breathe the air, eat more vegan stuff, and drink more craft beer.