Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Byaheng Norte: A Budget Travel Guide

In this time of my well deserved R&R, I decided to travel to Manila with an original itinerary of having a Manila-Vigan-Banaue-Sagada-Baguio-Manila trip. A friend however encouraged me to drop Vigan since this Ilocandia trip deserves a whole 3-day trip (at least) on its own. I took advantage of a seat sale of Cebu Pacific from Davao on my way to Manila and my Get Go points. The trip cost me more than 7K points which I exchanged to my Manila-Davao trip.

Upon arrival in Manila, we started our trip to Banaue by riding a Ohayami bus in Espana, Manila. The trip lasted for 10 hours (more or less) and we paid around PHP 470.00 pesos. We took the 9PM trip and we arrived in Banaue around 8AM. Upon arriving at the terminal, you can take vans to Sagada which leaves around 10 or 11AM. The local tourism people will collect PHP 20.00 for their environmental fee. We paid PHP 200.00 for the trike which took us to four view points which showcased the beauty of the rice terraces. There are also a lot of souvenir shops around where you can buy souvenirs like key chains, bonnets, etc. You can see the terraces rom different angles between these four view points. There are also statues of rice gods or Bul-ol in the local language around the area and you can also see Ifugao's in their traditional garbs that you can take your pictures with a small donation.

The vans to Sagada costs around PHP 350.00 and they will also drop you off in one of the view points where you can take pictures of the terraces. The entire trip lasts for four hours. It is better to travel in large group when you ride the van because they will try to make sure that the van has enough passengers before it leaves. We stayed and waited for a couple of hours as the driver tries to look for more passengers. We left Banaue around 10AM and we arrived Sagada around 2PM.

 On our way to Sagada, we saw a lot of beautiful sceneries. The air is also becoming very cold as we wiggle our way up to the mountains. Upon reaching Sagada, you can really feel that the air is very fresh. You need to register at the Tourism office and pay PHP 35.00. Make sure that you bring the receipt anywhere you go since they  would ask to see it in all the tourist spots you will visit. There are a lot of places to stay in Sagada which ranges from PHP 250.00 to PHP 350.00 per head in a dorm type room. We stayed in Residential Inn where we paid  PHP 300.00/head. The rooms are neat and clean and they also provide an endless serving of brewed coffee at the lobby.  That afternoon, we visited the Anglican Church- Church of St. Mary, the Virgin which has a unique architecture. The church is also near the entrance of the Echo Valley.
 Our first day in Sagada started really early. We took a van to Kiltepan Peak around 5:30 AM to see the sunrise. By the way, Vans in Sagada costs PHP 500.00 per location. This is okay if there's a lot of you. You can rent the van for one day at PHP 2,200.00 (You may inquire at the front desk of Residential Inn). The place has its own restaurant which opens if there are campers in the area, however, you can buy food and some other stuff from vendors who sell their stuff near the viewing area. Kiltepan peak is breathtaking, you can see a valley with a rice terraces. It's nice to see a sea of clouds roll in at the same time the first light of the sun reek through the mountains. It is truly a sight to behold.

 There are a lot of restaurants in Sagada which sells a variety of food. We had our breakfast at Bana's Cafe which sells really nice Chicken Masala (PHP 250.00 good for 2) They also sell Civet coffee if you are into it. The place also has big serving of food which is usually good for 2 people.

After our breakfast, we took the van to St. Mary's the Virgin Church. The place is the start of the Echo Valley trail. They wouldn't let you in though without a guide (all the places in Sagada need a guide, or else they will not let you in). There are three types of Echo Valley walking tours. The highlight is a three hour tour starting from the Echo Valley, to the Hanging Coffins, the Underground River and ending at Bok-ong Falls. This Adventure Trail costs PHP 1,000.00  for 10 people or less. If you wouldn't want to enter the Sagada Underground River, the Eco-Tour cost is PHP 600.00. If you would like to just have the 45-min tour of going from the Echo Valley, the Hanging Coffins nd back for PHP 200.00. During this tour, we got an excellent guide named Sotero Gau, who gave us backgrounds on Traditional Ifugao beliefs and funeral practices. You can get him by asking the front desk of the Residential Inn.

The Adventure Trail starts with a trail to the Echo Valley. Upon trekking down the mountain, you can see the Sagada hanging coffins which traditionally held the Ifugao deceased relatives. However, this practice as been stopped and the last body was traditionally buried last 2012. After the area of the coffins, we trekked through the forest where you can see a lot of coffee growing at the side of trail. We climbed some rocks, crossed some rivers until we reached the entrance of the Sagada Underground River. You can see a lot of stone people (Stack of Stones believed to house the stone spirits) at the entrance of the cave. The cave is pitch black so you need to bring some flash light. The water is also ice cold and the stones slippery so you need to be very careful. After the trek in the dark, we found ourselves walking along the river leading to some farmlands and ending at Bok-ong Falls which has a naturally formed pool. The water is also ice cold in this pool so better bring a towel and a change of clothes. We started the tour at 8:30 AM and ended it around 12 Noon. We had lunch at Yoghurt House which sells, what do you know, yogurt. I'll suggest the strawberry, granola and banana yogurt. They also sell things like chicken curry, fried rice with traditional smoked ham called etag and pasta. Food is expensive though.

 The Sagada Hanging Coffins

 The Stone People - I made at the entrance of the Sagada Underground River

 The Sagada Underground River Trail

 The Echo Valley Trail

 The Underground River Trail

  Bok-ong Falls

  The afternoon part of the tour was a trip to Sumaging Cave. There are also different types of caving trips that you can try. There is the cave connection which costs PHP 400.00 per person (minimum of two) for a 40-minute walk from the Lumiang cave entrance to Dukiw Hanging Coffins exiting to the Sumaging Cave. We took the Short Course Caving at the Sumaging Cave. Before the 1 and a half hour expedition in the cave, we passed by the Lumiang caves and rode the van to the entrance of Sumaging cave. The cave has very slippery stones and we need to sit and climb the stones. There were a lot of rock formations inside the cave where our guide Kuya Sotero lighted the way with a petromax. There were some rappelling, climbing the rocks using ropes. The place is very dark and you also need to have those plastic pouches where you can put your phone to protect it from water. You can buy it at the stores found at cave's entrance for PHP 100.00.

 The Coffins from the Lumiang Cave

One of the Rock formations inside the Sumaging Cave

We ended our day with a trip to see the sunset at Danum Lake. However, since it was rainy, the lake can't be seen because of the thick blanket of fog. We also dropped by Sagada pottery which was at that time was already closed, so we took some pictures and head back to our Inn. We had dinner at Pinikpikan Haus where they served Pinikpikan, a traditional Ifugao chicken dish served with a slice of Etag. They sell it for around PHP 150.00 per bowl. The soup is sour and smokey and the etag is also salty, but I like it anyway.

 We left Sagada for Baguio the next day around 10 AM and arrived at 4PM. I loitered around Burnham Park and went to Rainbow Barracks where I got a free HIV test (got negative). After spending time with the rainbow gang, we travelled back to Manila around 3 AM and arrived 10 AM just in time for the Manila Pride March at 4PM.

The Byaheng Norte has a lot of first. My first time to travel to Banaue, Sagada, Benguet and my first time to come back to Baguio after 13 years. First time to have my HIV test, first time to do my Pride March. I spent less than 10K on this trip, but the experience was priceless.

Before ending this story here are the things you need to remember when you are in Sagada.

1. Travel as a large group, this would save you money. Van and Guide fees can be split among the group. Trekking usually allow 10 people while Caving limits to 4 people per group.

2. If it's just you and your forever, then talk to people in the van or on the bus. Or just people that you meet on the road or your accommodation. It will be very expensive if it's just both you.

3. Respect sacred sites and rites in the area. If you see some rites or rituals, ask permission before you snap a photo.

4. Caves are always dark, wet and slippery so prepare your gears. Waterproof pouches is a must as well as a change of clothes. Avoid bringing bulky DSLR cameras inside the caves. You will be required to crawl, climb, crouch and your doing this while you're getting wet. ;)

5. Mind your trash. Do not just throw your litter everywhere.

6. Bring the Environmental Fee receipt wherever you go.

7. You need guides everywhere. Except in Kiltepan at sunrise and the sunset at Danum Lake.

That's all.

More pictures on my FB Account: