March 25, 2017 08:38 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Surviving Sagada

By Lovell Aniag

Sagada has always been on my Bucketlist. As a kid, the farthest place I’ve ever been to was Baguio. Anything beyond the Summer Capital was a place of mystery to me. To my young mind, Sagada was a foreign land where

people looked and dressed differently and have rituals and customs that involved dancing and fire.

Two decades later, the lust for Sagada is still there, further ignited by the cult-movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” (starring Angelica Panganiban and JM De Guzman), which was set on location. So when a friend said she has a week off from work and had nowhere to go, I immediately set out to plan an itinerary to backpack the Cordilleras for the second time, but this time including Sagada.

I felt that all the years I’ve been waiting prepared me for this moment. Or not. So. How did I survive Sagada? Let me count the ways:

1. Cardio.
Sagada is a municipality in the Mt. Province, nestled in a valley between the Cordillera and the Ilocos ranges, giving it a cool climate. The town is small enough to be explored on foot – if you have the energy and the stamina for it. Because of it’s geography, the place is often sloping, so be prepared for uphill walks. Our group got a van to go around.

However, we still got a lot of workout since most tourist spots still involve physical activities.

To see the famous hanging coffins, we had to do a hike through Echo Valley. Spelunking in Sumaguing Cave also tested my endurance and flexibility. A more hardcore version of it will be the Cave Connection of Lumiang and Sumaguing. But that one’s for my next visit. Need to work on my cardio further.

2. Layer
We went there on the coldest month of the year, February. It was freezing, as temperature dropped below 10°C. So if you want to survive 5 a.m. Mt. Kiltepan temperature while waiting for sunrise or enjoy a bonfire dinner at Lake Danum at sunset, wear at least five layers of clothing. A friend even had to bring the hostel blanket to Mt. Kiltepan. It was that cold.

3. Smile
The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the number of tourists. There were a lot! This was kind of a disappointment for me, seeing that in my head, it was supposed to be a mysterious isolated place. The downside of this is that you will have to share your “emo-moment” as you watch the sea of clouds roll over Mt. Kiltepan with a hundred other people.

On the upside, you will get to meet a lot of people, maybe even find a friend or two. Sagada Pine Café is a quaint little café in the morning that turns into a chill watering hole at night, where a lot of travelers (both Pinoys and foreigners) hang out. Better practice your best smile, your tadhana might be in the crowd. Mine was somewhere else.

4. Talk
I always make it a point to befriend a local or at least talk to them at length. This way, I get to know more about a place than what I find in the internet.

Despite the influx of tourists, Sagada still does not feel as tourist-y as, say Bohol, where tour guides already have memorized spiels, and souvenir shops look dingy and frightening. Establishments here are well-maintained, charmingly homey and often offers “specials” such as The Yoghurt House and Gaia Café and Restaurants (vegan food).

This un-tourist-y feeling of a very tourist-y place is unsettling for me, and I mentioned this to our guide. He says it’s because all businesses are locally owned. By law, outsiders can’t buy properties in Sagada nor can they open businesses. This is to maintain the culture of Sagada while creating opportunities for livelihood for the locals.

Another fact I discovered: majority of the Igorots in Sagada are Anglicans. In the 333 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, the Spaniards were unable to penetrate the Cordilleras because of the remoteness of the place. So when the American Episcopal Missionaries came to the country in the 1900s, they went straight to the mountains to instigate their faith in the Igorot culture.

Would my younger self love it, had she been with me to Sagada? I’m not really sure, since she expected fire dancing and rituals. I, on the other hand, would want to explore every nook and cranny of the town, and learn more about the culture and people. While the biggest setback for me is the number of tourist there, I feel that Sagada still has gems hidden under its beautiful surface.