Tumbling down the “highway” on a non-airconditioned, non-shock absorbent bus, I popped an anti-nausea pill in my mouth in preparation for the journey. With 5-6 hours ahead of us I passed the time gazing at the awe-inspiring mountain scenery and chatting with one of my good friends. We both agreed that this spur of the moment plan to visit Sagada would be worth the rollercoaster ride. We were both looking forward to visiting the town know for its hiking and caving.
A little man sat next to me on my other side (he unfortunately had to sit in the aisle seat because the bus was already full to the brim) and would continuously point out various mountains or landmarks to me, telling me a story about each one. This was where he went to school, over there is where his friend lives, that’s the second highest mountain in the Philippines… His pride in his land and the places he grew up was very much evident from the way he smiled and talked about the whole area. He showed me pictures of his family on his camera phone.
I realize now that although I live in the mountains, Baguio is like the gateway to the rest of the mountainous regions. Baguio is merely a taste of what awaits further in and further up. I am so in love with these mountains I cannot get over it.
Cool, fresh, and crisp air awaited us in little Sagada. We met up with two other PCV friends and went on a search for lodging. Unfortunately, we forgot to take into account that it was a holiday weekend; every place was full. Well, at least for what we were willing to pay on a Peace Corps budget. Finally we were sent to the local church to see if they could put us up for the night. They told us they don’t take visitors but after learning we were poor volunteers who had no place to stay they made up some rooms for us in their convent.
Early next morning the sunshine greeted us, glowing over the rice terraces that we passed in our van. We were headed to a hike…or so I thought. Hiking seems to be a relative term here in the Philippines.
What started out as a cement hiking path was really just the road to a small village we passed through. The real hiking began after that. We trekked through rice terraces, literally skirting the edges of the terrace on some invisible path that only our guide knew where to find. If you weren’t careful walking the edge, you’d slip into the muddy water and guck of the rice terrace often shouting in surprise or dismay.
After the rice terraces we came to some small waterfalls, the beginning of our hike up towards the Big Waterfall. This is when our “hike” became more like rock climbing. We were literally climbing up the waterfalls. Sometimes we’d wade through the waterfall to get to a better climbing spot. Sometimes we’d be climbing up right next to the cascading water itself. With each new waterfall was a new climbing challenge and luckily our guide was there to pull us up in tricky places or navigate across the gushing water. We stopped halfway at a small pool where we jumped in to swim and rest for a bit.
Finally, the big waterfall loomed into view and we scampered up the last rock wall to reach the top. The falls were so powerful that I could feel the wind and spray coming at me with full force. Standing there at the top we felt a huge sense of accomplishment for such a fun and challenging “hike.”
The day was only halfway over.
One of my friends and I wanted to go caving since it was both our first time in Sagada and we had heard amazing things about the caves. Unfortunately, guides can be expensive since you pay by the trip, not by person. So we stood in front of the municipal hall waiting for tourists to come.
“Do you want to go caving?”
“Hey! Are you planning on going caving right now?”
We stood there for a good half hour greeting every person that walked by in hopes of meeting someone who would want to join us. Finally, a bus pulled into town and two guys got off and passed our way. After some convincing, they agreed to be a part of our group and we were on our way.
I had been caving in Marinduque before so I was expecting something similar. But Sagada caves are much, much different. Ascending down into the darkness with only a gas lantern for a light, our guide led us through a large cavern, pointing out various shapes formed into the walls of the cave. Further down we came upon some pools glistening eerily in the glow of the lantern. From this point on, we had to make our way down rocks dripping with water and staying dry was not an option. That was when it became fun. We scampered through pools, sat under small waterfalls, climbed through holes and tunnels that seemed impossible to navigate without the help of our guide telling us where to step or duck. I kept looking at the path ahead of us, giving our guide a skeptical eye and exclaiming, “that’s where we are going?”
But our guide was as skillful as any typical Sagada guide. He could balance and climb slippery rocks with ease, hold the lantern with one hand while taking pictures of us with the other, all the while smoking a cigarette. I don’t know how they do it. Towards the end of our journey we waded through a long cavern of chest high water, climbed up steep rocks with a rope, and made it back outside just as the last of the light was disappearing into the evening.
Needless to say I was sore and exhausted the next day, but it was all worth it.
a girl who dreams