We finally took the offer to rough it up in Sagada this weekend past. A village nestled in the heart of the Mountain Province, Sagada is a picturesque village even early missionaries have written about.
The town can only be reached by traversing zigzag roads that test even an expert driver’s skills. With a few scary strips where the other lane literally falls into a deep ravine, driving is best done in daylight. Yet, despite a 12-hour drive up north, the long voyage turned out to be extraordinary if only for the astounding, breathtaking views of lush pine-tree forests amidst the descending fog on mountaintops. As we reached the crossroad of Staunton Road, we felt the closest thing to reaching the clouds.
An adventure-filled escape to Sagada was one we had never considered when our children were still little. But then, our friends would often say that we simply had to get to Sagada, now while we were still quite fit and agile—and how right they were! The long arduous treks through rough terrains can test anyone’s stamina and determination. The uneven pathways and hiking trail leading to the hanging coffins through Echo Valley was a challenge I had to back out of halfway through the course. Even with robust knees, one would have to balance one’s weight on rocks perched on an almost vertical climb. Yet, the hikes, no matter how grueling, proved to be ultimately fun for the teenagers.
The accommodations in Sagada are at best rustic and basic, far from the luxurious and often expensive hotels in other tourist towns. It isn’t at all surprising that Sagada is the backpacker’s dream, as you can spend days on long treks through the most picturesque mountain scenery or simply navigate narrow roads on foot for hours.
Sagada is known for its astounding underground caves and caverns where the young and able-bodied can go spelunking meters down into fresh lake pools. However, as a precautionary measure, all tourists to these caves must register at the tourist office in the town center from where a local guide will be appointed.
At dusk, we drove off to the peak of Kiltepan to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. Disappointed that the fog didn’t clear that morning, we simply basked in the wintery weather on top of the hill before heading off to breakfast in one of the town’s homestays.
For the faint-hearted, the town of Sagada has more than enough cultural attractions to make one’s visit equally memorable, albeit less perilous. Even in this very remote town, epicurean cafes and restaurants abound. From its famous Sagada brewed coffee, lemon pie, native oranges and lemons, organic strawberries, Etag bacon, and mountain rice, the town is a diner’s delight as well.
Besides its culinary offerings, however, culture aficionados will find their way to the quaint shop of Sagada Weaving on the main road and the local pottery studio perched atop a hill. For uniquely woven pouches, bags and even espadrilles, Sagada Weaving offers the perfect accent piece to any wardrobe.
Yet, it was at the pottery studio, where we shared the best giggles while we molded the cold clay atop the potter’s wheel. With Miss Tessie as our erstwhile teacher, the entire family tried their hand at creating masterpieces with the cold clay. In the end though, we simply opted to buy remarkable artisan pieces that were simply displayed in a nondescript wooden shack. Ironically, these artisan pieces would have been so appropriate even in the display racks of museum stores in the city.
Sagada feels so much like stepping back in time. With native farm villages still tucked amidst forestry, this is the respite many dream of to get away from the maddening rush and hurried life of the city. The town brings back a semblance of those holidays when tourists enjoyed simple things, sans shopping malls and five-course dinners.
Atop a mountain, silence is still tangible, and stars shine so brightly that it feels like you could reach them still. I can only wish that the hands of city living and modern accoutrements will leave this mountain town on its own. And happily, if only for a few days, Sagada left us all with an album full of memories to keep.