Four years ago I hopped on a rickety G Lizardo bus with doors held by rusty hinges, seats that felt like hardboard, and creaky windows that let the full force of the cold mountain wind through. It traversed the winding, unpaved roads of the legendary Halsema Highway, weaving through patches of galvanized iron villages, yellow-green rice terraces, and gaping, rocky cliffs alike. The destination: Sagada, a small town nestled in the heart of Mountain Province, Philippines.
I remember stepping off that bus as it parked in the town center, giving the place one look, and feeling my heart dip five inches. This is it? I had thought. It was a cluster of cement structures seemingly thrown together wherever there was space. And it wasn’t even cold. At first glance, it didn’t seem to be the quaint little town I was expecting would meet me; it looked like any other town in the country only it was sprawling and it had trees. But man, was I mistaken. It only took several minutes and that first walk towards our inn to have the rug pulled from under my feet, in the best possible sense. Right at the top of road, the rest of the town loomed, the narrow, snaking streets and low buildings lining its sides garlanded by lush greens. The mountains in the distance were crowned by clouds and a sky so blue, it was almost screaming in its blueness. By the time I put down my backpack, inhaled the scent of pines from the forest below our balcony, and gazed as the landscape unfolded in front of me, I knew I was in for something- I just didn’t know then how great it was gonna be.
Fast forward to 2013. No adventure has since topped Sagada, and the yearning for that blood-pumping action could no longer be contained. Along with several friends, I finally went back, and steeled myself for whatever the place held for me this time. You know the cliche “Love is sweeter the second time around”? “Sweet” in this sense would be a gross understatement.
We took the same route going there that I took in 2009. The roads were a little more paved. The cliffs looked a little less deadly. But the cold wind blowing in the zigzag was the same. As it would turn out, the route was one of only five things tying both trips together. Everything else that happened in this second round was Sagada pulling the rug from under my feet again – in the best possible sense.
After a 12-hour roadtrip, we just chilled for the rest of the afternoon and tried to re-energize for the next day. Kiltepan Viewpoint was waiting. <3
After Kiltepan was breakfast, then our first Adventure Day. Mountain passes, long hikes, rice terraces, and crazy views awaited. Unadulterated Mother Nature.
The following morning, an even longer and harder hike awaited. But the views we saw were completely worth it. It was a side of Sagada I haven’t seen before, but it just made me fall in the love with the place even more.
It started with our ride getting caught in a ditch and us having to walk so many extra kilometers uphill, on a dirt road, to get to Destination 1. Adventure began earlier than expected I guess, but the early morning light snaking between pine trees made for great shots, and made the walk so much easier.
Five or so hours later we were back at the inn recovering with food and Monopoly Deal. The following day had the sight I was most excited about: Sumaguing Cave, where my adventure-junkie side first presented itself. I would try to describe the wonders of the cave, but I realize that I couldn’t. I wouldn’t even know where to begin; or how to begin. All I know is the feeling of excitement and anxiety I got as I started to slide deeper into the rocky, cavernous darkness, and the subsequent high when I climbed back out. Sadly I don’t have photos inside the cave from this trip because our cameras had to be left behind- for their safety.
On our last afternoon in Sagada, after the cave, we visited Lake Danum. It was supposed to be a great spot for sunset, but what we got was something else entirely. It was like being transported to the moors of the UK. I was half-expecting the Loch Ness monster to show her head or Mr. Darcy to come riding through the fog in his majestic steed. :)))
Finally it was time to leave. Sagada loved us so much it delayed our bus and kept us longer. I couldn’t complain; I couldn’t get enough. And I honestly probably won’t. I am sure it’ll only keep getting better from here.