I was supposed to go on this trip last year but I backed out the last minute because of the accident involving Florida Bus Liner in Bontoc. It’s not that I was scared (okay, slight). It’s just that it would worry my parents and they’d call me more often if they found out I was to travel on the same route. So Fae and I promised ourselves we would push through the first chance we get, whether together or alone. Thanks to Pope Francis’ visit to the country, that chance materialized. Armed with all the money I saved up last Christmas (and all my remaining money, really, savings and all), I went to one of the most tiring and best trips I’ve had (so far).
Wednesday night we headed to Ohayami bus terminal in Fajardo corner Lacson street. One good thing about hailing from a faraway province and studying in Manila is being used to long bus rides. By long I mean 10 hours and above. When I tell my friends raised in NCR and nearby provinces about it, most of them answer that they wouldn’t be able to last that long.
Before arriving in Banaue, a guy named Mark rode the bus and asked the passengers where they’re going. After that he offered van and jeepney rides straight to Sagada for 300 pesos each with stopovers on Banaue Rice Terraces viewpoints (which was expensive because a bus ride from Banaue to Bontoc is 150 pesos plus 50 pesos jeepney ride from Bontoc to Sagada) or Banaue/Batad tours. It was a tourist trap but Fae and I were too tired to complain so we just went with the flow. When he asked the driver to stop and told every tourist to go down because it was where vehicles bound for Sagada are located, I obliged even though I know it’s supposed to be near the tourist center. When we were brought to Halfway Lodge and Restaurant for breakfast, I didn’t complain especially when the place had this view. The breakfast, which was quite expensive at 98 pesos for two pieces of longganisa, a cup of rice, scrambled eggs, a banana and a cup of coffee was filling so I kept my qualms to myself.
And then he made us wait. Now that is one thing I cannot handle. Especially if I know I have limited time to visit a place and the clock is ticking. He first promised we could join another group so we can split expenses. Past 9AM I asked him again and he kept on making excuses. After pestering him some more, he introduced a guy who told me we had no choice but to tour privately because we were a little too late, the jeepney for joint tour left at 8:30. This made my blood boil because we were done with breakfast and was waiting and waiting at 8:20! Good thing the weather was cold and I was reminded by God not to let petty things destroy my mood. In the end we haggled for a tricycle with the driver doubling as tour guide for 1,700 pesos for the whole day. That’s pretty steep especially since there’s only two of us. It’s only the first day and I’ve already gone wayyy over my projected budget. This went on for the next four days. haha!
Our ride got stuck in the mud and we couldn’t move forward. By this time, we already knew that Raymond (driver cum tour guide) was just the same age and the three of us have grown comfortable with each other so we kept teasing him that he was an incompetent driver because the others went another way. My shoes got stuck as well, the first of many more in this trip.
Batad is not for the sedentary. A few years ago I thought the 400+ steps to reach Tinago Falls was difficult. Well, that was a piece of cake compared with this one. Yes, the view was wonderful but it was a pain on the legs especially the gastrocnemius muscle (go look it up).
But then you are welcomed by this majestic falls and its freezing cold waters and all your whines are washed away (I would have written “pains are washed away”, sad to say, the ache is still there. I really need to be more active).
Batad Saddle + Tappiyah Falls is one of those places I think I won’t visit again. HAHA! It’s too far and too tiring my knees were wobbling and I was sure my body would give up on me at some point during the trip. I prayed. A LOT. Lord please keep me from fainting. Lord please let this suffering end. Those kinds of things. hahaha.
Good thing there was delicious food to welcome us from the hike. This cost us 550 pesos. I was surprised with the price of food in Banaue and Sagada and was ready to rant about it but after seeing kids carrying sacks of groceries from the drop off point in Saddle up to the village (a length my huge body cannot cover without stopping for a minute to catch my breath), those tiny bodies burdened by the ingredients used to make this meal, my heart softened. Let’s just say half of what you pay goes to the effort required for your Chicken Sinigang to be served.
When we reached concrete road I couldn’t take it any more so I asked if we could hitchhike and with Raymond’s approval I waved my hand at the first truck that passed by and it stopped. Thank you Lord for the gentle hear of kuya driver! All in all, I still can’t believe I came out of the Saddle alive
and well. We arrived at the drop off point at 4PM and I was so happy because I had a bet with a tricycle driver (let’s call him Coco Martin) who said we wouldn’t be able to go back before 5 in the afternoon. Huh, in your face Coco!
Halfway through the bumpy ride back to the town proper, we again encountered a minor glitch. Good thing there were helpful citizens on the road. One thing I was reminded of in this trip is the importance of your vernacular language. How I wish I was a fluent Ilocano speaker. Seriously, almost everyone becomes extra friendly and talkative once Fae and I try to communicate in Ilocano, no matter how barok. It was very helpful, especially in haggling.
Wearing shorts is not common in Banaue since the weather is cold. While riding on the back of the tricycle, a passing kid shouted “Wow legs” to me and I was embarrassed. Also, those hats with ear covers make a huge difference!
We stayed in a traditional Ifugao house in Banaue Ethnic Village. Here we were eating our dinner straight out of the plastic with bare hands. Organic rice is so cheap in the public market two cups only costs 5 pesos! I think we were one of only two guests that night and it was kinda scary because it was pitch black everywhere and the temperature was dropping by the minute. I woke up twice during the night because my legs were cramping due to the cold. I was almost tempted to slip into Fae’s blanket for body warmth but alas, the mattress was too small for the two of us.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye to the best guide ever (naks!). If you want a funny guide who is sometimes unsure of what he says, who tells a lot of stories, who unabashedly calls you fat, and whose expression ranges from “puteks” to “k fine”, here’s his number: +639368054101 (please tell him we said hi!) :]
For a minute or two it seemed like it would clear only to be covered in fog again after a while. What is #paasa? Anyway, there are a lot of amazing pictures on the internet and my photos wouldn’t really contribute to anything so never mind.
At last, our top load ride to Sagada! The view was breathtaking it made us forget the pain in our butts. Unlike the jeepney driver in our Pulag stint, this one seems to forget that there are people atop his vehicle. He drives fast and abruptly stops and turns if we weren’t holding on tight we might have fallen off. But it was tons of fun. I wouldn’t mind top loading every single time if the view was as terrific as this one. Cordillera really is God’s gift to Luzon.