28 April – 2 May 2010, The Philippines
There’s no doubt that Filipino beaches are top notch but after playing in the ocean for nearly three weeks, we decided it was time for a change of scenery. We had heard good things about the small town of Sagada so we decided to head further north and into the mountains. Bus travel in the Philippines is always an adventure, and the trip from San Juan to Sagada was no exception. During the 12 hour trip, our bus made three unplanned stops: twice because of landslides and once because of a downed electrical pole. By this point we’d learned to take it all in stride, and the cooler mountain temperatures made the trip almost enjoyable.
We’d like to thank the feuding Japanese couple on our bus for providing us with entertainment. Their lengthy argument mostly consisted of the woman repeatedly shouting one or two Japanese phases at her boyfriend. This wasn’t the first time during our trip when I wished my Japanese language skills were better. Initially we and the other passengers were entertained by the drama but after listening to her scream and cry for more than an hour, people started to get fed up. Passengers asked her to calm down but their attempts were futile. Finally the bus driver pulled over and asked a police officer to do something about the situation. Her screaming didn’t subside even after this last ditch effort but she did eventually grow tired and fall asleep. With the bus finally quiet, we also managed to get a bit of shut eye.
Our arrival in Sagada coincided perfectly with the beginning of the rainy season. According to the staff at our hotel, the week of our arrival was the first time it had rained in four months. At first we were disappointed but quickly realized the rain typically fell in the mid to late afternoon and this allowed us to see plenty in the morning and early afternoon.
Sagada is famous for its caves and hanging coffins that can be seen during many day hikes in the area. Unsure if we wanted to spend the time and money to go caving, we spent our first day hiking to Echo Valley. Along the way, we saw a number of coffins hanging from the side of cliffs. We had opted for an unguided walk so we weren’t really sure of the reason for this ancient tradition. We later learned that people from this area believed the higher your body is laid, the closer you are to heaven. A local also told us this burial practice is still used today but a person has to have a lot of money if they want to be laid to rest in a hanging coffin.
Although we enjoyed our hikes in Sagada, what excited us the most was the cooler temperatures and delicious food. Until Sagada, food in the Philippines had been okay but there was nothing really special about it. It doesn’t have the spiciness or intense flavors of Thai food or the freshness or subtleties of Vietnamese food. Most disappointing for me was the lack of vegetarian options as Filipinos really love meat. Fortunately this changed in Sagada where fresh vegetables are abundant.
Although there were a lot of restaurants to choose from, we found a couple that we really liked and stuck to them. The vegetarian options were so good that even Jason gave up meat while we were there. Many of our meals were washed down with strong cups of ginger tea or mountain tea. Dessert options were also endless. Every time we turned around we were tempted by freshly baked pies, cake, banana bread and homemade yogurt. One day we got a little carried away and ate chocolate cake and blueberry pie for lunch. I felt like a little kid whose parents left her home alone for the first time! Fortunately for our waistlines, Sagada is hilly and we walked everywhere.
As I mentioned in a previous post, our hotel in San Juan was quiet and very peaceful, particularly since we were the only guests. Our hotel in Sagada was a completely different story; every room was occupied and most of them had televisions. We didn’t realize this was an issue until nightfall when the people in the room next door settled in for a four hour television viewing marathon. As midnight approached and we got ready for bed, Jason asked them to turn the volume down. They obliged but in addition to being night owls, they were apparently early risers because the television came on again at full volume around 5 in the morning.
The next day we switched hotels and the noise levels were even worse. Between dog fights, roosters and loud music, we were already fed up when our neighbors turned on their television. As Jason chased a cockroach across the room and into a corner, he discovered a cable hooked up to a splitter. When he pulled the cable out, we were greeted by blissful silence from the room next door. Apparently the cable hook up in our room controlled the television in the next room. Our guilt lasted for about as long as it took us to fall asleep that night.