Baguio: Day 1 - 2
Thirteen people was supposed to go to Baguio but due to different circumstances, only 8 went as planned. I don't know what caused that major change, but according to them, Choobaka got down with the Engkiseng syndrome. I was left with 5 others for a different reason. It was a card day. So i need to stay behind to get my course cards.
After 'haggling' with my professors, I went home to pack my things. Choobaka and Kiddiebo, after seeing me getting ready for the trip, immediately changed their minds. So, the 3 of us went to Victory Liner to catch our bus.
As expected, the trip was uneventful. After 8 hours of munching junk foods and texting, we finally arrived in Baguio. Hotshot went to fetch us from the bus station.
Hotshot's brother has a place in Fairwiew, so we didn't have a problem looking for a place to stay. It was chilly but it's a good welcome for us. In Manila, the climate was stifling hot, and still is, during the summer. Shifting from 35C down to almost 15C is quite refreshing.
We had an early night. At 10pm, our 20 horsepower engine was already starting to warm up.
The only time I wake up early is when I'm on vacation or when I have work to do. We left the house at around 8 am, right after breakfast. We don't usually eat out. As long as there's time, food, pots and burner to cook. We bought our ingredients from the market with the help of the Hotshot's brother's caretaker (whew!).
We went to Balatoc Mines, a few minutes ride from Baguio. The mine is owned by Benguet Corporation and promoted by the Department of Tourism. The mine doesn't operate anymore, but they hold guided tours to keep the place from deteriorating.
Apolito already contacted the person in charge, so we immediately readied ourselves for the tour. The fee includes boots and headlights rental. It was our first mine tour, so we really didn't have a clue.
Before the tour, the guide (I forgot her name) did a mini-lecture about the mine. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying much attention so I can't write all the details. I was too excited fixing my boots and my headlights hehe:)
Before we went in the tunnel, she gave us chapas, and explained what they're for. And this is what she told us: chapas functions like IDs, miners leave their chapas in a box right beside the entrance. Everyday, the foreman (or whatever they're called) checks the box. If the box is empty, all the miners already left the tunnel, if not, the foreman issues a search and rescue operation, or something to that effect.
The tour was exciting and informative as well. We get to drill holes (Bangan volunteered to do that), light a water-proof blasting caps, ignite a dynamite, ride a mine car, see their tools and even their 'portable' toilet (a mine car-like metal box with a big hole in the middle, imagine what that looks like), spot a gold vein, and see their pet anaconda. I was just joking about the anaconda-thing. It's actually an enormous exhaust pipe that sucks out dusts and other materials from the tunnel to keep miners from suffocating.
Halfway through the tour, Pitangskers and Spaga left. The former got scared from the hissing and sparking  hehe:). She actually thought the thing would explore. The dynamite explosion was during the latter part of the tour. And that was the highlight of the whole tour.
After that, it went pretty boring. We saw the entire process of gold mining, basically. And finally, we get to hold a P20M gold bar which is quite unbelievable. I mean, who, in his right mind, would leave, not just one but two P20M gold bars unguarded?!
All in all, the tour was worth your money (if I remember correctly, it was P200) and your time (2 hours max plus 1 hour travel). The company gives out certificates to tourists, not much but it's something to remind you of your tour, aside from your photos, of course:)
After Balatoc, we went to one of tourists' favorite spotsin Baguio namely Mines View Park, PMA and The Mansion, not in particular order. It was not our first time. But just the same, we marvelled at Marcos' extravagance, enjoyed thebreath-taking view of Mines View Park and PMA's antique tanks.
|Sagada: Day 3|
Sagada is situated approximately 143km northeast of Baguio. Getting there was a gruelling 8 hours, we left at around 4 am. We have to pass through rough roads, most of it were just cut out from mountains. Landslides were evident. Fortunately, the road was not as slippery as expected.
But it was a memorable road trip. The distinctive vegetable terraces and cliffside views were really spectacular. The sceneries made us forget our aching butts and stiff torsos. Responding to the call of nature was not a problem. We passed by several stopovers near the Guerilla Saddle, the highest point of Halsema Road and of the country's highway system, and a hotel near Mt. Data.
We arrived just in time for lunch. I forgot the name of the place where we ate, the only thing I can remember about the place is a huge poster of Bob Marley (get up, stand up, stand up for your rights...). The food was nothing out of the ordinary. Just plain old Filipino dishes.
After eating, we went to Sagada Igorot Inn to leave our things and stretch our stiffened muscles. Apolito, our superb tour guide, went to the town hall to inquire about the cave tours. We were able to hire 2 competent tour guides for P350.
Our first stop was the Sumaging Cave or "The Big Cave", 800m south of Sagada. From the exterior, the cave's yawning entrance was impressive. It was a little scary, at first. I was expecting a much smaller cave, where we don't have to grope in the dark just to see limestone formations.
Equipped with medium-strength nylon ropes and petromax lamps, our guides started to lead us through the cave. The first few feet was easy, the rocks near the cave's entrance was chipped off to serve as our stepping stones. And then, the descent became challenging. Where the makeshift steps ends, steep and slippery rocks emerges.
The bats inhabiting the cave's interior made the descent unpleasant and creepy. Bat droppings are everywhere, and their noise can get quite scary. Because of the jagged rocks, we didn't have any choice left but to get a good grip on the rocks and feel bat droppings on our hands (it smells awful, by the way).
We encountered the first sign of limestone formations after an hour. After removing our shoes, as requested by our guides, we washed off the dirt and droppings from an underground stream running through the cave. The water was a bit cold, but it was refreshing.
Our exploration didn't stop there, the next few minutes was tricky. We had to maneuver ourselves into small passageways, climb down flowstones with our guide's assistance (they sometimes use parts of their bodies as stepping stones, but not for horizontally challenged people), wade through waist high, freezing water and crossing across a small chamber with a big gap filled with 6-ft. deep water while hanging on to the nylon ropes. Kiddiebo was unfortunate enough to lose his grip on the rope and had a quick but chilly dip.
The cave holds impressive limestone, stalactite and stalagmite formations, andnumerous chambers. There was this curtain-like rock formation where we had our pictures taken which, unfortunately, wasn't included in our photo collection since the camera had no film. There was also a gigantic limestone formation which the locals dubbed as "The Pregnant Woman". We were also able to pass by a chamber which holds a vast swimming pool.
Unlike mountain climbing, the most difficult part of spelunking is the descent, for fear of slipping. Going back to the surface was easy, but we still had to touch and smell the bat droppings.
We enjoyed exploring the cave so much that after hearing from Apolito about another cave in the vicinity with a more fantastic crystal formations, we were eager to brave through another cave exploration . Unfortunately, Crystal Cave was closed off due to looting and vandalism.
Anyway, it was already 4pm, going to another cave was out of the question. So the group opted to go to Sugong, 500m south of the town hall, in Brgy. Ambasing. The place is known for its hanging coffins. The main attraction is a few minute walk from the main road. You can easily make out most of the trail so there was no need to hire a guide.
We reached the place with no fuss at all. At the end of the trail, you can see a big cave entrance with stacks of coffins carved out from logs. The coffins were stacked from floor to ceiling. A few coffins were scattered all over the place, some of them was already looted, either by tourists or by the locals.
I was thinking, we were lucky to have seen all of it. Who knows what might happen to it in the next few years. Most of our country's popular attractions are either closed off temporarily or damaged permanently due to rampant looting and vandalism.
We went back to the hotel to wash off the remaining bat droppings. We did a little window shopping in one of the shops selling native cloths, carrying pack and hand baskets made by ethnic minorities. We also went to Apolito's friend's house and bought some of her bracelets.
|Bontoc: Day 4|
We left Sagada at around 7am and travelled northest to Bontoc for approximately 15km. Our first stop was a PT&T branch (or was it RCPI?). Most of the towns in Cordillera are still not covered by either Globe or Smart, for most part of the trip, we had to turnoff our cellphones. Fortunately, some of the major towns like Bontoc have call centers where to can dial long distance, either charge or collect. But I'm not sure if there's IDD.
By that time, we were starving already. We had breakfast near the town hall. I can't recall the place, but according to Apolito, it was in Bontoc Cafe where we ate a rather satisfying meal (or was it just because we were too starved to care?). We ate the usual 'silog' meals. Their longganisa was ok, but their eggs were a bit runny.
Our next and final stop, was the museum. The admission fee was quite reasonable at P20. The museum houses photos of Cordillera's indigenous people during the early 20th century, various bags and baskets, tools, weapons, cloths and other stuffs used by the natives. At the back of the compound, Bontoc houses are showcased. I think there was also an Ifugao house which I found ingenious. It has disks on 4 sides of the house's base to keep rats from going up.
|Bangaan/Batad: Day 4 - 5|
We left Bontoc at around 10am and arrived in Banaue just in time for lunch. We stopped by Halfway Restaurant before proceeding to Bangaan. Cutie didn't feel well, so she, Spaga and Pitangskers opted to stay behind and spend the night in Halfway Lodge. The place was decent enough for an overnight stay.
We then went to Bangaan, a 10km drive from Banaue. We heard from other people that the terraces in Banaue View Point is not that spectacular as compared to a few decades ago. Signs of damage is evident due to natural causes as well as human neglect. A warning, friends of Melody (mostly priests), got robbed a few distance away from the viewpoint. So be wary.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Bangaan was to leave the car and some of our belongings in Bangaan Family Inn. The inn is just beside the main road and not really in Bangaan village. You can see the village above the main road just before the inn. We had the chance to view the awesome rice terraces after our descent from Batad.
We started the trek to Batad at around 1 or 2 pm. We were literally close to baking under the sun, but hearing Apolito talking about the view in Batad kept us going. The trail we took up neither start from the junction nor from the inn as it is steeper for beginners like us. Apolito decided to take up the trail 1km east of Bangaan in the direction of Anaba. Though it's much longer, taking you through a chain of mountains, the hike is moderate.
We ended up walking along rice terraces. Most of the rocks bordering these steps were lose, so keeping our balance was hard work. Seeing Kiddiebo, then Bulayners, losing their footing, compelled most of us to crouch down and crawl on those rocks.
Most of the trail was difficult to make out, and some parts of it can get tricky as it is narrow. But it's less tiring since the trees and ferns protected us from the scorching heat of the sun. We passed by several streams and took our breaks there. Safe drinking water is hard to come by in Batad, so we brought along our own water supply and other provisions.
It was close to 5pm when we realized that we lost our way. Instead of reaching Batad, we ended up walking through a commune. Apolito, our guide and interpreter, asked directions from a group of kids playing around the place. Surprisingly, these kids can't understand Ilokano or even Tagalog but they can understand simple English words.
By chance, an old woman carrying a back-breaking sack was also on her way to Batad. We followed her to a 'miniature' falls. Seeing her scaling the sloping wall flowing with water was quite amazing. When it was our turn, we can't even get ourselves up just carrying our overnight bags. It was slippery, we had to hold on to anything. I think I even touched a leech while holding on to protruding tree roots. Luckily for us, Mr. Dynamo, with all his strength, hauled us up the slippery wall, one by one. Without the help of Mr. Dynamo, we couldn't have reached Batad before nightfall.
It was exhilirating and at the same time exhausting. The first glimpse of the rice terraces was worth all our sweat and blood. We emerged from the bottom of the amphitheater-like terraces. So we had to go up to the cluster of inns.
What a climb! I felt like my knees were shaking from 4 hrs of walking. Bulayners, Gina and I were close to collapsing. We immediately entered the first inn we saw. Little did we know that Apolito and the rest of the gang has already booked us in Rita's Inn. We profusely apologized to the indignant caretaker of Batad Pension, put on our socks (we already put up our aching feet on their tables hehe Ü), and hauled ourselves up 4 flights of stairs.
Rita's Inn is cosy and clean. The whole of Batad do not have electricity yet, but Rita's inn have solar energy plates put up to light up the common room (reception area, dining area, store) during the night. The accomodation was cheap at P50 with all the basics: pillow, mattress, blanket, candles. There's a stall in the back of the house that functioned as the shower/comfort room. There's no toilet bowl, you have to do your 'business' over a pit reinforced by cement. But according to Melody, they already constructed a decent shower room with toilet bowl.
Our dinner, as always, consisted of rice and instant noodles, this time spaghetti. Rita's Inn serves meals, but since we're travelling on the bottom (budget) end, we cooked our own meals. Our drinking water was repleted so we had to purify the water we got from Rita's well. Several tourists also stayed in Rita's Inn, I think they're from Sweden. Mangano overheard one of them hesitant in using the crude toilet Ü
Choobaka, Bulayners, Gina and I were assigned to one room, while the rest of the guys to the other room. We were getting anxious about our 20 horsepower engine, so we decided to sleep before the guys at around 8pm. They slept a few hours after us, it turned out that they stayed up for a round of pizza and rice wine, which according to Hotshot was superb.
I was awakened by the cold, maybe because i wasn't accustomed to Batad's climate. We found Apolito groggy from lack of sleep (it was his first time sleeping with Mama Beekee).
Breakfast consisted of Lucky Me instant noodles and crackers. Apolito, the leader of the group, decided to descend Batad via the saddle and emerge from the junction. Rita's father (who was wearing the native's g-string) was a big help, he gave us directions on where we can find the trail. He also told us about the breathtaking Tapplya Falls / pool. Unfortunately, a trip to Tapplya was not included in our itenerary. A word of advice for novices, do not attempt to visit the falls on the same day that you trek to Batad.
After posing for the camera and buying trinkets from a shop near Rita's Inn, we headed back to Bangaan. This time, the trail we took up was not that strenous. The path was wider, less dangerous, and quite established. We met several tourists on their way to Batad. The trail starting from the junction is often used by tourists to reach Batad. We also stopped by the saddle to have our pictures taken.
As usual, Gina, Bulayners and I were left behind with our camera man, Hotshot. The guys reached the main road before us and went directly to Bangaan Family Inn to freshen up. The four of us, had the time of our life posing before Bangaan's picturesque rice terraces.
We then headed back to Banaue to fetch Spaga, Pitangskers and Cutie, and had our lunch on the same establishment. We left Banaue at around 2pm, and proceeded to Manila via Nueva Vizcaya/Ecija. On the whole, our first outdoor trip was exciting and exhausting. It was worth it, it was even worth losing my favorite ? jeans in Batad (huhu:`().