My friends (kaibigans) drove their car from Buang, LaUnion (LaOoooonion) to Baguio in Benguet Province. We spent the night above his mother-law’s little store and the air that evening was cool. The Philippines have thousands of little stores. It made me wish I had packed a sweatshirt like I was told to by my friends but I told them, “Ahh c’mon, it never gets cool in the Philippines.” I was wrong; Baguio does turn cool when the sun disappears.
The heat in most parts of the Philippines could be described as suffocating. It feels like you are in an attic on a hot summer’s day with a wet, heavy wool blanket wrapped around you; now do you understand, just a little? There is no change of seasons, continuous summer and if in the city you can add smog, heavy, black pollution to the unrelenting heat.
Anyway, the next morning we drove to the bus station and rode the bus from Baguio in Benguet Province to the city of Sagada farther north in the neighboring, Mountain Province. The sun shone hot and bright that day as nearly all days were the same but I was really hoping for some breezy fresh, relief. Maybe it will arrive when Sagada arrives.
The bus ride up there was mostly unbearable because the air-conditioner was not working very well. The bus kept rolling along higher and higher. The windows would be open only briefly. They needed to be shut after only moments because dust and dirt from the long, unpaved sections of road (I’m guessing that road is done by now because that trip occurred over eight years ago). If I were to go again I would be sure to helicopter in, if affordable.
Looking out the window while the bus made hair-pin turns following the road I was reminded of Lombard Street in San Francisco; okay, I guess not that curvy. I noticed an uncovered electric cable running down the mountain and I was reminded that I was in a Third-World country.
Soon we were at the rice terraces of Sagada. They were not as big as the, world wonder, of Banaue Rice Terraces but I thought just as magnificent. It was much cooler than any area of the Philippines that I was to visit; I actually needed to cover-up at night. There were caves to go spelunking in, however; I could not get to them because of my shaky balance. My kaibigan told me that it would be too difficult a descent for me.
As my friends took the winding path down to the caves, I waited at the 2-story coffee-house.
- I spoke to some who had just gone through and to others who had not yet been. One American lady sticks out to me to this very day because of her rudeness. She asked me,“Have you ever been spelunking in any of the caves of America?”
- Well sure, as a kid I had been to many in my hometown, however; I was in no way a spelunker. The lady went on to ask me, “Have you seen their tiny waterfall? And they talk it up like it is really great, something to be proud of…you’ve seen Niagara Falls, right? Then don’t bother seeing this one because you’ll only disappoint yourself.” I found myself feeling sad because her Filipino boyfriend looked almost tearful to hear her speak of his country in such a manner and so I attempted to bolster his confidence and I hope my kind words helped some.
Most all of the Filipinos seemed to enjoy their time in the mountains and the area certainly was a respite from the never-ending heat. I have noticed one thing about the Pilipino people and that was their good attitude no matter what the circumstance may be; they adapt magnificently.
I gazed in the direction of the caves but saw something more interesting to me on a cliff on the other side of the valley… hanging coffins. I focused on that site again to make sure I was seeing okay and I was. I went inside the coffee shop and there were pictures and postcards of the hanging coffins. There they were though; they hung from the limestone cliffs and I could not stop myself from trying to think back to a time when this sort of ritual of the, Ifugao people,took place.
The hanging coffins have been there for ages and I had to leave that quaint, welcoming town before learning the real story behind it. Maybe if someone is familiar with what I am talking about and know the answer, you would share it with me.
People wanting peace of mind or wanting to meditate or to have a spiritual experience go to Sagada. After seeing first-hand the calm and peacefulness that the little hamlet offers, I completely understand. The place is far from civilization at least it seemed so in the hours long bus ride. I noticed that many of the sights and sounds of their country reminded me of the, Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan movies I watched as a kid.
I have already mentioned the Sagada Rice Terraces, but the truth is; there are many rice terraces all over the Cordillera Region. It is simply amazing how engineering feats like the terraces took place before any power equipment and without mathematical measuring tools or plans. Those indigenous people designed the land in such a way to maximize its use and to prevent erosion. At the more famous, Banaue Rice Terraces, compacted earth was used to build them while in Sagada small rocks were used.
The two waterfalls in Sagada mentioned earlier have names; the smaller one is: Bokong. The larger and more majestic-looking one is called: Bomud-Ok. Your weariness from the long hike to get there will be forgotten once you dive into the crystal clear water at the base of this Tarzan-like falls.
Bokong Falls may be smaller than the other, but the pool is deeper and is surrounded by the rice terraces. A person looking for serene and quiet beauty will want to move here…I do.