Sunday, March 27, 2011

Onward to Sagada

From Banaue on to Sagada. Hop on a bus or minivan bound for Bontoc. Bonbon Bus leaves at around 10AM and Emmanuel Bus at around 12NN. Lucky for Mustachio, he didn't have to wait for the Emmanuel bus... a minivan was waiting for passengers at around 11AM. Fare: Php 150. Travel time: 2.5 hours. In Bontoc, take a jeepney going to Sagada. Jeepneys leave every 45 minutes from 7AM to 5PM. Fare: Php 40. Travel time: 45 minutes.

Bayyo Terraces on the way to Bontoc from Banaue
(Photo by Mike Libby)

In Sagada, register at the Tourist Center in their Municipal Hall. The Municipal Hall is just a few meters from where the jeepneys stop. You need to pay Php 20 for the environmental fee.

Welcome to the town of Sagada (Photo by Mike Libby)

If you go on a holiday weekend or in the summer, be sure to book your accommodation ahead. And reconfirm. Mustachio booked a room at Canaway Resthouse, but when he got there they said there was no reservation under his name and that it was already full. The mistake of not reconfirming the reservation. Tsk tsk. Check this travel guide for a list of Sagada accommodations. There are also several families that offer homestay. Mrs Mary Tumapang [0921 509 2034] has rooms open for guests and her kitchen is also open for you to cook your own meals (pay some amount for the use of LPG). Look for Mary's Store beside Dalican Restaurant, that's the place! Homestay usually costs Php 200 to Php 250 per person.

Why go? To relax. Go on an adventure. Or a food trip. You can hike, swim, spelunk, camp, restaurant hop.

Before doing any of these, head on to the Sagada Genuine Guides Association (SaGGAs) past the Yoghurt House. Get a guide if you choose to do the caves and Bomod-ok Falls. Mustachio highly recommends Apz [Apiit Paycowan 0928 609 6819]. Contact him 3 days to a week before you go...he is often fully booked! At SaGGAs, you can also hire a vehicle to take you places.

Hire a guide here (Photo by Bee Chavez)

How did Mustachio spend his days in Sagada? He went spelunking in Sumaguing Cave. Having achy legs from the Batad hike, Mustachio chose to hire a vehicle (Php 350) to take him to the cave entrance. Ask around if there are other groups going to Sumaguing Cave the same time you are --- share the ride (and cost!) with them. If you have tons of energy, save the money and take the 45-minute walk down to the cave entrance. Guide fee for Sumaguing Cave is Php 500 for a group of four. Your guide will be bringing a lamp for the group. It is best to go early morning to avoid the crowds (yes, it can get crowded in the cave) and when the trail isn't so slippery from all the foot traffic. Wear slippers --- after the slippery trail from the mouth of the cave, the guide will ask you to go barefoot the rest of the way, anyway. Wear lightweight or dri-fit clothes --- you need to cross waist-deep water part of the way. And do not forget to bring a camera! You'll be in and out of Sumaguing Cave in 2 to 3 hours. On the way to Sumaguing Cave, you can also stop and see the Lumiang Burial Cave.

Traffic in Sumaguing Cave (Photo by Mike Libby)

The bear (Photo by Mike Libby)

One of the many formations in the cave (Photo by Bee Chavez)

 Apz (guide) demonstrating how to use the ropes (Photo by Mike Libby)

Lumiang Burial Cave (Photo by Mike Libby) 

Shouted at the top of his lungs at Echo Valley and checked out the hanging coffins below. You can find Echo Valley and the hanging coffins by yourself; no need for a guide, just ask around. But if you do not trust your sense of direction, a guide would cost Php 400 for a group of up to 10. The walk from town to Echo valley will take about 20 minutes. You know you're on the right path if you pass by St Mary the Virgin Church and the cemetery.

Cemetery on the way to Echo Valley

Shout with all your might at Echo Valley

Hanging coffins (Photo by Mike Libby)

Watched the sunrise at Kiltepan Viewpoint. If you don't want to wake up at 4AM to start the one-hour hike to the viewpoint, rent a vehicle (Php 450). Again, share the ride and cost with other groups. Believe Mustachio when he says you do not need a guide (Php 200) for this unless you do want to hike at 4AM. If you like camping, you can do so at the viewpoint. Bundle up and start a bonfire. It's cold!
Early morning monotone at Kiltepan

Walked the rice terraces to reach Bomod-ok Falls. Getting to the terraces from town by foot will take about 4 hours, so yes, get a vehicle (Php 650 - Again! Share the vehicle! Share the cost!). There is also a public jeepney (leaves town at 7AM) that can take you to the starting point but be sure you're back where they dropped you off at 1PM if you don't want to walk back to town. From the drop off point to the falls, it's a 2-hour hike thru the terraces. Guide fee is Php 600 for a group of up to 10 persons. Bring Php 10 for their pathway maintenance fee, food for a picnic at the falls, and your swimsuit for a dip in the freezing waters of Bomod-ok. No changing areas here so prepare to walk back in wet clothes or bring a big sarong and a friend to hold up your sarong for an instant changing spot.

Hike thru terraces to get to Bomod-ok Falls

Bomod-ok Falls

Restaurant hopped. There are many restaurants in Sagada. Worth mentioning are Yoghurt House (almost always full!), Masferre's (have the Bacon Omelet with Toast for breakfast Php 130), Shamrock Cafe (try Shakshuka Php 80), and Lemon Pie House (a slice of lemon pie costs Php 25 and Php 170 for a whole pie). Almost all of the restaurants have yoghurt (Php 60 for plain up to Php 100 with fresh strawberries) on their menu. Mustachio ate yoghurt almost every day at Sagada!

Mountain tea (left) and yoghurt with fresh strawberries (right)

Bacon omelet with toast (left) and  Shakshuka (right).
Shakshuka doesn't look too appetizing but is pretty good.

Went souvenir hunting. There are many souvenir shops in town selling shirts, trinkets, magnets, bags, etc. You can also buy a map (Php 25-30) of Sagada at the souvenir shop. Go to Sagada Weaving (20-minute walk from town) if you want their woven bags and wallets.

Was it all worth it? YES!

With no energy and time, Mustachio had to skip the Lumiang-Sumaguing Cave Connection (Php 400 per person, 4-5 hours) and the trek to Mt Ampacao and Lake Danum.

Head home to reality. Buses from Sagada going to Baguio leave every hour from 5AM to 1PM. The 6-hour bus ride costs Php 220. There are food and toilet stops in between. Keep your eyes open for beautiful views of the mountains along the way. From Baguio, Victory Liner buses leave for Pasay City every 20 minutes. Fare: Php 445. Travel time: 8 hours.

On the way to Baguio

How Sagada bore a hole thru Mustachio's pocket:
Banaue-Bontoc Minivan Php 150
Bontoc-Sagada Jeepney Php 40
Sagada Environmental Fee Php 20
3 nights at Mrs Tumapang's Php 600
8 meals Php 1080
Vehicle to and from Sumaguing Cave Php 350/8 pax
Sumaguing Cave guide Php 500/4 pax
Vehicle to Kiltepan viewpoint Php 450/4 pax
Vehicle to terraces/Bomod-ok Php 650/11 pax
Guide to Bomod-ok Falls Php 600/4 pax
Bomod-ok pathway maintenance fee Php 10
Sagada-Baguio Bus Php 220
Baguio-Pasay Bus (Victory Liner) Php 445

To give you an idea of how much food costs:
Yoghurt House
Breaded pork, Garden Salad, and rice set Php 200
Yoghurt with fresh strawberries Php 100
Spicy Beef Php 130
Rice Php 20
Mountain tea Php 25
Bacon omelet with toast Php 130
Lemon Pie House
Slice of lemon pie Php 25
Slice of egg pie Php 25
Slice of carrot cake Php 20
Bana's Cafe
Chicken combo (Fried chicken, vegetables, and rice) Php 120
Plain yoghurt Php 60
Lucky's Shanghai Hauz
Pork adobo with rice Php 95
Shamrock Cafe
Shakshuka Php 80
Veggie and tuna fried rice Php 70

What to bring:
1. Jacket. Sagada is blessed with cool temperatures that can drop to about 13 deg C at night.
2. Cash. Mustachio did not spot any ATMs in Sagada.
3. Medicines. Can be a bit costly in Sagada. Better bring your own.
4. Camera. Duh.
5. A lot of energy and your sense of adventure. Definitely.

What not to bring:
1. Your Sun cellphone. No signal.
2. Your worries. This is a place to relax in.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Terraces of Batad

 At the Florida Bus Station in Sampaloc

 Off to Banaue!

 Eight hours after: Banaue

 Must have breakfast before the 1.5-hour jeepney ride + 1-hour hike to the village of Batad

 Batad Saddle: Last stop for vehicles

 Ack! Tourist trap on the way to Batad Village

Mustachio's home (far far) away from home: Rita's Mountain View Inn 

 Rita's wall: Leave a note. Business card. Photo. ID. Money. Credit card. Anything really. 

 View from the inn

Loading up before the hike 

Walking thru the terraces of Batad
Mustachio is far from his home (far far) away from home. Guess where the inn is.
It's planting season
Tappiyah Falls
Follow that tiny path on the left to get to the falls

Pinikpikan for dinner

Malawach for breakfast. Best eaten with strawberry jam.
The hike back to the saddle
Mustachio burned his breakfast calories on the hike up to the saddle.
Must refill with a liter of water and a banana pancake.

Jeepneys at the saddle waiting to take Mustachio back to Banaue

Haven't heard of Batad? A little bit of geography then. The village of Batad is about 18km from Banaue in the province of Ifugao. Banaue is about 370km from the Philippine capital, Manila.

So how do you get yourself to Batad? A combination of these: bus + jeepney or tricycle + legs.

In detail please. Okay.

First, the bus. There are two bus lines that go to Banaue from Manila: Florida Bus [(02) 731 5358 / 743 3809 / 493 3667] and Autobus [(02) 493 4111]. Both bus stations are in Sampaloc. Florida Bus station is near the University of Sto Tomas. It has two daily trips to Banaue: 910PM (regular bus, Php 400) and 1045PM (deluxe bus, meaning it has an onboard toilet, Php 450). Autobus leaves at 9PM (Php 400). Travel time: 8 hours.

Next. In Banaue you have three choices: Take the public jeepney to Batad Saddle which leaves Banaue at around 2PM. Fare: Php 150. Or, if you want to be at Batad as soon as, hire a jeepney to take you to the Saddle. It would cost Php 2000 to Php 2500. Be on the lookout for other tourists going to Batad. Share the ride to cut costs. Third option is to hire a tricycle (Php 300 to Php 400) to take you to Batad junction. Yes, that is correct, junction not Saddle. Between the junction and the Saddle is a rough 3km road at a slight upward slope no tricycle can ever survive.

And the final leg: Walk. From Batad Saddle it is about 3km downhill to the village. Along the way there are a couple tourist traps. If you're the souvenir-buying kind, buy souvenirs, especially the carved pieces, in Batad where it's cheaper compared to Banaue and Sagada.

Now that you're at the village, find a place to sleep in. There are a number of inns to choose from: Rita's Mountain View Inn (0910 842 3076), Hillside Inn (0919 379 9599), Simon's Inn (0919 261 9566), Ramon's Homestay (0929 612 4423) to mention a few. A bedspace would cost Php 200 to Php 250. Water can be freezing so if hot showers are important to you, don't forget to ask if they have hot/cold baths or if they can provide a bucket of warm water for bathing for a fee.

Be ready to get disconnected from the world. Your Sun or Globe cellphone won't work even if you climbed up a tree or went to the terraces' highest point. Smart probably works at certain spots.

When in Batad walk the Batad Terraces. Hike to Tappiyah Falls and swim in its freezing waters. Ask around for Rambo, an enthusiastic, helpful guide who can show you around. Guides can cost from Php 400 to Php 800 depending on where you want to go. As always, haggle. The hike from the village up to the viewpoint on the eastern side of the terraces down to the falls and back took 4.5 hours! If you've longer legs and a greater pace factor, you can do it in 3.5 hours.

Four and a half hours of walking can drain you. Eat. Hydrate. Most inns have their own little restaurant. Try the Malawach with strawberry jam at Simon's Inn. If you want an Ifugao specialty, try Pinikpikan. A one-liter bottle of water costs Php 50 at the Saddle, Php 60 to Php 65 at the village, and can go up to Php 80 at the falls.

How do you get out of Batad? Same way you got there. Keep in mind that there is only one public jeepney from Batad Saddle to Banaue. It leaves at 9AM. If you have no more energy to carry your bag back to the Saddle, you can hire a porter. They charge a minimum of Php 100 per bag, depending on the weight of the bag.

Banaue and beyond. From Banaue you can either go back to Manila the same way you came in or via Bontoc-Sagada-Baguio, the route that Mustachio took.

How this leg breaking trip bore a hole thru Mustachio's pocket:
Florida Deluxe Bus to Banaue Php 450
Filipino breakfast at Halfway Lodge Banaue Php 85
Jeepney to Batad Saddle Php 300 (Mustachio shared a ride with a group of tourists who hired a jeepney to take them to the Saddle and back)
Walking stick rental Php 20 (Yes, there are walking sticks for rent at the Saddle. A third leg helps.)
A bed at Rita's Mountain View Inn Php 200
Lunch at Rita's Inn: Chapati with tomatoes and cheese Php 70 + fried luncheon meat Php 85 + noodles with veggies Php 85 + 4 servings of rice Php 80. Mustachio shared his big lunch with three other people Php 320 / 4 = Php 80
Guide Php 400
500mL bottle of water halfway between the village and the falls Php 40
Dinner at Simon's Inn: Pinikpikan Php 400 (shared with three other people) + rice Php 25 + pita with sardines Php 50 + 1L bottle of water Php 60 = Php 235
Breakfast at Simon's Inn: Malawach with strawberry jam Php 50
1L bottle of water at the Saddle Php 50
Banana pancake (made with banana flour and banana bits!) at the Saddle Php 5
Public jeepney from Batad Saddle to Banaue Php 150

Random things you might or might not want to know:
1. Prepare loose change. If you need to use the toilet at the bus station or at the Saddle, coins will come in handy. It costs Php 5 at Florida Bus station and Php 10 at the Saddle.
2. It is freezing in the bus. Bundle up.
3. There's a shortcut of steep stairs from the Saddle that can cut about 10 minutes off your walk to the village.
4. 3km uphill + 7kg bag on Mustachio's back + Mustachio's short legs = 1.5 hours to get to the Saddle from the village
5. Mustachio's best friends at Batad: Jacket, Warmers, Walking Stick
6. Mustachio visited Batad in February when most of the planting has only just started. For full greenery, visit in March.
7. Nighttime temperatures can get as low as 10 deg C in Batad.