In order to get to Sagada (and later Bontoc and Banaue), we first had to travel on the Halsema ‘Highway’. The original highway was first carved along the sides of the Cordillera Mountain range back in the 1920’s but in the late 1990’s the government allocated millions in order to upgrade it, including paving and retaining walls. Unfortunately due to corruption, the money ran out on the last 10km stretch before Sagada, which was still a single lane of unpaved road with no landslide barriers or guard rails. Due to illegal logging, landslides along all sections of the highway are prevalent, especially in the rainy season (May to October). The road itself twisted and turned along the ridge tops and the trip would take 6-7hrs, if we were lucky. The Halsema ‘Highway’ is also rated #6 in the Top 10 Most Dangerous Roads in theWorld. We didn’t know any of this before we actually boarded the bus.
|Do you see the road on the left side of the river?|
|Recent Landslide on Highway|
Not long after we left Baguio, we encountered the first landslide area. It took our bus a bit of maneovering before we could make our way around it. This one seemed quite recent, although later we were to pass others that had clearly happened much earlier. Jim and I have been on many questionable roads on our previous travels, most notably the road to Dharmasala (India), and in Bolivia and northern Chile, but this road was by far worse and it really began to get us wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and why no one we spoke to had warned us of the actual condition of the road! But on the other hand, the scenery was utterly breathtaking. Almost every inch of the steep mountainsides were farmed in terraces, and the areas which weren’t, were dotted in pine forests. In fact, this region is a primary producer of much of the vegetables found in Manila's markets. Among the terraces and clustered at the tops of ridges were simple tin-clad farmhouses.
|The Final 10km before reaching Sagada|
Just over 6hrs later, we arrived safely in Sagada in a light misty rain. The girls were keen to get out and expend some energy as all they could basically do during the trip was to either nap or look out the window. They had been remarkable on such a hard rough journey though. We found a guest house somewhat easily as its technically low season, but accommodation is very basic here despite it becoming quite a tourist hub for Filipinos and foreigners alike since the mid 1990’s due to its cool mountain air and lots of natural attractions nearby that involved hiking or trekking. Our room was very small (the girls were on the floor again) and we had to share a common bathroom, but it had a nice warmth and cosiness to it.
The next day we learned that the typhoon had dissipated but the accompanying rains and cold front that would be with us for the entire day still left us seeking somewhere indoors to hide. We ended up parking ourselves at the Salt and Pepper Diner from 10:30am until 7pm, eating both lunch and dinner there. The girls drew, played cards, played with the iPod, and watched a DVD while Jim and I took turns using their cable internet and I got caught up with my blogging. The owners of the diner were so nice and hospitable—they even brought us out some popcorn and a carafe of hot coffee at one point—and the food there was delicious, hearty and home-cooked albeit a bit more expensive than what we were used to in Baguio City, which was a fast-food haven.
|Hiking Down to Echo Valley|
|Hanging Coffins, Echo Valley, Sagada|
|Lumiang Cave--Can you see the pile of coffins on the right??|
|Can you see the coffins?|
We ended up spending 2 full days in Sagada, which we were to later learn is listed as one of ‘5 of Asia's Most Overlooked Cities' according to CNN. It certainly has a certain charm about it and reminded us of what Pai (Thailand) was like 8+yrs ago, yet Sagada has much more to offer with its beautiful quiet setting, virtually non-existent traffic, rich local history and friendly laid-back locals. And as far as we could tell, there were no guns here.
|Segada Rice Paddies|