We spent the holidays wearing winter sweaters and bonnet, wandering around a mountain town nestled in a misty pine forest located thousands of meters above sea level. We had that alpine Christmas in Sagada.
The quaint town of Sagada is located at an altitude about a hundred meters higher than Baguio City. But unlike the bustling City of Pines, Sagada has earned the reputation of being idyllic and away from civilization.
We began to realize the remoteness of Sagada being true, when in Bontoc we rode on top of a jeepney jam-packed with passengers and basket-loads of goods on the way to this mountain town. As top-loaders, we had a terrifyingly breathtaking view of deep ravines, terraced hillsides and white clouds blanketing the Cordillera mountain peaks.
In about an hour, the jeepney went through a winding rode in a lush forest where there were occasional views of valleys and limestone cliffs. Another turn and we saw the welcome signage and more limestone formations jutting out from the thick foliage.
Sagada’s fame is derived from these photogenic primeval rock formations where wooden coffins are lashed to limestone outcrops along cliffs. There are also numerous subterranean caves that were used by ancient mountain tribes as burial sites. Caving in the deep network of limestone caverns have lured local and foreign tourists to Sagada.
We arrived in Sagada’s town center around lunch time. Since it was Christmas Eve, the town was busy with tourists but not crowded. We signed up at the Tourists Information Center from where we were informed that we cannot do any caving because my seven-year old son is not old enough to go through Sumaguing Cave.
But there are a number of exciting activities in Sagada. Hiking is one. After checking in at Green House Inn, we began our hike to Echo Valley and then later to Kapay-aw Rice Terraces.
The hike to Echo Valley begins at the century-old Episcopal Church of St. Mary where we gave in to the offer of a patupat vendor to sample their sweet local delicacy. Patupat tastes like the lowland suman only that it’s made of native rice and wrapped in banana leaves.
Our walk continued to the cemetery behind the church then down the trail leading to the top of a cliff, overlooking the jagged limestone walls and the famous hanging coffins.
We did what most people do upon reaching this part of the hike –shouting, blowing, and whistling to the wind then listening to the muffled sounds that reverberated throughout the valley. Hence, this area is called Echo Valley.
We hiked the narrow path leading off through the deep foliage below to see the hanging coffins up close. Suspended on the cliff side are the wooden coffins. Some coffins have chairs attached to it. Those chairs give us a clue on the burial practice of the locals.
We learned that before a corpse is placed inside the wooden coffin, it is sat on a chair for a few days. The same chair used in the ritual is hanged together with the coffin.
Following the flow of a narrow stream led us to the entrance of a cave with a subterranean river. At the entrance of Matang Cave, we enjoyed balancing river stones to create freestanding sculptures.
Speaking of river stones, unlike the Ifugao terraces that generally have mud walls these round and smooth stones were used to reinforce the terraces walls in the Mountain Province.
Back at the town center, we continued walking south toward Kapay-aw Rice Terraces. On the way we stopped by the view deck of Sugong Hanging Coffins. The picturesque limestone formations at Sugong resemble church spires with its hanging coffins looking like logs from the view deck.
The locals believe that pointing at any of the coffins and skeletons is considered the worst kind of bad luck.
Gaia Café and Craft has a view deck to Kapay-aw Rice Terraces. Guests were encouraged to grab a good read from the Padi Joseph Domogo Library while waiting for their orders to be served.
For that day we had free meals since Gaia was celebrating its anniversary.
Viewing the charming rice terraces under a quaint wooden café together with the warmest people in cold Sagada capped our Christmas Eve.
We still have plenty of time to complete our trekking itinerary but we opted to explore Sagada at a slow pace. We reserved the our trek to Kiltepan Rice Terraces for the following day -Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day morning, we gingerly scrambled the trail to Kiltepan Rice Terraces view point under towering pine trees. The hike was like a biology class field trip where we were introduced to different flora that thrives in high altitude climate.
There were wild raspberries ready for picking. Like biology students on a field trip, we soon began to collect perfect pine cones that fell from the trees. My son would later giveaway the pine cones as pasalubong to those who were left at home.
After a 45-minute trek, we made it through the Kiltepan view point. Kil-tep-an is a contraction of the names of the three barangays the terraces spans –Kilong, Tetep-an, and Antadao.
Reaching the Kiltepan Rice Terraces viewpoint is the highlight of our Christmas day in Sagada. From the viewpoint is a panoramic view of the rice terraces, a portion of the Chico River, and the ancient Spanish way –a road carved at the foothills that was used by the friars for their missionary zeal in the Cordilleras.
-New Year’s Day 2013