Of Mountains, Caves, and Beaches

Soundtrack to this escape:
Willem de Roo
Bachelors of Science

Who says you can’t experience all of them in 3 days? We just did and most of all, we accomplished them on a very tight budget.

Thursday night. Destination: Bontoc, Mountain Province.

A good friend booked us a ride for only Php650 via Cable Tours.

Photo taken by Reg

The station is at a backstreet right across Jolibee E. Rodriguez ave, near St. Luke’s Hospital. I never expected for such station to exist but it operates daily with trips from Quezon City – Sagada and Bontoc, via Banaue and Solano. The bus we had wasn’t that big but I thought it looked cool.

It only needed a few vintage stickers and some Robert Johnson blues music on the side and VOILA! it’s a trip to the southern bayou baby! “Luxurious” is not a word to describe the bus but it was very comfortable, which is what’s important if you’re in for a one long ride (and I mean 12 hours).

Friday Morning. Bontoc, Mountain Province.

I woke up at around 6 am inside the bus. I was under the weather but I forgot about my condition in an instant after being greeted by sprawling rice terraces and a magnificent mountain scenery. It was definitely a good reward for a very bad cold.

View from the bus

Under the weather

We arrived at Bontoc proper, the capital of Mountain Province, at exactly 7am (an hour and a half earlier than usual) thanks to our professional drivers. Cable tours may not give you a luxurious ride but they are wise enough to have two drivers taking turns to drive you all the way safely to the Mountain Province. We stayed at Churya-a Hotel where a room for two costs 400php while a room for three is 700php. The room only had an electric fan because you don’t need an airconditioned room in the Mountain province. No need to worry though if you need something warm because the bathroom has a shower heater.

Bontoc proper

While in Bontoc, we visited the Bontoc Museum which was very interesting because it painted the life of the tribes of the Mountain Province. I’m not a big fan of museums, but I was impressed when I was exposed to the tribe’s tools, weapons, garments, jewelry, etc. There were photos that told stories of how they live, hunt, or bury those who have done wrong to their community (yeah, they cut their heads off).  You can’t take pictures inside the museum, but you are allowed to at the back where tiny hut replicas of tribal homes were on display.

Right after the museum, we followed the sign to Maligcong Rice Terraces. The walk was uphill but manageable. I was panting when I reached the top but I was again rewarded with a picturesque view of the valley. There was a river across and one of my friends asked our guide to lead us there. So we headed back down, passing through narrow and rocky pathways until we reached the foot of the river where some of us enjoyed a foot massage thanks to the school of small fish that had the time of their lives pinching human skin 😀

Bontoc is a good place to relax. You can eat a meal for less than 100php and drink beer for 30-35php. After a night of Filipino folk music and alcohol, we slept at about 10pm to prepare ourselves for Sagada.

Replica of tribal houses

View from the top of the hill

A river runs through Bontoc

Saturday morning. Destination: Sagada, Mountain Province.

To Sagada

8am and I was inside the 50 pesos/person jeepney to Sagada. Some of us had to ride on the roof of the jeepney and it’s something I believe one has to experience. One of my friends positioned himself on the jeepney’s top and he described the 45 minute journey to Sagada as an absolute breathtaking experience. “You’ll love the mountains more,” he said. We refused because we thought it would be very dusty and hot but he said that the mountain breeze and the magnificent view of the rice terraces overpowered everything. Nature indeed, overpowers everything.

When we arrived in Sagada, we headed to Alfred’s Cabin. It was luck that we got to reserve a room because Holy Week bookings could be very difficult. There were 5 of us and we got a room that had a great view of the mountains for just 250php each. The bathroom was communal but it wasn’t that bad.

Welcome to Alfred’s Cabin

Our first stop in Sagada for lunch was the popular Yoghurt House. Food was a bit pricey (100-250php) but the Yoghurt was delicious! AND I MEAN IT! We had our taste of Strawberry Jam Yoghurt for 70php/cup.

Yoghurt House

After a much needed rest, we headed to the famous Sumaging Cave. Along the way, we passed by the hanging coffins. To be buried in a hanging coffin is part of tradition for the departed FBIs (or full blooded Igorots). I asked my guide if it was mandatory to be buried that way right now and he said that it’s just an option.

See those small boxes on the rocks (under the wire)?

I don’t recommend driving to Sumaging Cave because walking has its rewards. We passed by Kapay-aw rice terraces and to stop and smell the fresh air while staring at the rice terraces is enough to give you a refreshing experience.

The road to Sumaging

Kapay-aw rice terraces

We were about few meters away from Sumaging and my feet started to feel cold. I was nervous. Many people say that you have to experience the “big cave” to say that you have been to Sagada. Admittedly, I was afraid because one of my friends told me that it wasn’t something I should experience. But what the hell. Life is about living, right?

To the cave

Big warning though: If you are claustrophobic, DO NOT enter this cave. But for those who are in for some climbing (with bare hands or with a rope), crawling, and an overall thrilling spelunking adventure accompanied with bat dung, then this is the right place to be.  Yes, I had to crawl on rocks, roll over rocks, crawl under rocks, and hold on to dear life on rocks with bat dung with my bare hands and feet to reach the bottom of the cave where my friends and I were greeted by a stunning oasis, mini pools of water and beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations. I thought we would exit at the bottom but I was wrong. I had to crawl back up! I had to go all over the rocks again and I had to climb using a rope TWICE to reach a landing spot. I had to use every part of my body to finally reach the streak of light which marked our exit.

After finally seeing the light of day, I felt relieved. I conquered Sumaging Cave! It was an experience I thought I would never accomplish but I was able to survive. It was my mind that made me survive because the body can basically do anything. I took my experience with me all the way to bed with a very painful butt (with all the sliding I had to do) and aching legs (from all the crawling, jumping, and climbing).

Inside the cave

Bat DUNG on the rocks!


Sunday morning. Destination: San Fernando, La Union.

We said goodbye to Sagada and the wonder it had to offer. But we wanted to end our trip with a good sunset. So we took the 7am bus to Baguio and reached the City of Pines at about 1pm. There are buses that accommodate trips to La Union daily so we took the 230pm Partas Bus to San Fernando, La Union. We arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at about 4pm. From the monument, we took a tricycle ride to Sea Park, a recommended beach resort in San Fernando. The ride was about 5 minutes to the resort and as soon as we arrived, we got dressed and immediately headed to the shore.

There are no white beaches in San Fernando, but to feel the breeze from South China Sea is exhilarating. The best part was witnessing the gorgeous sunset. It was perfect with beer but we had no time to drink because we had to head back to Manila.

The 6 hour trip back to Manila was bittersweet. But I’m happy that destination #2 is off my Travel Bucket list.

For the curious:
Overall cost of this trip:
Manila to Bontoc bus : 650 via Cable Tours (10-12 hours)
Bontoc hotel: 200/person
Bontoc Museum entrance: 50
Bontoc to Sagada Jeep: 50 (45 minutes)
Sagada registration Fee for nature preservation: 20
Sagada caving Guide: 500/5 persons (100 for myself)
Sagada hotel: 250/person
Sagada to Baguio Bus: 220 (6 hours)
Baguio to San Fernando, La Union: 107 (1 1/2 hours)
Entrance to Sea Park: 100
La Union to Manila: more or less 450 (depends on where you want to go down / 6 hours)
TOTAL: 2197 pesos

Side notes:
1. It can be difficult to exit Sea Park resort without a private car so you can ask the tricycle driver to pick you up at a certain time to take you to your next destination.
2. Book ahead for Holy Week vacations
3. Budget for food and beverages depends on you of course. But you can survive for a 100php or less for a meal in Sagada and Bontoc
4. Wear slippers if you want to go caving. You have to take them off once you’re inside anyway

3 thoughts on “Of Mountains, Caves, and Beaches

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