09.05.2011 – THROUGH SAGADA TO BAGUIO

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EARLY THE NEXT MORNING WE SCRAMBLED TO OUR FEET, GOT BACK ONTO THE ROAD AND TRAVELLED TO THE RICE TERRACES … THIS TIME IN BONTOC. WE TRAVEL ALONG WITH A HIGH MOUNTAIN RANGE – THIS AREA IS THE FOOD BASKET OF LUZON (THE ISLAND ON WHICH WE ARE; THE BIGGEST ISLAND OF THIS ARCHIPELAGO). THE ENTIRE ROUTE IS WRAPPED UP IN A MORNING FOG … WE HAVE ARRIVED IN BONTOC AT 8:30 AM, MUCH SOONER THAN WE EXPECTED AND WHAT OUR INFORMATION SUGGESTED.

WHY, SO EARLY WE ARRIVED IN BONTOC? MOST LIKELY IT WAS BECAUSE THE ROAD WAS RECENTLY UPGRADED. LATELY, THE GOVERNMENT HAS ALLOCATED MORE MONEY TO IMPROVE ROADING IN THIS PART OF THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. MANY ROADS ARE NOT SEALED (THERE ARE NO EASY PASSABLE ROADS), SO IT IS USUALLY NOT POSSIBLE TO KNOW HOW LONG IT WOULD TAKE TO REACH THE DESTINATION. YOU MOVE FORWARD ON A PERFECTLY GOOD CONCRETE ROAD, AND THEN SUDDENLY BANG !!! END OF PAVEMENT … IT TURNED INTO A CROSS COUNTRY TRACK AND IT IS NECESSARY TO MOVE  SLOWLY WITH BUMPY TERRAIN. THEY ALSO HAVE A BIZARRE WAYS OF ROAD CONSTRUCTION – I AM NOT SURE WHAT ARE THE REASONS – THE FINANCIAL RESTRICTIONS OR CLIMATE CONDITIONS (RAINY SEASON). THE ROADS ARE BUILT IN A MOST HAPHAZARD WAY – A BIT HERE AND ANOTHER SECTION SOMEWHERE ELSE. AS A RESULT, THE ROAD ON WHICH YOU ARE DRIVING COULD HAVE A CLAY-GRAVEL SURFACE WITH MANY FURROWS CRISS-CROSSING IT, AND SUDDENLY IT CHANGES INTO A PROPER CONCRETE ONE. AFTER SOME 500 METERS IT IS AGAIN A CROSS COUNTRY TRACK.

OF COURSE, WE HAVE MADE SEVERAL STOPS ON THE WAY TO TAKE PHOTOS.

WE WERE PASSING THROUGH A TOWN OF 25 000, WHICH IS THE CAPITAL OF THE MOUNTAIN PROVINCE AND WE TURNED TO SAGADA. WE WANT TO SEE HANGING COFFINS. PASSING LARGE TRACT OF LAND WITH RICE TERRACES WE ARRIVE IN SAGADA AT AROUND 9:00 AM. WE BUYING OUR TICKETS IN VILLAGE COUNCIL OFFICES. I DON’T REMEMBER THE PRICE BUT IT WAS PEANUTS, ALSO FOR NEXT TO NOTHING WE HAVE HIRED A GUIDE THERE. WE HOPPED IN OUR CAR AND TRAVEL SOME FEW HUNDRED METRES DOWN THE ROAD FROM THE VILLAGE COUNCIL BUILDING. AFTER ABOUT FIVE MINUTES WE STOPPED AND SPOTTED THE COFFINS HANGING ON THE ROCKS IN A DISTANCE TO THE LEFT …
THE HANGING COFFINS ADD SOME MYSTIQUE ATMOSPHERE TO THIS SACRED FOR LOCAL PEOPLE PLACE. DOZENS OF  COFFINS ARE PILLED UP ON NATURAL OR HAND MADE LEDGERS ALL THE WAY UP A NEARLY VERTICAL ROCK WALL. THERE ARE USUALLY GROUPS OF FOUR OR MORE. SOME WERE NEATLY SET UP, WHILE OTHERS WERE HANGING FREELY. ALL ARE PLACED IN HARD TO REACH PLACES.

THEY WOULD SIT THERE AS LONG AS NATURE LET THEM … EVENTUALLY, THE COFFINS WOULD DISINTEGRATE AND FALL DOWN, AND A NEW ONE WOULD GO IN ITS PLACE … THE OLDEST ONE IS OVER 100 YEARS OLD. THE HANGING COFFINS CAN BE FOUND IN SEVERAL PLACES AROUND SAGADA, AMONG THEM IN THE FAMOUS ECHO VALLEY. THE PEOPLE OF SAGADA PREFER TO PLACE COFFINS IN CAVES OR HIGH IN THE ROCK CLIFFS RATHER THAN BURYING THEM IN THE GROUND. THEY BELIEVE THAT THIS POSITION WOULD MAKE IT EASIER FOR THE SPIRIT OF THE DECEASED TO LEAVE THE BODY. SOME COFFINS ARE PLACED RIGHT OUT ON THE TIPS OF ROCK OUTCROPS. THE REASON FOR THIS IS A TRADITIONAL FUNERAL RITUAL. THE SENIORS MAKE THEIR OWN COFFINS. IT IS A DUGOUT LOG. THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS WOULD DO IT FOR THEM IF THEY WERE VERY WEAK OR INCAPABLE. TRADITIONALLY THE BODY OF A DECEASED WOULD BE PUT ON A “DEATH CHAIR”, SECURED WITH A ROPE AND PLACED OUTSIDE THEIR HOME FOR A PERIOD OF “WAITING”. THEN THE EMPTY COFFIN WAS TAKEN TO THE RESTING PLACE – A CAVE OR A ROCK WALL. AFTER THE “WAITING” PERIOD THE YOUTH OF THE VILLAGE WOULD TAKE THE BODY TO THE SPOT WHERE THE COFFIN WAS ALREADY PLACED. THE BODY WAS THEN PUSHED INTO THE DUGOUT COFFIN, WHICH OFTEN WAS TOO SMALL FOR THE BODY SO SOMETIMES BONES CRACKED OR WERE BROKEN. I AM NOT SURE IF THIS IS STILL THE CASE AS THE PEOPLE ARE PLACED IN COFFINS IN A PROSTRATE POSITION. AFTER THE BODY IS SECURED IN THE COFFIN, THE RELATIVES PULL THE COFFIN UP A CLIFF AND JOIN IT TO THE COFFINS OF OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS.

THIS RITUAL IS OVER 2000 YEARS OLD …

EARLIER ON, BEFORE CHRISTIANITY WAS INTRODUCED TO THIS REGION, PEOPLE WERE PLACED IN THE COFFINS IN AN EMBRYO POSITION WITH THE BONES OFTEN BROKEN AND TWISTED TO FIT THE COFFINS. IT IS NOT THE CASE NOW, SO YOU CAN SEE BIGGER AND SMALLER COFFINS.

AFTER TAKING LOTS OF PHOTOS OF THE MULTITUDE OF COFFINS – UNFORTUNATELY, WE COULD ONLY SEE THEM FROM QUITE A DISTANCE – HAVE LISTENED TO THE GUIDE AND THEN DROVE TO SEE OTHER SACRED PLACES. THE NEXT STOP WAS ONLY A FEW HUNDRED METRES AWAY. WE WALKED DOWN FROM THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD TOWARDS A CAVE, WHICH WAS IN FACT A CEMETERY …

THERE WE HAVE SEEN THE HANGING COFFINS FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THE DISTANCE, BUT IT LOOKS THAT THERE IS NOT SO MANY OF THEM. THE PATH TO THE CAVE WAS NOT TOO DIFFICULT AND SOON WE REACHED THE ENTRANCE OF THE CAVE. THE OPENING REVEALED A HUGE SPACE WITH COFFINS SET ALONG A RIGHT SIDE WALL IN STACKS. THEY LOOKED LIKE SOME PIECES OF ROCK OF VARIOUS SIZES FROM ONE TO TWO METERS LONG AND ABOUT HALF A METER THICK. A CLOSER INSPECTION REVEALED THAT THEY WERE TREE TRUNKS TRIMMED ON TOP AND COVERED WITH DUST. THERE IS 109 COFFINS IN THERE. THIS PLACE IS CALLED LUMIANG BURIAL CAVE, AND THIS IS ALSO A STARTING POINT FOR AN NOT SO EASY TRIP TO THE CAVES OF SAGADA

WE ARE GOING TO ONE MORE CAVE. THIS TIME IT IS SUMAGING CAVE. IN THIS ONE VISITORS HAVE TO WADE IN WATER, SOMETIMES FAIRLY DEEP. UNFORTUNATELY, WE WERE NOT PREPARED FOR THIS – WHAT A PITY, I HAVE ONLY NOW MANAGED TO SOURCE THE RIGHT INFORMATION.

WE HAVE RETURNED TO THE VILLAGE CENTRE. THE FIRST THING I WANTED TO DO WAS TO FIND A COMPUTER STORE, WHICH I HAVE LOCATED IN A VILLAGE MARKET BUILDING. I HAD TO UPLOAD SOME OF MY PHOTOS FROM MY CAMERA TO MY PORTABLE HARD DRIVE. THE PROCESS WAS REALLY SLOW, SO I HAD RELUCTANTLY AGREED WITH THE SHOP OWNER ‘S SUGGESTION AND WE WENT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO EAT, LEAVING MY CAMERA IN THE SHOP TO FINISH THE UPLOAD.

WE HAVE FOUND A PLACE CALLED MASFERRÉ – THE  RESTAURANT ‘S NAME COMES FROM THE NAME OF THE FATHER OF FILIPINO PHOTOGRAPHY – EDUARDO MASFERRÉ. HIS WORK WAS EXHIBITED IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES INCLUDING IN ONE OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION LES RENCONTRES INTERNATIONAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE IN FRANCE. HIS PHOTOS SHOW THE HARD LIFE OF THE NATIVE INHABITANTS OF THE FILIPINO CORDILLERA. THE RESTAURANT APPEARS TO BE VERY GOOD AND HAS TURNED OUT TO BE JUST THAT. WE HAVE STARTED TO ORDER SO MANY INTERESTING SOUNDED DISHES, THAT THE WAITRESS HAD TO STOP US, TELLING THAT THERE WAS NO WAY WE COULD POSSIBLY EAT THAT MUCH. WE HAVE AGREED – SHE WAS RIGHT …

AN INTERESTING COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN BY MASFERRÉ WAS DISPLAYED ON THE WALLS OF THE RESTAURANT AND WE HAVE ENJOYED LOOKING AT THEM WHILE WAITING FOR THE MEAL TO ARRIVE. LATER ON, WE HAVE BOUGHT SOME ARABICA COFFEE, WHICH IS GROWN IN THIS AREA.

WE HAVE RETURNED TO THE COMPUTER STORE TO COLLECT MY CAMERA AND THE EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE. FINALLY, I HAVE SOME SPACE FOR NEW PHOTOS. I COULD NOW TAKE AS MANY PHOTOS AS MY HEART DESIRE WITHOUT A FEAR OF RUNNING OUT OF SPACE.

WE ARE HOPPING INTO OUR MINIBUS AND STARTED OUR RETURN TRIP AT ABOUT 1:00 PM. IT WAS NOT RAINING YET, BUT WE HAVE HAD A FAIRLY HIGH MOUNTAIN RANGE TO CROSS. WE TOOK HALSEM HIGHWAY AND BY 3.00 PM WE WERE ON ITS HIGHEST SECTION OF 2 255.52 m ABOVE THE SEA LEVEL. FROM THEN, MORE CLOSE THE NIGHT, THE RAIN IS POURING MORE … THE TRAFFIC IS HEAVY WITH ALL SORTS OF JEEPNEYS, TRUCKS AND OTHER VEHICLES, SO WE CRAWLED SLOWLY FINALLY REACHED BAGUIO AT 7.00 PM. IT WAS A 90 km LONG ROAD AND IT TOOK US – HARD TO BELIEVE – AROUND 5 HOURS TO DO. HOWEVER, OUR DRIVER WAS MANAGING REALLY WELL.

WE STILL HAD TO FIND ACCOMMODATION FOR OUR LAST NIGHT IN THE PHILIPPINES – AND IT IS POURING HEAVILY. OUR DRIVER TOOK US TO A SUBURB WITH SOME SUPPOSEDLY CHEAP ACCOMMODATION.

WE HAVE HOPPED OUT OF THE BUS AND RAN TO THE DOORS OF THE FIRST FIND PLACE, BUT STILL GOT TOTALLY SOAKED EVEN THOUGH IT WAS A REALLY SHORT DISTANCE. FIRST OFF WAS THE HERITAGE MANSION HOTEL – OUR DRIVER PROBABLY EXAGGERATED A BIT …

OVER THE CORNER WAS PALADIN HOTEL – WE HAVE QUICKLY RAN OVER THERE, BUT THE PRICE DID NOT APPEAL …

WE HAVE TURNED BACK TO OUR VEHICLE WHEN WE HAVE SPOTTED A HOLIDAY PARK HOTEL … NO…

A BIT FURTHER UP THE ROAD WAS EUROTEL, THE PRICES WERE EVEN HIGHER, AND UNINTERESTING ROOMS …

WE HAVE DECIDED TO RETURN TO THE PALADIN HOTEL (136 ABANAAO EXTENSION, CORNER CARINO STREET, BAGUIO CITY).

IN THIS HOTEL A ROOM WITH AN EN-SUITE FOR 1725 P (112 PLN) COME WITH GIFT – AN HOUR OF MASSAGE FOR EACH! WE HAVE LEFT ALL OUR BELONGINGS IN THE HOTEL AND IMMEDIATELY WENT TO FIND SOME FOOD. THERE WAS A SMALL KOREAN RESTAURANT JUST ACROSS FROM OUR HOTEL, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, THEIR MENU WAS TINY. WE WALKING FURTHER, UP THE HILL. AFTER REACHING LEGARD Rd. AND TURNING LEFT JUST ON A HUNCH, WE HAVE SPOTTED A PLACE WITH GRUB OR NOCH ON THE CORNER ACROSS THE STREET … WE HEADING IN THERE. SEEING IN THE DISTANCE CALTEX STATION I RUSH THERE LEAVING MY COMPANY. THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO CHECK WHAT IS SUITABLE TO EAT IN THE SPOT SEEN BY US. I BOUGHT SOME RUM AND COLA IN THE CALTEX STORE, JUST IN CASE, WE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO BUY THOSE NECESSITIES LATER ON. THERE, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, THROUGH A POURING RAIN, I HAVE NOTICED A BRIGHTLY LIT PLACE FULL OF PEOPLE …

I RETURN TO MY FRIENDS AND WE RAN OVER TO THAT PLACE TRYING TO AVOID ALL PUDDLES. THE RESTAURANT IS CALLED GILLIGAN’S (LAGARDE RD., BAGUIO) AND MAKES AN IMPRESSION OF A CHAIN RESTAURANT. IT SPECIALISES IN FILIPINO CUISINE SERVING MAINLY SEAFOOD DISHES. WE HAVE ENTERED THE PLACE AT ABOUT 8.00 PM AND STARTED WITH A CHAMPAGNE TO CELEBRATE OUR LAST DINNER ON THE PHILIPPINE LAND. THEN WE HAVE TRIED A VARIETY OF FILIPINO DISHES – EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS, WELL PREPARED AND PRESENTED. WE CAN HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS PLACE. WE HAVE DINED THERE FOR NEARLY TWO HOURS …

ON THE WAY BACK WE HAVE POPPED INTO AN ASIAN SUPERMARKET (ASEAN SUPER MART) LOCATED AT THE SAME STREET AS RESTAURANT. THERE WE HAVE PURCHASED LOTS OF SPICES AND PRESERVES WHICH ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN POLAND. WE HAVE PLANNED THIS AND BROUGHT AN EXTRA BAG FROM POLAND FOR THIS KIND OF SHOPPING. THEN FINALLY BACK TO THE HOTEL. WHEN WE GOT THERE WE WERE TOLD THAT THE MASSEURS COULD NOT WAIT FOR US THAT LONG, SO “IN DESPERATION” WE HAVE IMBIBED SOME RUM AND COLA AS A SLEEP AID.

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