Let me start off by stating a fact: Living in the Philippines is difficult. No, I’m not talking about all those 3rd world/government/corruption/mentality/etc issues. When I say difficult, I mean it in a positive way. You can live in one area in the country and still be a stranger in the Philippines because of its vast diversity and range of things to see and do. My country has 7,107 islands and every place has unique things/places to discover.
I’ve always been wanting to go see the rice terraces that my friends (both locals and foreigners) keep raving about. But (sorry for the lame excuse) I never really had the time. When a small pocket of free time opened up, around August, right before I was to make the big move to Istanbul, Turkey… I just knew I had to go!
There wasn’t even really a solid plan regarding this trip. It basically happened on a whim. Stefan and I were both in Manila when we decided to push through with the trip. With merely a couple of hours of research to figure out the basics and 40 minutes of rush packing, we set off on our way to Banaue and Sagada…
The bus from Manila-Banaue takes 9 hours and leaves the city at 10pm. Guess who arrived in the nick of time? With no thanks to one of the meanest taxi drivers in Manila, we arrived at 9:55pm, and had to charm our way into the bus. The ticket seller wouldn’t sell us tickets cause she said the bus was full and had no more seats. But listen closely, children. Don’t always immediately take no for an answer! I didn’t want to give up, so after some begging and puppy dog eyes, she sold us two tickets but told us that we would have to sit on the aisle, on monobloc chairs.
We spent NINE ungodly hours on monobloc chairs. It was the worse ride of my life. And yet I was still so happy cause despite the obstacles, we were still able to make the bus… Plus Stef and I came up with a lot of random things to pass the time.
Upon arrival, we were ushered into a van that’ll take us to Sagada. The van includes a stop at a very beautiful viewing point for the rice terraces. I was so sleepy and my body ached from monobloc torture, and yet when I saw the rice terraces, I was amazed. It really was breathtaking to look at. What stunned me even more was being reminded that these were man-made.
After another 2 hour trip, but thankfully, in a more spacious van, we arrived in Sagada. We didn’t book accommodations. We just asked our driver if there was a place that was cheap but nice. He took us to George’s Guesthouse. It was a great place for our trip. Very cheap at P600 a room/night, with pretty decent amenities.
We asked the receptionist on where we could find tour guides to take us around… She directed us to the office that gave tours. There was a LOT of tours and each one ranged in price/difficulty/sights/etc. I didn’t even know there was so much to do in such a small place! We were attracted to cave spelunking the most. It was going to be a 4 hour journey through Sumaguing cave. The woman assured us that it was safe and though it can be a bit scary, it’s still very fun. The fee for the cave spelunking, if my memory serves me right was around 450 PHP/head.
It was rainy season in August, which meant that in the mountains of Sagada, it was cold and grey, just how we like it. But even though the weather was cold, we were told to wear comfortable clothes that are easy to move in. We were both decked in a light top and shorts. Our kuya guide told us not to worry about freezing our asses to death because going through the cave will make our bodies warm.
And boy did that damn cave keep us warm. Cave Spelunking in Sagada is one of the most dangerous things that you can do WITHOUT ANY gear of ANY sort. We forced our bodies into tiny little spaces between rocks that I didn’t even know a human can fit in…
We’ve used both our hands and feet and at times, even stepping all over our guide’s entire body, just to get through to the next spot…. We had to wade through rocks, mud, water and even bat shit… We had to climb up high rock formations by using a rope or our arms, without even any sort of safety net below…
We had to slowly crawl our way down on the sides of very tall and almost vertical rock slopes (again without any safety net or rope to hold on to)… It was ridiculously the most extreme cave spelunking I’ve ever done, but oh my God I loved EVERY minute of it!!!
There was also a really cool mini pool inside the cave. The water was ridiculously cold and we were FREEZING. There were a bunch of French guys who were taking turns diving into the pool. Our guide said it was perfectly safe because even though the pool was small, it was really really REALLY deep. This was legit because five steps into the lake, and my short Asian height was swallowed up by the water. We went into the water even though we were already freezing as it is, because when else can you experience something like this? Poor Stefan who hates cold water with a passion, ended up cursing in Serbian for the entire time we waded around the pool. haha
The rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites and everything else found inside a cave were stunning!! I was amused cause there were also some funny rock formations that would make people with green and dirty minds absolutely entertained. haha.
We ended the day with a 30 minute walk back to the city proper. After freshening up, we found a tiny little piece of heaven called “SAGADA BREW”. Sagada Brew is a café restaurant that looks simple on the outside, but turned out to be one of the best gems that we loved about Sagada. We loved EVERYTHING about the place…
Its ambience, interiors, the music, and don’t even get me started on the food… Sagada Brew Café/Resto is such a wonderful dream, I highly recommend spending time there if you find yourself in Sagada. I still dream about those sandwiches and the best hot chocolate ever. The service is also amazing, and the owner of the restaurant is such a nice and kind man who always makes us feel welcome, but isn’t intrusive at the same time. To this day, it remains to be my favorite café resto and it’s quite funny that I had to find it in the high mountains of the Philippines.
Overall, I am quite happy about the very quick Banaue-Sagada trip. Looking back I now consider it to be one of the most favorite trips I’ve ever had. And yes, I say that with positivity despite the horrible 9 hour monobloc ride. Haha. So locals and foreigners alike, if you want a great adventure with nature, please book yourself a Banaue-Sagada trip (and make sure Cave Spelunking is included hihi). It’s so worth it, I would actually go there again—with or without a 9 hour monobloc ride.