Asia, Experience, Itinerary, Luzon, Married Backpackers, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide

Each year, a dreamer longs to do something of epic proportions. Jump out of airplanes, quit the day job, chase after the one great love, and the list goes on. Mine, however, was an ode to the dauntlessness of my ancestors. Albeit less maverick, it sure carried more weight for me. (way more for the boylove who was dragged into my mission LOL.)

Buscalan was hard to reach, and we only had a couple of days to spare. But it happened, and we went home with the lifetime bragging right of having been marked by Apo Whang-od, the country’s oldest living mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist).


This guide is for fellow corporate rats (and students, maybe!) who only have the weekend– the long weekend, at most– to spare for bucket lists, travel goals, and whatever else you may call making-dreams-come-true.

A Friday night departure, for example, would have you back in Manila by Sunday night and be at work on Monday.

Please note that this is based on the actual trip that we did. There may be other options, and I will try to be as informative as possible. However, if this may come off as inadequate, please feel free to browse other blogs.


Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

TRANSPORTATION

If traveling during the holidays, it is best to book way well in advance to secure seats. We’ve had to book ours a day later than intended as everything else was fully-booked until then.

Reservation is only over-the-counter, unfortunately. For the adventurous spirit, you can embark on the adventure of being a chance passenger. But during the holiday season? I’d rather bungy-jump.

Departure (Kamias, Quezon City)

  • Victory Liner – Kamias Station
    • Fare – 700PHP/person (regular aircon)
    • Departs at 7PM (As we weren’t sure how long the trip would take given the traffic situation, we booked the earliest trip for the night)

Tip: Wear a jacket or get a blankie as the bus’ aircon can get really cold. It’s been said that drivers purposefully turn the aircon up to the maximum to prevent themselves from sleeping on the wheel.

Stopover (Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya)

  • Late Dinner / Midnight Meal – Lugaw (with egg – 40PHP; with chicken – 50PHP; with chicken and egg – 60PHP)
  • Bladder break – free/donation only; very clean toilets

Tip: In the Philippines, you have to bring your own toilet paper when using a public toilet.

Arrival (Bulanao, Tabuk)

  • 5AM arrival – Disembark in front of St. William’s Church (note that this isn’t the final destination of the bus, so be sure to tell your driver in advance that you will disembark in Bulanao)
  • The first trip to Bontoc isn’t until 7am. Whilst waiting, have coffee in a nearby carenderia. Ironically, eateries only serve 3-in-1 coffee
  • HideOut Restaurant – 3-in-1 coffee (10PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Depature (to Buscalan, Kalinga)

  • 7am – Ride a Bontoc-bound jeep/van/bus
    • All transport– Jeepney, Van, Bus— leaves Bulanao at 7am. We took the Jeepney to Bontoc as it arrived in the terminal first.
    • Fare – 150PHP/person

Tip: Ask locals, as there is no fixed terminal/parking for vehicles bound for Bontoc. It can be across the church or in the corner of the next intersection. (worry not, it’s all along the same main road.)

  • 1030am – Stopover in Tinglayan for Brunch
    • time of arrival in Tinglayan depends on the frequency of stops and road situation.
    • Good Samaritan Restaurant – Tinola and Rice (50PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11am – Disembark in Brgy Bugnay (where your guide will meet you)
    • recommended guide – Kuya Eddie (+639128097578) [EDIT: 0928 402 4973 – New number! Kuya E’s cellphone was stolen] – it is advised that he is contacted in advance
    • Guide Fee – 1000PHP (flat-rate per group)
  • Ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Turning Point (around 10-15mins uphill). Your guide will pre-arrange this.
    • Fare – 100PHP/person
    • Sometimes, there is a Bontoc-bound jeepney that goes all the way to the Turning Point, but there was a landslide in the area during our trip, which makes the road impassable for larger vehicles.
  • Trek to Buscalan (Butbut Tribe Village) downhill and a very steep uphill. The trail is paved most of the way, so you can never get lost.
    • Along the way, you’d pass by the refreshing Tumaniw Falls. A quick dip is in order! 

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

ACCOMMODATION

  • Charlie Knows – homestay (inclusive of sleeping accomodations, meals and unlimited coffee. If you are as lucky as we were, you’d have free grog too! 😀
    • Kuya Charlie – +639397484707 / +639981888697
    • Cost – 250PHP / person / night. (Couples can request for the Fertility Room at no extra charge).
    • GrogRed Horse Beer is deemed “too strong” and is not sold in the village — buy your stash beforehand. The local guides won’t mind a bottle or two of kwadro-kantos (Ginebra San Miguel Gin) though.
    • Meals – Your guide will prepare your meals. They provide unlimited rice and coffee. For viands, you can either have what they cook for you (usually eggs, chicken and vegetables), or have some of the grocery items you brought– canned goods, noodles– cooked for you.
    • Candies / Food for kids – when giving food to kids, please remind them to dispose wrappers properly. There are garbage sacks all over the village that you can direct kids to throw their empty food wrappers to.

Tip: Bring grocery items to share to the locals (canned goods, sugar, salt, medicines, biscuits/candies for the kids, powdered juice, toiletries etc.)

ACTIVITY / OTHERS

  • Lachilad Souvenirs – native necklaces at 100PHP; good idea for pasalubongs (souvenirs to give to friends/family on your return).
  • Kapeng Barako (Native Coffee) – 100PHP / 250g

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Pasipat – a practice wherein couples who are wanting to conceive go around the neighbourhood elders to ask for their blessings. The elders then tie a beaded bracelet around the woman’s wrist while chanting a prayer. In return, the couple would give the elders a piece of bread (in our case, doughnuts – 100PHP for a bag of 20)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Tattoo – it is customary NOT to ask for the price prior to the session. The mambabatok (tattoo artist) will tell you after the session. Prices usually start at 500 PHP.
    • Apo Whang-Od Signature (three horizontal dots) – 100 PHP
    • Design – a design board is available for you to choose; you can also have Apo Whang-Od pick the design for you. She generally does what is requested, but sometimes suggests a better location or design.
    • Other tattoo artists – Whang-Od has since trained other women in the community to keep the tradition alive. (I even had one of the apprentices, Renalyn, ink my back, as I particularly liked how clean her lines were).
    • You can keep the thorn used after your session, and the guides will give you a replica of the bamboo they use in tattooing as a going-away present. (This can also be bought in the souvenir shop at the entrance of the village).

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Tip: Never haggle. Help the community by helping the locals.

  • All of the above can be done in one afternoon, or at the latest, until early the next morning. Tell your guide of your plans and they will do their best to make arrangements in accordance to your schedule. 

BACK TO MANILA

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 9am – We spent the night in Buscalan and left after breakfast the next day. The trek back to the Turning Point was easier than the one going to the village. We still had to take the habal-habal though, as there was a landslide in the area.
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
  • 10am – We caught the 10AM jeepney to Bontoc (there were buses due at 11AM and 12NN respectively, according to our guide). Since the ride to Bontoc was only an hour, we went toploading. From up there, the view was twice as epic!
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
    • Other option – go back to Tabuk instead and go back to Manila from there. I understand this was the shorter/faster route.

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11AM – Arrived in Bontoc; disembarked by the gate of MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and walked to the bus terminal via the overpass. There was a Tourist Police Assistance Desk nearby, where we got information on transport options.
    • Fall in line for the Baguio bus (no advanced reservations available)
    • Departs at 1PM (GL Lizardo Bus) – terminal is near the public market/ central Baguio
    • Fare – 210 PHP / person
    • Can have lunch in Bontoc. We didn’t. (Bottled water – 30 PHP, Softdrinks – 25 PHP)
    • Comfort Room – 3 PHP
    • Other optiongo to Banaue instead and take the Ohayami Bus (overnight) back to Manila.
  • 6:30 PM – Arrived in Baguio (after 2 stopovers)
    • Fare – 455 PHP / person (regular aircon)
    • Approximate travel time – 5 to 7 hours (depending on the traffic situation)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Option – If going straight to Manila, the Victory Liner Terminal is just one jeepney ride away (near SM); within a walking distance if you don’t have much to bring)
    • Jeepney – 7 PHP / person (approximate)
    • Taxi – 50 PHP / trip (approximate)
  • Option – if staying in Baguio overnight.
    • Bloomfield Hotel – just beside SM. Clean, new and with excellent customer service.
    • Rates start as 2140 PHP / room (off-peak); 2360 PHP / room (peak)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Fashion

Cabin Bag Flatlay | Manila

Let me let you in on a secret: the secret to sensible packing is photographing what you pack. For hand-carry bags, for instance, it is imperative not to overstuff lest your shoulder is prepared to bear the yoke of overpacking.

So how does photographing helps? Whatever doesn’t look good in the photo, goes.

Genius, right? Right!

cabin flat lay manila
Look, Ma! No check-in luggage!

On a trip home to Manila, I tried this formula (and will prolly start a series after this), and am so stoked it works!


Read: Cabin Bag Flatlay – Bali


(Clockwise from top)

  1. Laptop – Macbook Air (a gift from the boylove 3 birthdays ago); decal is from Typo Shop.
  2. Make-up kit – My Asian skin doesn’t do well with designer cosmetics. I’m happy with just Revlon, really.
  3. Passport Wallet – have I mentioned Typo Shop should start to sponsor me? lol. Also, if you haven’t noticed yet, I am crazy over all things travel-y.
  4. Headphones – Bose wireless over ear.
  5. Journal – Slay 2017 by Typo Shop.
  6. Backpack – All because it matches with my passport wallet; also from Typo Shop.
  7. Eyewear – Clubmasters by RayBan
  8. Book – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

FELLOW WAYFARER, WHAT’S IN YOUR CABIN BAG?


Flatlay Manila
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Mindanao, Personal Essay, Philippines, Travel

Blog Carnival | The City of Majestic Waterfalls

In the late 90s, my once progressive home city lost its clout as The Industrial City of the South. Public amenities were sold to private operators. Housing projects were abandoned, half-built. The largest steel mill in Asia was closed down and left rusting. Jobs were made scarce. Even beer houses, once frequented by husbands whose wives didn’t care so long as they were provided for financially, turned their lights off for good.

Iligan City was stripped off of prestige.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust
Mt. Agad-Agad lording over the CBD

The City of Majestic Waterfalls

But when one is forced into nakedness, one learns to love its own skin. When progress left, nature stayed. 

Fast forward two decades later, the city has risen up to the national stage, viciously proud of a new monicker: The City of Majestic Waterfalls. 

There are twenty-four, to be precise. But Iligan is best-known for two: one for its power; and the other, for its beauty. I know both for its legends. 

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust

What the people in my far-flung hometown lacked in luxury, they made up for in imagination. I grew up in those: in stories woven from the very fabric of nature.

The Lore of Maria Cristina

Perhaps the more renowned of the two is the mighty Maria Cristina, the heartbeat of Agus VI, a hydro-power plant that lights up most of Mindanao. Imagine the force. 

In intangible terms however, such force can only be equated to two emotions: love and hate. Coincidentally, these are the legs on which the saga of Maria Cristina Falls stands on.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust
Maria Cristina Falls in full blast

Once upon time, on the coast of Iligan Bay, there lived two sisters who were famous for their beauty. Maria and Cristina were very close as siblings, but were often compared and pitted against each other.

There came a time when they fell desperately in love to the same man, who in turn, deceived them both. Unable to take the heartbreak, Maria leapt into a ravine and plunged into death. Guilt-ridden for her sister’s untimely demise, Cristina followed suit. Deeply saddened, the townspeople then put a boulder of a tombstone on the spot where the sisters jumped, to remember them by.

Soon after, river water started to flow and fall into the ravine, between the boulder. This created the twin waterfall that was later named after the sisters, Maria Cristina.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust

But as the playwright Congreve once said, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

In the years that followed, the waterfall and its surrounding waterscapes, were noted to have been claiming lives of men: motorists mysteriously driving over the bridge and into the unforgiving water turbine under it; swimmers winding up dead, their carcasses floating in the nearby Bucana Beach; and fishermen going missing for days— some, never to be found. 

Maria Cristina Falls, to this day, exudes radiance. But like a maiden who never got justice, it also rages twice as bad.

Maria Cristina Falls Travel Guide


HOW TO GET THERE

  • From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal(if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney and disembark just after Agus Bridge. 
  • From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark just after Agus Bridge.  
  • From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark just after Agus Bridge. 
  • From Lanao del Norte – disembark just after Agus Bridge.  

~*~

  • Travel Time – from the city centre, depending on the traffic, 15-30mins.
  • PUJ Fare – 7PHP (within city centre); 12-15PHP (Ma. Cristina, Buruun, Linamon)

FEES

  • From Agus Bridge, walk to the gate of NPC Nature Park (approximately 10 minutes from the highway).
  • Entrance Fee – 35PHP (adults); 25PHP (kids)
  • Shuttle Fee – 10PHP (return)

NOTES

  • The power plant controls the flow of the falls, except on weekends where it is usually on full blast.

The Lure of Tinago

In the last decade, news of a modern-day Arcadia seemed to have caught the fancy of curious outsiders. People have come in throngs, garbed in bright orange safety vests to frolic in the other-worldy waters of Tinago Falls.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust

Nestled deep in a cavernous gorge between the suburbs of Ditucalan, Buruun and the municipality of Linamon, is most probably the country’s most spectacular waterscape. To get to the basin, one has to descend at least 436 steps down a concrete set of stairs– a small price to pay for such precious a beauty.

But nature, just like all else in life, is a double-edged sword. Unbeknownst to non-Iliganons, behind the charm of Tinago Falls, lies a lore of darkness, whose extent was never before gauged.

To start off, the depth of the basin is not known. Many have tried, but not one has succeeded. The accounts of those who neither died nor disappeared varied from pleasantly enchanting to downright harrowing.

One of the few, non-horrifying versions of the Tinago narrative, was about a rainbow that appeared every afternoon, and whose end dipped into the waterfall. It was said that behind the cascade was a cave. In the cave, was a pot of gold guarded by a giant snake.

Another version recounted how an entire coconut tree was once dropped into the falls in an attempt to measure its depth, but it did not float back.

But the most nightmarish of all, told of a tale of a diver who surfaced out in sheer panic after hearing voices at the bottom of the falls. When prodded, the poor man reportedly, eerily described the voices as “wailing in suffering, as if it was the very doorway to hell.”

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust

The truth to the mystery of Tinago Falls may be something that no one can ever get close to in this lifetime. But maybe too, there are truths we do not have to pursue. The way of nature is something that needs not only to be respected, but also, accepted.

In Iligan, we recognise that our realm, may sometimes overlap with that of others. There is good; there is evil. But the humankind is gifted with the most powerful magic of all: freewill.

It means get to choose our own versions of truths. How I choose the pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow version of the Tinago story every time, for instance.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust

Tinago Falls Travel Guide


HOW TO GET THERE

  • From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney. 
  • From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls. 
  • From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls. 
  • From Lanao del Norte – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls. 

~*~

  • From Buruun (my favourite route) – from the highway (Buruun crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls.
    • Cost: 50-100PHP
    • Accessible through the ruins of the old Tinago Falls Resort
  • From Linamon (the most convenient) – from the highway (Linamon crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls Highland Resort.
    • Cost: 50PHP
    • Maintained by the local government. Roads are less steep and more paved, plenty of parking spaces and easier access to the falls.

FEES

  • Entrance Fee – donation only (10PHP minimum)
  • Live Vest – 25PHP
  • Bamboo Raft – 10PHP
  • Table – 75-100PHP

NOTES

  • Visit on weekdays as weekends tend to get very crowded.

The Waterfalls of Iligan | Words and Wanderlust
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This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ November 2016 Blog Carnival, with the theme, Stories From My Hometown, hosted by Celine Reyes.


Itinerary, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Baguio – Sagada Travel Guide

When asked about my travels, I can only tell stories. How I ate fried grasshoppers in Vietnam or drank my way through Laos, for example. I suck at giving structured information like budget and itinerary.

But here’s an attempt at a Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide that really, is just Sagada. Don’t judge 😛

This guide is based on a backpacking trip I did years ago and is purely experiential. Also, allow me to disclaim that this may not be the most updated information on rates (although I tried my darnedest best to check on latest rates and prices). However, I have provided contact information if you wish to double-check.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


Disclaimer : When I write about myself drinking beer in the Philippines, I mean Red Horse and nothing else.


BAGUIO

How to get there

From Manila, we took the 1115H Victory Liner bus from the Sampaloc terminal to Baguio. The trip took around 6 hours via TPLEX.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Coming straight from an early flight from Cagayan de Oro, I was exhausted. The comfort that Victory Liner’s first class bus provided was formidable. What with full air-conditioning, reclining seats, free wifi, free snacks and a bus stewardess, it was an experience in itself.

Fare: 455PHP (Regular Aircon); 750 PHP (First Class) | Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in the terminals


Victory Liner Inc. – Manila
www.victoryliner.com
551 Earnshaw St., Barangay 401, Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 559 7735


Tip: If going to Baguio without prior reservations like we did, seek assistance from the Tourist Information Centre outside the Victory Liner bus terminal.

When we reached Baguio, it was nearly dusk. Thankfully, the men at the Tourist Information Centre were very helpful. Without a hotel reservation, they offered to drive us around the city until we found a hotel that we liked.

Fare: 50 PHP (Van and driver; until a hotel is found)

Where to stay

Our main requirement was a comfortable city-centre hotel that was close to the bus station for Sagada. After a couple of other enquiries, we found Belfranlt. The hotel was a bit dated, but its location, spacious rooms and clean toilets sold us. The hotel also had cable television, hot and cold shower and free breakfast.

Rates: 1650PHP (Double Aircon)


Belfranlt Hotel
General Luna Road, Baguio City, Philippines
Phone: +63 74 442 4298


Where to chill

Remember that acoustic bar in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana? We’ve been there long before the movie was shown.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Perhaps, there was something about Baguio that made unraveling a little less difficult. Bohemian Cafe, for instance, beckoned nostalgia. Dim-lit nooks and alcohol, and the music that filled all the spaces in between.

Price: 100PHP (cocktails) ; 60PHP (beer)


Bohemian Cafe
Assumption Rd, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


SAGADA

How to get there

Early the next morning, from Baguio, we took the 0700H GL Lizardo bus to Sagada. We were supposed to take an earlier bus but missed it. Hearty breakfasts do that. The trip took around 6 hours via the scenic Halsema Highway.

Fare: 220PHP (Regular Non-aircon)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


GL Lizardo Bus Terminal
Rajah Matanda St, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


Where to stay

We alighted at Sagada Public Market and walked further down along South Road to the SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.) office. After making initial enquiries, we looked for an accommodation to drop our bags in.

As it was past lunch time and we didn’t have a prior booking (again!), we didn’t walk far. Most of the accommodations near SAGGAS were fully-booked.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Fortunately, we chanced upon Alibama Inn, a small hostel situated above Pinikpikan House. It was okay, except it didn’t have hot shower. I died.

Rates: 250PHP per head (Non-aircon bedspace)


Alibama Inn
pinikpikanhaus@gmail.com
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 920 8135797


Where to eat

Famished from half a day on the road, a siomai stall outside SAGGAS felt like oasis in the desert. I devoured an entire serve and downed it with a glassful of black gulaman.

Price: 28PHP(Siomai, 3 per serve); 10PHP (Black Gulaman)


Siomai King
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
(fronting SAGGAS)


After doing the Echo Valley and surrounds tour, we dropped by Yoghurt House for some refreshments. Centrally located and with an instagrammable yellow facade, the Yoghurt House sure was unmissable.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The menu was on the pricier end of the spectrum, though. But I was all for good food and cozy ambiance, and really, I allowed myself to fall prey to good marketing and pretty interiors.

Price: 99PHP(Lemon Lassie)


Yoghurt House
www.yoghurt.sagada.org
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: +63 908 112 8430


For dinner, we strolled further into the innards of Sagada, away from South Road. We were checking out souvenir items in a random shop when my nose caught a whiff of the unmistakeable pork binagoongan.

I heeded the call (or smell) of the home-cooked goodness, of course. That, plus plateful of extra rice later, I was solved.

Tip: grab a couple of free Mentos candies from the jar on the counter.

Must Eat: Pork Binagoongan


Homestay Diner
Sagada – Besao Rd, Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines


Salt and Pepper was best for breakfast. A stone’s throw away from SAGGAS, we went there to carbo-load before the doing the gruelling Cave Connection.

Price: 150PHP (Bislled’s Delight (Tapsilog)), 30PHP (Mountain Tea), 30PHP (Lemon Iced Tea)


Salt and Pepper
www.facebook.com/sagadasaltandpepper
Phone: +63 998 979 8695
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


After the Cave Connection, we dropped by Sagada Lemon Pie House to supposedly sample their renowned lemon pies. But man, I was starving. Famous lemon pies be damned, I needed rice and a proper meal!

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Price: 150PHP (Spicy Red Chicken and rice meal); 20PHP (Lemonade)


Sagada Lemon Pie House
www.sagadalemonpiehouse.blogspot.com.au
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 907-7820360


Where to  chill

“Fcuk Sagada, ang sarap mo!” said the vandal on a hanky pinned on a freedom wall. It stood out from all the trinkets that travellers before us had left in the comforts of Bamboo Bar.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I fell in love at once; left awestricken by the myriad of stories stuck on the walls of that rendezvous. I could have stayed there and made friends and found love and lost pieces of myself. I could have been the resident storyteller, or secret keeper, or kiss-and-spiller.

I could have been everything; and nothing. And even the latter would have been okay.

Prices: 50PHP(Beer)


Bamboo Bar
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


What to do

(Rates are based on a 2pax shared tour)

Echo Valley and Bokong Falls

Knackered from the bus ride from Baguio, we settled on an easy activity for the afternoon. Our sampler tour started at St. Mary’s Anglican Church and into the woods behind it.

While hiking, we learned a bit about how faith was the core of the town, and that in many aspects, religion shaped huge part of the town’s culture and history.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

We first reached Echo Valley, where everything you screamed was screamed back at you. It was popular to those who needed emotional release from  romantic shambles. I swore alright; profanities overload.

Shortly after we resumed our hike, we came across a high rock with coffins hanging on the side. “Ah, there you are,” I exclaimed, noting the most recognisable spot in Sagada; the most photographed. The underground river cave was cloaked just behind the hanging coffins.

Further, Bokong Falls hid behind a dense shrubbery. It wasn’t easily visible, but the sound of the cascade lured the water baby in me. Ice-cold but rejuvenating, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to round an intrepid day off.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide)

Kiltepan Peak

Our guide, Anthony, met us outside the SAGGAS office at 4am on our second day. Much to his dismay, we opted to trek Kiltepan, as opposed to taking a hired van to the peak. We promised him a tip though, as consolation, explaining how as backpackers, we didn’t particularly like being herded.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The trek was relatively short and easy, nothing like the tramps we’ve done in other backpacking trips. Several vehicles ran past us, filled with tourists in identical crocheted bonnets.

When we got to Kiltepan Peak, most have already taken their spots and have set up tripods to photograph the iconic Sagada sunrise. Some have pitched tents right at the peak the night prior, we learned.

I found a spot too, and from there, the sunrise was glorious. There was barely sea of clouds, however.  So really, I didn’t quite achieve the frame I woke up early for.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Determined to still enjoy the moment, I ejected myself from line of disappointed tourists and joined a company of local guides around a bonfire at the back. Someone offered a tin mug of brewed coffee; another, a stick of cigarette. I said yes to the coffee, no to the cigarette.

Rates: 400PHP(Guide)

Cave Connection

Apart from Bungy Jumping in New Zealand, the Cave Connection was probably the bravest feat I have done to date. It was a rightful bragging right, but definitely something I would not allow any of the people I love to ever do.

Imagine going through the mouth of one cave to another– the kind that takes up to 4 hours– with a single kerosene lamp and zero safety gear. Oh wait, we were advised to go barefoot as it was apparently less slippery that way. To slip, by the way, meant 2,500ft down into the abyss of nothingness.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Rendell, though, was awesome. He has been guiding Cave Connection tours for a couple of years, but initially joked that we were his first tour. His familiarity of the route made the whole ordeal a little less daunting. It also helped that he kept saying “eto na yung pinakamahirap, Miss” (this is already the hardest, Miss) each time we get past a tricky obstacle. Only to realise that a more difficult one will come up next.

Including stopovers, we were able to finish the connection in just a little over 2 hours. Rendell, who, towards the end of the tour also identified himself as John, couldn’t stop gushing.

“Sure ka Pinoy ka? Ba’t ang bilis mo? Korean lng ang ganyan kabilis!” (Are you sure you’re Filipino? Why are so you fast? Only Koreans can be that fast!)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I could only smile. I got what he meant, but chose not to go there.

Rates: 800PHP(Guide)

Pongas Falls

Probably my most favourite of all, was Pongas Falls. It was a bit away, and was thereby our most expensive activity. But it was all worth it. Our guide, Alder, doubled as a photographer, and was big on candid shots.

We passed by a village to get permission from the local chieftain before proceeding to the falls. On the way, we walk past villagers going about with daily life– women cooking for early dinner, kids on their way home from school and men racing to finish the day’s work before sunset. I saw myself in each one of them, remembering my own village back home.

When we reached the waterfall, we were delighted to find it deserted. We basically had it all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.

It was past dusk when we made it back to the main road. Before calling it a day, we shared a beer with Alder, who, at the time, was chewing betel nut to celebrate a day’s worth of hard work.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide); 600PHP(Van Rental)


SAGGAS
Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.
www.facebook.com/saggas
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


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Asia, Personal Essay, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Siquijor: The Long Way Home

Lineage, they say, is traced back from the father. If that is the case, then mine traces back to Siquijor, the island of fire. Also, of faith; of magic; of saltwater; and of the nocturne.

Only, even my father, a third-generation migrant to Mindanao, hadn’t been to the island himself.

But postal address was the sole thing that was not Siquijodnon about my Dad; about us as a family. Growing up in a region where only a handful bore our surname, we always felt misplaced somehow.

Talks about entire barrios that shared our bloodline– sun-kissed, with wide noses and big teeth— were mouthed as a promise -to-see-someday; a dream, repeatedly told over coconut wine- drinking sessions amongst uncles.

Just after summer this year, when sunshine was still abundant but not as scorching, the whole family embarked on a road trip to Siquijor, to fulfil my father’s lifelong desire for a homecoming.

Lazi - Words and Wanderlust

Our journey started in a church in Lazi. Whilst the rest of the family lit candles of petition, my dad stood distracted, reading a list of names of church benefactors on a cement wall. He gasped at familiar surnames of people from our hometown. After all, many of our neighbours’ forefathers were also farmer-fishermen from Siquijor; just like one Rufino Amantiad, who once loaded his entire kin on to a boat bound for Mindanao, and never returned.

My brother and I joked: maybe an heirloom awaited our Dad— a beachfront property, a hillside mansion, or acres of Molave. Maybe he is heir to some powerful wizard and we have come to the island to claim our destiny— a stone to swallow, a cave to set fire to, or a talisman to be received.

My mom, avid unbeliever, could only roll her eyes.

Minalulan

The first lead we found was from a group of candle vendors outside the church. They spoke of Amantiads they know from some distant barangays in and around the town of Maria. But one that rang a bell was a seaside community called Minalulan, from which, I believe, my father’s birthplace of Minaulon in Mindanao, was derived from.

As we drove away from Lazi and closer to Maria, my dad’s anxiety was almost palpable.

“Look for small houses; for poor people,” he kept on saying. “My grandfather said we were from poor origins,” he emphasized.

“Still poor,” my mom chirped in, antagonistic as ever.

Their bickering was promptly interrupted by a distinct welcome sign on the side of the road. My dad jumped at once, beckoning me to take a photo of him at the welcome sign of Barangay Minalulan. Soon after, the whole family joined in.

Minalulan - Words and Wanderlust

From there, we euphorically asked locals for directions, as if all of them were distant relatives. Eventually, the search led us to a sari-sari store at a corner fronting the public plaza. This was where we found Hilarion and Benedicta Amantiad, who, upon learning about our plight, offered a pack of hopia and a bottle of Mirinda to take with us to Salagdoong.

Lolo Hilarion was too young to remember or know my great grandfather, Rufino; moreso my grandfather, Agustin, who was only 14 when he left the island. But his eyes pocketed passion and pride, just like my late Nanay Teofila’s; his whole face bore the same smiling/crying grimace that was distinctive of my Lolo Leoncio. I’m sure my dad saw it too.

“I may not be able to recall how we are related, but we are; that, I assure you,” Lolo Hilarion, in an unmistakably Siquijodnon lilt, confirmed what we already knew deep down inside.

Hilarion - Words and Wanderlust

Maria

My dad was still on a high from meeting Lolo Hilarion, so he kept striking up conversations with everyone as we made our way to Salagdoong. Upon hearing his narrative, the gatekeeper at the resort volunteered that he knew of a certain Ecoy Amantiad, whose kin runs a stall at the Maria Public Market.

It wasn’t hard to find Lolo Ecoy at all, who received our strange intrusion in shock and silence. He wasn’t in the pink of health having just recovered from a cardiac ailment, but was gracious enough to talk to us. His daughter, Auntie Lucy, very hospitably answered our questions on her father’s behalf.

Surprisingly, the world was small after all. It turned out that Lolo Ecoy was Angelico Amantiad, grandfather of Rainveill, a “cousin” I accidentally bumped into, online, one day many years ago. Long story short, we’ve kept tabs since, both convinced that although we didn’t know how and why, we were from the same bloodline.

Understanding of my father’s need to reconnect with his roots, Lolo Ecoy offered to accompany us to Cangtugbas, where his centenarian parents lived.

Cangtugbas

The road to Cangtugbas was hilly and narrow; a perennial ascent that one would not expect of Siquijor. Lolo Ecoy sat on the passenger seat, his words calculated. My dad sat at the back, elated and uber excited.

Marcial Amantiad, the family patriarch and quite possibly our oldest living relative, was sitting on a balcony when we arrived. His wife, Lola Librada, pleasantly confused due to Dementia, was singing an old folk song on loop.

Off the bat, I was convinced we were family. It was as if seeing my father see his father again after forever. You see, my Lolo Agustin died when Dad was only 17. Since then, he only lived off his stories. We did, too.

It was Lolo Marcial, suprisingly sharp for a century-old chap, who was finally able to trace our lineage. He said that he was first cousins of Lolo Rufino, and had vague recollection of his kids. That being said, it meant that Lolo Ecoy was second cousins with my Lolo Agustin.

I took lots of photos, excited to log online so I can share Rainveill my good news. But we were too far off-the-grid to get internet connection; too off-the-beaten path to even get Waze coverage. But all of it didn’t matter at the time.

All that mattered was, right at that moment, in a bungalow in the hills of Cangtugbas, my father finally found his way— through Hilarion, Angelico and Marcial; through the stories of Rufino; and through the memories of Agustin— back home.

Parents - Words and Wanderlust

Asia, Mindanao, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Fambam Roadtrip | Philippines 2016

For the first instalment of this series, allow me to bring you home to my family; or, in the context of this road trip, let me introduce you to my travel buddies.
Fambam Roadtrip | Words and Wanderlust

My parents are Zaldy and Bing. Both born in 1958, they are also turning 58 this year. I do not know any other couple who are still as strong, active, updated with fashion and young-looking as my Mommy and Daddy.

Both working for the government, they’ve rarely gone to leisure trips while we were growing up. Whatever they’ve spared after making ends meet went to ensuring a decent education for me and my siblings.

This trip is the first of the many rewards I and my siblings are bent on making sure they’d experience for the rest of their lives.

Fambam Roadtrip | Words and Wanderlust My name is Rain. As the first born and only girl, I get to make the rules. Also, I pay for everything (laughs!).

Having had the privilege of traveling a sizeable chunk of South East Asia and Oceania, it is my aim to lure the fambam into a life of adventure and self-discovery, one destination at a time.

I still have the rest of world on my list. By training the army in my household this early, I might have the chance of walking the length of the Camino de Santiago with my parents or hiking to the remains of Magic Bus 142 with my siblings. I am positive, it all begins on this trip.

leoIf I were to enumerate all the people that I love, my brother Leo, has and will always be number one. If I think back of the first days I learned of fun and happiness and victory, all those were with my brother beside me. He was the first member of my team; president of my fan club. He was (still is) my shield; always strong, against a childhood full of bullies.

It is only imperative that in this rare chance that I am more able, my brother will be spoiled rotten.

jan

Our youngest, Jan, is a copypaste version of myself. He is driven, passionate, intellectual and takes no bullshit. He is reckless and impulsive at times, too, which often gets him into trouble. But like the secret trait that I thought was unique to me, it appears that my brother also has a knack of turning things around to get himself out of trouble, almost as fast as he got in. In vernacular, magaling lumusot.

I mentioned he’s reckless right? Well, it looks like he is quitting work in order to make time for this trip. (Peace, Mom and Dad!)

janine

Janine has never been to anywhere. At least, that is my brother’s appeal to pity so I will allow his wife to miss work and join the road trip. But in all fairness, out of all of us, this brave girl, has gone through the darkest times in the past year, having lost her mom around the time when she was just beginning to attain her dreams.

Despite all, Janine was able harness inspiration from the toughest times in her life to slay victory after victory, school and career-wise.  For this reason and more, sending this warrior to a month-long adventure is nothing short of fair return.

yumi and yzza

The babies in the family, Yumi and Yzza, are the stars of our family adventure. For years, I have been sending them postcards from all of my travels, aiming to plant the seeds of vagabonding. Their parents are unaware of this: but I will do everything in my power to brainwash these two to backpack as soon as they learn how to commute.

Who knows, I might be able to stuff one of them into my luggage to bring home to Australia. *evil grin*


About this Trip

The past months have been a time of conquests: of reaping what were sown in the years prior. After years of pressing on, we, as a family, finally had time to breathe. My siblings have completed university, we’ve renovated our family home and I was able to buy my dad his dream car.

But it wasn’t all roses. Amidst the victories of the past year stood my mom’s cancer diagnosis. But we did not waver. If anything, it only validated what we’ve always known all along: WE’VE GOT EACH OTHER’S BACK.

To celebrate the completion of my mom’s chemotherapy and radiation sessions, our family is going to embark on a month-long roadtrip to select destinations in Visayas and Mindanao in the Philippines.

Please click on the Fambam Roadtrip widget on the side bar to follow our (mis)adventures!