EXPLORING THE NORTH: BANAUE, BUSCALAN & SAGADA [2020.01.16-19]

Banaue has always been in my bucket list. I know I always start my entries this way but it’s true. And I’m happy to be crossing them off one by one. This time, I didn’t have to research this because we joined a weekend tour organized by Tripwire Travels. The tour we joined was a 3D2N trip to Banaue, Buscalan, and Sagada. Banaue is just a side trip so I still kind of want to do this on my own in the future. We spent overnight both in Buscalan and Sagada, and just a few hours in the morning in Banaue.

We left at 10pm on a Thursday night for us to arrive in Banaue at 6am on Friday morning and commence our 3D2N trip. The meetup was at Eton Centris in Quezon Ave, and to avoid traffic, I booked an Angkas. I was early. I left the house at 7:30pm and I was there an hour later. The meetup time was 9pm, so I had a lot of time to have dinner at McDonald’s. My co-workers and friends arrived a few minutes before the departure time, so we got in the van quickly and went our way. I didn’t really get to sleep much in the van. I think just over an hour before we got to the first stopover. We had a lot of stopovers, but it’s understandable because the driver needs a break from driving from time to time. The music was also playing quite loudly the entire time, and he was talking over the radio with the driver from the other van, so it was a bit loud as well. To explain: We were convoying with another van from the travel agency. It was also quite nice to stay up because it was my first time to go there so I was curious about the route. I’ve never passed through Nueva Vizcaya in all the time I went up north, so it was nice to go that route.

BANAUE

We arrived in Banaue while it was still dark, it was before 6am, so we were able to see the sunrise! We had breakfast at Garden Snack Haus and Restaurant, and they also have a viewpoint. The food is a bit expensive, the silog meals range from PHP130-190, but that is kind of expected if you are in a tourist attraction. I had a bangsilog which is dabasilog on the menu (daing na bangus, get it?). LOL. We had our breakfast, then went our way to the view deck. There is a small fee that you need to pay, I think it was just PHP5. You can also rent some headgears that you can use as you take photos at the rice terraces. The time we spent at the Banaue Rice Terraces is too short, and the sun was not out of yet when we left. We were out of there by 7am, because we need to start our drive going to Buscalan, which is still around 2 ½ hours away. The key is to get there as early as we can, so we won’t do our hike going up to the village in the heat of the noon. Can I just say that the view going to Buscalan is so freaking beautiful?! Since I was sat in front, I had a really nice view and I just kept taking videos of the mountains and the rice terraces. It’s a long, but breathtaking car ride.  

BUSCALAN

We started our hike to the village at around 10:30am, and it took us about an hour to get to the Buscalan Tattoo Village. We had several stops to rest because it was really hard to climb those stairs! I admit there were times when my heart was beating so fast and my legs were shaking. But it was so worth it.

Dami pang energy!

Bago tumawid pa-bundok 🙂

Hiking, err, resting videos HAHA

I don’t know if it was because I didn’t really get to spend a lot of time in Banaue, but I really found the rice terraces there more beautiful. This small village known for their traditional method of tattooing, pambabatok, has its own charm. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet and would like to stay signal or wifi-free for a few days, this is the perfect place. That is, if you have the energy to do some hiking. I really don’t mind this, especially during the morning when you have a foggy view of the rice terraces. It was freaking beautiful! So, since this village is known for Apo Whang-od and pambabatok, it’s almost expected that you will get a tattoo when you go here. I didn’t though – wasn’t even tempted.  The tattoo session started in the afternoon, Apo Whangod only does her trademark tattoo, which is the three dots. So if you are going to have the other designs tattooed on you, another mambabatok will do that for you. While reading about Whang-od, I learned that her apprentices are all women. The two mambabatok who went to our homestay were both women. I also learned that she was never married. I guess it is true that if you are never married, you will live a long life. Charot!

Once done with their tattoos, we then went to meet Apo Whang-od and wait for their turn to get her signature tattoo. I guess I was just a bit disappointed about some of the tourists. Some people just don’t know where to draw the line. My friends decided to not get Apo Whang-od’s signature tattoo because it was already dark. Normally, they can continue the next day but during the weekend we went, there was a wedding in the village so Apo Whang-od would not be doing tattoos. Also, we waited until the last group was gone before we could take our group photo with Apo Whang-od. Turns out, her house was just right next to where the tattoo session was being done so we helped her get home before going back to our homestay.

Since I didn’t have to wait to get tattooed, I took a nap in the afternoon LOL. We also spent some time socializing with our tour-mates, who we found to be cool. We bonded easily and shared our fondness for food and the delicious unlimited coffee. By the time we left Buscalan, we were no longer 2 groups and 2 couples, but one whole, big group. I didn’t really get to sleep much during the evening so I woke up early to get a shower and waited for someone to wake up so we can get breakfast, haha. Our tour guide took us to the rice field, and to go around the village. Everyone was up early as well to start preparing for the wedding. Other tourists are gearing up to leave the village, and new people are starting to arrive as well. We left the village at around 9am, and I must say that it was easier this time around! I think it only took us 30 minutes this time. We made a stop at the sign and took a group photo.

Post-hike videos

SAGADA

The ride going back was, of course, as beautiful. It’s another 2 hours from Buscalan to Sagada. We made our way back to Bontoc, and then went to Sagada. We had lunch first at Sagada Hub, then went on to our little town tour. One couple in our van, only signed up for the Banaue-Buscalan arc of the trip, so they are going to take the bus back to Manila. While our driver helped them get their tickets, we spent some time at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, because it’s also in the same area as the Echo Valley, which houses the Hanging Coffins of Sagada. I’m so glad that our driver got us a tour guide! (I am not sure if it’s a requirement if you want to enter the Echo Valley.) It was nice to learn so much about this place, and the traditions of Igorots. The Hanging Coffins is definitely unique. Upon checking, some ethnic groups / people in China and Indonesia have this tradition as well. I was definitely interested in the eligibility to get buried in the hanging coffins. Apparently, you must be a full-blooded Igorot and your death should be natural (due to old age), and you have to have left behind relatives. We also learned about this tradition they have about lighting a fire using firewood instead of candles on Nov 1.  When we got there, we saw a lot of coals (leftover burnt wood) so our tour guide explained that to us. It is called “panag-apoy”, and she said that it started during a period when people didn’t really have a lot of money, so they used wood instead of candles. Our tour guide had a lot of stories, and I learned so much from her. She also made our trek enjoyable by asking us questions and cracking a joke from time to time.

Lunch!

Beautiful church 🙂

After that tiring trek (there were a lot of stair steps!!), it was time for caving. Only 4 people in our van decided to do caving. My group and the couple with us decided not to do it. The couple went directly to the lodge with our driver, while we asked to be dropped off at Gaia Café. Ok, I watched That Thing Called Tadhana but I really don’t remember this anymore. LOL. This is quite far from the center of town, it’s closer to the caves, so if you don’t have your own car, prepare to walk back to town. There is a treehouse, but It was being renovated when we went so, we were able to just go to the restaurant downstairs, and the rooftop. You still can see the beautiful rice paddies from there so don’t fret. We were there for merienda so we ordered iced coffees, milkshakes, cookies, and camote fries. The cookies and camote fries were super delicious, I really enjoyed the camote fries! The drinks were really good, too. The service is a bit slow, but you won’t really get bored because the view around is super beautiful and I’m sure one would take some time taking photos. And they have books, go ahead and read a book while waiting for your food!

Saw this on the way back!

We planned to walk to our got distracted by many things along the way. We passed by the Sagada Lemon Pie House, and we were just supposed to ask for the operating hours – which I found out through Google. But then decided to go inside and try their famous lemon pie – it was Carez’s treat! Ok, it lived up to the hype because it was delicious!!! I like it!

YUM!!!

We also passed by several souvenir shops and when Carez had to return to one because she forgot something, Anj and I got distracted by wine. There was a small stall by the side of the road, and it’s like an honesty system. You get your cup of wine, and then you leave your payment and your change (if you need any). We were really just interested in that and the taste, of course, so we were surprised when it actually tasted amazing!!! We asked our friends to taste it as well and they thought it was good, too. We went back to the place and found out that there is actually a winery at the end of that alley called Piitik Wines. We ended up buying a bottle each, I brought home a bottle of grapefruit wine. We ended up not going to the lodge because our driver told us they were going out for dinner at 7pm. We ended up going back there and just drank some wine at the wine bar. They have an outdoor wine bar, the owner also turned on the fireplace for us. It was an amazing experience. When I went to Sagada, I didn’t think I’d be spending a few hours drinking local wine by the fireplace. I totally recommend this place, all wines (except the guyabano one) are sooooo good!!! Please come visit if you ever find yourself in Sagada.

We were supposed to have dinner at Sagada Brew, but we realized that their service was super slow, and we’d probably end up waiting for our food for hours, so we decided to go to another restaurant. We went back to that restaurant beside Piitik Wine, it’s called Woodhouse Restaurant. I wasn’t really that hungry, but all they had were silog meals, so I still ordered a rice meal. I was planning to just have soup at Sagada Brew, and they didn’t have that in Woodhouse. After dinner, we had to walk so far in the SUPER cold evening trying to look for our van. We were a bit pissed at our driver, but all’s well that ends well. We eventually found them and finally got to our lodge.

We were checked in at Ligaya’s Cottages, which is really beautiful. It is far from town, it’s 1.6km from the center, so honestly, I don’t think we could’ve walked there like our initial plan. LOL. Our cottage is quite big! When you enter the door, there is a common area, where they spent the night drinking and playing games – I didn’t because they were drinking Emperador HAHA. Also, we had an early call time the next day. And then you have two ladders on each side going up to each room. It has two rooms, one for our group and another for the other group and the couple. There are two bathrooms as well so it’s perfect for a group of 12 people. But really, the rooms are huge so it can probably fit more than that, you just need extra beddings. Then, you have an amazing view of the mountain from outside. I wish I took photos! This is one of the most interesting rooms I’ve stayed in. If you have a car or won’t mind staying far from town, this is a nice play to stay in.

We had a long day in Sagada, and was surprisingly filled with activities, but we also had an early day on the last day of our trip. We woke up at 3:30am. I personally didn’t have enough sleep, so I was a bit irritable that morning. LOL. We were picked up by our jeep at 4am to go to the jump-off point of Marlboro Hills. We had some time to have breakfast, there is a stall selling lugaw and champorado, the prices are steep but that’s what you would expect from a tourist attraction – it’s nothing new. Complaining would be pointless. Just don’t eat and get hungry along the way if you don’t want to pay. LOL. I enjoyed my champorado mainly because of the rice they used. It was so good! One thing I regret is that I didn’t buy a stick. At that time, I thought that if I was able to get to Buscalan Tattoo Village, this is easier. IT WAS NOT.

See, according to our itinerary, Marlboro Hills is for everyone, Blue Soil is optional. But no, Marlboro Hills AND Blue Soil became both mandatory and we were walking for 5 hours of our lives. That endless walking from Marlboro Hills to Blue Soil is so fucking tiring. At some point, I wanted to give up, but it was not an option! If I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed longer at Marlboro Hills and waited for the sun to rise beyond the clouds. Sure, the sun has risen but it was very cloudy in the morning, but when we left, there was bit of light peeking from behind the clouds so I feel like, had we stayed longer, I think the view would’ve been so much nicer. It was cold that morning, it was 13 degrees when we reached Marlboro Hills and started waiting for the sunrise. I was wearing a heattech (it was extra warm, too!) shirt, thermal leggings, and wool socks but I was still freezing!

Waiting for the sunrise

The cold really bothered me LOL

After many hours of walking, complaining, and snacking along the way, we finally reached Blue Soil at around 8:30am. Oh yeah, there is a snack station in between, where they serve delicious crispy vegetable lumpia. I couldn’t stop eating those! Anyway, back to Blue Soil. Our guide told us to take photos from the sides only because if you go in the middle, it will destroy the color in the long run. But as usual, some people just don’t fucking care. Either they weren’t informed or sadyang pasaway. Let’s be responsible tourists, that should be mandatory. We are just visiting, and we shouldn’t be out here destroying their land. The walk back to the other end was still quite long and I was literally just dragging my feet at this point. I was freaking tired. Blue Soil Hills is 16km away from Ligaya’s Cottage. I don’t know where the jump-off point was to Marlboro Hills but let’s say that was 1km from our cottage, more or less I walked 14-15 km that morning. I will never do that again. LOL.

We were given some time to rest and prepare upon getting back, so I took a few minutes of nap. I was hella tired. I didn’t bother taking a shower because we were just going home anyway. I packed my stuff and stayed in bed until it was time for us to go. Nobody really wanted to go to La Trinidad anymore, so we decided to leave later than scheduled, and went straight to Bontoc for lunch. After lunch, we went our way back to Manila. We made a stop somewhere in Nueva Vizcaya for dinner, and then we were back in Eton Centris at around 11pm.

It was a short yet activity-filled couple of days. Enough of that – definitely going back to my chill vacation days. HAHA! I must say that while Sagada is like a more chill version of Baguio, with very interesting rock formations everywhere, my favorite place we went to was Buscalan. Man, that foggy rice terraces view in the morning was superb.

 

Talk to me~