Mountain Province

It’s hard to pack one memorable journey in 1000 words and in countless photos. In fact, even if you’ve retold the same story to different people over and over, still, it won’t reward the same fulfillment that will closely match the journey itself — regardless of your brilliance in telling stories and no matter how interested and keen your audiences are to listen to your adventures. Because great experiences from a journey can only be cherished by mind and heart, but can never be retold with the same greatness.

I think this is the reason why during my dinner with a good old friend recently — and when we were recalling our trip to Sagada years back — I suddenly felt the impulse to rekindle that memorable journey I once had.  Three years passed by so swiftly but memories of Sagada still live on in me, etched between my lungs. And whenever I ponder about it, the earth’s gravity is like dragging me back to the abundant mountains and forests of the north.

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That night after dinner made some sense of difference from my previous nights. As I hopped on a bus going home from work, images of caves, peoples, hills, rock forms, and rice fields started flashing everywhere while the downpour seemed to take forever. I knew the roads would be inundated by flood again and I would be stuck in the middle of traffic jam for hours. I was trapped. But it was only my flesh that was trapped because my mind kept wandering in Sagada.

I remember Sagada.

I remember the uneasiness it brought while I was braving its winding roads. The bus traversing the Mountain Province put me two meters away from death. One mistake would make my petition Above too early. As I was holding on to my dear life, palpable cliffs pervaded every corner of my eyes. Although my heart was pumping too fast, I took the courage to look down. Great landscapes overpowered the fear I was harboring.

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This place is mine of challenges from its highest mountain to its deepest cave. One wouldn’t experience it unless he tries.  So Jessanie and I hired a guide that would assist us in our spelunking activity in two connecting caves, Lumiang and Sumaging. We were inside the caves for four hours tirelessly contorting our bodies to its fullest to survive the whole activity. Aside from a lamp that served as our source of light in the darkness, something more beaming strike us inside the cave — they are the stalactites and stalagmites in different forms and shapes. Our reward wasn’t just the works of nature we witnessed inside. After finding our way out of Lumiang cave, we had found new friends.

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I remember how easy it was to create and build friendship in Sagada. There were only two of us when we went there, but upon descending to Baguio, our company became five. We approached Mike, Trish and Faith following our cave exploration only to share expenses with for renting out vehicle and tour guides in going around the area. It never crossed my mind that strangers would soon open part of themselves to us. Stories like this are very common in Sagada, those who came there alone or in small groups bring with them a slice of new friendship when they left. I guess the affability of the locals somehow transmits to tourists; or maybe the distinct presence of serenity makes people gentler to one another.

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I remember how Sagada taught me to appreciate tribal celebrations and embrace culture. Deceased are honored and respected in this village. Residents hang coffins on mountain cliffs for they believe that possibilities of going to heaven are greater when their dead are placed on high places above the ground. Also, at the mouth of Lumiang cave are horizontally-piled small coffins. Their ancestors were buried there as protectors of the abundant forest in the area. Decades back, coffins were hanged vertically. However, in the advent and spread of Christianity, traditional burials started to be given to their departed ones.

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One way to learn the culture of a place is through its food. I remember the first time I tried Pinikpikan dish in Sagada. It was a pleasure to my taste buds and a notch better than Tinola. This popular native dish in Cordillera region is being prepared by beating the chicken until its white meat absorbs its blood. I also couldn’t forget Sagada’s flavorful yogurt. I never thought fermented milk could be that good in Sagada — something I had to go back to every day all throughout our visit.

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I remember how Sagada turned me into a tarsier when I first saw the sun sitting aboard the clouds on a chilly morning of March at Kiltepan. Waiting for more than an hour amidst the giant pine trees didn’t become tormenting for the prize after it was grand. Low temperature was swept away as soon as the sunlight inhabited the mountains. The quiet ground was also filled with voices of reverie from visitors like me. Same day, I also saw rice fields arranged in seamless flight of stairs on our way to Bomod-ok waterfalls. And the moment we reached the falls, I just stopped and took a deep breath — Bomod-ok, the big falls as locals call it, was gushing at its supreme. I had to check on my eyes again to make sure if they were still intact after seeing these outstanding views. When I was definite they didn’t fall, I quickly ran and dived onto its clear and cold waters.

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Behind its interesting history, accommodating people, and opulent nature, what I value and remember most about Sagada is the simplicity of life in the village. The unpolluted air, healthy green surrounding, bucolic environment that’s made more pleasant by the townsfolk welcoming strangers with their friendly smiles, and of course, the crispy and fresh vegetables make up the whole community as one desired place of adventure and retreat.  Sagada is like a box of treasure because anywhere you go there is something that will surprise you.

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Right now, all I have are memories and earnest faith to have repeats of this journey. I shall do this again to experience the same greatness. I want to go back to Marlboro Country because its deafening silence and blinding beauty are therapeutic. It is my favorite place in Sagada. I want to see wild horses trotting its undulating ground, enjoying their freedom as I enjoy mine.