We started 2017 with one big adventure, a trip that was in my head for years. I grew up in a family that was not inclined to take the road less traveled when it comes to trips and it was only after I got married that I started exploring the off beaten paths.
Cue in my kids who brought me back to the usual tourist itineraries, "easy" destinations for families with kids and hotels that offer amenities that make your visit more comfortable and convenient. Then I realized that I was bored and wanted to see more than the usual tourist traps.
I don't know why it took me so long to realize that kids are made of sturdier stuff and that they don't need high end accommodations when we travel. True, they love the fancy hotel rooms and the perks of staying at resorts, but they also had fun hiking to Batlag Falls in Rizal, living in the most basic of accommodations at Westnuk (trade off for the quiet and beautiful beachfront Bataan cove) and being part of an outreach program at Sampaloc Cove.
So when my parents invited us to join them in Baguio back in January, the husband and I decided to take things further and continue the journey to Sagada and Banaue after the Baguio reunion.
Stopping at Baguio gave us a break from the long drive from Makati. It took us about six hours to get to Baguio, and since the place was pretty packed, we just decided to hang out at Camp John Hay almost 90% of the time we were there.
I couldn't wait to get to the quaint and quiet town of Sagada. I used to feel that way about Baguio, but it has gotten so packed and fast paced that I feel like I'm just in a colder version of Manila. It made me feel claustrophobic.
We left Baguio at around 9:30 AM and reached Sagada around 2:30 PM. Traveling with us means lots of stopovers to take photos and the gorgeous scenery along Halsema Highway made us stop more than usual.
Sagada is a walking town so get your cardio game on a few weeks before going so that you won't huff and puff while walking up and down its roads. I love to walk -- it gives you more time to look around and take in whatever the town has to offer.
We booked rooms at Inandako's BnB which was about a 10-minute walk from the main road and parking spaces so best to have a backpack for each person instead of the usual luggage with wheels. Pack light, folks! Make sure everything you need can be carried in one go.
We all loved that our homestay was off the beaten track, away from the hustle and bustle along the main road. It was an adventure for everyone, especially the kids, every time we'd head out since there's a bit of a hike involved.
Be ready with your phone's flashlight when heading out at night because there are no light posts from the house until you hit the main road. And grab dinner early because most of the restaurants close at around 8pm with some running out of food as early as 6pm.
One of the best things about Inandako's is you get this view from your bedroom window if you're at the second floor. You get to enjoy the Echo Valley and see the hanging coffins from the house.
The kids' nanny got a bit creeped out when she realized she'll be sleeping so close to the hanging coffins, but 5 y/o Erin absolutely loved the idea. She even wanted to go hiking in the valley at night to visit the coffins.
We decided to forego the more popular spots for this trip and instead opted for something more laid back (or so we thought). We didn't go caving because our guide felt that Erin wasn't big enough to handle it and we didn't want to leave her at the homestay.
We also didn't go to Mt. Kiltepan to check out the sunrise because that's where all the tourists are (thanks to a popular local movie) - maybe we'll save that for another time. I would love to take photos of the sunrise and sea of clouds without a bunch of strangers blocking my shot.
All visitors must secure a local guide so make sure to stop at their Tourist Information Center to register, pay fees and book a guide. Vhestre Bagni, the guide assigned to us, told us that we can hike up Pongas Falls in lieu of caving since we had kids with us. The gloomy weather made the already slippery caves more dangerous and we all didn't want to risk the safety of the kids. The hike wasn't as easy as we thought but I'd love to do it again the next time we visit Sagada.
Even if it's just about an hour or so going up, you have to go through slippery and skinny paths, cliff edges and a gazillion steps up the mountain. Two tips for this hike --- make sure you're wearing the right shoes and DON'T LOOK DOWN. The hike was well worth it, though. It was a treat going through the village and meeting locals, seeing our own kids take on what seems like an impossible challenge of reaching the peak and witnessing our two seniors go further than us.
You could go all the way up and actually swim at the small pool made by the falls. We weren't ready for that plus the weather was too damn cold for a swim! The husband and I tapped out and decided to hang out on the rocks with the kids while waiting for our two companions (both seniors!) as they trekked higher up the boulders to reach the pool.
Our excuse? Our shoes couldn't take on the slippery rocks. The last time I wore my hiking shoes was months before the trip so the soles became brittle and quite useless. Plus the kids were wearing regular walking sneakers. It's an absolute must to invest in proper hiking shoes before going on another hike!
We were famished after the hike to Pongas Falls so we stopped for lunch at Sagada Lemon Pie House before moving on to the next activity. I ate their pies for appetizer and dessert -- it was that good. Meal choices are limited but very affordable at around Php 100-130 (approximately USD 2 to 3) per person. We noticed that service here was slower as compared to the other restaurants in the area (which were already slow by Manila standards), but we didn't mind the wait so much as it gave us a chance to rest and enjoy each other's company. Yes, no wifi and no data signal here. Haha!
Then it was off to another hike (an easier one, thank God)! We went to Calvary Hills Cemetery and the hanging coffins in Echo Valley and the hike was just 20-30 minutes away from the tourist center.
We saw some tourists shouting random whatevers when we reached a certain point of the valley to hear the echo (hence the name), but we felt that it would be disrespectful to all those buried in the area if we did the same. To each his own!
We ended our activity-packed day with something less intense as we made our way to Sagada Pottery. We were able to try it out ourselves after a brief demonstration and as expected, it wasn't as as easy as it looked. If we were left alone to do it, we would end up making unusable bowls and jars (we'll call it art). Unfortunately we weren't able to bring home what we made because baking it alone will take a few hours already. Painting it would also take a while, but they have available items for sale in case you want to bring home some souvenirs. Oh, and make sure to also try their freshly baked bread! We bought a few pieces for our trip to Banaue the next day (article coming soon).
They don't have a lot of restaurants in Sagada but even with our limited choices we weren't able to try them all. Sometimes we revert to being creatures of habit and end up eating at the same places.
This trip was a practice in patience -- we experienced barely-there wifi and data, slow restaurant service, long treks, and unhurried living in general. I think the only time we had to act fast was when we'd be in the shower. Inandako's had water heaters, but we still felt the cold air, so yes, no long and luxurious baths for us during our stay there. Some homestays or hotels don't offer hot water so if you're particular about it, make sure to check before making a reservation.
I'd love to go back and stay longer, maybe at least a week to really unplug and get away from the hustle and bustle of Manila. It's an opportunity for my kids to have some #childhoodunplugged moments because they're forced to do something else with barely-there internet. Hahaha! It's also a way to force the workaholic in me to take a break and just disconnect from everything while on vacation. I don't know why it took us so long to go to this dreamy destination, but I'm sure our return will be sooner than later.
Our 10 y/o Talia made a vlog for her YouTube channel, hope you could check it out! Yes, we exempt video / photo production from the childhood unplugged rule when on vacation. We are, after all, in the business of producing content and it's never too early to get the kids started on their internship at OTT / Get Lost.
Special thanks to Dr. Seuss and his book OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO for giving me inspiration to write this post, as well as Bryan Ocampo and Em Sulit for the travel tips! We'd also like to extend our sincerest appreciation to Opus Macchina and Peugeot Philippines for being part of this road trip. Here's a special video of the Peugeot 308 SW in action during our Sagada and Banaue trips.