Road Trip: Coffins, Caves and Coffee (Sagada)
Oh, the places you’ll go!
— Dr. Seuss

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.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
— Dr. Seuss

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

 We found paradise by accident when we chanced upon Batlag Falls while looking for something else.

We found paradise by accident when we chanced upon Batlag Falls while looking for something else.

 Why we like going to Westnuk -- it's cheap, accessible and not filled with tourists.

Why we like going to Westnuk -- it's cheap, accessible and not filled with tourists.

 Outreach program at Sampaloc Cove

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.


It’s opener there in the wide open air.
— Dr. Seuss

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. 

 The cutest shopskeeper along the bustling main road with shops and restaurants.

The cutest shopskeeper along the bustling main road with shops and restaurants.

 Part of the path on the way out of Inandako's area. 

Part of the path on the way out of Inandako's area. 

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare stay out? Do you dare go in?
— Dr. Seuss

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.

 On our way to grab dinner!

On our way to grab dinner!

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.

 View from  Inandako's BnB . 

View from Inandako's BnB

 We enjoyed homecooked breakfasts, unlimited brewed mountain coffee and the Echo valley view at Inandako's BnB.

We enjoyed homecooked breakfasts, unlimited brewed mountain coffee and the Echo valley view at Inandako's BnB.

Wanderer's Thoughts

First of all, in case you guys haven't noticed, the Philippines is damn beautiful - the proof is everywhere. From a driver's perspective - one who hated the journey part some time ago - the 6 hour trip from Baguio to Sagada through Halsema Highway (supposedly one of the most dangerous roads according to google) is nothing less than majestic. Six hours will pass you by so quickly. It's quite difficult keeping your eyes on the road. Maybe that's why this highway is so dangerous. Sagada is the place to go to if you want to meet people who are proud of their heritage. That alone is worth the trip - seeing Filipinos who love their own. Foreigners are all over the place, but you hear no, "hey Joe!" It's a place where people of different nationalities and cultures are treated like humans, not aliens. Food is nothing less than fresh. Greens are crunchy. Coffee is sublime. A refreshing break from food that has been in a jeepney for hours before reaching my plate and my palate. Most people talk about Sagada's caves, coffins, and coffee, but I'd rather spend my time writing about the people in this post. They are what I wish most Filipinos are like.
- Miguel

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.

 About 2/3 of our way up Pongas Falls. 5 y/o Erin walked about 90% of the way up but had to be carried by our guide when the climb got too steep or too slippery.

About 2/3 of our way up Pongas Falls. 5 y/o Erin walked about 90% of the way up but had to be carried by our guide when the climb got too steep or too slippery.

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! 

On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
— Dr. Seuss

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!

 It looks like the coffins are all for children but it's because the bodies are placed in fetal positions due to the belief that a person should exit the world in the same position that he entered it. There are interesting tidbits about the hanging coffins on this  link .

It looks like the coffins are all for children but it's because the bodies are placed in fetal positions due to the belief that a person should exit the world in the same position that he entered it. There are interesting tidbits about the hanging coffins on this link.

 The Get Lost crew for this particular trip, including our local Sagada guide Vhestre Bagni. Not in photo is my husband and photographer / cinematographer extraordinaire, Miguel Olfindo. So proud of him for taking on not just one but two hikes in one day!

The Get Lost crew for this particular trip, including our local Sagada guide Vhestre Bagni. Not in photo is my husband and photographer / cinematographer extraordinaire, Miguel Olfindo. So proud of him for taking on not just one but two hikes in one day!

 If you look up at the highest point of the hanging coffins, you'll see this rock formation which looks like an angel.

If you look up at the highest point of the hanging coffins, you'll see this rock formation which looks like an angel.

 I'd like to bring a hammock and hang out in this area with a good book and a thermos of hot coffee.

I'd like to bring a hammock and hang out in this area with a good book and a thermos of hot coffee.

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.

  Sagada Brew 's Beef Burger Steak. Meat was ok, the rice was divine! We brought home a few packs of mountain rice and cooked it the Sagada way when we got to Manila -- ratio is 3 tbsps. of mountain rice for every cup of white rice. But soak the mountain rice first in water, keep in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (better overnight) prior to cooking. 

Sagada Brew's Beef Burger Steak. Meat was ok, the rice was divine! We brought home a few packs of mountain rice and cooked it the Sagada way when we got to Manila -- ratio is 3 tbsps. of mountain rice for every cup of white rice. But soak the mountain rice first in water, keep in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (better overnight) prior to cooking. 

 At the famous  Yoghurt House . As usual, I had dessert for appetizer and well, dessert. Their homemade yoghurt is a must order (of course) and try it with chocolate chip cookies or fruits or both! No photos of the food, I think we were all too hungry. But check out some clips in the video above! 

At the famous Yoghurt House. As usual, I had dessert for appetizer and well, dessert. Their homemade yoghurt is a must order (of course) and try it with chocolate chip cookies or fruits or both! No photos of the food, I think we were all too hungry. But check out some clips in the video above! 

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.

Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
— Dr. Seuss

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.

Workaholic and multitasking momma who absolutely enjoys what she does as Executive Producer for OTT.  Has faulty memory so taking photos of almost everything is part of her everyday life.