Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop

Come morning, after breakfast, it was time to check out at our inn for our return trip to Manila. We all boarded our hired jeepney and made our way, out of the poblacion, along Sagada’s narrow, Bontoc Road which was filled with parked vehicles and people, it being market day.  

Sagada Weaving & Souvenir Shop

Past the St. Theodore’s Hospital, the traffic began to ease and we were soon on our way. We made a stopover at the Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop.  This pioneering weaving firm is one of the town’s biggest employers. Here, we got to interview Mr. Ezra Keithley Aranduque, the owner who showed us around the weaving area (his weavers were on leave, though, it being the holidays).  This venerable Sagada institution, an offshoot of the now-defunct weaving business of Lepanto Crafts established in 1968, was started in Sagada by the late Andrea Bondad (Ezra’s mother) in 1978. The cloth was originally woven from thread obtained through trade with lowlanders.

With Mr. Ezra Aranduque

Today, they produce and sell, at reasonable prices, quality products hand-woven by backstrap looms, such as backpacks, purses, hats, ponchos, shoulder bags, wallets, slippers, blankets, place mats, table runners and other products.  They also sell traditional Cordilleran clothes such as tapis (traditional-style Igorot skirts), wanes (men’s g-strings) and bakget (women’s belts with tails).  All these are also sold in select stores in Baguio City (Benguet), Bontoc, Kalinga and Apayao.

Jocie tries out a loom

According to Ezra, his weavers use traditional, intricate Cordilleran designs which consists mostly of vibrant red and black stripes on a white center panel with additional red, yellow, black and green motifs such as oweg (snakes, a fertility symbol) and tekka (lizards, a symbol of longevity) running through it.  Rivers are represented by zigzag lines, and mountains and rice paddies by triangles.

Sewers at work at the souvenir shop

The tapis, wanes and blankets are woven using 2 distinct patterns – the simpler kinayan or the more elaborate and popular pinagpagan.  They spent more than one month to produce just 28 m. of this durable and strong, handwoven fabric which has vanished from handwoven fabrics produced in the region. In 2011, the Bureau of Trade Marks of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Bureau of Patents has granted Sagada Weaving patent certificates (IPO Certificate of Registration No. 4-2009-006672) for its local design described as consisting of a diamond and 2 half diamonds forming an X design of any two colors.  The Bureau of Patents also granted Sagada Weaving (Patent Registration Nos. 3-2009-00441 to 00446) exclusive rights, throughout the country, to make, use, sell or import an industrial design which consists of  6 color combinations with diamond and X designs.

 

Finished souvenir products

Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop: Bontoc Road, Nangonogan, Sagada 2619, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0918) 927-6488 and (0919) 557-1431 (Mr. Ezra Aranduque). E-mail: weavings@sagadaweaving1968.com and sagadaweaving1968@yahoo.com.  Website: www.sagadaweaving1968.com.

Back to Sumaging Cave (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After our Bomod-ok Falls hike, we all again boarded to our hired jeepney and returned to Sagada town proper to pick up our packed lunch.  This was partaken off while on our way, down Suyo Rd., to Sumaging Cave (also called Big Cave, Marcos or Latipan Cave), another of Sagada’s popular and frequently visited attractions   Sumaging Cave has the largest chamber of Sagada’s 60 known, connected caves. 

Jandy descending down the cave entrance

My companions were slated to go spelunking there and Jandy and I gamely joined in.  We have entered this cave 15 years ago (Jandy was 12 years old then) with a lone Kankanai lady guide but we only went as far as the King’s Curtain.  With his then small frame, Jandy simply could not make it down the “curtain.”  For this spelunking tour, we still wore the same clothes we wore at the Bomod-ok Falls hike but I brought along my waterproof case for my camera.  Jocie, our tour coordinator, chose to stay behind, having been in this cave twice before.

A short briefing from our guide

Upon alighting our jeepney, we all went down a path leading to the cave’s big yawning entrance. Entering this cave doesn’t require special training or equipment but were required to register at the Municipal Hall and bring along 2 local guides with Petromax lamps.  Just like in Bomod-ok Falls, the place was crawling with tourists with the same intention as ours.  After a briefing from our guide, we all began our steep descent along the first 100 m. of the trail, the rocks made slippery by being coated with slimy guano (bat droppings).  

Having a foot spa treatment

Past the “elephant” formation, we were required to leave our shoes, slippers and sandals.  From hereon, it was barefoot trekking the rest of the way as it involved wading through water.  Along the way, we passed many  grotesque limestone formations which were given fanciful names such as “Pig Pen,” “Rice Granary,” “Giant’s Foot,” “Dap-ay,”the “Bear,” “Pregnant Woman,” “Cauliflower,””Giant Fudge,” “Frog Pool,” “Mickey Mouse” and “Alligator.” 

“Giant Fudge”
Riding the “Turtle”
Joy, Jessica and Desiree at the “Alligator” mouth

The “Dancing Hall” and “King’s Curtain” were quite impressive.  To get down the latter, which we failed to do during our previous visit, we had to use the thighs of our guides as stepping stones and their hands and shoulders as supports.  From there, we had to rappel (rope-assisted descent) down a slippery rock wall, to a cold, knee-deep underground river with crystal-clear waters.  On our return trek, we again have to rappel up as well as climb up a rope and rubber ladder.  Our tourist route took all of 2 hrs. 

King’s Curtain
Jandy finally makes it down “King’s Curtain”

Other tourists were doing the more challenging and very difficult Cave Connection, a full exploration of Sumaging and Lumiang Caves which may take 3-4 hrs.  We exited the cave all sweaty, smelly, muddied, very tired but safe.  Jandy had some scratches on his elbow from a slip but was, altogether, unhurt.  I came out without a scratch but with aching muscles from 4 hrs. of morning hiking and 2 hrs. of afternoon spelunking.  Not bad.  Not bad at all. 

 

 

Trek to Bomod’ok Waterfalls (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After our early morning sun rise tour, we returned to our jeepney and made our way back to our inn where our breakfast awaited us.  Thus filled, we made preparations for our scheduled hike to the huge, picturesque and impressive 40-m. high Bomod’ok Waterfall (a.k.a. Big Falls), one of Sagada’s most visited tourist attractions. This waterfall flows down to Amlusong Creek to join the Chico River.  Despite 2 past visits to Sagada, this would be a first for Jandy and me.  

Assembled and ready to go

Joining the hike were Ms. Jocie Dimaculangan (our tour coordinator), Ms. Diosa Diaz, Ms. Eureka Joy Bueno, Ms. Joy Tenejero, sisters Jessica and Jasmin Bez, Ms. Long Garcia, Ms. Desiree Benitez, Mr. Donald Danao and couple Lilia and Aldrin Tejada. We left our jackets and bonnets and, instead, donned hats; light, quick-drying sport shirts and jogging pants; slippers and rubber sandals.  I also wore my belt bag while Jandy toted a small backpack with our water and provisions.  We, however, forgot to put on some suncreen lotion.

The trek begins …..

We again boarded our hired jeepney and proceeded on a 20-min. drive to the Tourist Information Center in Brgy. Bangaan where we met our two Kankanai lady guides: Ms. Joanna Tumag and Ms Norma D. Padawil.  There were already lots of tourists gathered at the basketball court, the jump-off point for the trek.  As we were early, there were still a lot of walking sticks available for us to choose from for use during our hike, free of charge.  This supply would be exhausted by noontime.

Bangaan Rice Terraces

After a quick briefing by our guide Joanna, we began our trek by descending down a series of concrete steps carved along the mountainside.  During the initial part of the hike, everyone was in the upbeat and jocular mood, especially our friends Jess, Joy and Desiree.  Halfway through the hike, the heat, thirst, exhaustion and aching muscles would change all that. From afar, we could espy verdant Aguid and Fidelisan Rice Terraces, both chiseled out from an entire huge, rounded spur of a mountain, giving it the appearance of one single work.  

Traditional house in Fidelisan
The dap-ay of Fidelisan

After about 45 mins., we entered the village of Fidelisan, the oldest in town and the heart of Northern Sagada’s villages. Visitors here have to register and pay an environmental fee of PhP10.  Here, we passed by a traditional house and, beside a sari-sari store, a dapay (or ato), an all-important open communal meeting place for male elders made with stone slabs (tourists are not allowed to enter here).  Further out, we noticed a cable line system, powered by a car motor, used to transport gold and copper mine tailings.  Ingenious at best but, sadly, I’m no fan of the destruction that mining, whether small or large-scale, causes to the environment.

The ingenious cable transport system for mine tailings

From hereon, the rest of the hike would be via cross-terrace walking wherein we had to maintain our balance as we traversed a maze of rice terraces via the narrow, meandering paddy walls (locally called pilapil).  This afforded us the opportunity of observing the ingenuity of the terraces up close, including how the rocks were piled one on top of the other (those in Banaue use compacted earth); the efficient irrigation system; and the muyongs, the hydrological system that irrigates these terraces.  The paddy walls are not always open to tourists (especially during obaya or sacred holidays) as it is taboo to disturb the paddies during the weeks when the rice panicles are ripening.

Jandy traversing a pilapil

After a 1.5-hr. hike, we soon espied the top off the towering waterfalls which had a wide and deep pool.  As it was the Holy Week break, the area was packed with local and foreign tourists.   Enough light for sunbathing was still available, it still being morning, but taking a dip had to be done in stages as the water was icy cold.  Some intrepid daredevils made high dives, legs first, from a promontory just below the falls.  

We left the falls by 11 AM and retraced our steps back to Fidelisan.  By now, there were lots of tourists making there way to the falls and we had to wait many a long time for them to pass through as the paddy walls were just wide enough for one person.   It was now noontime and uphill to Fidelisan and we were gasping for breath and taking a few minutes of rest every few steps.  I was dripping buckets of sweat and ready to collapse when we reached the village.

The halohalo stand

Upon arrival, we were saved by the sight of enterprising villagers selling cool and refreshing, one-of-a-kind halohalo (PhP20/glass).  Aside from the usual sago and gulaman, they also added the unusual mango and melon bits and macaroni  with the shaved ice and evaporated milk.  From Fidelisan, we took the right trail to get to Aguid.  There, our hired jeepney awaited us to take us back to town.  

Sunrise Watching at Kiltepan (Sagada, Mountain Province)

Jandy and I were awake by 4 AM as we, as well as the rest of the group, were slated to leave, on a hired jeepney, for  the Kiltepan (named after the 3 bounding barangays of Kilong, Tetep-An, and Antadao) Viewing Tower vantage point, where we were to view Sagada’s famed sun rise. It was very chilly that early morning, so we all donned our jackets and bonnets and made sure we all brought our cameras (in Jandy’s case, his Samsung Galaxy Tablet).  Breakfast would have to wait until our return.  The jeepney ride took all of 25 mins.,   traversing the road leading to Dantay Junction, then turning left towards a winding concrete road then, finally, to Kiltepan Junction, a  bumpy shortcut foot trail leading up to the hill on the right. 

Kiltepan Peak
The sun makes its appearance

It was still dark when we arrived there and the full moon could still be seen in the night sky.  There were already a number on sunrise watchers when we arrived, some bringing along coffee to keep warm together with their cameras and tripods.  Soon, more people arrived and the parking lot was soon filled with vehicles, both private and hired.  Some enterprising Sagadans, taking advantage of the holiday atmosphere, were making a killing selling freshly-baked pastries.  

The crowd of sun rise watchers
Jandy and I watching the sun rise

Soon night passed into day and we had an unusual and magnificent bird’s eye view of layers upon layers of the terraces at Kilong and Tetep-an, right down to the river valley and the Cordillera Mountain range, with the clouds below us.  

View of the rice terraces below us

Above them are the high ridges separating Bontoc from Sagada. We can also see the remnants of a Piltel antenna tower at the 1,636-m. high summit that was struck by lightning.  Then, at the 5:50 AM mark, the sun made its glorious appearance, to the joy of the crowd who had been forewarned that early morning fog can sometimes ruin views of the sun rising.  We were lucky to see the sun rise in all its majesty.

Sagada Lemon Pie House (Mountain Province)

After dinner at St. Joe’s Cafe, Jandy, Jocie and I were still in the mood for dessert so we decided to walk, down the South Rd., to Sagada Lemon Pie House (first opened on March 21, 2008), home of the delicious lemon meringue pie.  The restaurant was quite a long way down the road, past the iconic Yoghurt House, but we did get to burn some calories along the way and work up an appetite for what’s ahead.

Sagada Lemon Pie House

Upon entry, I first enthralled by its cozy, Bohemian-inspired ambiance.  On the right are low wooden tables with woven mats and throw pillows for seats, a set-up that reminded me of the Japanese dining style.  Luckily for me and my weak knees, they did have regular tables and chairs.

The Japanese-style dining set-up
We, however, preferred the regular tables and seats

At the counter, we each placed orders for slices of lemon pie (PhP30/slice). Jocie also ordered a slice of egg pie (also PhP30/slice) while Jandy and I each had a cup of Sagada’s famous brewed Arabica coffee (PhP30/cup).  

The must try lemon pie

The super fluffy lemon pie, though you could distinctly taste the mild sourness and tanginess of the lemon curd, was somehow sweetened by the meringue on top.  Though not a fan of sour tasting food, I did like the combination and developed a taste for it so much so that I placed an order for a whole pie (PhP200) that I would take home 2 days later (Jocie ordered 2).  Our other tour companions, I would find out later, also tried it and placed orders for pasalubong.  For those who don’t like strong, sour tastes, the soft and light-flavored egg pie would be more to your liking.  They also serve the seasonal, not-too-sweet blueberry pie (available in early summer).

Sagada Lemon Pie House: South Rd., Atey, Daoangan, Sagada, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0907) 782-0360 (Mr. Joseph Daoas). Website: www.sagadalemonpiehouse.blogspot.com.

Cafe St. Joe (Sagada, Mountain Province)

Upon arrival at our inn, we hurriedly took our baths and the rested for a while.  It was now evening when Jandy, Jocie and I decided to have our first meal in Sagada so we hied off to the nearby, 2-storey Cafe St. Joe, just within the compound of the Episcopalian-owned St. Joseph Resthouse, the largest guesthouse in Sagada (it has 27 rooms and cottages). This would be our second visit at this popular tourist hangout as Jandy and I had merienda, after a hike, here in 2010.

Cafe St. Joe

Probably one of the biggest restaurants in the town, the place was packed with tourists, it being the Holy Week break and, because of this, the staff were swamped with orders.  Jocie and Jandy both ordered the tasty lemon chicken (served with generous portions of stir fried vegetables) while I ordered sweet and sour pork.  Too bad it was nighttime as the cafe is set within a beautiful garden and, being located on a hill, also has great views of the town.

Sweet and sour pork
Lemon Chicken

Cafe St. Joe: St. Joseph Resthouse, Sagada, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0928) 951-7156 (Ms. Julia Abad).

Echo Valley (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After checking in to our rooms at Alapo’s View Inn, we rested for a while then assembled at the ground floor for our guided tour of the lush and picturesque Echo Valley, one of the most popular hikes in Sagada.  Though it wasn’t our first visit (Jandy and I have visited it twice before), it would be the first for most of the group. We conveniently wore shorts and slippers and brought along our jackets, water bottle and my camera.  From our inn, we all entered the compound of St. Joseph’s Resthouse and St. Joe’s Cafe, then crossed the road to the grounds of the Anglican Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the oldest church in the Cordilleras outside of Baguio City.  Here, we already noticed the huge number of people also undertaking this introductory tour of Sagada.

Echo Valley and its famed hanging coffins

Further up the St. Mary High School gate, past the basketball court, Centennial Bell and the Sagada Cooperative Store, we climbed paved steps up to the Sagada Cemetery which has 14 Stations of the Cross and is marked with a huge cross.  I asked the guide if he knew where the burial plot of Eduardo Masferre, the famous photographer who died in 1995, was but he was just as unknowing as I was.  Well, maybe next time.  William Henry Scott, the American historian who died in 1993, is also buried here.

Sagada Cemetery
The cemetery has a fine view of the northern valley. Further up the cemetery is Calvary, the cemetery’s highest point.  From Calvary, we went down a narrow, steep dirt path to Echo Valley.  Along the way, we espied, on the left side, a 40-ft. high cliff where the Sagada rock climbing tour is conducted (PhP250/pax).  Sagada, with lots of cliffs and rock formations, is one of the few Philippine destinations that offer the fairly young sport of natural rock climbing.
 
Sagada Rock Climbing Tour
At the valley’s vantage point, some of our companions shouted out loud to hear their echo while others just admired the pleasant scenery.  From afar, we could already see 2 clusters of the town’s famed hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs.
 
Aldrin and Jandy at the vantage point
From the valley, we again made a steep hike down, to the “hanging coffins” located on large limestone cliffs at the opposite side.  The few “death chairs” (sangadil) placed next to the hanging coffins were still there.
 
It was already starting to rain when we made our way back up the valley and the path was already becoming slippery.  Our jackets, made just for cold protection, was soon soaked inside and out and we were soon drenched when we arrived at the church and sought refuge inside.  Here, we waited for the rains to subside before making our way back to the inn.

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After our lunch at Tchayapan Restaurant, we again boarded our jeepney and traveled the remaining 19 kms. from Bontoc to Sagada.  Upon arrival at Sagada’s town proper, I was surprised at the huge volume of out-of-town vehicles parked along the town’s narrow roads.  We all checked in at the 2-storey Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe.   We were to stay 2 nights here.  The inn is located about 300 m. from the municipal road, along the now concreted road leading to the next town of Besao.

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe

Like most inns in Sagada, Alapo’s is also a no-frills place to stay.  Our simple, spartan room, where Jocie (our tour coordinator), Jandy and I stayed, had just 2 beds (with an extra mattress on the floor), a table, a monobloc hair and a small wall-hung mirror.  Evening lighting was provided by a dim, low-wattage energy-saving light bulb.  Truly, no place for the luxury-minded tourist.  However, unlike many inns in Banaue, it had a power outlet where we could charge our electronic gadgets.  

Our spartan room

Bathrooms were shared and we often had to wait in line to do our morning or evening rituals.  The showers had no water heaters but, luckily, Jocie brought along a portable water heater.  The inn had a coffee shop, where we had our Filipino breakfast (choice of corned beef, longganisa or tocino  with rice and fried egg plus coffee) and could watch cable TV, and a grocery where we could buy some of our basic necessities.

Breakfast at the coffee shop 

When we felt like snacking, we just went down to the front desk where lemon or apple pie (PhP30/slice) and 3-in-1 coffee (PhP15/cup) where offered.  These we partook of while seated along the balcony which has great views of the town and the surrounding pine-clad mountains.   These views, plus its central location, made it ideal as a base for exploring Sagada’s natural and man-made wonders.  

Our view of the town from the balcony

Alapo’s View Inn & Cafe: Ato, Patay, Sagada, Mountain Province.  Mobile number (Ms. Juliet B. Medina): (0921) 327-9055 and (0918) 332-3331.

Bontoc Museum (Mountain Province)

After our stopover at Bay-yo Rice Terraces, we all returned to our jeepney for the remaining 13-km. drive to Bontoc Central.  This time, Aldrin, Donald and I climbed up the luggage rack to have an unobstructed view of the great mountain scenery.  However, I wasn’t able to take photographs as I had to hang on to avoid falling off.  Upon arrival at the outskirts of the town, we alighted and returned to the cabin.

Aldrin, Donald and I on the jeepney’s luggage rack

Upon arrival at the town proper, we made a stopover at the Bontoc Village Museum, located within the Catholic ICM Sisters’ convent and the St. Vincent’s Elementary School.  Jandy and I also visited this museum during a short lunch stopover on our way to Banaue from Sagada.

Bontoc Museum
The museum 15 years ago

The museum, structured in a way to resemble an Igorot house, was established by Mother Basil Gekiere (a Bontoc resident for 56 years, she died in 1983) and run by the Belgian ICM missionaries.  It aims to preserve a varied collection of authentic artifacts and photos reflecting the culture of the mountain tribes.  Its exhibits present a good overview of the differences and similarities between the mountain tribes in 3 well-laid out and labeled rooms, one each for the Ifugao, Bontoc and Kalinga artifacts. It consists of a group of miniature traditional houses, a collection of rocks and fossils from different parts of the Cordilleras and old photos (including some of the Igorot headhunting days).  As before, photography is not allowed inside.

Museum Ethno-Cordillera Library and Souvenir Shop

The library (with a limited collection of books) and the museum shop (which sells postcards, carved wood items and other novelties), formerly located at the museum’s basement during my first visit, is now housed in a separate building (Museum Ethno-Cordillera Library and Souvenir Shop).  Here, we met up with Sister Marcela Agang0-Ang, the new museum curator who is native Ifugao.  During our previous visit, the curator was Sister Teresita Nieves Valdez who, according to Sister Marcel, died a few years ago in her 80s.  

Sister Marcela Agang-Ang
With the late Sister Teresita Nieves Valdez

Besides the building is an outdoor museum with a replica of an traditional Ifugao village.  Here, we visited a model of a traditional Bontoc house with furnishings, a smithy and fish traps.   

The outdoor museum
The outdoor museum 15 years ago

There’s also an ato (where the council of elders meet), a ulog (where unmarried women live and a pig pen with a real, live pig inside.  The museum is now under the care of the Bontoc Diocese.  

An ulog
An ato

Bontoc Museum: Gumaang Road, Bontoc, Ifugao.  Admission fee: Php60/person.  Open daily, 8 AM-5 PM.

Bay-yo Rice Terraces (Bontoc, Mountain Province)

Upon crossing the border to Mountain Province, we made a second and final stopover at the lush green, 10-hectare Bay-yo Rice Terraces, located 18 kms. along the Bontoc-Banaue Road and 13 kms. from Bontoc Central (a 45-min. drive).  Jandy and I also made a similar stopover here 15 years ago.  Located on the southern slope of Mt. Polis, on an impressive precipice with a backdrop of mountains, it has high, fortress-like rice terracing. 

Bay-yo Rice Terraces
The drought-ravaged terraces 15 years ago

Compared to other rice terraces in Banaue, this cluster is much smaller but it doesn’t have houses or any other unsightly structures in the middle of the terraces, making it much more appealing to me. Whatever houses there are are packed on one side of a cliff, to the left of the terraces.   We can’t help be mesmerized by its charm and scenic location.  Worth some photographs, it can be seen from a concrete view deck along the road.  Jeepney drivers usually stop here but, in our case, I had to request our driver to do so.  There are public toilets located nearby.

The concrete view point
 
A sign here indicates that  this is a part of the “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras” as inscribed by UNESCO which showcases the engineering feat and ingenuity of the Igorots depicted here as master planners and astute agriculturists.