Philippines Travel: Eating my words

All that stuff I said yesterday about making plans and routes through rapids and being prepared and stuff? All that pocket wisdom from this World Traveller? All those insights about how to do it, etc?

Just forget it. Throw it right out the window. What the hell do I know, anyway?

Today, I fell off my itinerary from the moment I got out of bed…I launched myself into the rapid, blind…without any Plan A or Plan B or any knowledge of anything, and it turned out to be the best day of traveling in a very, very long time.

Last night, when we arrived in Santiago City and I didn’t have enough for the fare, the incredibly kind bus driver and assistant accepted P200 from me instead of the actual fare of P250, which was all the money I had on me. In my defense, I left Vigan with plenty of cash, but after all the bus rides, tricycle rides, the beach house expenses, I had budgeted enough cash to get to Tuguegarao and to find an ATM, but plans changed.

Anyway, my ex-schoolteacher/self-appointed mom/friend took it upon herself to guide me to an ATM and then an upscale hotel across the street, where she stood there with such a self-satisfied grin that I was too self-conscious to NOT check in, even though it was over my budget. But I rationalized it would be great to have a nice sleep in a comfy mattress, and a nice hot shower in the morning (Filipino guesthouses generally don’t have hot water! You have to pay extra for them to deliver a bucket of hot water to your room before you shower) before I set out in the morning to find the van to Sagada.

As for the nice comfy sleep and hot shower….I ended up with neither. About 2 am, I woke up with my arms burning. I was getting chewed alive by no-see-ums! I have no idea where they came from, but there they were and for the rest of the night it was a battle between hiding under the covers, where it got too hot and humid to relax, or just getting what sleep I could before I woke up and had to hide from them again.

Needless to say, when the alarm went off at 8am, I was not really in a rested mood. So after a few dozen ‘snooze resets’, I ended up getting up at about 9, and hopping into the nice tepid shower. I waited and waited for it to heat up, but it never did. Eventually, I just took the plunge and had (yet another) cold shower, and got dressed and headed out.

The lure of a McDonald’s breakfast from next door was too much to bear, so after an Egg McMuffin and coffee, I flagged a tricycle and asked him where to find the van to Sagada. He said “hop in!”, but unfortunately, the tricycles in Santiago look a bit different than the ones in Pagudpud….there is a cover over the driver’s seat so there is no room for me to sit behind him. As a result, we I ended up testing out about a half dozen different tricycles until I could find one where I could actually somewhat fit inside, and off we went.

It took about 15 minutes to find the right bus station, where we learned that the Santiago-Sagada bus had just left about 30 minutes earlier.

So now I was on my own. I had not made ANY contingency plan for going into the mountains from this route, as I did not want to end up stranded in Bagabag or riding on the roof of a jeepney, but suddenly that’s what I was facing. I didn’t know the bus or jeepney schedules, the towns along the route, where the guesthouses were, the distances or times involved…nothing. But there was no alternative plan, so we roared off to find a bus to take me to Bagabag junction.

I got on one of the 5-star buses, and two hours later the driver announced “Bagabag!” and off I hopped. It wasn’t as abandoned and desolate as I expected….there were some stalls and shops and it looked like any small town in rural Philippines, and I figured I might even be able to find a raincoat there, since the skies were looking ominous.

But just then, and I mean within 15 seconds of having hopped off the bus, a jeepney roared up and the driver (who had a great gear-grinding, Moma spitting, IMG_7378‘road cowboy’ aura about him) said “Where do you want to go? Bagaue?” I said “No, Bontoc” and he said “I’ll take you to Langawe, you can get another jeepney to Bontoc from there.” Well, miracle of miracles…his passenger seat was low enough that I could sit and not have my head bash against the roof, so I hopped in and off we went. Because of the low windscreen, I only had a view of the road right in front of the jeepney, but at least I wasn’t bent over double or scrubbing my head bald. Behind the driver was a very friendly guy and the three of us chatted amicably the whole way up there, and when we got to Langawe, the driver dropped me off right in front of a used clothing store!

I went in, and quickly found a very nice quality raincoat and a heavy wool pullover (for $2.50 total), and sitting right there was another Jeepney with a sign for Banaue, where the rice terraces are, halfway to Bontoc. The driver said he left in 15 minutes, and we would arrive in Banaue at about 3 pm. From there, he said, it was about 4 more hours to Bontoc, so I might want to consider getting a guesthouse in Banaue for the night. And lo, and behold…sitting right beside him on the passenger seat was a nice older American woman who said “I run a guesthouse in Banaue. Why not stop over and check it out…rooms are cheap and clean, and there are plenty of backpackers.”

Since there was no room on the passenger seat, I climbed up on the roof, put on my wool shirt and rain/windcoat, got settled in, and the jeepney started up the hill.

For the next two hours, it was HEAVEN! The view was magnificent….clouds hugging the mountain tops, jungle crowding in from the side, precipitous cliffs falling away to a river valley and rice terraces…just amazing. And every time we went past a house with a child, their face would split into a huge smile and wave. The youths would smile, and the adults would nod. It was just so soul satisfying to ride up there on the roof, through the twisty mountain road…like a magic carpet…that I was genuinely disappointed when we arrived in Bagaue.


So now I sit, looking over the fantastic view with a cold San Miguel, chatting with other travelers from Italy, France, Israel and Spain, ready to explore this little tourist town, and tomorrow we have arranged a van to take us to Sagada. But I might bail on the bust to ride on the roof of another jeepney.

Oh, and the guesthouse has HOT WATER!


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