Philippines Travel: Into the mountains

Got up a bit early, paid my hotel bill, and started looking for a bus, van or jeepney going to Sagada. Right away, the same tout as yesterday found me and said he had a van going to Sagada and I could sit in the front seat (I get carsick on twisty mountain roads if I cannot see outside clearly). His price…P300, but he had to find some other tourists before departure at 8:30. At about 8:40, I figured I had seen this particular movie before, so I walked up the hill to the town square and looked for vans headed out.

There were a couple 13-passenger Toyota vans with about 18 people crammed in, backpacks on their laps and windows already all steamy, so I was initially disheartened. But then I saw a high-topped jeepney with a sign on the window saying “Bontoc” (which is the stop before Sagada), and I asked the driver if I could ride in front. “Sure” he replied, “you can share with the other guy who is sitting there”, so I wedged myself in next to a Dutchman who passed his daypack into the back, and paid the driver P150. Then in the back, I saw my new friend Serge and his sister Jeanette, who were with me yesterday at the rice terraces. They were also headed to Sagada, and it was good to reconnect after our adventure the day before.


Never got his name, but this guy was a lot of fun to chat and ride with.

The drive to Bontok was fantastic. The Dutchman, who’s name I never got, was great company. We chatted about our travels, the people of the region, the places we have seen, our upcoming plans…it was really nice to have good conversation with someone since we were jammed right on top of each other in such a small space. And the scenery and views were stunning. We even passed many more rice terraces, and some very interesting looking small towns hugging the small space between the road and the cliffs.

When we got to Bontoc, the driver pulled right behind another jeepney and said “That one is going to Sagada. It leaves in 5 minutes” so we all piled out and the five or six of us who were continuing up the hills loaded our bags on the roof and started climbing in. I told Serge “You gotta ride on the roof! Trust me on this!” and the other travelers stopped, looked at each other and said “Yeah? On the roof? Can we?” Then we ALL climbed up there, got ourselves situated, and the jeepney started off.


Being an experienced roof-rider, I pulled a piece of rope out of my pocket and made a big leash where I could hold on. Then I took a nicIMG_7504e selfie with everyone behind me…they were exuberant, high fives and peace signs and big grins. Just then, the jeepney made a sharp turn, and they all realized that their hands had a more important role…holding on to whatever was around to keep from rolling off the pile of gear! My rope leash was the envy of everyone behind me, ha ha.

The scenery on this part of the drive was even better than the previous section. The river valley next to us reminded me of many streams in New Zealand, and the road carved a winding path up the side of the hills and into the heart of the cordillera. In many places, you could see where the new pavement was already cracked from what will soon be slumps, and several of the new retaining walls had already been blown out by landslides. Roads in the part of the Philippines don’t stand a chance of getting completed before they need massive rebuilding, it seems. I’m glad this is the dry season.

We arrived in Sagada after about an hour, and my first impression was not really that great. It’s a rickety old mountain town trying to be a cool hippie hangout, but not really doing it. There were hundreds of packers everywhere…mostly Koreans, it seemed, and after a first stroll through town, every single guesthouse was full! I eventually found a bare-bones room with just a bed and a single lightbulb, fortunately for only P200 (about $4.25) but I still don’t know what the buzz is about this town.

Since it was early (aIMG_7521nd I plan on leaving tomorrow morning), I set out to explore. Walking down to the lower part of town, I saw some of the hanging coffins up on a cliff side. The story is that the local people believe in reincarnation, so when a loved one dies (and can afford the sacrifices to the gods), their coffin gets hung high in the cliffs, along with a chair, so when the spirit emerges it has a nice place to sit and a great vantage point to decide where it wants to go to get reincarnated. Cute.

Then I walked further down the hill and found a cave where people were lined up to go in. At the entrance of the cave were about 50 small coffins…seems that those who cannot afford the First Class cliffside seats get to spend eternity in Business Economy cave entrance seating. I also saw some guys building a house from the top down! They were building the first floor while some other guys were beneath them, just digging the holes for the foundation.

After that, and after a nice Lemon Pie at “Lemon Pie restaurant” (of course), I bumped Serge who was STILL looking for a place to stay, then ambled back up to my guesthouse. I asked the proprietor where I might find wifi, and she said “We have wifi. I’ll get you the password”. She came back with some convoluted password…something like ‘q2xqi43s5z” and I said “why the bizarre password?”

She replied “It came with the wifi machine.”

I said “Do you want to change it to something easier to remember for you?”

She said “Yeah! But how can you do that? The wifi machine is inside the office, behind a bunch of stuff….”

I said “One minute, let me see.” So I logged in on my iPhone with the credentials she provided, went to my wifi settings, found the router’s IP address, used that to find the login window, and tried out a couple of default passwords. The third one got me in (thanks Justin!), so I went to the wireless security section and said “What do you want the new password to be?”

She was thrilled. We changed it to something much easier to remember, my phone lost wifi access, then regained it, and we were done. And the best part was…for the next half hour, I had ALL the bandwidth to myself until the other guests started trickling down to find out why they lost wifi access, and she started handing out the new password.

So I finally made it to Sagada. A little disappointing…I guess I was sort of expecting Rivendell, but at least I made it. Tomorrow, I start my route down south to find a warm, white sand beach and a couple of coconut trees to hang my hammock from for a few days. The fourth guy on our rice terrace excursion, Brian from Galway (who is already back down by Manila getting ready to climb Mt Pinatubo!) recommended a little private island off the coast of Mindoro, so I might make my way there.

Stay tuned. 🙂



One response to “Philippines Travel: Into the mountains

  1. Love the wifi story Myron…there’s nothing more aggravating than having to enter those silly extended-length passwords. Your simple kindness will alleviate an unknown multitude of agitation…ramble onward!

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