Responsible Traveling

Sagada's-RealityCredits: Papers by Splendid Fin 4ever Swirls and Now is paper in green; The Design Girl paper 1; Elements from Scrap Matter’s Life Little Surprises: leaf and flower by Scrapmuss; frame by Gwenipooh Designs; Splendid Fin Now is Striped ribbon

My first entry to Sagada was in 1994. I was instantly drawn to it because it reminded me of a TV series set in Alaska that I love. Remember Northern Exposure? Rustic town, log cabins, lots of trees, hilly and winding roads, cool weather, sunflowers, indigenous people… well, it doesn’t snow in Sagada, but you get the drift. But more than that, it had caves, waterfalls, rice terraces, lakes and green pastures too. It has become my haven of rest, my respite when the going gets tough in the metro. I’d frequent it through the years.

St-Mary'sUnobstructed view of St. Mary’s Episcopalian Church back then.  1997.

Back in the days when going to Sagada entails eight to ten hours of (no air conditioning) bus ride and two very bumpy, dusty jeepney rides because you dare not subject your car to the condition of the road (fit for a 4×4 only) leading up to Sagada. Inaccessibility kept Sagada away from the crowd. You had to adore the place to keep going back or even attempt a visit back then.

Walking-to-Lake-DanumWalking to Lake Danum.  1997.

Back in those days, we’d walk everywhere. Sumaging Cave, Lake Danum, Kiltepan, Echo Valley, except for Bomod-ok Falls, where we’d take a jeep to the jump off point to the village of Fedelisan. I remember my first attempt to the falls—muddy and slippery and scary.

narrow-path-to-the-falls
The terraces were narrower then unlike the wider cemented walkways of today (done for the tourists in mind).

Fedelisan-terracesSome paths only had rocks to step on. That was scary.

Back in those days, there was no way to book a room in advance. We’d take a chance and stay wherever there was room. We’d take cold showers because we didn’t know that they sell hot water by the pot for 10 pesos. Crazy, I know. But those were the best times.

The way to Sagada has gotten so much easier because the roads are paved now. Visitors tripled, probably quadrupled over the years. Accommodations of all sorts have sprouted, eateries too. Subtle changes I didn’t mind at all. I actually loved the new additions until my haven of rest started to morph from a tranquil, laid-back escape into a noisy, car-packed town. I now become nostalgic of what Sagada used to be and desiring the old one back.

IMG_7145Basura and problema  naming ngayon (we now have a problem with trash),” says friend and guide Fabian. In the many years that travellers (mostly foreign and local backpackers) have come, trash had never been an issue until recently.

And that recently is when the Filipino hit flick, “That Thing Called Tadhana” unwittingly made Sagada an “in” thing.   Nothing wrong with that but sad to say, many of new visitors are irresponsible tourists leaving not only their footprints but also their trash behind.

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I have yet to understand their psyche but I sense a lack of respect for nature and the surroundings. While waiting for the sunrise in Kiltepan (which by the way was packed with perhaps 200 people taking “selfies”that morning),

crowd-in-Kiltepan

taking-selfiesI’d hear words like “Bet ko nandito parin tayo ng 7 o’clock” (bet you we’re still here by 7 o’clock), like the sun will never rise.

sunriseSana natulog nalang tayo” (we should have just slept in), one said before leaving because the sunrise wasn’t spectacular.   Folks, the sun will rise, that’s for sure but life does not promise dramatic ones every day.   I tell myself to chill because people think differently but how do you explain this one— “Pinaasa lang tayo ng sunrise” (in essence, it means – the sunrise led us on).   Really? Like nature owes you?

I always encourage people to travel because it is enriching. Depending of course on how one takes a trip, the experience can be priceless. But, we need to change our travel habits and be responsible travelers, to be responsible enough to properly dispose of our trash, respect local tradition and most especially their environment. I hope one day we learn to be just that.

‘Responsible travel’ means assessing our impact on the environment and local cultures and economies – and acting to make that impact as positive as possible. – Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet

Begnas: A Ritual for Good Harvest

Happy and contented with finally being able to see up close the Panag-apoy, witnessing another festival is, what I would like to think of as, a bonus.

a-few-days-ago-2Walking to town from Ex-Mayor Killip’s house, which we rented for our stay, we saw these men in traditional Igorot clothes.

Former Sagada Mayor Tom Killip invited us to watch their ritual for a good harvest if we have time before heading down. Of course, we have time, we will make time.

dancing-2

Deeply rooted in culture and tradition, the Kankanaey community of Sagada celebrate a Rice Thanksgiving ritual that follows the cultural calendar of the Igorot. The dates of the Begnas are usually decided by the tribal leaders via age-old omen and signs and, therefore, have no fixed dates.elder

It is generally held to mark the different agricultural cycle—pre- planting or land preparation, planting and harvest—and apparently happens three times a year, loosely in March, June and November.

We were advised to be there early so not to disturb their celebration. Being early has its advantages.vantage-point

From our vantage point, we were able to watch the celebration up close without being in the way.gathering-in-the-dapay

Arriving in traditional clothes, men and women from different barangays gather in the hosting dap-ay.to-the-patpatayan

It starts with a group of men in a single file going off to the rice fields to sacrifice a pig on sacred ground the community calls patpatayan.practicing

Meanwhile, the men left in the dap-ay started to perform their traditional dances, not to entertain us (but perhaps themselves) but that we were.   After a half an hour perhaps, they came back, still in single file, to the dap-ay with the pig divided into pieces. The ceremony ends with everyone participating in the dance and the pieces distributed to each community.

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pig-distribution

I am honored to have seen this tradition and was well worth setting our trip back for a few hours.

I leave you with more photos of the celebration:

a-few-days-ago

dancing-4

dancing

Panag-apoy: A Sagada Ritual

In Sagada like the rest of the country, All Saint’s Day is the day they gather together and remember the departed. families-gather

But while it is common to light a candle or two, the indigenous community of Sagada, instead burn wood from old pine, locally known as “saeng”.

lighting-the-saeng

The Panag-apoy, as the Kankanays call this ritual, was an event I had wanted to witness since I learned of it many, many years ago.   Not for lack of trying but victorious, I never was until two years ago. The threat of rains, I thought, would once again thwart the gathering as it did in my previous attempts.

sun-showing

But lo and behold, the sun came out on that 1st day of November and finally allowed this curious spectator a glimpse of this unusual ritual.

A ritual that’s been practiced since the 1900s and is not purely indigenous. It is a combination of Anglican rites, influenced by the teachings of American missionaries, and the Igorot culture. St.-Mary's

It starts with a liturgical service at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

priest-blessings

Followed by the blessing of the saeng and the tombs. And as the priest moves around, one by one the saeng gets lighted and laid by the tomb.

bonfire

ablaze

By day’s end, the Sagada cemetery behind St. Mary glows in the dark. And truth be told, it is a surreal sight to behold.  
glowing-in-the-dark

Like me, many go to witness, document or to just experience this amazing tradition unique to the northern Kankanays.

spectators-wait

more-spectators

 

How Time Flies…

Has it been a year already?  According to WordPress, I made 23 new posts this year.  Really?  Only 23?  That’s about 2 posts a month, and half of what I posted in 2012.  Not good at all.  I can’t say if I will do better than last year, but I can at least promise to strive for it.

2013 was pretty good to me—in both the travel and work scene.  In the travel category, it has been a cultural feast near and far with Morocco, most definitely, topping the list, followed by Spain and Portugal.  But not to be outdone are some of the places close to me.  Here’s a glimpse of how I spent my 2013, many of which I still owe a post so please stay tune.

2013And with this, I wish you all a year of greater adventures and good health.  Cheers!!

Spelunking

Many, many years ago, 1994 I think it was, we made a day trip to Sagada from Banaue.  We found ourselves a guide and he suggested that we do the caves.  That was 18 years ago, I was not the same person I am today.  I hesitated, “I’ll stay in the jeep”, I told my friends.  They looked at me, “that’s a 3-hour wait”.  “But my shoes (a trekking boots) will get dirty”, I said.  Bewildered, they just looked at me and started walking down the steep stairs leading to the opening of Sumaging.  A friend stayed with me but when the last of them disappeared from our sight, she convinced me to do it as she has already decided to go for it.  Long story short, I gave in.

Slippery step after slippery step, I was cursing.  “I will never EVER listen to you guys again”.  But at least I didn’t cry like one of our companions.  I was too angry to cry.  Yes, it was terrifying, especially for a first timer.

But it gets better as you walk pass the guano covered rocks.  Yes again, those rocks aren’t only slippery, they’re stinky as hell too.

As we walk those boulders with only a gasera (gas lamp) lighting our way, I would imagine slipping and falling into a deep pit – for all you know, it ain’t that deep but the surroundings were pitch dark so imaginations can get wild, believe me.

At a certain point, we were asked to take off our shoes.  Well, at least my (trek) boots won’t get wet, I thought.  But my next worry though was how on earth are we to manage those slippery rocks barefooted.  Best. Thing. Ever.

The pumice-like rocks had enough traction that your feet practically stick to those boulders.  Amazing.

Still cursing though as we not only rappel up and down to get to other chambers, we had to step on our guides too, if no other options will do (shoulders or thighs lang naman).

Beautiful stone formations with names like King’s curtain, pig pen, pregnant woman, rice terraces formation etc. are found in those chambers.

It was definitely the saving grace of this “craziness”, truth to tell.

Recounting our adventure that evening, I started with “Next time we do this again, I will…”, they all looked at me, “I thought you will never EVER do this again?”  Oh well.

I was somewhat true to my word, I never entered Sumaging since.  Not saying though that I haven’t done Cueba de Oro, San Carlos, Sierra, Baggao caves since that fateful day.  Unbeknownst to me then, Sumaging would be my intro to the outdoors and life has never been the same since.  Although caving or spelunking, as they call it, will never really be a favorite activity but if push comes to shove, I’ll do it.  Anything for camaraderie.

Fast forward to 2005, I heard of the Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.  Curious and not wanting anything new to pass me by, I ventured once more to the uncomfortable with friends in tow.

We started early as this would take us 4-5 hours, they said.  More experienced this time, it wasn’t as daunting but to say it was challenging might be an understatement.

Not recommended for the faint of heart or the inexperienced.  That said, many of the friends with me that day had never experienced Sumaging or any caves for that matter… so who am I to discourage.  Did they ever enter another cave?  No.

The obstacles that we went through would consist of rappelling down small openings with the use of ropes – squeezing and contorting sometimes,

sitting on our butts and inch our way down if ropes were unavailable, hugging rocks,

walking along narrow ridges with only a rope to hold on to –this I can guarantee are steep cliffs and falling can be fatal, and a lot of listening and following (mostly the guides’ instructions).

Halfway and nearing Sumaging, the chambers would have icy cold pools where one can take a dip or rest on the banks.

Like Sumaging, Lumiang is beautiful, breathtaking even but unlike Sumaging, it can really test your limits.  A bragging right of sort, me think.

Would I do it again?  Perhaps.  I always believe though that the first time is always the most memorable.  It stays vivid in your memory like it was yesterday.  I remember more my first descent on Sumaging 18 years ago than the more recent Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.

Early this year, I accompanied friends to Sumaguing.  These friends of mine have never gone into a cave ever.  It was as I remembered it but less intimidating – I didn’t have to step on anyone’s shoulders, to say the least.

I didn’t push Lumiang… Sumaging was bittersweet for them – challenging yet a source of pride for finishing.  Exactly my sentiments each time – Sumaging or Lumiang.

Useful Tips:

1.  Aquasocks or river shoes proves best inside the cave.  I used my Five Fingers on my last trip and I didn’t have to take them off.  But sandals are good too.

2.  Wear quick drying shirts. Rash guards would keep you warmer.

3.  Never go in the cave without a guide.  Register for a guide at the Tourist Information Center at the Municipal Hall.

4.  Best is to bring headlamps and helmets (for Lumiang).

5.  Water and towel is likewise advised.

6.  Always follow your guide’s instructions.  They know best.

Random Travel Snaps: Threatened Heirlooms

Upland palay (unhusked rice grains) left on the road to dry —  somewhere between Kiangan and Banaue, Mt. Province.

Kalinga Unoy Sun Dried Rice – Red heirloom rice from the terraced fields of the Philippines.

Kalinga Unoy is a rusty-red, speckled colored rice grown with organic methods on ancient terraces in the Philippines, then naturally sun-dried for three days.

Cook Kalinga like you would other rice. A delicate, sweet, nutty aroma lifts off it when it’s cooking and follows right through to the flavor of the finished dish. Great as a side or even as a focus of the meal. Its aroma and flavor will get you excited, I guarantee.  

~ As described on Zingerman’s Mail Order, an on-line shop

Kalinga Unoy, Ulikan Red, Tinawon Fancy, Tinawon White – these are some the varieties of traditional upland rice grown in the Cordillera region, cultivated by their ancestors for hundreds of years.  For generations, planting, cultivating, harvesting of rice have been the foundation of their culture.  But in the last decade or so, both the terraces and the indigenous culture have been slowly losing its durability.  The century old rice terraces are gradually deteriorating brought about by man’s carelessness, disuse and the changing weather. The terraces are too steep for machineries and the absence of which makes terrace farming back-breaking and hard.  It has lost its appeal to the younger generation who are leaving the mountains, abandoning strenuous farming for “greener pastures” elsewhere.

Rice supply of late comes mostly from lowland rice as upland or heirloom rice are low-yielding due to low tilling capacity.  Besides this, various problems related to changes in weather and infliction of rodents, pests and diseases, have had traditional rice farmers replacing traditional rice with high yielding, early maturing hybrid varieties.  Heirloom seeds and terraces however are considered a connection to their ancestors and the elders are anxious of losing this heritage.

Through upgraded technology provided by Department of Agriculture and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), farms in the uplands see hope of becoming self-sufficient once again.

Upland rice holds its own characteristics, uniquely ingrained through farming traditions that has been protected for thousands of years.  It has formed a niche in the world market given its distinct delectable taste and health benefits particularly from the organic conscious consumers.  Through the help of the Revitalized Indigenous Cordillera Entrepreneurs, Inc (RICE), Kalinga’s Unoy Red rice is now being sold in the US.   There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the threatened heirlooms, it seems.

Picnic In the Woods

We found our spot, laid out the mats, set up the portable table and chairs,

brought out the wine and some snacks, enjoying the open sky, the lovely weather and the great view.

It was a day spent with good friends, can’t ask for a more relaxing time.

We chatted, we slept, we ate (again), and we drank –

a perfect follow through from that wonderful morning trek.

The woods on the way to the grounds.

The Kiltepan viewpoint boasts of great sunrises and most would make their way there before daybreak – a must too, actually.

But before sundown, you’ll get a perfect view of the terraces sans the clouds and the place to yourself.  A great picnic ground for those who refuses to be stressed about getting up at 4AM and prefer to unwind before dinner.   🙂