Sunday, 9 September 2012

Images of Sagada

The road to Sagada takes off from the Halsema Highway at the junction in Dantay. It zigs and zags its way up the tight bends and steep slopes winding through parts of the mountainside villages of Kilong, Tetep-an and Antadao, collectively known as Kiltepan.
The road to Kiltepan
The road to Sagada is a mere 11 kilometers from the main highway. It is only short, but long been rough and treacherous. It is very bumpy and dusty in the dry months, and cratered and eroded, sometimes washed out and closed in the wet season. Many times it had been funded for sealing with tar (bitumen). But the surface asphalt coat always seemed to be just thin enough to get washed off during the stormy months. I suppose it’s been good for some. It’s a long time coming but this road to Sagada and Besao is slowly getting concreted.
People here have waited generations for these road concreting works.
Once past the thrilling main ascent, the Sagada road enters the pine forests, winds around the hills overlooking Kiltepan, and then after a few more bends gets into town. This town of pines has got to be the worst kept secret destination in the Philippines. Of course the best kept secret destination is ________ (I guess you’re getting warm). Sagada is a mecca to lowlanders and a few foreigners. Some though are misled, even deluded, to believe that they’ll find Shangri-la or utopia here. Perhaps they’re not. Sagada boasts its caves, waterfalls, woodlands and forests, Mt. Ampukao, echo valley, the winding walkways through rice terraces in the villages...
The I-Sagada have common ancestors with the I-Chonglian. Certain oral accounts passed on through the generations, tell that the early ancestors came from such places as Ma-eng in Abra and Dallik in the north. These forebears founded villages including Fidelisan, Demang and others that now form parts of present day Sagada municipality. The Mainit people too have ancestors from Abra, Fidelisan and Belwang. The Sagada and Mainit territories are delineated on Mt Kamingmingel or Kaman-ingel in Aguid.

‘I was born on this mountain, this mountain’s my home,’ but I don’t remember much of my early times here. See I left here when I was a few days old J. Sure I’ve been back a few times, and listened to the whisper of the pines. Their whisper is now getting fainter, more like a hushed murmur.
In Sagada, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Yes Sagada is rocky and the nearest towns are hard places to live. Life is hard all around the mountains. In town you’ll see houses built on rocks and roads built through rock. (You’ll even sight a hard rock tribute to local legend Cosi the 2nd or Cosi II).
Sagada presents various pulls to her many visitors. The idealist and environmentalist, vacationer and traveller, adventurer and thrill-seeker, hippy and self-styled revolutionary, writer historian and anthropologist, elitist and artist, atheist and Christian, student and city slicker, slick smooth-talker and fixer, rambler and gamboler, gambler and pimp, joker and thief, merchant or other. They all see Sagada through the prism of their own conceptions. Often the visiting balikbayan or homesick child of these mountains regrets coming home. This mountain retreat used to be unspoiled by commercialism and modernism. But no longer. Around every street corner is a cafe or shop boasting exotic offerings from overseas or even the latest techno gadget. Sagada is not immune to the undesirable types. Characters running from the law or from their demons, those looking to do a quick fix, or offering get-rich-quick schemes, even those that come to use or abuse.
And in the midst of Sagada’s tourist rush, many a promising lad has fallen to the temptations of easy money and easy living. The dap-ay used to guide young men to adulthood and responsibility. Has the dap-ay ran its course? Is the door to traditional learning, the cultural classroom that was essential to community and society, closed for good? I am hoping not.
I haven’t got much more to say about Sagada, there’s many sources of information around and online. I’ll just let my photographic refractions do the narration.

Parts of tarred single lanes still remain, like this half-tunnel section.

Sagada town, hidden behind the blockading pines.

Main street.
Piles of timber are ready for the next house construction. These would have been sourced from some Batangan (Pine Forest) owned by a family or clan or even by the community.

The tree-lined road south of town has also been paved but is still relatively narrow.

The rice terraces of southern Sagada radiate their verdant sheen, 
while shadows cross the mountains green.

The shade of a straw shed is tempting to a huffer and puffer passing by. 
I wanted to blow the house down but I saved my breath. 
Madagdagan pa ang hirap ko sa pag-akyat sa Dagdag.

The resting place of the departed.

A young local lad explains the history and significance of his ancestors' coffins to tourists.

The dim shadow of dense vegetation beneath the road, hides the mouth of a graveyard
- a smaller burial cave.

We went exploring the bigger caves.

A tagalog couple, perhaps a tad anxious within the caverns, asked us to accompany them spelunking, but I had to visit the Queen. 'Perhaps next time' I said, as back out we hied
to catch the last outbound ride, else the Queen have my hide.
We found where the caveman lived. Nice cave, Nick, or whatever the boatman's name is.

Going back up the same road to town, and I saw some of the commercial establishments that I tried to ignore on the way down. I bought some smoked etag.

I need a harness for this. Maybe I should just do as Tarzan does.

That’s kid rock’s brother, treasure rock of sagada. 
Or maybe the brother town of little rock Arkansas.

Houses built on a rock. Their owners are wise. When I retire, I am basing myself in Ambasing. Won’t need a rockin’ chair. Instead I’ll have a chair in rock.

This thing below, which someone named “Losin Cosito”, is not like “Losin’ love” or “Losin’ lately.” This rock hard totem apparently resembles Cosito’s phallus. 
The dedication must have been from his lover. Onya Cosito. Only in Sagada.

Breaking news!
Tradition is alive and well in Sagada. Reports hot off the press, state that elders have closed down a backyard refinery plant in Fidelisan. This illegal mill, the source of contaminated waste (cyanide), had been polluting a river that irrigates the ricefields of Northern Sagada. The Kiltepan people have been tilling these their priceless heirlooms, since their ancestors first settled these mountains. The leadership unity and cooperation of the elders and officials of eastern and northern villages of Sagada proves that indigenous systems still work.
Ipeyas nan gawis!


  1. Very good write-up about Sagada. Didn't know you are from there. Baket(Inez Killip) is from there too. When we go home, my runnning route is from Na-ngo-nogan to Agid and back. Did run up to Kiltep-an & back and down to Dap-dap-panan and back once. The Agid route is nice, all cemented, my favorite. Thanks for writing about Sagada, concise, to the point and you told it like it is. Very nice pics too. I will tell the folks here to read your blog. Take care and have a good one.

  2. Again thanks Mr Joe. I may have just missed you in Sagada last May. Do you visit there every year? might follow your footsteps to Aguid next time. Yes say hi to your Sagada folk. I think I know one or two of them. cheers.
    ps are you running NYC marathon in November? i'll be cheering you on young man.

    1. Will be running my 15th NYCM Nov.4 & possibly my last one. The fun in participating is almost gone.Too crowded, starts late(almost noontime),registration fee keeps going up and too many restrictions. Thank you for cheering this old man. Baket & I go home almost every year. Your greetings will reach & be extended the Sagadians. Wasdin menlamlamin.

  3. Nice. Very nice. And the puns make it even better!

  4. Thanks. You do admirably yourself - writing or speaking of gray areas...

    1. i dunno if i should be flattered or insulted. hehehe

    2. that was meant in all sincerity apo. an aspiring blogger like me can only try. but of course am very transparent in my feeble black and white attempts at writing. keep the dap-ay torch burning.


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