bontoc, sagada & banaue - Where's Byrne?

bontoc, sagada & banaue

21.11.2011 – 22.11.2011 Sunny 28 °C

We checked in at the Churya-a Hotel for a night at 400P (£5.50) at 3pm ish. There were guys working on the electric outside in the street and it was down until 8pm so we just went to sleep, re-piecing ourselves back together after that bus journey. Had a really good dinner in the hotel, Adobo and a side of stir fried vegetables we shared (that didn’t look like someone had already eaten it) and B had Churya-a Rice (chicken, some spring roll things and rice). At 9pm all the other westerners went to bed, so we stayed for a coffee and followed at half past, (and we’d been told Bontoc’s lively in comparison to Sagada).

Before our dinner we got chatting to the owner who was also a tour guide. He was explaining he was taking three Swiss out on a tour the following day to Kalinga, two-hours back up the road from hell. He asked if we’d like to join. We politely declined citing valuing our lives as a valid reason. He told us though that Banaue is rubbish at this time of year (November). Great. He said the rice had already been harvested and suggested some other places. One positive from our death journey was passing through Betwagon, which had it’s own rice terraces. I caught a sign that said it was part of four that come under UNESCO World Heritage status and they were cool – all green and lush. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get some photos but this was one of the places Mr. Churya-a (his name escapes me) suggested so it’s not going to get better than Betwagon by the sounds of things.

22.11.2011 – 23.11.2011 Sunny 28 °C

The next day we wake up to no electric (again) and checked out. There is a Museum in Bontoc that comes highly recommended but we didn’t fancy it and so jumped on a jeepney to Sagada (1 hour and 45P each) and checked-in at Alfredos Guesthouse for 500P (£7) for the night. It’s the first guesthouse we saw and the room was nice although we were the only ones there. There was no electric again. Like Bontoc it comes back on in the evenings, maybe there isn’t a problem with it, maybe they just switch it off in the day? Places in Palawan switch it off in the evenings and turn it back on in the morning because electric is at a premium, maybe it’s a similar thing in Sagada? The road to Sagada isn’t too bad, it’s half paved and half dirt track but being in a four-wheel drive jeepney consoles you with a bit of confidence as opposed to a rickety old bus. The driver did like going a bit too near the edge for my liking though and even overtaking other vehicles – what’s the point? They stop when a passenger decides to get off and get overtaken by the vehicle that just overtook so you don’t save any time. It’s uphill for fifty minutes of the one hour drive so you are a lot higher than Bontoc. You pass by another set or rice terraces, these less spectacular than Betwagon but worth snapping all the same. Also the exit from Bontoc towards Sagada is attractive, with the Chico River below some terraces. Upon arrival in Sagada you must report to the municipal hall to register and pay 20P per person. You’re also told about the curfew. Curfew you say? Yes, curfew. 9pm – 4am, no one’s allowed out. I never managed to find out why. Sagada seems a nice place, almost in it’s own little bubble and I can see why it’s referred to as ‘Backpackers HQ’ by some. You could easily spend some time there in the high season. It’s cheap, the suns out but it’s not humid (it’s even a bit chilly in the shade), there are loads of places to sit and drink coffee or eat while you catch up on your latest book or chat to other travellers and the scenery is cool, a back drop of mountains and greenery with houses poked here and there. B wasn’t a fan though so I can appreciate it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The main activities are hiking to waterfalls, hiking to caves or just hiking. If you don’t like hiking, grab a coffee and a cookie and sit back in the sun while you chill out. Had a fantastic dinner at The Masferre Inn and they have free Wi-Fi so that was a bonus. We had to head out at 6pm though because it was getting cold. There was still no electric so we were sitting in the dark in our room but the restaurants had generators. Come 7pm it was really cold and by the time we left at just before 9pm it was freezing, something I have never been in any of my trips to the Philippines; cold. I asked at reception for a candle and an extra blanket which she gladly obliged. Cue, the coldest night I’ve had for ages. I was awake from 2am for a few hours, frozen to the bone. If you’re going to Sagada in November take some warm clothes, I got caught completely unawares and only had shorts and t-shirts.

23.11.2011 – 24.11.2011 Sunny 27 °C

The following day we checked out and headed back to The Masferre Inn for breakfast and Wi-Fi, Googling The Halsema Highway; the road that takes you from Sagada to Baguio, to see if there have been any recent deaths. The journey from Tabuk really did shake me up so I had contemplated a different route back to Dagupan City. I didn’t find any bad coverage but I’m aware most of these things don’t get media attention so wasn’t expecting too much. I did find confirmation that it was a dodgy trip with other travellers commenting on how scared they were. The other way back would be to head back to Bontoc (1hr) then to Banaue (2hrs), to Lagawe (1hr) then to Santa Fé on the Manila bound bus (3-4hrs) then to Dagupan City (2hrs). This worked out similar time length as going through Baguio (7-8hrs) then to Dagupan (2hrs). So now I’m thinking there’s nothing in it. Do I brave it and risk my life once more? (On the way to Sagada we did spot graves by the cliff edge). Or do I go via Banaue and take the ‘safe’ route? Common sense prevails and we opt for Banaue. We left Sagada and went back to Bontoc only to discover the next bus to Banaue was at 3pm. This confirmed a decision for us to stay in Banaue one night and do the other six – seven hours the following day, after seeing the famous rice terraces there. This was going to work out quite well! The snaking road to Banaue was OK, being paved all the way but it was uphill the entire way with us dipping in and out of the clouds for a bit before spending the last five minutes in decent heading into Banaue.

We spotted The Wonder Inn and checked in for 1 night at a cost of 400P (£5.50). As we walked into the room the light switched off and there’s another power cut. We headed out for bus information and some dinner with the latter being not great and spend a few hours playing cards by candle light in the restaurant while a Filipino sits in the corner with a guitar and proceeds to play Elvis song after Elvis song. Fortunately he was good. We sink a few San Miguel’s and head to bed by candlelight again. The tourist information weren’t much help telling us there were only two buses out of Banaue, the first to Baguio at 06:30 and the second to Manila at 7pm, both crap times. We decide to make our own way using jeeps, and laying in bed, we count our lucky stars it’s nowhere near as cold as Sagada. There’s nothing in Banaue at all. It mirrors the size of Sagada but Sagada retains more of a relaxed chill out feel and has more restaurants and guesthouses. There are more travellers there but nothing to do except hiking. The rice terraces were nothing special but I presume it’s down to the time of year. We’d been warned by Mr Churya-a.

Next day we hopped on a jeepney to Solano (2hrs & 105P). From there we were planning to grab a jeep to Santa Fé and then a bus/jeep to Dagupan City when, by a stoke of luck, a bus heading straight for Dagupan comes up the road. We flag it down, jump on and pay (220P each). While we were congratulating each other on how shrewd we’d been, we worked out what our arrival time would be. Four-hours later we were expecting to see signs for Dagupan City at any moment when we started spotting signs for San José instead. We realise, looking at our map, that yes, we were going to Dagupan , via fucking San José another three-hours out the way. Fantastic. We already had numb arses as the seat we were sat on had no padding left through overuse. A total journey time of nine-hours after we left Banaue we arrived back in Dagupan. And to top it off I’ve got the sniffles.

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