hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

mila | adventure . sagada

ah sagada!  i've heard so much about you.  you were the shangri-la of my day.  never had the opportunity (nor the gumption) to visit you.... till now.

the first part of the trip was uneventful.  it was a relatively comfortable 6 hour ride by airconditioned bus from cubao to baguio.  the 2nd half of the trip marked the beginning of a physically challenging adventure. 

the road to sagada (from baguio) is a narrow 2-lane path that is more than 50% unpaved.  i should have taken a video of what we looked like in that bus ...  jostled around and sliding from one end of the back seat to the other.  winding like a snake between the mountains of luzon -- it is a dare devil's feat to maneuver a semi-large bus at any speed thru the area.  there were moments when i just couldn't look down or out at the oncoming traffic.  those drivers are AMAZINGLY talented!  holding our breath and trying to keep our heads from falling off our shoulders from a bumpy 6 hour ride was enough to knock us out.  we arrived at 2pm good and ready for a nap.  it should have been our first clue to how physically exhausting this trip was going to be.

we stayed at an immaculate inn called Sagada Homestay.  it was highly recommended by a friend and we are so glad we heard about it.  the prices are soooooo reasonable and karen, the lady that runs the place, is so sweet.  you can contact her via email (sagadahomestay@yahoo.com.ph) or call her if you are looking for a place to stay in sagada ( +63 919 702 8380)

last year when curtis and i came to visit the philippines we brought along a new acquired friend.  petra spent 3 weeks of fun and laughter with us as we bounced around the beaches of the philippines.  we became the best of friends over that shared experience.  our travels just wouldn't be the same without her.  we've been eagerly awaiting her arrival and she finally made it!  the musketeers are complete again!

when we finally woke up from that much needed nap we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the surrounding areas.  

sagada is situated in the mountain provinces of the philippines.  usually when you think tribes you think of these northern provinces.  i was disappointed to find an affluent community colored with tourists and european english rather than the costumed tribes of yesteryear.  ah but good for them right?  at least everything else (mountains, streams, caves) were well preserved.

sagada is best known for it's hanging coffins.  the tribal culture in its primitive days would store the coffins in a cave or tie them to a cliff side instead of burying them under ground.  their idea of a wake back then was to place the deceased in a seated position where people could come visit and pay their last respects.  the last coffin to make its way into the collection was added in 1986.  there are 3 residents left in the community that are expected to be buried in this manner.

a shot of the only church in the area

day 2 and getting ready for a physically grueling day.  gotta start out with a hearty breakfast.  yoghurt house (again recommended by a friend) was an awesome way to begin!  yummy fresh yogurt with fruits and nuts and a slab of ham for me (don't mock!  i have to balance my attempt at healthy) and banana yogurt pancakes for petra and curtis.

the caving experience....

there are 4 caves all clumped together under a mountain.  the options were:
  1. go inside each one, explore by the opening, exit, walk into the next one (kinda long walks in between) or 
  2. do the cave connection.  
when the tourism office in town explained the options it seemed that we were not the best candidates to do the spelunking-cave connection thing but should still get a guide for all this.  so we psyched ourselves for lots of walking but good excercise. 

we got into that first cave and the guide sweetly and oh so innocently prodded us about doing cave connection.  we hesitated.... is it hard?  can we do it?  he smiles and says ... oh yeah... you guys can.  lots of people do.  so HECK!  we're like.. GAME ON!!!  we might as well get the full experience right?  bahahahahahahahah!  boy were we in for it!
it took us 5 hours to get through it all.  here's the highlights:
  • shoes off after the first 20 minutes to bet a better grip on the rocks
  • lots of cold water and slippery areas
  • some rocks need rope to help you climb or descend
  • some rocks need someone to push you on your ass as you use the rope 
  • we had to resort to human ladders in some areas
  • crawled through holes that barely fit around curtis' shoulders
  • tree frogged around a giant boulder that threatened to push you back into a 30 foot drop
  • lotsa bats (and i didn't want to think about this while we were there but lotsa bat poop too)
  • the ONLY light we had was the lantern that the guide (his name was jollie) carried.  otherwise it was PITCH BLACK.
so while curtis worried about me or petra falling, i worried about anything happening to jollie.  there was no way we could have made it out of there by ourselves.  everytime we entered a tiny crawl space and i thought we were at a dead end he would point out some out of this world path to take.  he told us about some tourist a few years back that entered the caves without a guide (crazy!!) who got lost (OMG!!) and ran out of light ($h1@t!!!!) for 2.5 days!!!!  SNAP!  he was our most precious commodity down there. 

yeah... we're a bunch of kids.  just give us some light and a camera and we're off to playing!

the last cave is full of coffins and the remains of generations past.  the chameleon carved on the lid symbolizes change and transition from this world to the next.

5 hours of spelunking and we survived!  i felt it all the next day when my muscles were screaming bloody hell.  but i had to grin thru it since we signed up for a hike to the big falls.  a hike... what a joke.  i stood at the top of a mountain (not a hill .. a mountain) looked down to where jollie pointed.  i couldn't even see the end goal from there.  it was a long way down.  it was a lot of STAIRS!   oh muscles.  i'm so sorry....

down we went.  a mountain worth of stairs, thru a small village, past the rice fields, into a valley ...

oh heaven!  it was all worth it... all 3,229 steps to get here!

seriously... 3,229 steps.  now we have to go UP???  can we get a chopper?  i'm not sure there is a next time to this.

all that work and we were starving!  dinner was at a quaint restaurant called "THE LOG CABIN".  super yummy gourmet-ish food and a wonderful selection of hot teas with chef aklay (28 years of cooking experience across 27 countries).  

you get spoiled by sagada.  the air is pure, clean, crisp and cool.  you forget that the city is nothing like it.  this is why we have air-conditioned transport.

we got home at 2am.  just enough time for me to get some rest, don my polka dots and head over to marion's house for another ac get together.  it was a chinese new year themed party complete with games.  here's the slideshow girls!  usual rules apply.. hit the play button and wait for the show to buffer (status bar is on bottom right).   slower internet connections could take a while.


  1. Beautiful pictures as always! It looks like you guys had a blast. You probably slept really well after such an eventful day.

  2. These pics are awesome...the ones in the cave are kinda creepy though. What are you gonna do when you have to come back to the real world?!

  3. What a fun life you lead.
    I CANNOT believe those hanging coffins!!!!!!!

  4. OH MY! WOW!!! Now that's what I call an adventure!! SO AWESOME!

  5. I love traveling! Your photos make me so envious of you! Good for you for getting out and having an awesome adventure!

  6. these are SO COOL!! Looks like an amazing trip!

  7. wow! the hanging coffins and spelunking is trippy and freaky! but wow, what an adventure!

  8. Love, love, love the cave shots!!! Totally freakin awesome that you get to travel to these beautiful places! SHeesh, spelunking, what an adventure! Love me some caves! Its so interesting to read about the cliff-side graveyard...wow. =)