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February 25th 2011
Published: March 17th 2011
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Sagada was a bit of a last minute decision. We had originally wanted to head straight to Baguio for the Flower Festival, but as we found out Sagada was only 3 hours away, we decided to go there for a day on the way as it is apparently beautiful. As we were soon to realise though it is true to say that jeepneys do not leave until they are full. As in really full. We were meant to leave around 8am, and naively we thought we might do. However, it was gone 10am when locals were still turning up with boxes and buckets to make their way to Bontoc- knowing that the stupid bus wouldn't be gone. On the other hand us tourists had been waiting around on the pavement since 7.30! Our journey required us to take a jeepney to Bontoc then change over to another jeepney for Sagada, and if we had have left on time we would have been there by 11am. It was actually nearer 1pm when we arrived but it wasn't too much of a problem as Luke declared upon our arrival that he was feeling too ill to do any hiking anyway. He had decided to ride on the roof for the second leg of the journey, a decision he probably lived to regret considering the dustiness of the roads. All of the locals had handkerchiefs at the ready for breathing, making us think twice about what was going into our lungs.

Sagada was a quaint little town in the middle of the mountains, with not a lot going on. It was characterised by a vast array of different building styles including the Filipino ever-popular, tin, also present were wicca, timber, and some even concrete. We selected a concrete structure for our stay called Ganduyan Inn, and were pleasantly surprised at the price which was 400 pesos (just under £6) for a double room. However it was very very small with bars on the windows and a pretty gross shared bathroom with one shower for the whole floor. Sagada is a holiday town for many Filipinos and it seemed we had visited in holiday season. It was a bit like the Newquay of the Philippine mountains, as there were hundreds of kids away together on holiday. Many people visit to take a tour of the underground caves but as Katie is claustrophobic, only Luke was going to take the trip. Due to his ongoing sickness however he decided to opt out and spent the afternoon wandering around the town after a lunch at the recommended Yoghurt Cafe. Youghurt Cafe was pretty nice inside; a wooden structure with a rustic feel. We had curry and stir fried beef which was pretty tasty but expensive compared to the prices back in Banaue.

As we had not made the most of our day it was a bit of a wasted journey coming to Sagada, although the scenery that we did see was very pretty. If we had have had more time then we would have taken a few of the local hikes around the area which would surely have been beautiful. However the Baguio Flower Festival was beckoning and we were evermore excited after speaking with a number of young Filipinos who assured us that it was going to be a lot of fun.

One of the things that we don't think we could ever have adapted to in Sagada however was the 9pm voluntary curfew. This meant that at 9pm everything in the town was switched off- electricity, lights, music, and everyone went home. Although it is called a 'voluntary' curfew, we are not sure how voluntary it actually is. There was a similar situation back in Banaue but fortunately the lights in our hostel had stayed on for us to sit in the dining area.

Anyway, after being forced to bed at 9pm we were up bright and early the next day. It seemed everyone was heading down to Baguio, and as we didn't want to miss out on the fun we decided to hop on the local bus which picked up conveniently outside our hostel (saying that we were staying in the main 'square' which is basically the whole of the town). We were lucky to get on the bus as they run on the hour, every hour, between 5am and 10am, and we only ventured outside at ten to ten. Originally we were told by the bus man that there was no chance of us getting on the bus as he didn't have two seats together. We looked at each other in amusement, then assured the man that we had no requirement to sit together and that we would be ok in the aisle if needs be. He agreed and we stepped aboard onto the ancient bus to which we were pleasantly surprised there were actually fold out seats for the people in the middle. Luxury. If we had have known what was in store for us however, we would never have stepped foot on that bus.

So we had been driving for around 45 minutes on bumpy scary roads when we came to an abrupt stop. The same thing had happened the previous day on the way to Sagada due to passing traffic and the road not being wide enough, and being made from crumbly chalk. Therefore we thought nothing of it and sat and waited. And waited. And waited. After around an hour had passed Katie decided to walk to the front of the queue to see what the hold up was. It turned out that the line in front of us was made up of only 7 or 8 vehicles, including all of the Sagada-Baguio buses that had left that morning. Seeing these vehicles filled her with dread of the wait that was to come. She got speaking to some guys from the US from an earlier bus, who informed her that we were waiting for the road to be built. Obviously this seemed completely absurd so she continued on down the zig-zagging track to where all of the drivers were hanging around chatting, where she recieved confirmation of this fact. She inquired as to the reason of the hold up, and was pointed towards a bunch of workmen who didn't seem to be doing a lot of anything. There just seemed to be no sense of urgency. So anyway it turned out that we had initially been waiting for the road to be built (reinforcement was being held in place with precarious shuttering and boys with bare feet) when somewhere amidst the chaos, whilst attempting to excavate the wall using explosives, there had been a landslide. So now we were not only waiting for the road to be built, but also for the clearance of a landslide. And it came to light that the landslide which had occured was coming directly from the road which we were stationed on, just 100m back, as the roads zig-zagged down into the foot of the valley. We ended up waiting for around 5 hours, the highlight of which was having to use the toilet in a local house in exchange for some cakes we had bought back in a bakery lifetimes ago. We were also entertained by a boy who played music for us the whole time from his mobile phone, his favourites being 'The First Cut is the Deepest' and 'Unbreak My Heart'. Seriously!

When it came to eventually manouvering around the side of mountain, everyone was on edge, fists clenched- even the locals. The fact that we were the 6th bus in a tight line scaping the road in the wake of a recent landslide, and the opposite side of the road had yet to be built had us all wondering what would happen if the bus were to take a slip, or the road crumble. We would have fallen a few hundred feet to our deaths. Anyway we made it through this part of the journey safely, but compared to the rest of the ride this was a walk in the park.

As we had lost so much time it became clear that the driver was eager to make it up. We had yet to even begin our ascent up into the rice terraces and beyond, where we were informed by road signs that we were travelling at heights of 7400 feet. It seemed completely absurd that people were living at these heights in stilt houses which overhung the steep cliff faces- especially considering the fact that the Philippines lies on a number of fault lines and is susceptible to earthquakes. From the bus window we could see down into the valleys, which were probably at sea level. The fall wouldn't have been nice- we would have hurtled right to the bottom with no resistance if the bus had have taken a turn for the worst. It was like riding astride cliff edges, not mountains, and the majority of the roads were cobbled, made of crumbly stone, and had no barriers. The drops were horrific, literally terrifying as the bus hurtled around the bends, overtaking everyone. Katie was a nervous wreck; this journey easily topping any other on our trip. As it became dark the fear subsided slightly as we were unable to see the steep cliff drops. However, the worst was still to come when were within half an hour of reaching Baguio, there were signs warning of 'unstable slopes'. Katie was clutching the seat in front for her life, although there was nothing she could do. We waited for another vehicle from the other side of the road to pass (something the driver rarely did) so we knew it was pretty serious. As we edged round the corner it became clear why. The road was overhanging the cliff face by the width of a full lane (the road was only about 1 and a half lane's width) and we were a very overloaded bus travelling behind several other overloaded buses. The road was made from chalk stone, and there were floodlights depicting just how steep the drop was. It was possibly the most terrifying 15 seconds of Katie's life, the driver bumping around that ledge. Fortunately there were only two instances of this on the journey, and we survived both. However, we will definitely not be travelling on the Baguio-Bontoc highway again anytime soon

Additional photos below
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18th March 2011

sounds scareyyyy!!
Nothing wrong with the song "Unnnnbreak my heaaaaaart!!!" what a tune! that cute little house is very cute - and so is the little puppy, awwwwhhhh!! xxx

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