Our last stop off was Sagada, a little town up in the mountains north of Manila. The bus ride from Baguio took us along some dangerously windy roads on a bus that worryingly clanked every time we took a corner a bit too fast. It didn’t much settle my worries when I noticed a car that had recently come off the road and had come to a stop a few metres down in the U of the hairpin bend. No disasters came our way luckily, and the views along the way were just spectacular. Rice terraces, mountains, flowers and greenery.
After an increasingly alarming search for a hostel we realised that the whole of the Philippines descends on the mountain town at weekends, and most place were full. We secured a place for a couple of nights though, and set about booking ourselves onto the caving experience that we had heard so much about. So off to the tourist office across the road, where we were told that Sagada only has one ATM which may or may not be open the next day. Since we only had about £3 to our name, this was problematic. But we were reassured that we could go to Botoc otherwise.
The next day we began by searching for a hostel for the next couple of nights. We had seen a place on the bus on the way in, about a kilometre out of town, so we decided to walk over there. 1km later we came to the sign, which then pointed us on another 1km walk to the hostel itself. Which was full. But they had cute puppies I played with for a bit and then we turned back and found a different place not so far out from the town. Next job was to get a Jeepney to Bontoc, which was easy enough. We were pretty jealous when some other tourists got to sit on the roof when the inside got full. They later told us it wasn’t that great though, so maybe it wasn’t such a loss.
Bontoc has us worried for a while when the first ATM we went to refused to give me any money. Trys had no money left in his account, and by this time we couldn’t even pay for our lift back to Sagada with the money left. Luckily, the second bank proved more reliable, and we were back in business.
Day three in Sagada was the caving experience we had been waiting for. We met our guide, Lester, in the tourist office, and walked down to the nearby caves, stopping off to admire the hanging coffins on the way. The caving was amazing! We got to clamber through holes in the rocks, up and down rock faces, we waded through water, and there were loads of formations in the limestone for us to admire. I think Lester was fairly impressed with the speed with which we completed the circuit as he thanked us at the end of it all. I only wish we could have done more caving like that.
Back in Sagada we collected our bags and walked over to our new guesthouse. Very Christmassy with Christmas songs being played on the piano, and decorations all over the restaurant. We spent the afternoon relaxing in our rather lovely room and then had dinner in front of the open fire. It was all very mountain-lodge!
On our last day in Sagada we decided to go on a walk down to Echo Valley. We didn’t have a proper map so had to rely on a picture Trys had taken on his phone from a guidebook. I can’t say it was very useful as it didn’t show any of the multiple choices in route that we were confronted with. So we got lost. Many times. We made it down into the valley, and admired the river and the mouth of a cave down there, but going back up the other side proved difficult. We must have begun following every conceivable pathway, but they all lead to nowhere. We even did a bit of rock climbing to test out a potential route, but no luck there either. All we did achieve was covering ourselves in cuts and scratches as we snagged ourselves on all the bushes and branches. In the end we had to go back the way we came, which was fairly boring, but the safer option. We made it back in one piece and so treated ourselves to a drink and some cookies in one of the local cafes.
Our last day in Sagada was spent getting down to Manila for our flight out the following day. It wasn’t a relaxing beach break to end the trip on, but the fresh mountain air certainly prepared us slightly more for the cold English we were set to return to.