Archive for the ‘ travel ’ Category

Chillin’ at Villa Escudero

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Look! The boondocks in Bontoc are alive

P_20170309_164431On my maiden sojourn up to Sagada, on the 10th hour of the epic bus trip up Mountain Province, I woke up to this surreal fog-covered, dream-like area. There was a pit stop, and the bus pulled over a vegetable slash convenience store that served hot coffee. It was freezing when I got off the bus to see what was veiled in this mist. But I was tentative, what if I was unknowingly walking straight off a cliff?

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Fresh broccoli is dirt-cheap in Bontoc. A kilo goes for less than a dollar, or Php 40. The freshness of the produce there is unmatched anywhere else in the country, owing to the crisp cool climate. The veggies they grow and sell are carrots, cucumbers, cauliflowers, lettuce, etc. And when you live in extremely rugged regions like Bontoc, you can’t climb terraces or slopes without consuming vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. I will also offer an observation that the locals’ complexion shows how veggies make their faces glow.

Anyway, Bontoc was more of a pit stop than a destination on my recent trip, but, I gotta share here some wonderful photos I took that left me in awe of this vast realm of rice terraces, raging rivers and fog-covered mountain roads. I call it an enigma. Not the name of the place, because Bontoc simply comes from the word buntuk meaning a place surrounded by mountains. You can feel the power of the place. Bontoc, unlike the nearby environs of Sagada, Benguet and Banawe may not be talked about often, but just skimming the ridges of the place, really gets you into a Marlboro country slash Lord of the Rings mood. I did say Bontoc is an enigma, so I’ll end the text here, like I won’t talk, so you can see Bontoc for yourself.

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Sagada: So good, I gotta plan my return

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After 12 hours on a cold bus, the photo above, taken while we were inside the moving bus, was what greeted us in Sagada, up in the northern hinterlands. We survived zigzag-induced nausea, and butt cramps from the looooong bus ride. But hey, many of the passengers were already speaking to tour guides right after we registered and coughed up the environmental fee at the Sagada Tourism Office. Me? No.

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I found myself hurrying up, or rather down, because the Main Road was inclined towards the Municipal Hall and Tourism Office. I wanted to get to my home in Sagada, inspect my rented room, make sure that the bathroom had hot water, that the bed had a quilt, and that I had a nice view. Alas, the mayordoma of Lodge Labanet failed to send me a confirmation of my reservation online, but when I found her at the front desk, Auntie Dora explained she got a very bad signal from her telco and couldn’t send me a reply. She disclosed that all over Sagada, the internet was slow. Understood. I spoke to her in Ilocano, which I learned to speak since childhood. Auntie Dora smiled upon hearing me. Perhaps she was sharing this light moment with me because the horde of guests were either still asleep upstairs or the new ones haven’t arrived, so she had time to listen to me. Then she called on one of the chamber ladies to show me to my room just a flight upstairs. When I saw the bright and neat room, I nearly collapsed on the giant bed with my backpack. I had slept on and off during the trip, I desired the big bed. My room had two chairs, a wide cabinet for clothes and a sturdy table for writing, if any writing was going to get done. Then I ran into the bathroom, there were no toiletries provided by the lodge, but I bring my own always and I just need hot water so I switched the faucet on, then the shower, water felt so warm. I checked if the flush worked and it did. I had everything I hoped for.  And then the chamber lady showed the door that led to my balcony and I shrieked telling her in Ilocano how pretty my room was. She left as I put my bag down, locked the door behind me and then returned to the front desk to Auntie Dora, paid her in advance and quickly asked her where the nearest breakfast place was. I needed coffee so badly, the dizzy spell from the zigzag roads was making my head hurt. When I dropped by Sagada Weaving, the warps and wefts of their colorful weaves on the bags, table runners, wallets and pouches reminded me of the zigzag roads on the way to Sagada.

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17239632_10210397051657501_1440505721038295415_oSagada has so much food choices. Majority of it, of the garden variety: Oranges, strawberry, blueberry jams and preserves, strawberry, blueberry, rice wines, blueberry and banana muffins, pink-purplish mountain rice, blueberry yogurt, lemon pies, peanut and sunflower seed brittle, vegetables like broccoli and cucumber are cheap and fresh. Sagada tea and Sagada coffee, their brisk sellers. Everyone in Sagada wears thick-hooded jackets, and it’s a perfect place for coffee-bingeing. I sat finishing my delicious breakfast at 9:30am and the weather was a mere 14 degrees C. Sat for a good two hours sipping hot coffee, while I imagined many tourists had already taken off uphill or deep into the forests for their adrenaline fix. I watched the street below the restaurant and the people trudging up the street.

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Walking is more like hiking up here in Sagada. The sky seems so near, yet still so far. So I guess, in this cool temperature, one seeks the sun, the openness outside. Breathing in the fresh air, looking at how nature is very expressive all around you.

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I entered the Church of St.Mary, and since it’s my first visit to Sagada, I make a wish-the wish is immediately granted as I sit in silence. It’s so peaceful.

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The sunset is peaceful. And a harbinger of colder temperature, 12 degrees in the evenings. All sunsets are amazing to me. I say goodbye to the sun, for meeting me up in Sagada.

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This shot was taken before nighttime out on my balcony. The air has grown chilly, so I must put on a second pair of socks, my bonnet, wear my fleece jacket and pull its hood over my bonnet, and wrap my fleece blanket around myself. The local dogs, and I see more dogs than people in the middle of the day in Sagada, make their final barking concerts that incredibly echo all around. And I grab my chocolate drink packet from my bag so I could sip something hot before cocooning myself in bed like Goldilocks, tired to the bone. But in contrast to her, I got to sleep in the biggest bed.

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And I admit, I never put the alarm on to wake me up at four or five on any morning while in Sagada. I knew that the Kiltepan sunrise worshippers were doing just that and freezing in their knickers as they rode out to await the famous Kiltepan Point Sunrise. I knew there would be quite a number of them up there while I lay sleeping until I wanted to wake up at 7:30am. So I went to the Tourism Office at 8am, and with only two Tourism guides,the other one drove our van up to Kiltepan. When I got there, I was the only tourist and there were no photo bombers. Perfect!

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Just look at the view from above. Manong, the one who drove the van, said he was pure Igorot, one of the many northern indigenous tribes. We both spoke Ilocano and I told him I respect the indigenous people. I said to him that I grew up spending my summers in a nearby province where the indigenous were called Itnegs and Tingguians.

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Conquering Kiltepan Peak was the highlight of my Sagada adventure. I initially wanted to trek to Lake Danum, but I had to listen to my body, which suggested what I needed was a lot of introspection (sleep). Plus, I couldn’t resist meditating (just sitting) and reading  on the balcony with that beautiful view.

 

 

 

Hovering Over Paradise (November 2014). Elevation Elation!!!!

Dinagyang Festival (January 2014) is time to lie low in Iloilo. Not.

Photo by Onnah ValeraPhoto by Onnah Valera

UNESCO heritage has crowned this Vigan, Ilocos Sur old town, with its loyal old timers and golden history.

UNESCO heritage has crowned this Vigan, Ilocos Sur old town, with its  loyal old timers and golden history.

Photo By Onnah Valera

Top of the morning! Overnight at the Acua Verde, San Juan Batangas

Photo by Onnah ValeraTop of the morning! Overnight at the Acua Verde, San Juan Batangas