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Sagada Epiphanies

The opportunity to go back-packing to Sagada, one of the municipalities in Mount Province, came shortly after I resigned from my job as an advertising guy. The resignation wasn’t something I was proud of. It reinforces a friend’s oxymoronic claim that I’m a “permanent temp.” That accusation wasn’t unfounded, considering that I’ve already been through five jobs. The longest job I’ve kept lasted only for eight months. That stint in the ad agency wasn’t an exception: I was there only for three months.

And so a road trip to Sagada was in order. I wanted to drain the last dregs of that nine-to-five drudgery, which I think I have a natural aversion for.

“Use this as some sort of reflective trip. Assess yourself and figure out why you can’t keep a steady nine-to-five job,” a friend texted me just minutes before I boarded a Sagada-bound bus. She has always been panicky when it comes to me and my future. I should have a steady job by now; I should have my own family in a few years, she said.

“No,” I texted her back. “I don’t plan on having any epiphanies on this trip. I just want to roam.”

Admittedly, I tried to spend the first few minutes of the 12-hour road travel “reflecting.” But as tall metropolis buildings and urban traffic began to dissipate from my window view, I started to fall into a dreamless slumber.

As if I’ve been sleep-deprived for centuries, I didn’t stir during the whole duration of the bus trip. My travel companions even had trouble bringing me back to waking life as we arrived in Banaue where we had to take a two-hour jeepney ride to Bontoc, and another hour to Sagada. “Yes, yes. I’m up,” I responded to their wake-up call, then lazily lugged my backpack and followed them towards a jeepney.


Top-load ride

“We’re gonna be riding ‘top load’,” one of my companions said excitedly as I disembarked the bus.

“Sure, sure. Whatever,” I replied with less enthusiasm, secretly wishing to go back to sleep.

It turned out, that ride wasn’t as easy as it seems. Apparently, “top load” (riding on the roof of the jeepney) is a bad idea if: 1) you are deathly afraid of heights AND speed; or 2) you are barely awake and may not have enough dexterity and grip-power. In my case I was both.

As the jeepney sped through breathtaking scenes of this region, through pine trees, majestic rice terraces, and quaint-looking houses, my knees trembled wildly. Once in a while, I would choke on cold mountain air. There were even instances when I felt I was close to losing my grip on the metal rails, which would then hurl me off to my quick death.

“Don’t worry, man. In case something happens to you in this ride, you can rest in one of the hanging coffins,” one of my travel companions kidded after seeing my terror during the top-load jeepney ride.

“Thanks a lot, man. That’s a comforting idea,” I retorted as I gripped tightly on the metal rails.

Visiting the hanging coffins

The top-load jeepney ride may have maddeningly jolted me back to waking life, but a visit to the resting place of the dead neutralized the agitation I felt earlier. Again, this part of the trip may not be for those with serious fear of heights. A top-load ride prior to a visit to this place might subdue the phobia, though.

This gravity-defying “graveyard” goes against our common

notion on how we lay our dead to rest. Instead of burying them six feet under, the natives hang their coffins on limestone cliffs.

We were later told that the Sagada elderly carve the coffins where they would eventually be kept in. We were also told that the oldest hanging coffin here dates back to more than a century ago, while the latest one was placed here more than a decade ago.

As I listened to the tales behind the coffins, I couldn’t help but wonder their permanence. How long till the elements take its toll on these cliff-bound caskets?

Exploring the Sumagig Cave

As with the visit to the hanging coffins, it is necessary to experience spelunking when you’re in Sagada. Like the strange burial practices, caves are popular in these parts.

In our case, we went to the most popular cave in Sagada: Sumaging. Also known as the “Big Cave,” the cave used to be the hiding place of Filipino soldiers and Guerillas during World War II.

Aside from the interesting story behind it, Sumaging is characterized by the extraordinary way the stalactites and stalagmites are formed. Some of the formations inside the cave are already given their monikers, like the “pregnant woman”, “elephant formation”, and “pig pens” among others.

As expected, I got wet inside this nature-formed hole, so it was a good thing that I explored this wearing the right clothes, and carrying the right gear. If only entering new workplaces are as easy. You just buy from a shop what is needed in order to prepare yourself from what could be another impending nine-to-five letdown.

The ride home

I suppose four days in Sagada (including travel time) should have given me certain epiphanies, as what my friend back in Manila earlier told me. I should be closing this blog entry with a litany of enlightened thoughts and life-changing realizations.

Yet, as the mountains and the pine trees started to disappear from my window view, I felt the same kind of adamance Mark Renton felt at the beginning of Trainspotting.

Renton blabbered: “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than embarrassment to the selfish brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose your life. But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons.”

Who needs reasons – valid, restricted-by-society reasons – when I can roam free?
(Photos by Ryan Celis)

Ryan Celis is a freelance photographer and a full-time goofball. He loves traveling and taking off his clothes whenever there’s an opportunity.
You can find him at http://mabangisnalobo.tumblr.com