Sagada, Day 1: Into the belly of the beast

So it’s been almost two weeks since I went to Sagada, and as I type this, my account of my first day, I’m still nursing an injury I believe I sustained from the trip. I hope this isn’t going to be a trend for me, gathering painful little mementos instead of souvenirs to remember my trips by (remember my great Bohol burn?). But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let me start by actually saying I’ve been wanting to go to Sagada for a long time now, even before that damn movie came out (Filipinos know which one I’m talking about). No offense, I mean I haven’t seen it, but enough with the tired quotes and references already, people! Anyway, as I was saying…

I’ve been hearing about how nice Sagada is for years now, and until a few weeks ago, I’ve only had other people’s photos and stories to go on. I originally planned on going with someone (first a coworker, then a friend), but I grew restless waiting for them to be ready, so the selfish, misanthropic traveler in me decided to make this another solo trip.  I didn’t want to go during the summer and in December to avoid the peak season crowds (although my decision was a wee bit off, weather-wise), so I booked a three-day tour for July and off I went.

Unlike my earlier solo trips involving a Manila-to-destination van, this one was a full tour, so while I did get to sit up front, I had to share it with someone (unlike Caramoan). Two girls got the the meeting place late, so one sat next to me, while the other had to sit in the back. At the risk of mouthing off like Ann Coulter, I didn’t want to give up my seat. The rules clearly said seating would be on a first come, first served basis. Anyway, we left the meeting place at 10 PM Thursday night, and by

First stop was breakfast at 7:20 AM at this place called Banaue Sunrise Restaurant, where I had the worst and most expensive “French toast.” The reason for the quotation marks is, what they put in front of me was four slices of dry toast with butter and jam on the side. I confirmed what my order was with the server, who gave some bullshit excuse about how what I was referring to—bread slices dipped in a milk-and-egg mixture and fried—was the American version. Seething but not wanting to argue (I could have gone to the kitchen and demonstrated how to make actual French toast), I had a few bites of the toast and butter, downed some coffee, and left the rest on my plate.

EatPlayLog Ifugao Banaue Rice Terraces
Thank you
EatPlayLog Ifugao Banaue Sunrise Restaurant
But first, breakfast
EatPlayLog Ifugao Banaue Sunrise Restaurant
What the fuck kind of French toast is this?

From there, we headed to the Banaue Rice Terraces viewpoint, where my ire with the ridiculously deceitful breakfast pretty much faded away. I had never seen the terraces in person, so that was an incredible sight.

EatPlayLog Ifugao Banaue Rice Terraces
Took me long enough to get here

At a little past 10 AM, the driver dropped me and three of the other tour guests off at our hotel, the Shamrock Tavern (the others would be staying at another hotel), reminding us to be ready for pick-up at 1 PM. After depositing my stuff to my room (my review will follow), I set off to do a bit of exploring. It didn’t take too long, though; Shamrock Tavern was only a few minutes away from pretty much all you needed—restaurants, countless inns, souvenir shops, more restaurants—while the tourist spots required some form of transport. By the way, there are no ATMs nearby, so be sure to have lots of cash on you. And I don’t think I mentioned it yet, but Sagada in July is not just rainy; it’s fucking cold, so don’t forget to bring a thick jacket. My room has no air conditioning and no fan, and I was still shivering under two blankets while sleeping.

EatPlayLog Shamrock Tavern Sagada Mountain Province
My home for the next few days
EatPlayLog Shamrock Tavern Sagada Mountain Province
The view from the hotel. Not bad, right?
EatPlayLog Shamrock Tavern Sagada Mountain Province
Check out this little guy. This was the first and last time I saw him, probably because it was raining too often

After about an hour of walking around and taking photos, I walked into the Sagada Lemon Pie House for lunch. The place was an Instagrammer’s wet dream: it was clad in wood from the walls to the furniture, the tables were so low you had to sit on pillows on the floor, the walls were decorated with all kinds of knick knacks, the whole she-bang. I asked for one of their all-day breakfast meals—an onion and cheese omelette with hotdogs—because I did’t feel like having a heavy meal and I wanted a breakfast do-over. Not happening; while the serving was pretty big, the taste left a lot to be desired. Not even their famed lemon pie was enough to save the meal; personally, I thought it was too sour to deserve its badge as a must-try dessert in Sagada.

EatPlayLog Sagada Lemon Pie House Mountain Province
I read about this back in Manila. Can’t wait to try it
EatPlayLog Sagada Lemon Pie House Mountain Province
“Totally ‘gramming this!” said every teen visitor ever
EatPlayLog Sagada Lemon Pie House Mountain Province
I was pretty much the only customer throughout my meal
EatPlayLog Sagada Lemon Pie House Mountain Province breakfast lunch omelette
Didn’t enjoy my second breakfast, either
EatPlayLog Sagada Lemon Pie House Mountain Province
This is supposed to be their specialty

After lunch, I went back to the hotel to change, and by 1 PM, the van was back to take me, the three guys, and the other tourists to Sumaguing Cave. While waiting for the tour guide, the girl sitting next to me asked if her friend can switch seats with me and sit up front with her since sitting in between me and the driver was putting a strain on her (my current seatmate’s) scoliosis. I hesitantly said yes, but still asked her why she couldn’t just switch with her friend, and she said they wanted to sit together. I thought I smelled a fucking scam.

I put the thought out of my mind for now when the tour guides, Jesse, Larry, and Adrian, arrived. Jesse, who seemed to be the leader, prepped us with some background and safety tips, and with only a few gas lamps lighting our paths, we began our descent.

EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Here we go
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Enjoy the light while you can, fools
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Jesse talking about safety or whatever, I don’t know

When we reached the first landing, my breath was fogging. I asked Jesse about it, and he said the temperature deep inside the cave can get to 15 degrees Celsius, even lower, so you’re right in thinking I was shivering at this point. But a few minutes in, especially after wading in some freezing water for a while, I got used to it. By the way, if you are bringing stuff like your camera and wallet, make sure you put them in a dry bag (I brought mine—the one I use at the beach—specifically for this).  If you get cold easily, bring a water-resistant jacket. Also, wear shoes with a lot of traction; the rocks are slippery as hell. I had my aqua shoes on because I knew we’d be walking in water, and I was slipping all over the place.

EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
One of the many group shots Jesse took

At this point, I’m going to stop talking because I think these photos might do a better job of telling you what happened down there. Oh, one last thing: have I mentioned I had never gone spelunking before this trip?

EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Even in the dark, you have to take photos
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
At one point, we were asked to take off our shoes. I guess they figured it would be easier to walk barefoot
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Baby, we’re going down. Adrian was having us step on his thigh and foot to get down
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Poor Larry was tasked to pull us up over the edge
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
A couple of foreign tourists and their guide. Probably my favorite shot in the cave

By the way, this is where the aforementioned injury happened. Anyone who’s gone spelunking before will know how dark it can be in a cave, so visibility can be distorted at times. While walking in shallow water, I didn’t see that there was a narrow hole right in front of me that I accidentally fell into. Twice. Not only was I blind; I was a blind idiot.

EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Jesse demonstrating how to climb up using the rope. Admittedly, I didn’t do it as skillfully as the others, but the point is, I made it up, okay? You know what? Forget I mentioned that
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Listening to some parting words from Jesse and the gang

The whole thing, which took about three hours, was cold, dark, pretty dangerous, exhausting, painful… and one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. You cannot come to Sagada and not do this. Even if your level of physical activity can be best described as walking from the TV to the fridge to grab a tub of ice cream, you’d be missing out if you skip Sumaguing Cave.

I was disappointed that we didn’t get to do the cave connection, where you cross from Sumaguing to another cave, Lumiang, but they had closed the connection. We got two explanations from two of the guides, which might be related: water rushes too fast during wet season, and someone had recently slipped and fell to their death, so, yeah… But anyway, think about Sumaguing, okay? No regrets.

EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Larry, Jesse, and Adrian
EatPlayLog Sumaguing Cave spelunking Sagada Mountain Province
Coming back to the light. Also, rain

Wet and shivering, we went back to our hotel, where I immediately jumped into the shower and stood under the hot water for at least half an hour. I finally pulled myself out of the bathroom and got dressed to eat at the hotel’s restaurant. I was planning on eating out, but the rain, which had started as we were getting out of the cave, had not let up so I decided to stay in.

EatPlayLog Shamrock Tavern chicken dinner Sagada Mountain Province
Definitely not a meal you want after a long, tiring day

After another disappointing meal (which I will tell you about in my review of the inn), I went back to my room, watched videos on my phone (the room has no TV), and turned in early. I didn’t really mind; I was tired from the drive up and the cave exploration anyway. Also, we had more touring to do tomorrow, and if I had any chance of making it through another physically taxing day, I had to recharge now.

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