Ok, I know, I'm a little behind in my blog. That has probably something to do with Sagada, a rather cool chillout place in the northern Philippines followed by a trip to see Hong Kong with Brian and Lily, which I have to say is surprisingly chilled out given its one of the worlds largest metropolis's, the sort you would expect to find in Bladerunner.
So Sagada ... The Lonely Planet talks it up as a place with fresh mountain air which provides a rather cool chill-out scene, spent in the company of likeminded travellers...basically backpacker central. It also breaks with my Lonely Planet's guide to Getting High as it goes on to advertise Sagada as the Filipino home of seriously cheap dope, which I find rather surprising for the Philippines ... especially with a Lonely Planet endorsement, it has yet to be busted. I chose this as the place to spend my last few days in the Philippines, which would draw an end to my travels in Asia and of all the goodness that comes with traveling in the third world. It was a good choice.
Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley, Sagada
What Lonely Planet does not tell you about Sagada is that it's limestone heaven with Karst features littering the place. This means caves and a Karst landscape which has been put to use by the indigenous Ingnot people to bury their dead in centuries past. Yep, here they stack their loved ones in entrances to caves and with caves being prime real estate, even more impressively they hang coffins under overhanging cliffs to avoid the prying paws of predators. Its certainly a major attraction for tourists to visit Sagada, especially to hordes of Filipinos from Manila. It has also transformed this place into an adventure playground with Hiking, Mountain Biking, Caving and Waterfall Tours all on offer.
I would imagine that going caving in the final resting places of the Ingnot ancestors would have been a no-no in the past, especially with coffins decaying over the years to scatter their remains. Its just as well then that a certain Reverend John Stanton arrived some 100 years ago to build a sodding great big Anglican church, complete with Speleotherms to decorate the alter. Needless to say that the whole village is Christian nowadays and are cashing in on a roaring trade in taking people 'adventure caving'.
It was during my first day that I bumped into Jay and Karen walking in Echo valley the home to several caves and hanging coffins. Jay and Karen, who are both Lawyers from Manila, were pretty interesting and before I knew it we had followed the valley to its conclusion ... an underground river that I had been eyeing up. To my complete surprise they were happy to follow me into the cave, facilitated by Sarah's spare Petzl head-torch. 15 minutes later we emerged back into daylight, on the other side of the river and then proceeded to try find a way out of the valley we were in. This took some time, with a few too many painful encounters with brambles and a rather lucky encounter with a water buffalo. I guess thats why everyone else pays 500 peso's ($10) for a guide.
So the next day I opted to go for the more conventional tour, with a guide, to do a through trip in Surmaning Cave. I can report that the cave was up to the usual fine standards I have come to expect in the Philippines, but my highlight has to be our guide. Apart from the standard Filipino attire of flip-flops and shorts, it was the rather large joint that he smoked at the entrance which caught my eye ... and once finished he dipped his stub in paraffin and used it to light a Tilly Lamp, the sole means of lighting on our little adventure (Ok, I'll also admit to having my Petzl with me). Thankfully the Tilly did not go out or we would be in need of another stub! Its at times like this that I wonder if I am ever going to ween myself off South East Asia when I return to the first world. Oh, Bloody Hell, its New Zealand next week.
Our guide, posing with Tilly Lamp, a great Cave photography asset!
After a few more days of enjoying Sagada, I had the pleasure of having dinner with the local mayor in my home-stay turned guesthouse. He was a rather nice chap, who started to pick my brain on what measures would attract more people to Sagada, while he did a pretty good job of trying to force some Filipino gin down my throat. And I learnt that he has refused to arm the police in Sagada, in stark contrast to the rest of the Philippines ... "this is Sagada, we have no need for guns here".
Sagada is a seriously cool place with some seriously happy (and high) people. I like it and it was a great end to my trip in the Philippines. I made some great friends along the way, which like my travels in Burma, had a highlight at the end ... Salamat Jay and Karen for a great time !!!
Much happiness at Sagada's Saturdays Morning Market
On my final morning in Manila, I can across a couple of chaps who make a living by picking debris off the river in home made canoes. They sell what they find, mainly wood and plastic for whatever money they can get. It goes to show that after eight months travelling in asia, there is still plenty to surprise you. I left smiling and then got my iPhone nicked as a final farewell whilst walking back to my guesthouse. Well I bought insurance for a reason.
Picking Debris from the river in Manila
Goodbye Philippines. I will miss you, but I will be back someday soon. Next stop Hong Kong.