Sagada: Crazy Little Thing Called Tadhana

IT’S 4 IN THE AFTERNOON. I’m trekking the forests of Sagada with some of the guys I’ve been with in Apo Reef. The sky is ominously gray, and heavy rains drench everything. Relentless winds aggravate the cold air, which further test my resolve. Clad in a white shirt and shorts, it doesn’t take long to realize my inadequate preparations for the the town’s frigid weather.

Because joining this trip wasn’t finalized for me until just two days prior, I failed to pack the appropriate clothes. I also didn’t pay attention to weather forecasts that the Cordillera will experience rain showers over the weekend (not that I really need to, since I’m aware that the region’s low season coincides with the wet seasons from June to August), and now I’m paying for it. But it’s not like this is the first time I’ve traveled unprepared for the weather, so carpe diem.

Nestled deep within the Cordilleras, Sagada has for long drawn both local and foreign travelers with its range of outdoor pursuits.
With its chill vibe and cool weather, along with numerous hikes, Sagada is a popular backpacker’s retreat.
Despite its popularity, Sagada has managed to retain its laid-back aura, and the only towering figures here are the nearby mountains.
Accommodation in Sagada are a dime a dozen, and outside the high seasons of Christmas, New Year, and Holy Week, the question is not whether you’ll get a room, but which room to choose.

Sagada sits deep within the mountains of Cordillera and has been a favorite backpacker destination with its chilled vibe and the plethora of outdoor activities. The town offers adrenaline junkies with trekking, spelunking, river-rafting, and cycling; while sedate types can just chill out on one of the numerous guesthouses’ terraces and admire the views. It’s in 2014, though, when Sagada shot to superstar status after starring in the rom-com hit That Thing Called Tadhana. It’s seen an exponential growth in tourists, though the town has managed to retain its mellow state in general.

We’ve arrived in Sagada at around noon after a 13-hour drive that took us from Quezon City across Central Luzon and to Nueva Vizcaya, only to detour to Pangasinan due to closed roads. This cost us a stopover in Banaue, where the most famous of Cordillera’s rice terraces are, and half a day in Sagada itself. The scenery along the way was a bit of a letdown as well due to heavy fog everywhere you look. But carpe diem.

At around 5 pm, we reach our destination, the hanging coffins in Echo Valley. It’s said that some of the coffins here are hundreds of years old, while others are placed as recent as a few years ago. Several theories have been put forth as to why the people in the region hang their loved ones’ bodies on cliffs, and one is that by doing so, the deceased would be brought closer to heaven. Another theory is that this prevents animals or headhunters from digging their corpses. Whatever the reason, this macabre sight is one of Sagada’s most iconic and a testament to ancient burial traditions in northern Philippines.

The St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is an elegantly designed structure that marks the start of an easy trek to the Echo Valley.
The Echo Valley is surrounded by cliffs with the famous hanging coffins.
Sagada’s hanging coffins are a testament to the region’s age-old tradition of burying the dead. It’s said that the custom stems from the desire of the deceased to be near the heavens.
Lake Danum, 5 kilometers northwest of the town center, takes on an eerie vibe at a misty dusk.

Due to our late arrival, we are not able to do much after the trek in Echo Valley. The most we can do is to see Lake Danum at dusk. The lake exudes a sinister aura especially with the mists hanging low. We buy some yogurt from a local couple at the lake bank and take a few pictures before returning to the town center for dinner. We eat at Lemon Pie house and stroll the main roads of Sagada before returning to our guesthouse to prepare for the next day.

Our fortunes don’t turn the following morning as continued torrential rains forced local authorities to close the caves and trekking paths. Potential landslides also force our group to leave earlier than we want to and head back to Manila via Baguio. It’s a disappointing turn of events, but, well, it’s called tadhana.


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