Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sagada, Mountain Province

I boarded a bus bound for higher climes, swapping seats with a local who offered me the one at the front of the bus, jammed in the corner. I realised why he kindly offered; the legroom was paltry, and another passenger at the first stop asked me how I was enjoying the view from the Suicide Seat? I liked it just fine, thanks. The driver skirted the hazards with the dexterity of a mountain goat. Ascending higher and higher, the views were the most incredible of my trip so far. Peaks as far as the eye could see, clad in verdant forest.

We reached the highest point in the province, and started descending through low cloud to start the road to Sagada. When I say road, it was more a rubble-strewn track in places, the likes of which you'd find in a working quarry. It felt like a journey to the edge of the earth at times. Looking out at drops of four hundred feet into valleys below made your stomach flip as the bus bumped over rocks.

Traversing the valleys as we neared, I was disappointed the sun was going down. It was pitch-black as we finally entered the one-road village. To call this place quiet was an understatement. I quickly headed for a place the Rough Guide recommended: when will I ever learn? Basic was not the word, and it was 800 pesos; I'd heard it was cheap. I bumped into two Aussie sex tourists who'd been on the bus who'd found rooms for 200, so I negotiated getting my cash back, minus 50 pesos for the trouble, from the place I'd just moved into. Northern Charm, eh? I was just praying I wouldn't be next door to the Aussies, as it could mean a sleepless night.

Morning broke, and I was out for a wander. Sagada really is a nice little place, and it's so quiet that the restaurant I chose asked me to order my dinner in advance, as they cannot afford waste. Bizarre. There's plenty of trekking around the area, and I took off for Echo Valley, a great walk to see the hanging coffins. The locals used to suspend their dead here, after displaying them outside their houses in the "dead chair". This gives their spirit chance to escape into the ether before burial. It is still occasionally practiced, but I didn't see any corpses propped up outside houses. Probably a good thing, as I'd likely have committed a massive faux-pas and gone up to ask directions.

The place went even further up in my estimation when I was offered hash on the street. At 75p a gram, I wasn't even going to haggle. It's legal to smoke here, just illegal to take it away with you. Who said anything about leaving? There's a bohemian vibe here. Artists and political ne'er-do-wells escaped the regime up here in the 70s and 80s, and it's not changed much. The Army imposed a 9pm curfew which still exists today, but there are local bars you can drink in, if you run home before the Police grab you.

I'd highly recommend a visit. Pun intended.

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