Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sights of Sagada and Besao in Mt. Province

Sagada is on my bucket list of the must-see places in the country. Our group left Manila at night of 27 June 2013, hoping for a nice weekend weather despite the onset of rainy season. Below is one of the many nice views along the road as we entered Mountain Province.

The town’s poblacion is small, with the new municipal building on the center of various inns and restaurants. 

Visitors must register at their tourism center for Php 20/head, which is situated on their old municipal building. The tourism officer is helpful in providing info for tourists. 

They sell a simple tourist map of Sagada for Php 15, detailing the location of hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites. Schedule of buses going to Banawe and Baguio are also indicated on the back of the map.

On the road that leads to the caves, there is a ravine that shows limestone formations similar to those found in Palawan. Those rock formations are proof that the Philippine archipelago rose from beneath the ocean floor millions of years ago.

If you would look closely at those limestone rocks, you will see a few hanging wooden coffins. This is the less popular hanging coffin area, as its relatively unaccessible for tourists.

For Protestants, they have a nice Church of St. Mary the Virgin, just walking distance from the municipal building. A 3-foot tall  bronze bell is on its courtyard entrance.

Two very old iron wheels decorate the church grounds. They have a part on the small town’s history, as these wheels were imported from U.S. in the early 1900s.

As you can see on the photo, the church’s exterior design is quite unique. It was Saturday morning when we went there. It was closed, so we were not able to see its interiors. 

Below is the schedule of the regular mass services.

Beyond the church going to the hill, we found the town’s cemetery.

There are foreigners interred on this cemetery, where the trail to their famous hanging coffins is located.

The views of the pine tree forest and views here are very refreshing.

But to see the hanging coffins, we must carefully descend to the ravine. Without a guide, I mistakenly took the left trail, then recovered by ascending to the steep portion right beneath the hanging coffins. 

Then we finally stumbled on the hanging coffins’ main spot for photo ops. Aside from their Igorot tribe who practice such burial, there is an older tribe in China who observe the same practice, whom they believe to share common ancestors.   

I learned these from our spelunker guide Joey, who added that they have separate burial sites according to their customs and beliefs. Those hanging coffins belong to respected members of their community, who requested that type of burial. 

Women who died while giving birth have separate burial site to avoid repetition of tragic events. While the bad elements of their society were buried on the deepest part of some caves, to keep their souls isolated and avoid influencing their tribe. 

Afterwards, we went to the neighboring town of Besao for our Lakbay Aral, less than 30 minutes drive from Sagada. This is past the road to Lake Danao, on the other side of Mt. Ampacao. This signage that prohibits the spitting of “momma” or spent betel nut, is more common here than in Sagada.

On the dirt road that leads to Brgy. Banguitan, there are views of the town’s rice terraces.

Those distant mountains are part of Ilocos Sur, more popularly known as Tirad Pass.

There are small waterfalls on the roadsides.

But the biggest surprise here is their multi-tiered waterfalls that fall down on the river below. There is a perfect spot to view its magnificence along the road. I would have descended on the main waterfalls’ base there if I have the time. 

When we asked our local host why they do not promote their tourist spots, she responded that their local leaders do not want tourists in skimpy outfits to affect their conservative culture.

Before we left Besao town, we were served with veggie lunch of ampalaya-avocado salad, string beans in sour soup, and sauteed camote leaves. I did not expect that such healthy vegetarian dishes can also taste like gourmet dishes.

Here is a typical public ride to Besao with top-riding passengers.

Besao town is definitely an off-the-beaten tourist spot for visitors tired of the usual attractions in Sagada.

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