Friday, October 12, 2012

The Coffins and Caves Of Sagada

It was a beautiful Sunday in Sagada, we started our day with a hearty breakfast of purple rice, Spanish sardines and corned beef. The purple rice has a different flavor from other organic rice that I've tried, it has a buttery taste, so creamy and easy to digest. After breakfast, off we went to the tourist registration center at the municipal hall, and started our tour in one of the popular destination in Sagada... the Sumaguing Cave. Tourists don't miss going to this cave for its magnificent rock formations which comes in different shapes and sizes.

 But walking down the cave was a struggle, it was very dark in the first half of our spelunking and only the pale glow of petrol lamp was the only source of light. The rocks are sharp and slippery, so we have to be careful not to slip down, and the only thing we can hold onto was another rock which were filled with bat poo! So if you're unlucky enough to hold onto something slimy and smelly...that's it! We continued to walk deeper into the cave and finally we've reached the part where the tour guide asked us to remove our footwear and I wondered why. Suddenly, I was stunned by the orange colored rocks before me! We walked onto these huge rocks barefooted and it wasn't slippery, the texture was rough but not rough enough to hurt my feet! The crystal clear water looks so pure and I hesitated to dabble my feet for I might pollute it! Time came when it's time for us to go out of the cave and the adventure throughout was fun...except for the bat poos.

Not far from the Sumaguing cave is the Lumiang burial cave. The trail going to the cave was a lot better than that of the Sumaguing's, the only difference I think, was we'll be seeing coffins which has been buried for 500 years instead of the usual stalactites. The natives of Sagada has a unique tradition of burying the dead, it is common that old folks initiates in making their own coffins which sounds horrid. I noticed that the coffins were small and wondered how a departed person can fit there. It was said that the corpse was forced to a fetal position to fit in the coffin for it is only proper to return them to the Creator the same way they were in their nativity, and so it makes sense. There were about 200 coffins all stacked next to and on top of each other. Coffins with reptile carvings on it belongs to Sagada's highly respected leaders. There was an eerie stillness and feeling in the cave and thoughts of old souls wandering around watching their remains and us came to my mind. So I gave a signal to my companions to move out of the cave and go to our next destination.

Going to Echo Valley to see the Hanging coffins was on the list of places to be visited and hiring a guide is optional, so we opted to go on our own. We only asked the locals on how to get there and we easily found the trail along Mission Compound, where white gravestones were laid in an orderly manner on top of the hill. Charred woods and ashes still remains on some graves, instead of stiff candle waxes we usually see in cemeteries. I've learned that the locals also commemorates the dead on the first day of November, and set a small bonfire before the grave instead of those tall candles we usually bring in cemeteries. How solemn it is to find the place illuminated with bonfires as orange flames and smoke arises and incorporates with the fog and the evergreen forest around. The smell of burnt woods and pines must have been a sweet eulogy to their dear departed ones.

We continued our journey to Echo Valley, trekking along the cliff side wasn't painful, we need to be cautious at times where loose coarse soil can cause someone to slide down...the cliff. But there are trees that you can easily grasp... just in case.

We reached the Echo Valley in just a few minutes and the joy of screaming at the top of our lungs while listening to our echoes was such an entertaining moment! The picture of us on the left (please click it) was taken by my companion while he was trekking down to the cliff of the hanging coffins and while we were enjoying the cold breeze and listening to the echoes of our laughter!

The famous Hanging coffins where Sagada has become known, rest on a cliff just beneath the Echo Valley. I can imagine how the natives of Sagada struggled to put these coffins on cliffs. They believe that burying the dead on higher places can get them closer to heaven, the privilege of being hanged on cliffs after death were only for the most qualified and respected villager. The 2000 year old burial tradition is slowly being unobserved by the locals although the last coffin hanged was in the year 2008 who could have been the last descendant of a highly respected person in town.

Oh well...I got tired I need some refreshments, and passing by a yogurt house would be delighting. The store is one of the popular eating place in Sagada, it is a cozy place to dine and exchange pleasantries with my companions. The atmosphere is well adorned by old pictures of Sagada's first inhabitants, colorful woven materials embellishes the ceiling and bamboo decorations hanging on each corner.

We tried their most popular dish, the all organic strawberry banana with granola yogurt at its finest! They also serve other dishes like pasta, rice meals, chicken meals and salads, but hey I could also eat that in the city. I'm in a yogurt house, so am I not suppose to eat yoghurt? Our two-day adventure in Sagada was too short to visit other interesting places.The sunrise, the waterfalls, lakes and lush forests are just the few things on my list, Sagada will always be there and will surely wait for my return.