by The Pinoy Rider
The perils of long distance riding
Thanks to Motorstar and InsideRACING Magazine for hooking me up with a one of a kind motorcycle. It is here, the actual adventure bike that I will be using for my 900 km trip up north next week – The Xplorer R – the first of its kind here in the Philippines. I came in well prepared for this trip. I knew beforehand that it will be very tiring, and it might take more than just a couple of days road trip so I prepared for that as well. And from what I learned from my previous rides, it always seems that your luggage going home is more packed than when you started. Probably one of a traveler’s biggest mysteries so I had to be prepared. I don’t know how that actually happens but it always seem to be the case. Anyway, as they say – travel light. The bike’s side boxes really were a big help for me in expanding the carrying capacity of the bike. Those side boxes, coupled with the top box, helped eliminate the need to tie a bag at the pillion seat. That way I would not have to inconvenience myself in checking every now and then if the bag containing my valuable is still behind me or not. The bike also came from the Motorstar people just a few days back so I was pretty sure and was pretty confident as well that this bike would not give me any sort of problem on a very long escapade.
With everything in check, I met up with one of my rider friends JRspeed to accompany me to the ride up north. For correct disclosure, this was a duo ride although I will be telling this story in the first person, for a more personal approach on this Epic ride. The planned route to be taken was from Metro Manila to Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province (Bontoc – Sagada) and going home would be via Benguet taking the entire Halsema Highway all the way to Baguio. From Baguio, it will be a breeze tackling Kennon Road and going through the provinces of La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bulacan and then finally back to Manila.
Of course I woke up late again (what’s new) so the planned 4:30 AM take-off became 6:30 AM. With the fast pace of the ride, the time lost was more than made up for. First stop was at Science City of Munoz, wherein I was greeted by Crossroad Riders Club of Nueva Ecija led my Ma’am Edwina Bandong. I was really surprised because they even had a tarpaulin posted near the welcome arc of San Jose. Thank you very much for the super warm Nueva Ecija welcome Ma’am Bing B, staff of Eriel’s and Crossroad Riders Club of San Jose City. Thanks for the super surprising welcome I really really appreciate it. You guys are the best.
Warm welcome in Nueva Ecija
Special thanks to Crossroad Riders Club and Eriel’s Cakes and Pastries of Nueva Ecija
Going up to Ifugao and travelling through both paved and rough roads often led me to seeing these mountain people go on with their way of life. From spending hours just squatting while chewing their betel nut, or more popularly known as ‘moma’ (The Igorots believe that the chewing of betel staves off hunger and tiredness), to planting rice which seem to accurately describe their way of life for the past couple of thousands of years.
Much respect to the native people.
The 8th Wonder of the world
Much of the culture and life in the Cordilleras revolves around rice. From planting to harvest each period represents a time that is honored and sacred in its own way. In fact the Banaue Rice Terraces, often considered as the 8th Wonder of the world, was made by the Ifugao people. Aside from rice cultivation there are numerous agricultural products grown in the Cordilleras because of the altitude and cool temperature. Apart from vegetables like cabbages and carrots, coffee is a popular product and most households drink a good amount of the stuff. It wasn’t uncommon to have multiple cups of coffee a day, but it sure beats the instant coffee I usually drink when out in the field. Vegetables and other produce are grown in abundance and many of them are brought to the lowlands to be sold. Likewise, the forest and mountains themselves are also an important resource for the Igorot people. Hunting and fishing are important parts of culture in the Cordilleras and is often learned at early age. These, among other things are an important part of the Igorot’s way of life.. After several visits throughout the years, I feel like I have only scratched the surface of experiencing the rich cultures that make up the people from the mountains. The Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isnag, Kankanaey, and the Kalinga all are collectively known as Igorots. These mountain people have been living in the highlands much longer than we can imagine. As for me, I have been fortunate enough to have mingled with them on several visits to the Cordilleras. My earliest recollection would be when I was just 9 years old and I have visited an ethnic Ifugao village somewhere in Banaue for a week long exploration and immersion trip. Away from the city center’s life is a little more slow pace with a big portion of time spent farming, preparing food, and tending to the house and family. Life in the mountains may seem boring for uneducated outsiders, but having been there myself, I would say that these people are just contented with what they have, seemingly at peace with themselves. I was fortunate enough to have visited a number of different communities on my previous trips including ones that are very much isolated in terms of distance.
The sleepy town of Bontoc, Mountain Province
Typical foggy ride in the Cordilleras
The final stretch to Sagada, rough roads and all
First time in Sagada on a motorbike
The peaceful little town of Sagada
Finally I’m here. After more than 400 kilometers worth of travelling, hardships, and challenges, finally what once seemed unachievable has now been conquered – Sagada, Mountain Province.
This one is definitely harder than my ride last 2010 – my Halsema Adventure. Back then, it was purely Halsema highway, purposely missing Sagada due to the poor road conditions during that time – from the Banaue – Bontoc Road up to the 12 kilometer rough road going to Sagada from the Dantay Junction. Though this one was harder, longer, and more tiring, still I cherish every single Epic Ride that I take. For me I used to just call it a roadtrip, I guess now it is already a way of life. And I am loving every single moment of it. As a wise man once said, “Life is not about the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”
Zigzag road – one miss you die
And also a 180 degree turn
Located 410 kilometers from Manila, and at the edge of Mountain Province, Sagada is a safe haven for travelers. The altitude is so high that no hotels here offer any air-conditioning. One of the more obvious things that you will notice when taking a road trip here would be the majestic Cordillera mountains being touched by the clouds. It is not uncommon for the Sagada highway to be filled with fog by 5 pm.
Arriving on a weekday, I was more than relieved that even though Sagada is a popular tourist destination throughout the year, it still had available rooms during my visit – as I did not make any reservations (for me that makes the trip all the more exciting hehe). I stayed at the Sagada Igorot Inn for a very respectable 500 pesos per night of stay. I was impressed and surprised on how cheap staying in Sagada is still. My last visit 4 years ago had basically the same rate so knowing that after 4 years and the hotel rates did not change is a very welcome news for me. In fact, during my photowalk at night, I found out that there are actually some inns offering rooms for as low as Php 250 per person. For those first time travelers, let it be known that there are no air-conditioned rooms in Sagada. It is generally very cold throughout the year so making the temperature any cooler would probably freeze you. Sagada’s temperature is always at least 7 degrees lower than Baguio City. Mountain Province, Sagada in particular, is often overwhelmed with people visiting that there are not enough rooms for visitors, especially during weekends and holidays.
The road ahead is far and unclear, but I will conquer it.
For first timers, I would strongly suggest hiring a tour guide. All you have to do is to register at the tourism office at the town center and hire a tour guide down the road. Local guides on tourism and are very knowledgeable about the area. Rates depend on your planned itinerary but would start at upwards of 500 pesos. Not only will they give you a tour, but also give you a glimpse of the past with their stories – as all of the tour guides in Sagada are born and raised in the Cordilleras.
An old school weaver in Sagada. We should really do our best to keep this tradition alive.
The locals would say that to truly claim that you have conquered and survived Sagada, an outsider must have completed any of their spelunking attractions. Sagada is also made up of several underground caves, with millions of years old stalactites and stalagmites. I have been blessed to be able to visit the Sumaguing Cave in Sagada. It was my first time to actually go spelunking so I found it a bit difficult having really no experience and only having my tour guide as all the help I could have. Inside the cave it is not just walking, but climbing, and a lot of crawling through tight spaces wherein my heavy frame would sometimes find it hard to squeeze through the paths. Still, all is well and I managed to go through Sumaguing Cave and was lucky enough to have done it on my first try.
Spelunking at Sumaguing Cave – Sagada’s own
Seeing life in Sagada and other city centers in the Cordilleras being completely run and shaped by locals was really very inspiring to see. I can’t think of another place in our country where this same type of system is in place. It shouldn’t have come up as a surprise that the Spaniards, our conquerors for 377 years, were not able to penetrate the Igorots. One would think that this is due to the naturally harsh terrain one has to go through just to reach the mountain people, but I would say that this is primarily due to the strong resolve of the Igorots and their seemingly hard attitude towards outsiders. They are the type of people that wouldn’t let anyone outside their tribes gain access, or even influence their rich way of life. Even during modern times, the Igorots have risen up against planned government projects or infrastructures that would meddle with their traditional way of living, and those that would effectively displace their own people who are in the way of these projects. . It is cases like this that show the true commitment of the people and how maintaining what is theirs is of vital importance to them.
St. Mary’s Church of Sagada
Two thumbs up for this view
I have always loved the mountain life, more than the oceans. What has always been lacking for me would be the time spent. It would be almost impossible to understand their way of life if I just visit them just for a few days per visit. This is especially true when trying relate to the Igorot people who live in six different provinces with over 20 tribes all speaking different languages, practicing different rituals, and have different beliefs and cultures. Visiting the Cordilleras was like stepping into another moment in time for me, a drastic change in geography and people’s general simple outlook and attitude toward their own way of life. I have already visited all 6 provinces that make up the Cordilleras, and this Epic Ride more than helped me enhance my vague understanding of their diverse and sophisticated way of life. To read about it is one thing, to experience it is another! This trip might not have been the easiest but I sure as hell am enjoying every second of it.
Dear Lord thank you for letting me experience this.
– Erik Gatmaitan is the author of http://www.pinoyrider.com – Journeying the Philippines SOLO on a motorbike.
Follow his adventures on his website or through his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/PinoyRider