Travel Photography: "I Came, I Saw, I Conquer the Adventures in Sagada"

April 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

My "photo escapades" continues… and I decided to spent my vacation last holy week in Sagada with Olympus OM-D E-M5 body (MFT Mirrorless camera) and 12-50mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. No heavy DSLR gear nor a back up camera this time, as I travel alone and no extra hand to carry my extra loads, so I really have to squeeze it all in medium size backpack and mini ThinkTank photo bag just perfect for my Oly kit.

Sagada is famous for its natural beauty, its culture and the warmth of its people - the Igorots in the Philippines. It also offers a different variety of tours and adventure trips compared to other places -- from breathtaking view of terraces, mountain hiking, waterfalls trekking, to exploring caves plus the fresh foods are some of the great experiences you don't want to miss when you step in to this humble town. If you love to travel and game with adventure to shoot landscape, then this place is truly a must-see. 

ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0012ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0012Rice Terraces
Banaue Rice Terraces

It's an unassuming town nestled in the Cordillera Mountains in Northwestern Philippines. Sagada is located 275 km north of Manila. Visitors coming from Manila by transport have the choice of traveling either via Banaue (Ifugao Province) or Baguio City (Benguet Province) as there are no public vehicles going direct to Sagada, so better if you have your own private transfer or with organized group tours, its hassle-free and more convenient like what I did. There are air conditioned buses traveling from Manila direct to Banaue. A bus that leaves Manila at 10:00 p.m. will make it to Banaue at 7:00 a.m. the following day. From Banaue, a jeepney ride will take the guest to Bontoc in about three (3) hours. Non-air conditioned buses and jeepneys ply the route Bontoc-Sagada in about an hour. Sagada is approximately 6 hours of descending travel to Baguio over the narrow mountain tracks traversing the Cordilleras against a background of terraces planted to rice and vegetables.

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Igorot at Banaue Rice Terraces

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Skulls of animals are display outside Ifugao houses as a sign of the family's wealth.

After some 12 hours of long long road trip considering traffic and stopovers, we finally arrived at Banaue. I am dead tired but I can't refused to grab my camera when I saw some scenic view of rice terraces, then, we took another hour and a half to reached the charming town of Sagada. After our registration at the tourist center, we just checked-in to our guesthouse, ordered a quick lunch, bathroom break and get some rest. The adventure begins on the same day in the afternoon, we went out for Lumiang Cave and Sumaguing Cave. Spelunking or Caving is one of the best things to do in Sagada or they call it cave connecting, you got to challenge yourself to survive 4 caves. Oh, by the way, I almost forgot to mention that most of Sagada tourist spots needs a legit tour guide and to mind you, the guides we have in the caves that day are absolutely amazing that they can even guide you even if they’re blind folded. Obviously, we finished that day totally worn out.

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Survival guide preparing our kerosine lamp

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Sumaguing Cave is a 40 minute walk from Sagada on the Suyo Road. Unusual limestone formations are found in the cave.

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Spelunking Sumaguing Cave

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Our guide, resting after we reached the bottom of Sumagauing Cave. 

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Inside Sumaguing Cave

The following day, I set my alarm and sneak out to get some early morning shots in one of the areas I spotted along the way to Sumaguing Cave about 40 minutes walk from the guesthouse. Oh, I have to skip my coffee and almost missed our next trip to Bomod-ok Falls. It's a 3-4 hours back and forth hike with the walking distance of about 2 km. or approx. 6,500 normal steps depending on the ability to walk through rice paddies and natural trails from Bangaan down to the famous Bomod-ok Waterfalls also called the Big Falls. It is located at Fidelisan with a height of approximately 200ft starting from the topmost portion down to its natural swimming pool which has a depth of more or less 10ft. 

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Morning sunshine somewhere in the bush

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Earlt Morning scene in Sagada

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Another rice terraces view from the top 

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Nature at its best, going down to Bomod-ok Falls.

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Bomod-ok Waterfalls or Big Falls 

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Some villages on top of the mountain. 

ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0053Bomod-ok FallsRefreshing pool of Bomod-ok falls
Refreshing pool of Bomod-ok falls

ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0018Hanging CoffinsOne of many hanging coffins view from the top.
One of many hanging coffins view from the top.

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The Hanging Coffins

I'm a total wrecked and my stomach was half empty, after 5 hours hiking under the sun we decided to sit down and have our lunch at Salt and Pepper Restaurant. Then in the afternoon, we visited Ganduyan Museum, this small museum is packed with an anthropologist’s dream of sculptures, jewellery and other Kankanay artefacts. Then shortly, after Ganduyan we drop by at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, it is a monumental stone church built by American Missionaries during the early 1900's  located just near Sagada Cemetery and along the route going to the Echo Valley and we finished our long day at the Hanging Coffins. Members of the Igorot tribe of Mountain Province have long practiced the tradition of burying their dead in hanging coffins, nailed to the sides of cliff faces high above the ground. Comfortably predating the arrival of the Spanish, the procedure can probably be traced back more than two millennia. One of the most common beliefs behind this practice is that moving the bodies of the dead higher up brings them closer to their ancestral spirits, but our guide also told me that one reason behind hanging the coffins is to avoid the dogs eating the corpse, sounds funny but that really make sense to me.  

We've had our dinner after at Masferré Country Inn and Restaurant and I would say, that night really made my day in Sagada, i'm excited but its nothing to do with hiking through mountains or crawling through caves but rather with the amazing art -- the black & white photography of Eduardo Masferré that hangs on the wall like his mini gallery.


Eduardo Masferré

The local artist, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 86, has left quite an anthropological legacy. In 1934, Masferre started documenting life in the Cordilleras, the mountainous areas of Northern Luzon, beautifully capturing the spirit of the region in his photos. He covered everything from village life to landscapes to architectural styles, but his ultimate collection was that of the native Igorot people many of whom were proud headhunters. Today, 60 years later, almost all of the tribal groups have modernized and are increasingly integrated into mainstream Filipino society.

After working as a photographer for 22 years, Masferre returned to farming in 1956 to support his growing family while his son took over the photo studio in Bontoc. Part of Masferre’s photo collection can be seen at the fantastic Bontoc Museum, an ethnological treasure trove, as well as in several of Sagada’s restaurants and hotels. His wife Nena still lives in Sagada and it is said that whenever the door to her house is open, she is open to receiving visitors. Unfortunately, while we were there, her front door remained closed.

Read more about Eduardo Masferre’s life and his vision at the National Gallery of Australia.

ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0063Kiltepan ViewpointSunrise at Kiltepan Viewpoint
Sunrise at Kiltepan Viewpoint

Before we headed back to Manila, an early morning wake up call around 4am to get to Kiltepan Viewpoint and watch the beautiful sunrise over mountain range, then, its time to hit the road back home via Halsema Highway, one of the most scenic routes in the country, the roads are great yet the trip still takes roughly 6-7 hours to Baguio due to sharp bends through the Cordillera Mountains. It also passes through the Highest Point of the Philippine Highway System about 2,255 metres (7,400 ft) above sea level and down to Tomay & Atok to La Trinidad and all the way to Manila.

ARJ-SAGADA-040115 0065Halsema HighwayMesmerizing view along Halsema Highway
View along Halsema Highway

So, now I would say that "I came, I saw and I conquer the Adventure in Sagada", its another big check off my long bucket list. Till then, see you on my next #photoescapades. =) 



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