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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Wake-up call’s at six in the morning. That’s the official opening time for Halfway. This also means that that’s the only time you can ask for a kettle of hot water and a serving of nice breakfast. At 7:30am, we were already in front of Banaue Information Center where a jeep to Bontoc was being filled in by passengers. Please note that from Banaue, there’s only one jeepney ride that brings you to Bontoc and it’s supposed to leave when it’s already full (7:30am is the best time to go there).

Since there’s only one option for a public transportation out of Banaue and more passengers were still boarding in, we decided to try the topload adventure. Literally, it’s the roof of the jeepney where most of the luggages are put. I knew that the view from there could be heavenly since we won’t be obstructed by any passenger who’s also vying for a nice scenery when travelling inside the jeep. We were joined by two female tourists (namely Joyce and Julie, whom we got acquainted with later on), four Korean yuppies (we called them F4) and three or more local passengers.

Yes, it’s confirmed. The Mountain Province is best viewed when travelling in the jeepney’s topload from Banaue to Bontoc, facing the valleys. Best things are almost free (fare’s at P130 each). The morning drizzle helped romantize the photography buff in me. Only for the first 20 minutes. What followed was a series of small “death”experiences everytime the jeep tried to get through a one-way bumpy curve. You can get that roller coaster feeling as it swayed, as if you’re about to fall in the ravine. Yes, I sweated a lot even if it was really breezy.

The trip didn’t just end there. In the middle of the trip, something went pffft and panic was all over. I didn’t know how to react with the thunderous sound while the jeep was starting to lean on the side where we were seated. Then the leaning just stopped. Culprit: a flat tire. Saving grace: the jeep was wheeling through a small barangay road and not through a dangerous bend. Whew! Life’s indeed a bitch.

We reached Bontoc City after more than two hours. Manong driver brought us to the Sagada-bound jeepney station. This time, there are more options. Jeeps leave every 30 minutes (but I didn’t ask for the last trip schedule), the whole trip takes 45 minutes to an hour only and fare’s cheaper at P50 each. And yes, we decided to be a regular jeepney passenger this time together with Joyce, Julie and F4.

Sagada town proper touchdown at 12:45pm, rushed to Sagada Traveller’s Inn, checked in then hurried back to the information center to meet my kababayan, Zherwin, and the rest of the guys who were off for caving at 1pm (last part of their package trip itinerary in Sagada). The only thing I remember that I had for lunch was a pack of Fita – Spicy Tuna biscuits.

I thought that the Banaue-Bontoc topload experience was the highlight of my northern exposure trip. That was before I came face-to-face with a gentle cave called Sumaging. Prior to that, our guide Merden had us visit a hanging coffin valley and another cave for burials (a clever reminder of what was about to come).

Sumaging wasn’t threatening at first. Aside from the slippery downhill trek, everything went fine for the first 30 minutes. We passed by some small natural basins filled to the brim with water. Relaxing, if you may ask. The sound created by the drips from stalactytes was the ultimate chill-out. Then people started coming out from the dark and warning us that it was really difficult there. Let me call that a point of no return. Our guides (we now have a total of three guides, I wondered why) asked us if we wish continue. And almost everybody said “yes”. Hello, fear.

First challenge was a set of really small cracks. We were crawling and I really meant crawling as you’ve never crawled before. I wrapped my S60 around my neck and covered it with only clothing left with me. Second challenge was a small clearing wherein an abyss was waiting in the middle and the only way to get through it is a rope at the side. Now your life has to depend on the rope. And to your weight, of course. Then I gave my last smile for the noon and just went. I can’t remember how I survived that one.

While waiting to exhale, then came the third and most difficult challenge. We had to cross a water basin filled up to my chest. There’s a rope for rappelling down to that basin and that’s it. We had to jump and made a safe assumption on how deep it was. I think I left my balls there.

What’s supposedly the finish line for that route was the area I first called “point of no return”. Yes, we did return. There was a another rope waiting for us there which was for rapelling up to another platform. But that was a piece of cake. I don’t know but I felt braver and stronger after coming out of Sumaging. Everything seemed so easy to achieve. The caving experience in Sagada was the closest thing I could get to being immortal.

Then came sunset. And moonlight.

Evenings in Sagada are soothing. You can see lots of tourists around but I sensed no chaos. Everything seemed to be in a synchronized groove. I can say that this was my reward for being kick-ass in the afternoon. And the pricey dinner at Yoghurt House with yummy fried rice meal and a funny tasting strawberry yoghurt was just a lousy bonus.

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