Stairway to heaven

Trip Start Nov 24, 2008
Trip End Oct 21, 2009

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Where I stayed
Residential Lodge

Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Friday, December 5, 2008

The last two days have been long indeed! We got up yesterday and headed straight to one of the shopping malls in Manila to look for a travel agent to organise some transport out of the city. We got a text from Jeanne (Irish girl we met in Hong Kong) who was now in Manila also and met up with her. After a bit of talking we realised we all had the same notions of getting out of the city and seeing some of the Philippines so we pooled our resources. A brainstorming session later and we had booked a 12 hour night bus going north to the town of Bontoc, from there we planned to go to Sagada which was another hour away.

This was going to be our first real taste of backpacking and it was a bit of a baptism of fire. We arrived for the bus at 8.30pm and upon seeing it we knew the next 12 hours were not going to be comfortable. The thing about the Philippines that we are starting to realise is that public transport in general is not designed for tall westerners like ourselves. We took our seats on the bus and we literally had no room to move and the person in front had yet to put their seat down! We were still waiting for the bus to get fully loaded and our legs were already starting to cramp. To make matters even worse when we thought that the bus was full and ready to go another 15 people got on! They have these odd aisle seats that fold out for extra passengers so if anyone at the back wanted to get off then about 10 people had to get off first to let them off, madness I tell ya! The pictures will says it all.

So all jammed in and dangerously overloaded we started the long trip north. The first 5 hours were pretty rough going and we caught little bits of sleep. Things got a lot better though when at our first stop about half the people on the bus got off. After that we got much more room to ourselves and managed to get some half decent sleep. At around 6am as the sun was coming up we awoke to be greeted by absolutely amazing scenery, we were on a mountain pass heading through the Banue Rice Terraces region. They are the only UN protected heritage site in the Philippines. The pictures don't do them justice! We didn't get much sleep after that as the bus winded its way through the hair rising mountain pass with dodgey unpaved roads and sheer drops!

Some scary moments, a quick rest stop (only the second of two in the whole 12 hours) and some amazing scenery later we arrived in the town of Bontoc. We were very sleepy and the bus dropped us off outside a restaurant. It was about 9am and we hadn't eaten much since our lunch the day before so we went in and ordered rice and chicken for breakfast. This seems to be a relatively normal breakfast here. We chatted to a local tour guide about his ideas of what we should do up here in the mountain region of the Philippines. It sounded pretty amazing and he had loads of references from people who had used his services who came from all over the world but we really wanted to visit the village of Segada so we took his number in case we changed our minds and thanked him for showing us his photos and guide books.

We hopped on a Jeepney(We'll explain these in the next entry) to our chosen destination of Segada at about 10am. A bum numbing hour later we arrived in Segada. The scenery on the way up was out of this world and again the photos we took could never do it justice. The mountains just go on for miles! The valleys have winding rivers of azure blue and the green rice terraces all up the sides of the mountains are something else. Many of the houses are on stilts at the edge of the mountain roads and the town of Segada is a happy, friendly place.

Not many foreign tourists venture up here. Most tourists are Filipino. We stick out like a sore thumb. Three white, very tall, very different people to everyone else! It's pretty amazing to be off the usual tourist trail though!

After checking into our guest house and a quick nap the three of us decided to go on a mini-trek to Echo Valley. This got the name for the obvious reason that if you shout your voice will echo! Also the valley is home to the unusual hanging coffins. The people of Segada, although mostly Christian, believe that if you bury a dead body the soul will be trapped under ground and suffocate. So they place the bodies in coffins hanging high up on the cliffs of Echo Valley. This way the dead can be guardians over the people of the village. It's truly an amazing sight! The people of the town bring the coffin without the body out to the valley first and place it in a cave or in an alcove in the cliffs. Usually the person will have already chosen where they would like their body to be placed but if not the family makes the decision. Theres loads of other little intricacies to the whole process but this blog entry would be far too long if we went into them all. The mains points are that the family and the towns people take turns carrying the body from the home out to Echo Valley, this is only after at least 10 days of mourning the death where the body is usually sat on a chair on the porch of the family home. The body isn't embalmed at all and it is said that the 'juice' from the body dripping on to the person carrying it is a blessing!? We were lucky to bump into a local guide on our way to Echo Valley and he agreed to let us join in his group. This is how we learned so much of the local history.

Just got back from a few beers in a local cafe, we had to come home so early because there is 9pm curfew in the village and everything closes. Seems years ago the authorities believed that tourists were coming here from Manila and funding insurgents but even though thats long past the curfew remains in an informal manner. Were also up at 6.30am tomorrow to hike up to a waterfall and then some spelunking in the locals caves so an early night isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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