day one hundred and eighteen: january 25, 2016: sagada

With only one day planned in Sagada, we decided to try to really pack it all in. We had read about the sunrise at Kiltepan Peak overlooking the rice terraces below and decided to wake up before dawn to check it out. About 50-60 other people also had the same idea. Lucky for us, there's a road that goes all the way to the peak and we were able to take the van, instead of hiking in the dark and cold! We arrived about 30 minutes before first light, which is about an hour before sunrise. We were definitely in a cloud. You couldn't see a thing thru the thick mist. Due to our first flight from Manila to Coron having 10 kg checked baggage limits, we had left all our cold weather gear in Manila thinking we were spending most of our time on the islands and beaches. Instead, we armed ourselves with the blankets from the hotel and drank hot chocolate from one of the vendors at the peak. 

As it slowly became lighter, we crept in front of the crowds and edged down the cliffside  to get a good viewpoint. Surprisingly, no one was down where we were, which was a much better view than up above with the crowds.

There were a few periods where the clouds cleared entirely and the sun shined down from the east on the rice terraces and the view looked like a painting. We stuck around for a while after the crowds left and enjoyed the view and peace and quiet. It was definitely worth waking up early for and enduring the cold. 

After returning to our hotel and having breakfast, we dropped by the tourist center to pay our environmental fee and book a guide for the hanging coffins and the burial cave. Sadly, we found out that many of the areas including the hanging coffins and the burial cave were closed today due to traditional rituals being performed. However, they would reopen the following day. First, we tried to drive to the trail to the hanging coffins to see if we could sneak by without being caught. Clearly we weren't the first people who had thought of this. There was someone from the tourist center camped out there making sure foreigners and tourists were not entering that area. Trying to think about what to do, we dropped by the old church to try to come up with a plan.

As we mapped out our next few days, we realized that we could skip Bagiuo and drive directly to Vigan from Sagada enabling us to stay one more night to see the areas that were closed today!

With our new plan set, we decided to go visit the Gunduyan Museum in town. This small, privately owned museum collection was well curated by the son of local Sagada Igorot woman to whom the collection belonged to. Many of the items in the collection were actually family heirlooms that she had kept to ensure that her ancestors would be taught about their history and culture. The collection was very impressive. With no photos allowed inside, we were still able to take a group photo with him.

With a rumbling in our stomachs, we ended up at Yoghurt House and were not disappointed. The food was very tasty and we ended up eating here again before leaving the following day.

After lunch, we visited Sagada Weaving and Sagada Pottery. Seeing the women weave on old looms was pretty amazing.  I wanna learn! We weren't able to take any photos inside, but it was very cool to see in person. The pottery on the other hand was pretty standard.

day one hundred nineteen: january 26, 2016: echo valley hanging coffins + lumiang burial caves

After a hearty breakfast, we dropped by the tourist center to pay and pickup a guide. Edward was a very knowledgable guide and explained to us that the Igorot people practiced both animism and christianity. For those who more strongly believed in animism, the belief that the world and its animals and plants have spirits, burial below ground wasn't the preferred ritual. Instead, they would be placed in coffins along cliff walls and at the entrances of caves to allow their spirit to more easily be released into the world. This practice is still done today, but not in areas where tourists are allowed to visit. The hanging coffins below are nearly 100 years old and there are actually 16 coffins, with one hidden in the shrubbery up higher which you cannot see in the photo. 

Our next stop was the Lumiang Burial Caves. Here, there are coffins that are over 300 years old. Where some of the hanging coffins resembled more modern day coffins, those in the entrance of Lumaing Cave are all made from hollowed out logs. Each person would be responsible for making their own coffin, which would take several days to hollow out.

Up close, the coffins were very small. Yes, the Igorot people were not that large in stature, but our guide told us that people were typically put in their coffins in the fetal position. This was because you were born into the world in that position, so you also exited this world in the same position.

After another great lunch at Yoghurt House, we hit the long road to Vigan, nearly 6-7 hours.