North Luzon

The north of the Philippines is a road less travelled and very different from the metropolis, beaches, or islands but amazingly spectacular in its own way. The northern parts of Luzon are filled with lush green mountains resting between seas of clouds. Temperatures are cooler and light afternoon rains clean the air leaving nothing but freshness to take in.


Baguio

We started in Baguio, the city of pines. It is the summer capital of the Philippines and the gateway to the north. The city is scattered amongst hills and reminded my thighs of days walking the steep streets of San Francisco.

2L3A1069.jpgCity of Baugio from our Apartment

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We stayed at Lyn’s Do Drop Inn, which is an affordable apartment style room. We had a kitchenette, small dining table, TV, and a lounge area. It was nice to be able to get takeout and share a bottle of wine at “home” for a change. Plus the Wi-Fi was a whopping 20mb/s (the best we have had in Asia)!

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2L3A1037.jpgSmiley Kevin walking around Baugio


Sagada

From Baguio we bussed to Sagada. Sagada is a popular destination for the outdoorsy types. There are caves to explore, sunrises to trek, and waterfalls to swim. Sagada is also most famous for their centuries old hanging coffins and burial sites.

GOPR4165.jpgCoffins on the side of the limestone cliffs

The indigenous people of Sagada are known as Igorots and Paganism was the religion practiced in Sagada before the American settlers came. Though now most have converted to Christianity, some Pagan beliefs and traditions are still prominent in their culture.

Their 2000 year old unique funerary customs are one of those things. Dead are buried in coffins and secured to the side of the limestone cliffs or piled in caves along the Echo Valley. Elderly will carve their own coffins as they near old age in preparation for death and will decide on a spot in the valley where they want their coffin to be hung or placed. The belief is that if you are hung higher on the cliffs you will be closer to the heavens. Tradition also requires a sacrifice of 21 pigs or chickens and if you cannot afford it, you must borrow or buy from someone that can. Something about gaining respect from the ancestors after you have passed on, I can’t exactly remember.

2L3A1209.jpgSnack stand for the hikers at the peak
2L3A1167.jpgSunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak

Kiltepan Peak is a famous spot in Sagada to see the sunrise above a field of clouds. But there were no guides available to take us there the next morning so instead we joined a group that was going to trek to Kamanbaneng Peak in the Marlboro Country, which was just as rewarding with 360º views of the surrounding county. The trek up to the sunrise was a short and easy one; however the trek back was longer and all downhill, not so great on your knees!

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We booked an Air BnB for Sagada, actually the first Air BnB we have stayed in during this trip. It was quite a nice experience to stay in a home with a family. Siegrid, the owner, is also a guide and can take you to all the sights around Sagada. She was very knowledgeable about it’s history since her family had been living there for generations. She also runs a bakery and the house always smells of fresh bread! No complaints there.

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Banaue & the Rice Terraces

From Sagada we jeepeneyd via Bontoc to Banaue. Jeepneys are the most affordable way to travel distances between cities of the north. You can also rent a private car but the price skyrockets. We were about 1km away from Bontoc when we had to disembark the Jeepney and walk the rest of the way into town. There was a landslide, a big one. Luckily the walk was all downhill, but it still wasn’t pleasant carrying our huge backpacks and kilo’s of camera gear in the hot sun.

IMG_0524.jpgLandslide blocking the road

In Bontoc we switched to a Jeepney heading to Banaue. But because of the landslide we were delayed for 2 hours waiting for the jeep to fill up. They do not leave until it is full.

>> There is also a bus you can take for the same price as a jeepney, but they left on time and we missed it by literally a few seconds. We saw it pulling out of the parking spot as we arrived. <<

Our original final destination was Batad (another hour transfer from Banaue and 30 minute walk with our bags), but with all the delays and all the walking we had already done we decided to change our plans and spend the night in Banaue instead.

2L3A1305.jpgBanaue Rice Terraces

>> You can actually see Batad in a day trip from Banaue for about P1000-P1300 RT, which isn’t so bad. <<

2L3A1261.jpgBangaan Rice Terraces

From Banaue we choose to visit the rice terraces of Bangaan, a smaller but equally beautiful rice terrace as Batad. It was a good choice in my opinion because not only was it cheaper but it was also empty, making it the perfect place for us to take our time and shoot. Nothing was in the way, no one was rushing us, and no one was bothering us.

2L3A1260.jpgSquished in a tricycle

Another super cool thing to do from Banaue (which we didn’t have time to do) is visit the village of Kalinga. You might have heard of the famous Whang Od who is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. She still tattoos the traditional way by using a mixture of charcoal and water and tapping the skin through a thorn end of a calamansi tree. You would have to spend the night in the village and since we were leaving on a bus back to Manila that night, we had to skip it.

Apparently she is often sick and getting quite old, so I am not sure how much longer she will be tattooing visitors for. Sad face.

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