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Escape to the Cordilleras

Blog post by Reina Garcia

A TV commercial for a popular brand of toothpaste claims a certain variant can prevent bacteria build-up for up to 12 hours. It features a guy brushing his teeth prior to his flight from Manila, and checking his and his seatmate’s mouths for bad bacteria when the plane lands in San Francisco, 12 hours later.

My mind was blown when I realized that it takes approximately the same amount of time to fly from Manila to San Francisco, as it does to travel from Metro Manila to Sagada, Mountain Province.

A week ago I took a much-needed respite from the crazy traffic and

the fumes of Metro Manila and with a ragtag group of gals made our way to the Cordilleras to see the rice terraces. As a second-timer to Sagada, I was tasked with booking our bus tickets from Manila. I did my research and found that there were 3 options to get to Sagada: 1) Take a 11 to 12-hour bus ride from E. Rodriguez, Quezon City to Bontoc municipality in Mountain Province and from there take a 45-minute jeepney or van ride to the town of Sagada. 2) Take a 9 to 10-hour bus ride from Sampaloc, Manila to Banaue in Ifugao province and from there, take a 2-hour jeepney or van ride to Bontoc, then a 45-minute ride to Sagada; and 3) Take a 5 to 7-hour bus trip to Baguio City, switch bus terminals and from there take a 6-hour bus trip to Sagada.

The first option was the preferred one, as one can just sleep the bus ride away and wake up in the Mountain Province. We were not able to book seats on time however, so we had to go with second choice. The bus terminal was a small and simple open-air space in Sampaloc, Manila, where one would least expect free wifi, but there it was, along with the obligatory donut stand. Most of our fellow tourists in the terminal were foreigners.

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Red light special. After all the lights of the bus are turned off so that travelers can sleep, a lone red lightbulb remains.

Comparing the journey to my first time to Sagada around 6 years ago, I noticed that the roads have significantly improved. Most of the way is already paved, and no longer are there bumpy roads with one side a sharp drop

down a cliff that I remember from my first trip. Still, the prospect of 12-hour travel along winding roads in buses that may sometimes have less-than-reputable reputation for safety does continue to dissuade travellers (ehem, Filipinos) from going to places we only read about in our elementary textbooks or see in our banknotes.

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Traffic lights, Cordillera-style

For some reason, this calls to mind the ease and accessibility of travel to Boracay, which has numerous options for flights, ferries, buses, vans, and bancas to the famed island. As a consequence, tourism development has gone to urbanization levels, and the island chokes with tourists, new establishments, and unmanageable amounts of garbage. The same can be said of Baguio City, where one can no longer see pine trees in the city center.

In Sagada, on the other hand, while I did notice many new restaurants and inns, and several buildings being constructed as compared to my previous trip, the pace of development seems to be as chill as the general vibe of the town and the townsfolk. Alisa comments that even the designs of the jeepneys are a throwback to the Atari graphics of the 70s and 80s. Call me selfish, but I kind of hope that the place will remain as not too accessible to tourists; because in the end, maybe the ones who brave the bus and jeepney trips to the Cordilleras are the ones who care most about preserving its nature and small-town charm.

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Atari Jeep

All photos by Reina Garcia

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