By Fung Yu Author’s Note: This article uses virtual reality technology to provide an immersive experience. Adobe Flash 10 or higher is required to view the 360-degree VRs. Average VR size is 2.2Mb each. I FIRST set foot on Sagada about 4 years ago, had so much fun and adventure then that I vowed to visit the place again. The opportunity came during the long December holidays. It was more of a sudden decision really, of packing your bags, leaving your thoughts and hopping on the bus the day after Christmas. Sagada, known as Philippines’ shangri-la, is a rusty idyllic town near Bontoc, the provincial capital of Mountain Province in the Cordilleras. Located some 275 kilometers north of Manila and about 140 kilometers from Baguio City, it is a haven for adventurers. Famous for it’s centuries-old hanging coffins and burial caves, underground river and water falls, majestic sunrise and star-studded night skies, aromatic coffee Arabica and verdant rice terraces. At 1500 meters above sea level, Sagada boasts of cool breezy weather throughout the year. Dry season starts usually from December to May and wet season from June to November. Even after 4 years, little has changed in Sagada. The whole place seems to be trapped in a time-warp with the locals keeping to their traditional way of life. The only notable transformations are the numerous inns and lodgings converted from residential homes, upgraded rest houses catering to more tourists with better amenities, and more dogs in the streets. Relatively crime-free and peaceful, with residents familiar with one another, only dogs are employed for house security; shifting from pet dogs in the morning to guard dogs at night. We stayed for 3 days in Sagada, exploring and revisiting some of its major attractions. The first two days were mostly trekking; which started from the limestone cliffs of ‘Echo Valley’, up Cavalry Hills, down the hanging coffins with the most recent burial in May 2008, passed the mouth of the underground river, felt the misty falls of Bumod-ok and Bokong, beheld the spectacular fog-covered mountains atop Kiltepan Viewpoint during sunrise, tranquil Lake Danum, and flourishing rice terraces. We also witnessed two wedding celebrations wherein family members and guest took turns dancing to traditional gong music from dawn to late evening. View 360VRs View 360VRs Our last day saw the arrival of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the First Family in the morning. Flying in from Baguio, the President visited Echo Valley, marveled at the hanging coffins, trekked down Lumiang burial cave and had lunch at Rock Inn with local officials. In the afternoon, our group did the “cave connection,” easily the highlight of the tour, as this entails rappelling down Lumiang cave, traversing limestone chambers and coming out of Sumaging cave -- an almost 5 hours of exhilarating adventure! View 360VRs As most of Sagada’s attractions are reachable only by trekking and climbing, it helps to have a healthy body and happy disposition. Good trekking shoes are also a must as well as warm protective clothing. Tourists usually take home Arabica coffee beans, fresh mountain tea leaves, weaved products and shirts, and our recently discovered lemon pie. Travels to Sagada are generally by bus. Cable Tours located near St. Luke’s hospital in Quezon City has several trips a week. It leaves Manila around 8 p.m. and arrives in Bontoc the next day with approximate travel time of 12 hours. One can also opt to go via Baguio, taking the scenic route of the Cordillera Mountains in a 6-hour bus ride. All VRs taken on December 27-29, 2008. Thanks to Leia of www.travelfactor.org as our facilitator and the many new people I’ve met throughout this trip. The author can be reach at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Izah Morales INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines-- Singaporean adventurer and world-record holder Khoo Swee Chiow was in the Philippines to climb the second highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Pulag. He also decided to visit Mountain Province’s Sagada, which is known for its “hanging coffins” and mummies. It was Swee Chiow’s first time to explore the country despite having explored the world and set world records in the process. “I would definitely go back and bring my family here,” Swee Chiow said. An adventurer, Swee Chiow has scaled at least seven summits in the seven continents, conquered Mt. Everest twice, traveled to the North Pole without an oxygen, skied in the South Pole for 57 days, skated from Hanoi to Singapore for 94 days, cycled from Singapore to Beijing for 73 days, swam the Malacca strait and dived for 220 hours earning him the world’s record of doing the longest scuba dive. His most memorable adventure involved his first journey to North Pole where suffered frost bite. He later succeeded during his second attempt and said the journey was sweeter. Swee Chiow said being adventurer entailed a lot of sacrifices. “I quit my stable, high-paying job and decided to follow my passion,” he said, adding that he would continue doing new things. Asked for tips, Swee Chiow said any explorer should always bring a whistle and a mirror, which could be used during emergencies. More important, he noted that one should learn life-saving skills, such as first aid. Swee Chiow’s greatest lesson, however, was discovering his potentials during a crisis. “To me, it’s about finding out my weaknesses, finding out my strengths, and how I should keep going,” Swee Chiow said.
By John Silva Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--You have to psych yourself for the six-hour bus ride from Baguio to the northern mountaintop town of Sagada. But, on the road, you don’t figure the added time for the stalled jeep laden with vegetables blocking the road. Or the bus having a flat tire. Or that it wouldn’t start after a pit stop. Or the bus screeching to a halt because of a landslide before it. We got off the bus and in freezing rain climbed the muddy mound about two-stories high, to slip and slide down the other side to wait for another bus. After a while, the rain stopped, the mist cleared, and I looked up to the night sky and saw tens of thousands of stars twinkling. You don’t see this spectacle in the city. Cold, wet and muddied, I smiled and the trip’s misery was forgotten. Nature has a way of doing that. I first visited Sagada as a troubled young man. A love affair had ended painfully and I was in despair. A friend suggested Sagada. There was an orphanage there that needed help. Go, she said, make yourself useful to the kids and stop the self-pity. Heal yourself in Sagada. Thirty-six years later, I was back in Sagada to teach public-school teachers aesthetics. Six hours became almost nine hours of travel and the last third of the way was in pitch darkness along bumpy roads. The night stars were my only solace. I was welcomed to Sagada by Dennis Faustino, St. Mary’s High School principal who lived in a charming wooden house built in 1924. A jovial man with a continuous smile, he had some of his students watching a movie in the living room. When we sat down to eat, the students were also invited and I found them to be polite but curious about my work and eager to listen to my conversation with Dennis. Eager teachers Early the next day, I was at St. Mary’s, a well-kept two-story building donated by my La Salle Greenhills classmate Boy Yuchengco. The building nestled in pine trees. I saw teachers signing up in the auditorium where I was to lecture. There were many young teachers astonished when I told them I was in Sagada when their parents were still in high school. Uttering it astonished me, too! None of the teachers ever had an art-education workshop, let alone any continuing education courses for their professional development. Much as I thanked them profusely for coming on a Saturday, their personal day, and spending jeep and bus fare to get to the workshop, the teachers said they came because they wanted to learn and know what the arts was all about. In Mindanao, the teachers clucked when they were entranced by a painting from my Powerpoint. Here in the Cordillera, they swooned with long deep ooohs. They took notes about how art education could lessen absenteeism and be an antidote to drug addiction. Their faces glowed as they became enlightened by what constituted a beautiful picture. They started to connect aesthetics with being a citizen, learning that visual pollution—billboards, advertising banners, garbage thrown indiscriminately -- affected the pristine sights of their community. Close to nature Sagada has been touted as a Shangri-La visited by local and foreign tourists. Given its distance from “civilization,” Sagada has little to worry for now. The view outside the school auditorium had a sweeping scene of mountains and rice terraces spotted with houses. Greenery and the unique stone terraces still overwhelmed. This workshop on appreciating nature as art had a very practical economic value to Sagada. My lesson plan on photography as a fine art (woven into it was Philippine history as seen from old photographs) excited the teachers. I incorporated old photographs of the Cordillera taken at the turn of the century. The teachers were wide-eyed when they saw their ancestors in native garb, the thatched huts their grandparents lived in, the majesty of their stone terraces and the dances. In the Cordillera, people danced on so many occasions and were scrupulously documented in film by anthropologists and missionaries. The women were often bare-breasted and the men wore loincloths. The early missionaries had imposed modest dressing in these parts and the pictures of their half-naked past were unnerving for the older teachers. The younger teachers, though, were more astute, having been raised to take pride in local customs. Missionary influence had long receded. Sagada, like many rural areas, has no museums so I taught a module on setting up a simple school museum. Developing an exhibition theme, writing captions and wall text, and producing an exhibit for very little money demystifies curatorship, and the teachers were introduced to yet another pedagogical method. First Sagada stint We ended the workshop at 3 p.m. to allow the teachers to get home early. Buses and jeeps plying the route are scarce and unscheduled so the long wait adds to the travel time. Some of the teachers from the rural villages had not been to “big town” Sagada in a while and this was a time to shop or go to the hospital and get checked up. I got the chance to walk through the town again and see what changes had occurred. My first stop was the orphanage on the hilltop. I saw the playground fronting the orphanage and remembered the many games I played with the children there. The orphanage had a large number of twins in my days. Twins were bad luck. One of them was thought to have the mother’s spirit, so they were buried alive, abandoned or committed to the orphanage. The spartan dormitory I stayed in for three months was being remodeled into a tourist inn. The one street in the center of the town had several new restaurants but gone were the little stores that sold tribal artifacts. I walked to the town’s entrance and lamented the destruction of the limestone cliffs by local developers. The large cluster of thatched huts was no longer in sight. These huts, which often caught fire, had been replaced by galvanized-iron sheets and concrete blocks. As I walked to my guesthouse, several of the teachers greeted me, effusive about the workshop. They were still waiting for a jeep home. Back to Baguio The next morning, I took the first early bus back to Baguio. It was sunny throughout the whole trip and memories returned. I took this same Halsema Highway years ago on a similar sunny day. The same exhilaration came over me as the bus gingerly went down the mountain. The same scent of flowers and the same bracing morning air. I had flashbacks of the tearful twins singing to me. They must now be in their 40s, I thought. First there were glimpses of a terrace; then, halfway down, the mountains unfolded, revealing full vistas of terraces, their lines rounding every contour of every mountain in sight. A swath of clouds rested on the mountaintops, and way below a river snaked its way. The travel brochures always called it an engineering marvel. I just found it breathtaking. I could hear the teachers’ voices babbling about the elements of aesthetics. Color! shapes! texture! lines! they exclaimed. Despite the swaying bus, I marveled at the profusion of parallel lines incising green mountains and watered terraces glistening under the morning sun. As we rounded a mountain, the panorama continued as another set of perfectly chiseled mountains came to view. This panoply went unabated for almost the whole bus ride. I laughed out loud, realizing the Sagada teachers were being polite with Mr. Know It All from Manila. Teach them aesthetics? Lines? Hah! Their ancestors were aesthetes for thousands of years. There were threats to the beauty of the place. Signs at interval on the Halsema Highway forbade the dumping of garbage on the roadside. But the dumping seemed to have continued. Rice terraces and vegetable plots posted signs of fertilizers and chemicals used. In an increasingly organic-oriented world, the signs were anachronistic, threatening both produce and the people’s health. Fate of Cordillera It is the education of the Cordillera students that will decide the fate of this region. Illiteracy and dropout rate are twice higher in the non-Christian and tribal communities than the national average. The catching-up, the learning curve, the ratcheting-up of student academic achievements in these parts are an imperative. It boils down to good teachers. At St. Mary’s, Dennis Faustino, former teacher now principal, is turning a once ailing school around. In just three years, academic achievement has improved with a new core of teachers who are dedicated, well-trained and well-paid, teaching in spanking classrooms and labs brimming with all the necessary equipment. An alumni network and a working board allow Dennis to do his job well. Bottom-line results? All graduating high-school students have passed the exams and will enter colleges and universities this year. Only two out of every 100 fourth-year high-school students in the country are equipped for college, but St. Mary’s graduating class appears to have succeeded despite the odds. I’ve traveled the breadth and length of this country, training teachers who try to make do with so little, hold lessons in classrooms so pitifully inadequate, before students who look vacuous because they are deprived of books to read. It just breaks my heart to see the government’s neglect of education. And then I go to Sagada and see a school like St. Mary’s: The teachers are dedicated and the students are enthusiastic about learning. Truly, Shangri-La still exists and I am healed a second time. John L. Silva is the senior consultant for the National Museum.