Alone in the heart of Sagada

Part I — the question

A month ago, I was working in the office when my internal voice whispered to me “You need to take a break, a long break.”

Then I recalled,

Have I used any of my vacation leaves for this year?

Nada, I haven’t used any.

“Boy, are you trying to be a hero?” the voice said. “Get out of this place and go to some faraway place! Disappear!”

Okay, fine. So I thought I’d take some time off and go up north.

To Sagada.

But why?

Why did I have that internal drive to run away?

Why did I think that I, an inexperienced traveler, can go on and survive a solo trip?

Why am I doing this? What am I searching for?

The truth is those are questions I don’t have an answer to.

“Well, maybe if you just get up and go, you’ll find the answers, don’t you think?”

Hey, you win! I filed my leave, okay?

And it was set. To the heart of Sagada, I went.

Part II — the search

Sitting on the bus for 12 hours can get uncomfortable and tiring. Sagada is way up north, near Banaue Rice Terraces. The narrow road on the mountains was scary. With no view of anything else but trees, mountain ranges, and clouds, all I can do is surrender and hope that I reach my destination alive.

Thankfully, I did arrive safely.

The moment I stepped out of the bus felt magical. Remember when we were kids, running around in school trying to find hidden corners and secret pathways, and when we find one, it’s like we found a treasure or made a scientific breakthrough. That magical feeling is what I felt immediately after arriving in Sagada.

The cold weather, the slowness of time, and the beauty of nature everywhere — I fell in love with the place almost instantly.

St. Mary’s Church

I was ready to experience what the place has to offer. Then my internal voice started bugging me again.

“Find the answers.”

You know what? I won’t spoil my whole trip thinking about these questions and trying to find the answers. I want to have a wonderful experience for the duration of my stay here. Okay?

“Whatever.”

In the Tourism Office, I registered and looked at the brochure containing the tour packages they were offering. Most of the tour packages were ideal for groups. Luckily, there were other tourists looking to merge with others too, so I joined them.

The exploration begins!

Before the trip, I thought Sagada was a place to relax.

I was wrong.

Hidden in this place are many challenging activities.

Our first tour — “Cave Connection.”

Lumiang Burial Cave Entrance

We entered the Lumiang Burial Cave Entrance and went through the tough and physically demanding path to the heart of the cave. This activity is called spelunking not caving, we were told by the tour guide. Caving is when you try to find new pathways, not use already found ones.

Also, it’s called cave connection because after passing the first cave, you will emerge at another one, Sumaging cave, where a collection of naturally artistic rock formations reside.

Sagada Brew

Sagada is home to many cafes. Sagada Brew is one I’d recommend. I had dinner there on my first night then called it a day.

Marlboro — Blue Soil Traverse Trek.

We started trekking at 4:00 a.m. At the top of Marlboro Hill, we waited for the sun to rise. If the weather was good, there would have been a sea of clouds. Sadly, the weather isn’t as cooperative as we expected.

The tour guide mentioned that during the war, this was a breeding place for horses. But today only a few horses remain.

We continued trekking towards Blue Soil.

Gaia Café.

Had lunch at Gaia Café. A cozy looking place with a great view outside the window.

Lake Danum.

I walked to Lake Danum in the afternoon. I love lakes so I really wanted to see this one.

The walk to Lake Danum was scary. The road was empty and foggy. I am all alone in the forest. From time to time the wind blows strongly.

I arrived at the Lake and I can’t get a good view as it was covered by the fog.

Part III — the answer.

After a couple of days of immersing myself in Sagada, I just felt renewed, refreshed, and energized.

On my last night in Sagada, just before I went to bed, I wrote about the trip. While writing, the answers I’m looking for just struck me.

Why did I have that internal drive to run away?

Since my internship, to the day I started working, up to now, I was hyper-focused on my work.

I’ve always wanted to achieve great things and be recognized.

And I believe that great things don’t just happen to someone. You really have to work super, super, super hard to be great. You can’t afford to be distracted.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. It was the choice that I made.

I was moving too fast that there was no time for me to experience something new and to reflect on the decisions I’ve made in my life so far.

This trip allowed me to do that.

I was able to experience something new — traveling alone, meeting new people, spelunking, trekking, exploring. These are things I don’t usually do. So it felt refreshing.

And I was able to reflect. I was able to ask myself more tough questions.

Am I happy with the choices that I made even if it meant making huge sacrifices?

Am I sure I’m leading my life towards the right direction?

And many other questions. Some, I have answered. Some, I will only know in time.

I was moving too fast that there was no time for me to experience something new and to reflect on the decisions I’ve made in my life so far.

What matters here is that I was able to stop and look back at my life and reflect.

“Finally.”

I’ve had many realizations that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t go on this trip. I am truly happy I did this.

I am sharing about this experience because it has helped me. And really, this story is simply a long version of saying something we all have heard before which are:

First, to experience something new.

Second, to take some time to reflect.

Those two things I believe are really important but nevertheless we often forget.

The end —the return

There was this temptation to stay in Sagada longer. But that’s being stuck. Worse, escaping reality.

I knew I need to get back and carry on with my life.

There are many things still left to achieve and to accomplish. Many more things to experience.

And so I’ll keep pushing forward. I’ll continue trying to be a better human.

In the end, I just hope we all make it to whatever life destination we set.

Let’s go! Again,

Keep pushing forward.

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