Dark Light
As tropical storm Ineng whirled over Luzon, I slept in the car and our little group of five crept up the mountain in cold, blind darkness.

In the Philippines, when summer dies, there also ends a period of fair and friendly weather. We city kids stay at home, filling our days with work to match the gloom of the wet season. Smack in the middle of the year 2019, what with potentially threatening weather and a super-busy schedule, we mostly stayed home. Itchy feet got the better of us and we managed to sneak in a little trip to Sagada in August.

Tucked in the mountains.

We left on the evening of August 21st, 2019. As tropical storm Ineng whirled over Luzon, I slept in the car and our little group of five crept up the mountain in cold, blind darkness.

Looking for Mr. Tumnus…
… or the Wizard?

It was an unusually busy time. Mao and I were undergoing the (quite usual) transition from full-time employment to full-time self-managed creative career, easier for us than most because there are two of us. It felt wrong to complain, but even if you don’t want to be ungrateful, some situations are just miserably exhausting.

I mention this because Sagada was like a calming bubble bath for the soul. For three days we spaced out and wandered around. Anyway, it was such a quiet little trip, it’s probably best to list the details.

1. Etag

Forget prosciutto or honey-cured ham, our northern brothers have exalted the art of salted and smoked pork. Etag is what bacon wants to be when it grows up. Fight me.


2. Pottery

At a session with Tessie from Sagada Pottery,  we tried pottery for the first time, and I was amazing at it. Just kidding. I done fucked up, a-a-ron. It was fun, though, and I’ll definitely try again one day.

Dishonor on my cow 😭
A passable attempt by Meis
Romane bringing honor to us all

3. Tamaraw FX Heaven

Have you ever wondered where all the Tamaraw FX’s went? They’re much rarer now in the city than they were in the 90s. Well, they all died and went to the Mountain Province, where they now live as local guardian angels.

4. Mt. Polis

There’s an alternative to watching the sunrise from Marlboro Hills — watching it from Mt. Polis. It’s higher and offers a marvelous view of the surrounding municipalities.

Sunrise from Mt. Polis
The squad, including 1 long-distance member, if you look closely
My own shadow in a sunbow — a Brocken Spectre

5. Bomod-ok Falls

Bomod-ok is a verb, I was told, probably bumulwak or bumubulwak in Tagalog. In English, it’s probably close to deluge or torrent. We got to it after an hour’s downhill ramble through a rice-terraced valley.

Local legend says its water has healing properties. Our guide prosaically added that this surely had some scientific backing, but the exhilarating spray swept away all mundanity.

Okay, okay, it’s magic!

6. Berry yogurt

It’s yogurt you’d wake up early for, yogurt you’d travel hundreds of miles for. If the natives of Sagada are a happy folk, I’m willing to bet it’s partly because of the yogurt.

7. Independent children

Now and then, we would see a solitary child, not more than six or seven years old, walking in their little rain boots, armed with small backpacks and umbrellas. It was indescribably touching, especially after the extreme claws-out world of Metro Manila.

8. Large-pawed dogs

There were a number of extremely friendly dogs in town, and they’d follow people around. Good company.

The dogs of Sagada are most gregarious.
Local guide! (In mid-2019 I was 90% eyebags.)

9. Extremely chill people

They don’t treat tourists with the sometimes excessive warmth one encounters elsewhere in the country. They’re super nonchalant and mostly leave tourists alone, except when you really need something.

10. Handwritten notes

Refreshingly, every establishment had at least one meticulously handwritten sign. In the big messy city, some people’s jobs are to remind others to follow rules that already have signages, but Sagada’s locals can’t be bothered — why should they? I loved it because it’s very we’re-all-intelligent-adults here.

In Sagada, there is a breath of tradition mixed with a peculiarly Western erudition — they were, unusually for the Philippines, Americanized without ever having been very Hispanic.

Wares are hardly watched, doors are hardly locked; there’s an air of trust utterly unfamiliar to born-and-bred Manileños. It was a little bitter to realize that the city is probably the least civilized place we could find ourselves in.

We didn’t go to the hanging coffins or Echo Valley; we didn’t explore any caves, which would have been dangerous, anyway, during a typhoon. No, it was a weekend of hot coffee, heavy lunches, gazing at pine trees, and long walks under finely falling rain.

Sketch session indoors
I so wanted to stay longer 😭

I wish I could say something like, Sagada healed me. After three days there, I was all ready to face life again. No, it didn’t. No, I wasn’t. Or at least, three days wasn’t enough. When the time came to leave, I was not ready. Worse, it was now harder to see the point of re-joining the rat race, when you could maybe stay forever in this secret Town of Cats.

A reflection: If things go well, the future isn’t this high-rise high-tech universe of glass and steel; it’s a place where we can all trust each other to act right. Where the walls between properties aren’t that high. Where you’re pretty sure your neighbors are also sparing in their use of water and electricity, and segregate their waste properly, so you’re much happier to do the same. Where kids can go walking about in their little boots unsupervised, and the little babies in their cozy slings have a beautiful childhood ahead of them.

Mural by Marc Salamat

See you again soon, Sagada!

  1. Very nice story Camille. For me it’s poignant in the sense it’s very touching and aspiring not sad or painful. I’ve been to sagada only once when the weather was really cold in the 80’s. Thanks hir the story, the pictures, and the way you described the experience.

    1. Aw, thank you so much! For me, Sagada was a bittersweet experience: sad because I didn’t want to leave. 😆 Hope to be able to visit again soon.

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