Something’s brewing in Sagada

I went to Sagada to celebrate New Year’s Eve on a whim.

I hurriedly packed a bag, told my mom not to expect me the next day, and chased a premium bus to Baguio City. My route into Sagada was through Bagnen in the adjacent town of Tadian. I initially hoped to spend a night on top of Mt. Polis and witness its sea of clouds, but the non-stop rains did not allow me to camp. I went to the only hostel in the barangay: the Bagnen Homestay, where I did nothing but lie on my hard mattress and wrap myself in thick blankets. The following morning, I was shocked to find out my bill was Php480, which already included 3 hearty meals.

There is a trail from this barangay to Mt. Ampacao, but the locals would tell you of a path that was more direct. Even though I hadn’t been to this other way, I decided to look for it. It wasn’t as obvious and as direct as I expected, but it did get me to Sagada, without having to climb to the tower, and then descend to Ambasing.

I wanted it to be a lonely Sagada journey, something I have done more than once before. But what is it about Sagada that attracts kindred spirits? I actually found myself in the company of 3 separate sets of friends. I now realize that it isn’t possible to go to Sagada to escape, particularly now that the roads are so well-paved, even a Mercedes-Benz sedan can make it all the way to the mouth of the Sumaguing Cave.

Nevertheless, it was one of the most unique New Year’s Eve celebrations I ever had. I went to Sagada Cellar Door, which is not quite a kilometer from the town, through a shortcut that left me breathless. This is Sagada as it should be: away from it all, quiet, and surrounded by pine trees. In the morning, the mist slowly descends from the heavens, suddenly disappearing as the sun rises. There is a dap-ay just beside the bar that serves Sagada-brewed craft beer. When night fell, gongs were taken out of a sack, and we welcomed 2017 with Igorot sounds and dances, following the leader as he circled around a bonfire.

It’s selfish to wish there were less tourists in Sagada. It ought to be enjoyed by anyone intrepid enough to endure the 10-hour trip. But I can’t help but pine for the Sagada of 15 years ago, when only vehicles with monster engines could endure the unpaved roads towards the mountain town, and when guesthouses weren’t required to offer parking slots to visitors. I’ve had this discussion before, in Sagada no less, and also on a solo journey. But at least, when I have this desire to be away from it all, I could always take the difficult shortcut to Sagada Cellar Door, roast marshmallows on a bonfire, and nurse my tall glass of IPA.

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