Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins! (Sagada)

It’s time again for our Friday in the Philippines, traveling with our 2-month-old baby. Last week we met our friend and protector, Ronard, who showed us around Baguio. If you missed that (or any of our Philippines adventures), go here:

Philippines, Part 1: Have Baby, Will Travel
Philippines, Part 2: Do You Know How to XOOM?
Philippines, Part 3: Confessions of a Carseatless Baby (Vigan)

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins! (Sagada)

Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Icebox (Banauae & Batad)

Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)
Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks (Anilao)
Philippines, Part 9: “Sexy Chic” at the Playboy Fashion Show (Field Study Research)
Philippines, Part 10: Luxury Travel, Filipino Style (Cebu)
Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol)
Philippines, Part 12: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . . (Panglao)
Philippines, Part 13: The Chocolate Hills (Bohol Again)
Philippines, Part 14: Trouble in Paradise (Malapascua)

Now it was time to continue on, trekking deeper into Northern Luzon. Ronard insisted on accompanying us to the bus station and seeing us off at 6:00 a.m. We could tell almost immediately that this had the makings of another exhilarating bus-ride. Most of the time, the “road” was a rocky track with stony cliffs on one side and a plunging drop-off that disappeared into misty forests on the other. The road was being paved in random sections, one side at a time, so the rocky parts were interspersed with paved sections that inspired our driver into sudden bursts of speed (presumably to make up whatever time he thought he had lost on the rougher parts). Tony soon began feeling queasy and went to sit in the front of the bus and snap photos of the cliffs. I clutched the carseatless baby tightly, wondering why I had ever thought this trip was a good idea. Oblivious, she settled peacefully to sleep, rocked by what the locals wryly call “the cordillera massage,” and I was left to morbid speculation about the trajectory of the dive the bus seemed always about to take off the side of the narrow road.

However, our journey was interrupted by only one stop, because a part of the road had been completely washed out by a small avalanche. High on the cliff above, we could distinguish a backhoe, dumping down dirt to rebuild the vanished road. Once our bus had coordinated with the vehicles waiting to go in the opposite direction, we were free to continue on our way, glad we had arrived on the scene to late to encounter the avalanche in progress, and hoping our luck would hold for the rest of the trip.

At around 1:00 p.m. we reached Sagada, a charming little town nestled high in the mountains. We stayed at a lovely little convent-turned inn called St. Joseph’s, with beautiful gardens and a relaxed atmosphere (so relaxed, in fact, that Archie, the receptionist, was always drunk before noon). After lunch in their little restaurant, we started out for Echo Valley, site of the famous hanging coffins of Sagada. Our hosts had informed us that the spot to see them was no more than a 20 minute walk from where we were, and on a clearly marked trail. As we set out, a little boy began walking beside us and asked where we were going. When we told him, he introduced himself as Jonathan, and announced authoritatively that he was our guide.

We didn’t consider ourselves particularly in need of guidance, but we indulged the attentions of our diminutive companion, who duly informed us that we would need to pay him three times the going rate for guides, since there were two of us and a baby. In a few minutes, the trail ended abruptly on the edge of a wooded precipice. On the opposite wall, we could descry what did indeed look just like rows of real coffins, somehow fixed on the side of the cliff. And in fact, they were coffins, occupied by the important dead of the Igorot natives.

Later, we also visited a burial cave filled with the much smaller coffins of people not important enough to be hung outside. Limestone caves abound in the area around Sagada. The coffins occupy only the mouths of the caves, and supposedly there is great spelunking to be had inside, if you don’t mind walking around in the dark of an underground graveyard. Actually, most of the caves don’t really contain coffins, but even we weren’t quite adventurous enough to go spelunking with a baby.

While eating some delicious homemade yoghurt at a little restaurant in Sagada the next day, we met Jason and Catherine, two young Canadians who had spent the last five weeks surfing on a little island called Siargao. We found that we were all headed for the same place the next day, to see the beautiful rice terraces of Banaue. I hadn’t quite psyched myself up for another bus ride, so I was relieved to find that our journey was to be by jeepney, a uniquely Filipino form of transportation. Until I found out what a jeepney was . . .

Stay tuned next week for Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Ice Box (Banaue and Batad)

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