Caving then Running From an Angry Farmer and a Raging Bull

Sagada Travel Blog

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Sunrise is about 4:30am in Sagada.  I only know this because that’s the time the cockerels start crowing.  They seem to have their circadian rhythms in check here without 24 hour lighting upsetting the balance.  Noisy bastards.  Luckily I fell back to sleep with the aid of a pillow as ear muffs, and woke up for the day at a more realistic 8:30am. 


I went to get a shower, but the communal shower was cold.  Luckily for me, I was the only guest in the hotel, and quite possibly staying in town, so I sneakily crept into another room to borrow the hot shower.  First for everything, I’ve never stolen a shower before....


I found a nice little cafe for some breakfast and noticed a family I’d seen briefly in Baguio.  I didn’t interrupt their breakfast, and instead finished my own and left for the tourist office.  The family actually beat me to it, and when I tried to book onto a tour of the caves, I found out the guide fares are set, so if you have one person only, it is expensive, but a group of up to six can share.

  I was given the option of either booking the guide for myself, or waiting to see if any other tourist would show up.  I suggested that I could join the family with their permission and pay the additional costs?  That was fine with them, so I approach the father.  They were a Danish family and very, very pleasant and I was made to feel very welcome to join them, so that’s what I did. 


The first stop was at Lumians, a burial cave, to see the coffins if the deceased.  It’s a very deep cave filled with small coffins neatly stacked on top of each other.  Apparently the bodies are places inside the coffin in the foetal position so as to save room.  I found this place a little bit morbid and creep and so was happy to leave.


The next cave was Samaging (Big Cave) and it is this one where you know you do actually need a guide!  It would be suicide to attempt to find your way around this one without a light and someone who knows the way.  We all stood patiently at the entrance whilst he lit a lantern, and once lit, it was down, down, down all the way to the underground river.  It soon became pitch black sparing the light from the lantern, and became very slippery, very quickly with all the surrounding bats droppings.  The mud on the rocks is also very sodden, so my plims were not a good choice of footwear!  Above yourself you can hear the screech of bats, and nervously I kept my mouth shut so as to damage limit and mistimed catches!  Luckily, such a precaution wasn’t needed. 

Deeper and deeper into the cave, and deeper and deeper underground we went.  All of a sudden water was gushing around everywhere.

  The wasn’t a dry rock in sight!  This certainly wasn’t the place for the claustrophobic, but thankfully myself and none of the Danish family were that way inclined.  It is incredibly pretty, but unfortunately, given the extreme lack of light, cameras were of little use capturing the moments. 


It was time to take off socks and shoes, because like it or lump it, we were going to get wet, very wet.  Splashing through the running water, you could hear the volumous roar of a greater river which must have been close by.  Thankfully I was in bordies and at the intersection we were given a choice: either go through the water which was about chest deep; or go the long way around which gets up to waist deep.  As there was a mother and daughter, who had not thought there choice of clothes out too well, and had worn dresses, we all agreed to go the shallowest route possible.  I couldn’t blame them really, they were all going on towards Bontoc after the cave excursion and didn’t want to be sodden for the journey.  They were extremely courteous and offered me a choice, but I agreed to stay as dry as possible.   I was thankful for the option, especially as I was in effect, a gate-crasher.  They were a very nice polite family. 


We climbed down a little further and by the point we had reached the river, the guide informed us we were 120 ft underground!


The water was very cold at this depth without the warming sunrays, but if you wish to, there are several swimming holes and the guides will happily wait whilst you enjoy the moments.  We all chose not to; myself in particular fearing for my manhood in the cold.


Following that, it was a steady climb back up and it was at this point I realised how imperative the guide actually was.  There’s just no way of knowing where the path is without experience and given the fact that you quite literally cannot see further than a few yards in front of yourself, I wouldn’t have stood a hope in hell of finding the exit.  I slipped over for the umpteenth time to gain bruises on top of bruises, but we soon came back to the opening.  Like a collection of moles, we all squinted at the brightness of daylight, and dried off in the sun before getting back in the jeep.


The last stop before going back was to view the Sungong (hanging) Coffins.  They were just dangling parallel to the cliff face or resting on the ledges.  They have very interesting customs and respect for the dead up here in the North, but I found it all very airy and would not, under any circumstances, like to be there after sunlight.  Hell, I’d almost be expecting to see apparitions of the supernatural.


Back in Sagada, I bought a little map, so I could trek up to Bokong waterfall as it seemed pretty close by.  The map wasn’t to scale and was incredible difficult to decipher, but I’m a man and that makes me allergic to asking for directions.  I set on what I believed to be the correct direction, but must have walked straight past the correct gate to the path, so instead of correcting myself and backtracking, I invented a route.  Was this a good idea?  Well it started off seemingly a good idea.  I could see the river and waterfall in the distance, so realistically all I had do was head downwards and walk along the waterside, well that was the plan.



Matthew versus Bull – Round I


A big bastard bull decided NO WAY was I going any further and in his Gandolfesq pose of ‘You shall not pass’ we stood eyeball to eyeball seeing who would keel over first.  My logic was that I’m higher in the food chain than him, and he should back off before I start thinking about steak and chips.  He stood firm, so I slowly approached with the intention of going casually around the bully.  Nope, no chance.  He started plodding threateningly towards me.  Oh shit!  What was I supposed to do?  Take photos of the beast for the autopsy?  No way.  After a short, panic induced, freeze I got off the path and into the mud of the rice terrace.  That, you think, would have been fair enough.  I’d intruded on his patch, challenged him, and then agreed he was the alpha male and I backed off.  No, that wasn’t good enough.  He carried on plodding towards me, so I had to up the pace and get down a level or two through the mud!  I looked up in mocking, victorious fashion and took a moral victory.  The mud on my legs and shoes said otherwise, and the trench foot had already started to take affect. 


Safely back on the fabricated path and walking once again in the direction of the river, a farmer saw me and started shouting in Philippino.  My legs and feet clearly said I had been in the fields and I doubted the words I was hearing were polite words of welcome and forgiveness.  Doubling back on myself to go back to the road, I decided, I’d leave that particular waterfall alone.



Matthew versus Bull – Round II


Oh shit, not you again 


Honestly I could have cried.  He’d won!  What more did he want?  Again he blocked my route; again I was clambering through the mud, this time in an upwards direction; but this time he had a little more time to get round and get to me.  He was coming to the position I was climbing to, so I really did have to get a move on.  I shouted sorry to him for the intrusion and for over-rating my challenge before, but again he wouldn’t be content with an apology.  Set on revenge, the bull cut my climbing time allowance drastically, which resulted in more cuts and bruises, and more trench foot. 


We’ll call it a score draw and agree never to cross paths again.  I’ll be eating as much steak as possible from now on, always hoping that it’s him.


Back on the road, with my sodden feet and battered ego, I noticed a sign saying I was just a few kilometres from Banga-an and the Bomod-ok waterfall, so after not seeing the smaller fall up-close and personal, I had an opportunity to see the larger more impressive one.  I thought I might as well go for it, I’m not likely to encounter much more misfortune after all that with the previous episode. 


From Bang-an, I asked for some directions and was pointed in the direction of Fidelisan village.

  That was easy enough, it was downhill all the way, and so I followed the path all the way through the village until it split.  One way looked a little more obvious than the other, so I chose that route and it turned out to be incorrect.  Once again, I create and unconventional route and slowly found it impossible to get the river.  This time when a farmer stopped me, he was polite and pointed me back up to the correct pathway.  A few short-cuts later, cuts and scrapes inclusive, I was on the correct pathway for a change.  I did not deviate at all from the pathway this time after learning lessons, not once but twice, the hard way, and I found the impressive waterfall pretty quickly.  It’s huge and I had it all to myself.  I was still a reasonable distance away from the splash pool, but the created mist was drenching me thoroughly.  I thought best to keep the clothes dry and stripped off for a swim.  It was cold and I didn’t last too long, but long enough to get clean and feel refreshed. 


It was an arduous uphill trek back to the village, and then onto Sagada.  As I approached the village, I thought seen as I still had some energy, I’d make one last stop for the day and visit Echo Valley.  It’s creepy there.  To actually get to it, you have to pass through a cemetery and then you have a choice to either climb down into the valley, or just view it from the upper ledge.  It was quite late; I was shattered, and all I would be seeing down there was more hanging coffins.  To stop any further mind games on the paranormal and supernatural, I decided to stick to the ridge and take the views from there.  I could see how deep and vast the valley actually is, but considering my luck, I chose to go back to a nice clean, warm hotel instead of camping rough due to getting lost.


Totally drained, I went to bed at 9pm! 

TravellinChic says:
Indeed your guilt makes things funny. I must say that it is still good thinking that you caution yourself away from slightest of trouble as it's more safe that way when traveling in foreign place not knowing the local language/body language of people or animal ;)
Posted on: Jan 08, 2013
matthew says:
Thank you for adding a local perspective to the blog. It makes the blog that edge funnier knowing how incorrectly I perceived the situation :-D I re-read it for the first time in a while and really laughed my socks off.
Posted on: Jan 08, 2013
TravellinChic says:
Wow! This is a very enjoyable read. Funny and very vivid. I was just checking info but now feel like I got a good book that I can't put down. Thanks for a well written and entertaining blog.

the Bull most likely won't charge. It's not typical of them based on my experience going to farms of my dad/relatives and getting similar encounter. But I think it's still much better to be on safe side and avoid trouble like you did. :)

As for the farmer, I don't think he was berating you but must be a voice of concern with his impression that you are lost, dirtied, hurt, etc considering the mud on your feet and all.

Locals don't mind getting dirty but they are usually worried for visitors (local and foreign) coz they were thinking the visitors can't handle it. But it's hard to say when you don't know the language. :p

Makes the story interesting tho :)
Posted on: Jan 06, 2013
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