Laoag, Illocos Norte, Philippines
So it's been a while since I was able to write something. Mainly it's because I removed myself further away from civilization and headed into the area known as the Cordillera, home to many tribes here in the Philippines.
Day 12: Laoag. Let me first say that I did get my hair straightened but it didn't cost me P300; instead I bargained and got it for P600 + P100 (tip). Supposedly, since my hair was dyed, I wasn't an eligible candidate for the hair straightening and instead needed to get the hair rebonding...whatever that is. So far it's been about a week and my hair seems straighter but not sure if the look suits me. Oh well, it was a good deal! The worst part though was that it took 5 hours! The guy told me 'one hour, one hour, ma'am'. So I agreed. I was there from 1PM to 6PM. And because it's like in some one's house, and it is the Philippines, they don't have nice plush chairs where the hair dresser can pump his leg and move you up and down. No, it was just a very old uncomfortable chair. I was getting so restless but we'll see how long it lasts, I'm told that it should hold for almost a year!
After my last blog, while I was at the computer shop, one of the guys from the neighboring shops was helpful and helped me to find a card reader so that I could more easily upload my photos (he just so happened to be visiting the shop I was at). After talking with him and telling him of my plans to go to the countryside, he said that coincidentally, he was thinking about going as well and would 'escort' me. I thought it was a little weird but he seemed nice enough and thought it would be nice to have someone to hang out with since I'm usually solo.
I spent another night in Laoag hoping to fly out on my hot air balloon the next day but again the winds were too strong so I decided to hit the road. Before I left town though, I made a quick stop to the town's museum which showcased a lot of the local provincial history of the people. There was even a chalkboard before you exited in which I wrote a message to the employees of Highway Inn.
The route: So I wanted to go directly from Laoag to Sagada, a town infamously known for putting their dead in 'hanging coffins' but unfortunately there was no direct route. I thought I had it all figured out...looking at the map, it made most sense to go up north to Laoag and then down south east to Sagada. But nope, there were no buses that made that route. So, I had to go back through Baguio (I passed it going to Laoag) and take another 6 or so hour up north east.
Got into Baguio fairly late and ended up at the Baguio Village Inn for P300 ($6.60). They weren't joking that it was cold! Someone had told me before I left that Baguio could be compared to Mililani Mauka. For those of you familiar with Hawaii, Mililani Mauka is considered cold in Hawaii but it really isn't that cold unless you consider 60 degrees to be cold (I know, I know, all the Hawaii people are nodding their heads) but I was not prepared for the cold air in Baguio! I think it was down to high 30s or perhaps in the 40s. They don't give you much of a blanket either and I nearly froze to death! I didn't want to ask the hotel staff for another blanket because I didn't want to pay for it. Ha! I later found out that it's usually free or a nominal fee of P20 ($0.43). Oh well. It was a good experience!
Day 14: Baguio, Benguet. The following day, I walked around Camp John Hay which is a former US rest and recreation facility, the Filipinos weren't the only ones trying to escape the tropical heat of the Philippines. I just walked around and killed most of the day doing absolutely nothing. I was mainly waiting because Jeremy had just finished his concert the night before at Paco Park and he and Jared were making their way up to Baguio to meet up with me. Jeremy is actually studying Linguistics and is studying about the varying dialects and languages of the Filipino people. So it was perfect for him to come to Baguio the capital of the Cordillera.
Before heading down to meet Jeremy, I stopped by this beautiful house that was next to the golf course in John Hay. It was beautiful! I stopped because passing through the back side of the house, read a sign in big black lettering 'open house'. I love looking at houses so I decided to see if it really meant 'open house' in the definition that I am familiar with. And it did. I got to meet the architect who had just so happened to stop by before I was leaving. A young Korean, he had designed, built and furnished the house in its entirely all with Korean furniture and appliances. It was amazing: a jacuzzi, intercom system, beautiful pine wood views and nice furniture. Price tag: $500,000 USD. I don't know what the rule is for foreigners owning land in the Philippines, but if anyone is interested, please let me know! I can get you in touch with the owner.
Jeremy was still settling in his room so I decided to stop at Saint Louis University because I had read that there was a nice little museum in the basement. I had about half an hour until it would close so had Jeremy meet me there; I figured he would like to see something like that for his studies and would be able to possibly connect with some people who could help him. I went there and a young student named Pearlyn gave me an exceptional tour all in 30 minutes! Later she showed me how to play some of the musical instruments and let me try! I even got to perform in a band! It was great!
That evening at 3:00AM, my new friend from Laoag (who I will name LF - Laoag Friend) arrived in Baguio. I didn't know what to tell him but he was not coming to my room! I suggested that he book a place (it was so cheap!) and we could meet in the morning at 7AM. I went back to fetal position and tried to sleep for the next 4 hours.
The next morning on the dot, I get a phone call at 7AM. I was nervous to meet him. I couldn't believe that he actually came down (7 hour bus ride) and didn't know what to expect. I mean, I really didn't know him! (Almost sounds like my Malaysian family but it was weird!) The four of us, LF, Jeremy, Jared and myself went out to Tam-Awan Village which houses some traditional houses of the Cordillera people as well as serves as a home for local up and coming artists and their artwork. We did a quick tour, some dancing and breakfast.
We enjoyed our time there but LF and I had to head out to catch the 1PM (last bus) out to Sagada. I was again nervous that I would now be alone with this stranger. I was also worried about payment. Jeremy had made a comment the previous day. I had made a comment about how I thought it was a little odd that when we had gone out to dinner with one of the alumni (who ended up tagging along with us), he had not offered to pitch in on the bill. Yes, it was DIRT cheap but for me, I just expected him to make a gesture that he wasn't there for a free meal and that he would also put in his fair share. The guys and I had already divided the bill three ways so it didn't matter but it was the effort. Jeremy had mentioned that because we had 'invited' him that it was expected that we would treat him. I sarcastically remarked, but we didn't invite him! He invited himself! So this got me thinking about my situation with LF. Did I invite him? Or did he invite himself which means I invited him? I didn't know if I needed to now pay double for everything. Yes, it's cheap but mind you, I'm also unemployed! I can't be supporting no one but myself right now, no less a stranger?! So that was a little gray...
We got to the bus station, just minutes after the second to the last bus had left the station so we had a whole 1.5 hours for the next bus. It was good to have him there so he could talk to the people and figure everything out. I could do it; I would do it if I were by myself but he was there so I could just relax. When the ticket line opened, he rushed to the line to buy the tickets. I thought okay, I will not go up there with my money, I will wait until he comes back and pay him for just my part. Which is exactly what I did. He said 'later' which I'm not sure if that meant, 'don't worry about it' or really if he meant 'later'. Ha ha. I hate owing people money though, I like to take care of that right away so there is no confusion so I just gave him the money.
It was a long agonizing 6 hour bus ride to Sagada. The road was windy and quite undeveloped! It was also an old bus with no luggage compartment. So, the luggage went in the middle aisle to the front of the bus. Additional passengers took out and sat on the middle aisle chairs to the back of the bus. It was a full bus! It was actually quite entertaining to see everyone who sat in the first 3-4 rows of the bus having to climb, literally climb, over the luggage to get to their seats.
Day 15: Sagada, Mountain Province. Hours later, we finally made it to Sagada. Although the elevation in Sagada is a bit higher than Baguio (1477m vs. 1450m) it didn't seem as cold as Baguio. Oh now, the part that I was dreading...how were we going to have the sleeping arrangements? Of course it would be cheaper to share a room but I was starting to realize that this guy was a tad off. He wanted to go to a place that he knew but I insisted that we went to one of the places recommended in my book; that way I know what kind of place we were heading to. The first place that we went to only had doubles and I politely refused we couldn't be in the same room. So we went to the next place listed in my book. He really wanted to go to his place but I just walked away from him...started to look like we were going to have some compatibility issues!
The place that I chose: Ganduyan Inn which is also home to a museum (which I missed because they were closed on the day that I was going to go!) was where we settled for P200, less than $5! But talk about BASIC! Up until now, all the P300 places had a mirror, a bar of soap, towel, and usually a roll of toilet paper of there would be toilet paper in the bathroom. For P100 less, you got NOTHING! It was just a bed. I mean, not even an outlet for me to charge my phones and other electronics! Seriously, I rather pay the additional P100 please! I also learned that there was no hot water! So for P50 (about a buck), I had them boil a bucket of hot water. Lucky I used to live in Japan and know how to bathe furo-style (Japanese hot bath), pouring hot water onto yourself. This is how I bathed here. The things you become grateful for! Even a mirror! There were no mirrors in this place! Not even in the bathroom! I think the first morning we were there, because I don't rinse my mouth out after I brush my teeth (I'm told that it can be deadly because of the bacteria in the water), I just spit out. But because there was no mirror, I couldn't check to see if there was any toothpaste left around my mouth and chin. There seems to have been because when I greeted LF in the hallway, he chuckled. The things we should not take for granted! A mirror, among many other things!
Anyway, that day, we also learned that there were guides to do certain activities. I hadn't really read much on the area except that there were hanging coffins which would be a curious site to see. I didn't know about their caves and their hikes! LF informed me that the guides would be P400; we kinda agreed that it was expensive so I was leaning toward not having a guide and doing something else. After talking to a guy at our hotel and then later seeing other guides take other people around, I thought I was maybe missing out on something important. LF convinced me that we could do without a guide. After checking out the entrance to one of the caves (you need a lamp to go into the caves)I started to think that maybe I should just do it. After talking to some locals at a small store nearby and seeing some photos posted on the wall, yes we were missing out! So I told LF that I was going to do the caves. So the lady at the store called the guide office and had someone come down to meet us. I thought (hoped) I was going alone but LF decided that he would come along.
The caves were AMAZING! By far one of the most challenging and amazing things that I have done in my life...and I do have some crazy experiences under my belt! I am so glad that the lady encouraged me to do it. At first I was only going to do one cave. Yes, I was trying to be cheap but I forgot to mention that I only had $100 to last me the next 5 days. Because Sagada is small, population approximately 1700, there are no ATMs! Money changes but at bad rates so Lonely Planet says. There was also no ATMs in Banaue - the next town I was going to...so I needed to be conservative. But then I saw some photos that were of the second cave. It was the cave connection where you could go in one cave and out the other. So, I just had to do it. I also found out that there was probably an ATM in the town right over; we'd have to go there to get to Banaue anyway.