FEAR AND LOATHING IN SAGADA

My longish entry to a somewhat longish trip

1.

Was it a Wednesday or a Tuesday? I can’t seem to remember. All I know is that the day after our Laguna trip I was picking Robert up in Tomas Morato to go to Sagada. We’ve been talking about it for weeks but to be honest I wasn’t taking it seriously. I sort of kept hoping that it wouldn’t push through since I already planned on using the money I have saved on my tuition. But what the hell, I haven’t been on a trip for years so there we were, Robert, the boyfriend and I, braving a very busy night. It’s Holy Week and apparently everybody is fleeing the city.

“Do you think we’d get tickets?” Robert asked me.

Sure, I said, I mean, how many Manila residents are actually thinking of going to Sagada on Holy Week? If we were going to Boracay or Puerto Gallera I’d be worried. But of course I’m stupid so what do I know. When we arrived at the station there were already a dozen stranded passengers waiting to get seats. By this time, Robert’s friend had joined us but getting out of the city seemed hopeless. But maybe, we thought, maybe we just need to get to Baguio and worry about Sagada when we get there. Since we already heard that the station in Cubao was crowed, off we went to Pasay only to be met with… more passengers. After hours of sitting and haggling and scheming in bus terminal hell, we were able to get out of Manila and by lunch time we were in Baguio figuring out how to get further into North.

2.

The journey seemed endless. Since I was seated near the driver, I actually kept asking the walang kamatayang tanong: “Are we there yet?” Whenever they would tell me that we still had six hours of travelling before us I would get skeptical. Narnia ba ito? Yes, the view was spectacular. Everything looks like a wallpaper --- majestic open mountains and steep cliffs, infinite clear skies and quaint huts sitting on the edge of the roads, etc. At one point, the fog was crawling upwards and I thought maybe we had entered a place where everything run backwards? But after waiting for four hours in bus terminal hell and six hours going up to Baguio, I was just about to flat line. My expectations rose perilously high as I compute the time and effort we have spent on the road. I swore that it would take no less than Lothlorien with cute elves serving as waiters to satisfy my expectations. By dusk, we have arrived at a foot of a mountain.

“Sagada na ba ito?” I asked the kunduktor, disappointment evident in my voice. The place looks like Mordor for Christssakes.

But of course, there was still an hour’s worth of climb before we would actually get there. Imbernadette Allyson talaga sa bus ride! Record-breaking! And I thought I’m the type who could travel through North Africa without uttering a single word (a slight reference to The English Patient, sorry). Whoever said that life is all about the journey and not the destination must have visited Sagada because Sagada is definitely all about the endless pwet-numbing ride. I actually thought I’d have a pigsa by the time we get there.

As we drove up, the trees began to make their presence felt. It became darker and darker as we snaked through the tiny muddy road. It was like entering a magical forest where creepy creatures lurk deep in the woods. I half-expect vampires and werewolves to jump out of the trees and accost us. If that doesn’t kill us then maybe the steep roads will because the bus, based from my estimation, was overloaded, with people literally dangling at the front door.

We finally arrive in Sagada at dinnertime. It was cold and dark and we had no reservations. I needed a beer.

3.

Instead of looking for a place to stay, our brilliant travel companion was busy looking for boys. Great, I haven’t slept in two days, I have just endured the longest trip I’ve had in my life, I’m hungry and if that sonofabitch doesn't straighten up I’d have to vivisect him in the woods. To appease my seething anger, I decided to have a beer. And after we have settled in, I immediately dragged the boyfriend to get more drinks. I wanted to get drunk. No, I wanted to get high.

I’ll be honest. The reason I agreed to go to Sagada was because I want to get chongki. And the first place that we went to was just perfect. The boyfriend and I were having dinner when an inebriated guy went up to us and asked us if we have found our tour guide by the name of... Marie Jane. Pwede. Later in the night, when I was smoking outside, an old man gestured at my cig. He was offering me his. It was only when I took a sip did I realized that he has stuffed his Marlboro Lights with chongki. A waiter went up to us and said: “Huy, bawal yan.” Yeah right. In Sagada?

I’m not sure how long we were in the pub but at one point our travel companion came in with two guys. I wasn’t sure if I was tired, drunk or high but I thought one of them was actually cute. I believe he was either drunk or high or both because apparently when our companion had succeeded in snagging him to their room, the cute guy threw up, effectively waking Robert. Instead of hauling the guy to the bathroom, he pushed him under the bed and pretended nothing was up. Yes, it was that kind of a night. My boyfriend and I were lucky that we were ensconced in another room, dead asleep.

4.

Quick observations about Sagada: 1. There are babies everywhere. In the course of our trip, we saw several cute babies with pinkish cheeks wrapped in comfy sweaters. 2. The guys are actually cuter and they are ripped. 3. The food is cheap (well, by Manila standards) and some are pretty good. 4. It’s like a small college town. I guess one has to stay there for at least a month to fully experience its tranquil effect (or perhaps its claustrophobic qualities) 5. The air is fresh (distilled by the lush pine trees of the Mountain Province). But I am the type who, when inhaling cool, fresh air, thinks of nothing but lighting a cigarette.

Or weed. I wanted to get weed. Badly. But before I could figure out where to get it, Robert and the rest of our small group decided to visit the caves. Sure, I thought, I can do that. What’s in a cave? I’m a pretty healthy and adventurous guy. I can handle it. Thinking about it now I was terribly stupid to overestimate my capabilities.

5.

On our way to the caves, the L300 that we were on ran over a hen and her cute little chicks. Blood on the road, looked as if there was a massacre. I thought it was portentous especially with the events that immediately followed. On the trail hike, our chatty guide took notice of the bands on my right foot. You smoke weed? He asked me, and I said yes and I’m actually looking for some and yes he does have weed and yes he’ll let me try some of his stock once we get out of the cave. So that was it. I would get high before the day was over and yes I did but little did I know that it was going to be one of the stupidest things that I would do in my entire stupid life.

6.

The caves scare me. I don’t know but huge deep holes scare me. Even as we were making our way down, I was already thinking of how I was going to make my way out. The further we get, the darker the surroundings. The holes also kept getting smaller. What if there’s an earthquake? What will happen if one of us fell into the deep abyss? Has there been any casualty since the tour seemed utterly dangerous? (Yes, there was) When we reached a point where we had to climb down a steep hole with nothing but a ratty rope, I decided to go back. Lahat sila nakababa na ako na lang. But seriously I would sprain myself if I did try going down. That’s it, I told one of the guides. Let’s head back and light up that toke of yours. And we did.

7.

The plan was the tour guide and I would walk to the other side of the cave, look for a spot to light up the joint and wait for the rest. But first there is one thing I would like to say about the cave. It’s huge with huge rocks blocking every path. The tour guide led me up to this rock that’s situated on the topmost part of the cave. From where we were seated, the cave looked like an amphitheater. No, it resembled the Bat Cave and one mistake would find me sliding down to the great abyss. From below, I could see pins of light traveling slowly down to a small pool. The tourists actually looked like Bedouins searching for refuge. It was very cinematic.

“Your turn,” said the guide.

I took a sip. Man, it was strong. I took another and another and before I knew it I was really toked. As in I was high as a kite and I couldn’t even stand properly. That’s when I started panicking. With my blurred vision and with my mind going fast in different directions I was dead sure I was going to slide down and die. In fact I was crawling as I tried to follow the guide out. In my unbelievable state, I didn’t notice that my hands and shirt were soiled with bat shit. But it was when we were able to climb down the steep rock that my paranoia started to set in.

8.

Since I was busy figuring out how to use my legs and limbs, I didn’t notice that the guide was leading me away from the crowd. I could see the flow of trekkers and the beautiful yellow light splashed across the cold wet rock walls slowly ebb away. As we went further, I began to suspect that he might be planning on robbing me or worse murdering me. Yes, the shit was making me paranoid beyond reason. And since he was also toked, I didn’t discount the possibility that he was also lost himself!

I thought maybe I’d survive this ordeal if I just went back on my own. But when I looked back I saw only darkness, which meant that we’re already far from the original trail. I wouldn’t in a million years be able to navigate inside the cave and find my way out. I realized that if I don’t pull my shit together I might be lost, forever sobbing in Helm’s Deep and praying that I wouldn’t die of extreme hunger and utter stupidity. It was crazy. My mind was going crazy.

“Ito ba yung pinasukan natin kanina?” the guide asked me with a hint of malice.

“Parang hindi eh.”

I was shit sure he was on to me. To calm myself, I focused on the climb and kept waiting for tourists to make an appearance. Bahala na si Batman. Still I kept thinking how stupid it was if I ended up dead inside the cave. Me, the future Nobel Prize for Literature winner, the only Pinoy who will win the Oscar and the Palm D’Or dead in a Sagada cave just because I wanted to get high?!!! It was stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

But eventually I saw sunlight and in my excitement actually ran towards it. My greatest fear was that the guide had led me to a cul-de-sac where he would rob me and leave me to die. When I got to the spot, I saw that it was a three-story hole with stairs leading upwards. I looked up but I still couldn’t see any tourists. I kept thinking: What the fuck is this man up to? Papatayin ba nya ako? Sasaksakin? Hoholdapin? (No, I didn’t suspect that he was going to rape me) The suspense was killing me.

But the place was beautiful, that I must say. Sunlight was pouring down the steps. It was something one would see in a movie like Lord of the Rings or perhaps Goonies. Yeah, Goonies most probably. There’s probably a sequence where the kids come out of a cave and find stairs leading upwards with sunlight pouring down on it.

Yeah, it was beautiful and my eyes were probably red and glazed and I probably have this constant smirk on my face. In my excitement, I left the tour guide and ran as fast as I could towards the top. It was only when I saw people climbing down that I actually felt safe. So I looked back and smiled at the tour guide who was now wearing shades. Yes, shades and walking with a kind of gait that says “Man, that guy is loaded.” It was actually hilarious but of course I wasn’t laughing. I was just relieved that I came out of it alive even if I was reeking of bat shit.

I started to climb up and saw a gate. Wow, great relief. But standing beside the gate were, guess what, a couple of policemen.

9.

My throat was unbelievably dry. Whenever I speak, I could feel the words slowly climbing out of my throat, have coffee first and then go malling, take time to discuss the newest Harry Potter movie and then come out of my lips. I was painfully in slow motion. I sat on a bench and tried to act normal, which was difficult because the more I struggled the more I got jittery. It didn’t help that I am a fan of Nat Geo’s Locked Up Abroad where they feature stupid tourists being caught on drug dealings. Man, I don’t want to end up in a Sagada jail just because I happen to smoke a single toke. The policemen were loitering in front of me and the mere thought that I had to wait for the rest of the group for an hour or two made me anxious. What will I do for the next two hours? Run amok? But my greatest fear was that someone would strike up a conversation and all I could say is: Huh?

“Punta na lang ako sa taas,” I told the guide.

“Tara,” he said.

Clearly, he was as paranoid as I was. On our way up, he kept telling me: “Single file! Single file!” This was to prevent any suspicion, he said, but man we were goners. One look at us and we’d be locked up. Every time I heard a vehicle approaching I kept expecting it to be the pulis. My goal that afternoon was to reach our inn as fast as possible. I was dying to freak out in the privacy of my own room. Surprisingly, even in my paranoid state I was able to trace my way back to the inn. Once inside our room, I took a shower and then finally, while lighting up one cig after another, thought about doomsday scenarios.

10.

Just like James Steward in Vertigo, after the experience I couldn’t get close to a cliff. I also tried to steer clear of policemen (which was understandable since we were almost always high for the rest of the trip). The next day we went to see the hanging coffins and I swear I was crawling as I made my way through the steep trek. And what did my three companions do as I crawl through a seemingly safe trek? They laughed at me.

11.

We were in a small restaurant toked to death. Everyone was saying they weren’t but I knew they were. I know I was because when we were ordering I kept on snickering. Everything that the waitress said sounded like a punch line.

“Sir, what do you like: Pepsi or Coke?”

“Coke,” I’d say, biting my lips with matching nginig ng mga pisngi.

“Sir, will you also have the Rosemary chicken?”

My entire body would shake from repressed laughter. “Yes!”

“Sir, that’s four rosemary chicken and four Cokes…”

WAHAHAHAHAHA! You're so funny! You should do a movie with Dolphy!

Everything was a big, fat joke. As we waited for the food, we started talking about something. I don’t remember what but suddenly just as the conversation began we all fell silent. That was when the giggles once again started coming in. It was as if we were all beamed somewhere and that we were there but not exactly there. That’s all what I wanted to say but I couldn’t explain myself since I was laughing so hard. Waves upon waves of laughter assaulted me, it was uncontrollable. And the fact that I couldn’t make any sense because I was laughing incessantly made me laugh even more.

And when the chicken was served, man, it was unbelievable. Delicious!

12.

Our trip back wasn’t as difficult as our trip to Sagada but we did go all the way to Benguet and then to Pangasinan just to get a ride back to Manila. The next day, I went on another road trip but this time it's for work and with it my trippy summer vacation came to an end.

Comments

IshnaVera said…
imberbadette allyson talaga ang peg? you are soooo datin gyourself man hehehe, merry xmas!
bwisit! said…
hahahaha! shet nakalagpas yun. forever 25 pa naman ang project ko sa online world wahahaha!

merry christmas and happy happy new year!!! hope you had fun during the loooong vacation.
Anonymous said…
What a great story. My favorite part: "As we drove up, the trees began to make their presence felt. It became darker and darker as we snaked through the tiny muddy road. It was like entering a magical forest where creepy creatures lurk deep in the woods. I half-expect vampires and werewolves to jump out of the trees and accost us."
bwisit! said…
hey thanks anonymous! it was a really fun trip and sagada was actually very nice.

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