Writing in Sagada: The 9 hour trip

The last time I was in Sagada was more than 5 years and 30 pounds ago with my mountaineering group (which I miss dearly, by the way).  The first was with my friend, Blast, whose bf had died swimming in Cagayan, thereby cutting our trip short.  I tried to persuade him to just cry at Echo Valley and stay another day but his grief was too deep.  I return a third time; alone, heavier, and for a less adventurous reason—- to answer my PhD compre exam.  You see, our compre exam at my uninersity was patterned after that of a US university where you give 5 questions out of which the exam administrator chooses 3 you answer for 14 days.  As it’s the school break and I have lots of VLs left, might as well head to Sagada for some fresh air, greenery, and me time.  I had originally had my heart set on lovely Ubud but Mt. Agung’s rumblings had me changing my mind.  So here I am, seated at the first floor common area of Kanip-aw Lodge, biding my time as I wait for my room to be ready.  They offered me an available one but it had no terrace, that highly-valued piece of lodging acoutrement where I can have a view of Echo Valley while writing about the practice of ethnomusicology in a changing world, so I nicely turned it down.  Anyway, I’m cool at the nice wood paneled area.  The noisy group of checking-out guests have gone off to breakfast so it’s quiet and the wifi is strong.  

It’s cool and a little wet in Sagada now.

 Departing at Nov 1 after  the teeming masses had gone off for the undas meant no traffic at NLEX nor at the provincial roads.  I took Coda Lines, my first time to do so, which is the only bus line that goes to Sagada.  The deluxe class (Php 980) was modern and comfortable.  The bus was only half full and I had an empty seat beside mine which was good because if it had been full, there would have been a problem as I had the same seat number as a girl who was part of a group of 5.  

I arrived at 6am, a mere 9 hours from Manila via Banaue.  Having gotten used to the 10 hour trip from Manila to Banaue onboard Ohayami, the short length of time it took to get to Sagada was a pleasant surprise. I woke up at around 2:30 to the bus conductor announcing we had arrived in Lagawe!  Ha?!  Too early I thought.   I guess the rest of the passengers were surprised too.  I don’t think the Korean guy expected to be let off at Banaue at 3:30 am.  The roads were good though we did pass by a road that had about 20 meters of rocks as it was being repaired.  The bus went carefully among the curves, occassionally passing by oncoming traffic. After about an hour and a half, as the bus rounded a curve, the lights of Bontoc town came into view from a distance.  It was beatiful and to the weaey traveler, a mark of how near we were to Sagada.
On arrival at the town center, asking for directions to Kanip-aw, I was led to a van driven by the owner’s brother who brought me to the lodge, saving me a 5minute walk.  Dropped my bags and headed to Bana’s Cafe, which was one of the few places open before 7am.  Chowed down a clubhouse with potato fries (quite good) and brewed coffee (too weak).  

Managed to get some me time amidst a noisy family also having breakfast. Walked a bit around the town then back to Kanip-aw just in time before it rained a bit.

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Imbayah 2017

What used to be held every four years is now held yearly which is good news as there’s no need to wait for years before the next one comes along.  The Imbayah is a prestige feast given by affluent Ifugao people belonging to the elite kadangyan class.  There are village Imbayah feasts but the one held at the last week of April in Banaue has been institutionalized by the local government of Banaue.

Lilymae and I arrived Friday morning, a day before the main festivities. Stalls had been set-up at the short road to the municipal hall.  At the area fronting the municipal gym, male wood carvers were busy displaying their skill and creativity by carving wooden stools in their own designs.   In the evening, we headed to the municipal gym for the Mr. and Ms. Imbayah pre-pageant (what’s a town celebration without a beauty pageant?) and the Banaue’s Got Talent contest.

The main event, however, at least for outsiders like me, was the street parade participated in by the different baranggays of Banaue which took place today.  

The parade started at the Immaculate Conception School grounds and ended at the municipal grounds where the groups danced and re-enacted rituals to large crowds of excited locals, tourists, and special guests.

EditBecause animal sacrifice,  drinking of wine, and sharing of rice is a common feature in Cordillera rituals, many of the presentations featured these. 

While other baranggays were content with faux animals,  Baranggay San Fernando actually killed a live boar! 

Of course, there were lots of dancing to the music of the flat gongs (gangha).

If you’re used to lively street dancing such as you find in the Sinulog, Kaamulan, and other festivals, you might find the presentations at the Imbayah a bit too low-key.  However, that’s precisely the charm.  There are no hired choreographers to set-up the presentations so you get to watch something that the community themselves created out of their own experiences and knowledge.  If I may use the term, it’s a little bit more “authentic” than those highly-choreographed and synchronized extravaganzas.

In the afternoon, under a lightly drizzling sky, we stood by the road to see the wooden scooter racers wheez by to the finish line at the plaza.  These scooters are 100% handcrafted from wood and display Ifugao ingenue in design and wood carving. 

This one is really different from the rest.

There were also native games for children and adults which were fun to watch mainly because everyone were having some good old fashion fun.  I really admired the Ifugao kids’ skill with the top. 

The one below is a race where women walk with a native basket called laba on top of their heads.

The most exciting game though was the leg wrestling.

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Magandang Umaga, Banaue!

After about 10 hours on the Ohayami bus from Sampaloc, we finally disembarked at the tourist registration office along the highway (if you could call it that) in Banaue.  It seems tourist companies or organizations have got everything down pat to steering tourists to their services.  A few hundred meters before arriving at the main town of Banaue, a young man in a peeling Von Dutch black leather jacket got on the bus and asked to see our tickets.  I assumed he was part of the bus company.  Arriving at the registration office, a guy dressed in an official-looking green shirt directed the passengers to the registration and pointed everyone to a free shuttle that would bring us to a tourist information office.  We needed a ride to the center of town so we boarded the green jeepney.

The tourist information office turned out to be the tour desk of a guide organization based in a lodging house. Inquiring with the guy in the Von Dutch jacket (who also boarded the shuttle) for bus tickets to the return trip to Manila, he took the dates we wanted and promised to go to People’s Lodge where were staying to deliver our tickets.  So I guess, the desk wasn’t the Ohayami booking office at all as he had said it was when I asked him earlier at the registration office.   Anyway, as long as he secures us the bus tickets, I’m fine.  We could have skipped the whole hoopla if I had known that People’s Lodge sent someone to pick us up at the bus drop-off.  I didn’t bother checking out the names at any of the signs being held up by some people as I didn’t think a cheap lodge such as People’s would have pick-up service.  Von Dutch asked a young guy hanging around to walk us to the few meters up the road to People’s Lodge.  The whole set-up was fine really—you get a free ride to the town center and you get some information.  One thing though, someone was asking about transpo to Batad.  Rather than pointing to the public jeeps, the guy with a green shirt answered that they were just waiting for the other bus to arrive and see if there are other Batad-bound passengers.  Considering you’ll also need to wait for the public jeeps to fill-up, green shirt guy’s Batad arrangements would roughly turn-out the same, at least in terms of time.

However, if you really want to do your thing independently, the municipal tourism office is at the top of the road that leads down to the town center.  

So anyway, here I am at our room typing this.  It was too late for the buffet breakfast at Banaue Hotel so we just ordered breakfast at the lodge with a view like this.

As expected, like most lodging houses in Banaue, there are no electrical outlets in the room.  Fortunately, there was a set of outlets just outside the door so I simply plugged-in the power strip Lilymae brought, let the cord pass through under the door and viola–we could charge our gadgets un our room!

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Breakfast at Ximen

I’ve been back from Taipei for almost a week now and I already miss my usual Taiwanese breakfast chow. Oatmeal, even with peanut butter, just doesn’t compare.  

One lives for Taiwanese breakfasts (well…aside from the night markets). They’re tasty and cheap and you can find them everywhere including Ximending,  my favorite area to stay whenever I’m in Taipei because of its energy.  While the rest of the establishments are still asleep (except for a few cinemas), the hawker stalls  are all awake and alive.  

You can always brave the lines at nearby Fu Hang Dou Jiang (and you should, at least once because aside from the good eats you are well… a tourist.. and that’s what tourists do.. eat at rated places) but if you want a little more variety, head to this section of Ximending.  These stalls have never failed me in all those times I was in Taipei.

Have you had enough of xiao long bao? Then try these two stalls that sell pan-fried dumplings for a different experience.  There are round ones . . .

and long ones!

I really can’t say which I like more as they both have different flavors and textures.  Why stress yourself out?  Have both!  Douse them with soy sauce and some chili!  Really really good!

For something heavier, there are stalls that dish out Taiwanese “pancakes” which you can have plain or with egg, bacon, ham, pork fillet, and other stuff.

Want some rice?

Obviously, you have to go to one of the steel benches around the area to enjoy your breakfast.  Bring some baby wipes too to clean your sticky hands.  There are 7-11s where you can get a drink and some good coffee.  


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Taipei Airport MRT

Taipei finally has its own airport MRT!  Pleasantly surprised to find out that the line finally opened just Feb 2 with a 1 month free trial.  Arriving in Taipei, I took the usual Kuo Kuang airport bus to Taipei Main Station as it was just 7am and I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the city.  Heading to the airport, I took the MRT as it had an in-town check in.

On the advise of Esther, the super- friendly and helpful front desk staff at Holiday Fun, it was better to alight from the Beimen MRT coming from Ximen as it was a shorter walk to comnect to the airport MRT rather than from Taipei Main Station.

At Beimen, simply follow the signs that lead you to wide airconditioned corridors.

At the station, you can check-in if you’re taking a China Airlines or Eva Air flight. 

There are also self-service kiosk to check-in or print your boarding pass.

I had already checked-in online, hence I just dropped my luggage at the self-service area.  The service is really cool!  

You put your luggage on the compartment and scan your boarding pass (I had an e-pass on my phone).

Print the luggage tag and attach to your luggage.

Go to the monitors and make sure you see your luggage go through the x-ray.

That’s my luggage on the left monitor. 

You’re all set!  So convenient!  

I had an Easy Card so I simply added NT 100 to its existing balance to pay for the NT 160 Express to Terminal 2.  

Here are the stops.

If you’re doing an in-town check-in, take note that you need to check-in at least 3 hours before your flight.  Here are the guidelines.

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Taipei Tip: Where to buy those sausages

Sausages are EVERYWHERE on the streets of Taipei and aside from pineapple cakes, nougats, and other Taiwanese snacks, they’re the perfect stuff to bring back home.  Nothing like sausages to remind you of Taiwan.

So, where to buy them?  I always head to this local grocery at the corner of Kunming and  Changshan.  It’s easy to find.  Just walk along Kunming.  If coming from Ximen MRT Exit 6, walk along Chengdu (the road where Watson’s is) then turn left to Kunming.  Walk straight until you get to Changshan Road.

 You’ll see the blue Chinese sign.

The sausages are in the open freezer at the back.  They cost from NT 87-99 depending on the weight and the brand.  Previously I have been able to buy the rice “sausages” used to sandwhich the sausages but there were none this time.  

Other food stuff you can buy are braised tofu and tea eggs. 

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Cheap Eat at Ximen

Along Kunming St st the Ximen area is a traditional Taiwanese lunch box eatery. Good for when you’re looking for a rice meal without breaking your travel budget. I’ve eaten here in my past trips and have always enjoyed the food.  It’s a break from all the street food and noodle soups.

A Taiwanese lunchbox sets consists of a serving of rice topped with vegetables and a serving of protein of your choice such as a large fillet of pork, fried chicken, or fried fish.  It’s really filling and cheap.
At 156 Lunchbox, you choose 2 vegetable sides and main meal from a counter. 

You read it right!  It only costs NT 70!  You can dine inside or have it taken out.  

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My Happy Place in Taipei: Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is one place that you wish you had visited much earlier in your trip so you can go back again and again and again.

After spending my mornings reading and writing at the Starbucks at Kunming St. I wish I had spent it here instead. The cool air, leafy suroundings, and peaceful setting will definitely keep the intellectual juices flowing.

See this red pavilion?  Perhaps the next conference paper will be written here . . .

… or here . . .                                                           

. . . or here.

Being a weekday mid-morning, there weren’t too many people.  There were small groups of school children out on an education trip but the place was still quiet and peaceful.  

The park was a former tobacco factory in the 1940s and which has been turned into a complex that incorporates creative spaces for exhibits, design shops, and commercial purposes without detracting from the heritage architecture and layout.  On one side fronting a huge open space used for events is Eslite hotel and the Eslite mall, the only modern sttuctures in the park.  

The original factory structures such as the warehouses and the offices have been retained and re-purposed to house shops, exhibit areas, offices, etc.

I’m a fan of windows, especially large ones; hence, I was taken in by the tall windows of the factory buildings which make them look and feel airy and light.

The buildings have been left as they were but retrofitted thereby preserving the design.

Even the restrooms are consistent with the scheme. I love the tiles and wooden cabinets.

The factory buildings look out to a lovely Baroque garden.  I just wish there were benches near the fountain.  It would have been nice to just sit.  

Design is the heart and soul of the park so expectedly, there is a design museum.  

Creativity runs high at this place.  Taipei, after all, is one of the most creative places on this side of the world.

Nice and quirky stuff, albeit pricey, can be bought at a couple of shops which also double as cafes.

One of the structures was converted into a cozy bookshop-cafe.  Wouldn’t you want to go in a bookshop that looks like this?  

There was an exhibit called, “Wake up Taiwan” in one of the galleries which showed roosters of all shapes and designs.  Rooster crowing = Wake up!  Get it?

Check-out the mirrored toilet in the gallery.  I could piss here forever!

There are cafes such as Luili and Cafe Sole.  The latter had a delicious Ginger and Brown Sugar Latte.

I really enjoyed the wide open spaces of the park and could have easily spent the entire day here if it weren’t for the cold weather and my lack of a jacket.


Take the Bannan Line to Taipe City Hall MRT. Take Exit 1.  Upon exiting,  turn right and cross the road.  Walk straight ahead and then turn right (you’ll see a sign).  The park will be on the left. 

There is no entrance fee but the exhibits do have. I paid NT50 for the Wake Up Taipei exhibit.

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The Soundscape of Longshan Temple

I’ve visited Longshan a few times in the past and have always found it engaging as it’s always busy with people praying, making offerings, lighting josticks, or like me and a dozen other tourists, marveling at the architectural details and the unfolding scene of worshippers.

This afternoon, I headed to the underground mall at Longshan MRT in the hope of finding a wooden clapper called pai ban.  The shops at the mall were stocked with various religious items none of which were what I wanted.  I headed to the temple instead and found myself immersed in a sonic landscape of Buddhist chanting punctuated by percussion instruments. 

The entire inner complex reverberated with the chant as people lined the pathways and the space fronting the main hall.  They were reading from little red books.

As I drew closer to the main hall, the chanting grew deeper and more resonant as the inner hall reverberated.  Inside, women in brown robes led the chanting.

This was no static religious service, however.  People continued to come and go while the chantimg continued like a drone that seemed to make the people’s actions even more meaningful.

The chanting ended around 5pm about an hour since I arrived.  The people broke-up and an old guy collected the little red books. 

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A Kneaded Massage in Taipei

That’s what I felt like—a glob of dough bejng kneaded.  The 60-something bespectacled uncle seemed seriously intent to mash, knead, and pummel every knot on my body, particularly the back of my legs and thighs which I asked him to focus on.  Walking on the streets of Taipei the whole day has taken its toll.

 In all my previous trips to this city, I’ve never had a massage.  Coming from a country where good legit massages can cost as low as USD 7 an hour, paying triple that in Taipei is enough to ease any muscular pain.  However, I decided to have one last night.  You know, just to write it off my bucket list.  Besides, I always get massages every where I travel.  So why exempt Taiwan?

I went to Royal Bali Spa at the corner of my hostel along Kunming St. in Ximen.  There was another massage place just beside it but it looked too industrialized— people seated close to each other while aunties and uncles churned-out one foot massage to another.  The Royal Bali seemed more tranquil with its wooden interiors, soft lights, and fisherman pants wearing staff.  Paid NT 1499 cash (NT 1899 if card) at the reception and told them I wanted a male therapist.  In a few minutes, the bespectacled uncle arrived and escorted me to a curtained cubicle at the spacious second level.  There was a large plastic basket for putting your stuff and hangers for clothes.  Disposable undies were provided.  The bed was quite narrow but at least it had a disposable top sheet.

I laid on my stomach and in a few minutes, uncle returned, showed me the stopwatch indicating a 1 hour and 30 minute session and started with a dry massage using his elbows and forearms.  The pressure was so heavy, I swear uncle had turned into an elephant.  It felt good however as I could feel blood rushing through my tight muscles.  The oil massage was equally rough.  It was no dreamy relaxing session. Uncle seemed to have noticed how tight my legs were as he mercilessly bore down my muscles with his thumbs.  Felt good again as the aches dissipated.  Turning on my back,  I winced as uncle brought his entire weight down my front and side thighs.  I had to signal him to ease off a bit.  Nevertheless, it was good.  By the time the timer went off, my body felt like it had been through a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, and a bulldozer.  I am used to getting myofascial release therapy so the discomfort was not unknown to me as it merely indicated how tight my muscles and the fascia were. As I stood up, put on my clothes, and walked back to my hostel, I felt lighter.

P.s.  Just as I had read in blogs, there was no tipping.  Uncle simply said the session was over and he left.  Down at the reception, he was nowhere to be found and no one seemed to mind me. 

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