I had spent a little over two days up in the Mountain Province, with a short stop visiting Banaue and then Sagada, but watching how the locals go about their everyday lives is just inspiring! In the tiny town that is Sagada, its folks have taken an entrepreneurial approach to how they go about their daily lives: offering places to sleep, food to eat, and a variety of tours to take for those looking for a bit of adventure.
It’s amazing to see how this little town has embraced change for the better, making the Mountain Province town the place for adventure tourism in Cordillera. Here are 5 lessons I learned from the Igorots of the Sagada:
1. Time is relative. Coming from a city where being first at something is considered an accomplishment – coming into work, the new pair of Yeezy’s,or IGing the next new cronut – it doesn’t quite work that way in Sagada. Here, people take a more relaxed view on life and everything comes in it’s own time. Whether you’re waiting for the magnificent sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint or watching the sky change into a myriad of colors at Lake Danum at sunset, everything has it’s own time and each experience shouldn’t be rushed, but savored.
2. Bayanihan is still a thing. The word bayanihan literally means “being in a bayan”, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. In the valley town of Fildelisan in Sagada, it’s not a surprise to see neighbors helping each other to build stone houses or carry the older folk up the mountainside to get to the nearby hospital. One can see a sense of community where everybody knows everyone, and you rest easy leaving your kids to be taken care of by the community while you go out and work the rice fields. So be nice to your neighbors – you’ll never know when you’re going to need their help.
3. It isn’t considered work if it’s part of life. I remember hiking up the path half made up of concrete stairs, big boulders, and rice paddies after visiting Bomod-ok Falls. I felt the air being squeezed from my lungs with every few steps, the cold hurting my nostrils with every big breath I took – I must’ve looked like I was dying. And then seemingly from out of nowhere, I heard this shy voice behind me say, “Excuse me children, I just need to pass through!” and behind was was this tiny old woman, carrying some vegetables on a basket carefully balanced on her head, walking up the same path like she was strolling down the street. My guide explained how walking up and down the valley has been something they were taught to do as small kids, so this hike wasn’t at all difficult for them, just a part of daily Igorot life.
4. Life is simple – stop complicating it. There are no Starbucks cafes or fancy Michellin-star restaurants in Sagada, obvs. But taking out the posh coffee shops, restaurants, and 24/7 mini-marts with twirl-all-you-can ice cream, your choices become limited to what the Igorots can offer you – good, fresh food. Breakfast can start with a cup of piping hot Benguet coffee with freshly baked foccaccia buns ans some jam and butter at Masferre Country Inn and Cafe. A great option for lunch can be Chicken Inutom at Salt and Pepper – a simple baked chicken dish slathered with rosemary, chili-garlic, or mushroom sauce and served with some fresh vegetables and your choice of rice or marbled potatoes. Enjoy a heavy meal of pork adobo for dinner at Strawberry Cafe, served with bright purple mountain rice and fresh veg, and wash it all down with their mildly minty mountain tea, before getting stuck in with dessert – a strawberry yogurt with a generous drizzle of wild mountain honey – before the 10 o’clock curfew. The food is just as good as any restaurant you can find in the city, with the added bonus of being quite affordable for the portion sizes. Why can’t life in Metro Manila be this simple, I wonder?
5. A positive attitude goes a long way. The Igorot optimism is infectious! Everyone in Sagada (and Banaue!) is armed with either a shy smile or a big toothy grin. They are always happy to help you with directions, recommending which restaurants to check out, or setting up your bonfire. It’s no wonder Sagada is a favorite among the local and foreign tourists alike. The locals of this Mountain Province aim to always put a smile on your face and are beaming with positivity, making for a memorable trip, no matter how short your stay.