October 31, 2011

Halloween Weekend Part 2: Hanging Coffins and Foggy Cemeteries at Night in Sagada

There were no other ‘unexplained’ instances throughout the night in the Haunted Mansion. So we decided that if we wanted to see a ghost, we would have to go find one!

We made the trip to Sagada, Mountain Province to see the hanging coffins and mummy caves. The drive is around 130 Kilometers (80 miles). Google said that it was 2 hours and 45 minutes. Locals told us anywhere from 5-8 hours.  It actually took us 5 hours and 15 minutes, traveling 10-30 mph the entire way. We packed Boeing with food and filled up the petrol and off we went. (We were glad we did fill up because once you leave Baguio there are really no petrol stations as we know them) It started to rain lightly as we went out and I hoped it was not like this the whole way because rain would only make the already treacherous road worse.

As we drove the rain was continuous, sometimes hard and sometimes just a sprinkle. It did not take long before we were into the mountain tops and Lady Hiva and I were both amazed at how there were houses and villages just hanging off the sides of the mountain! I mean, doesn’t it make them nervous when the neighbor’s house just disappears with the landslide? Or is it like, well we won’t have to deal with them anymore?

The two lane road snaked along the side of the steep mountain and all traffic going to and from Baguio to north had to travel on it. Literally there were times we could look directly down out the window and see 7000 kilometers straight down! With the steep mountain on the other side of the road, it did not make for a great ending if you got into an accident. In fact, we did see one accident and if it wasn’t for the two foot retaining wall the whole van would have gone over the edge…scary! You would have a LONG fall to pray before you hit.

The view was gorgeous! The steep mountains were many shades of green and terraces for farming of all kinds covered all possible space. We wondered what it would be like to live there, perched out on a steep mountaintop. There was a steady stream of small little villages of simple grey homes. We wondered how long their families had lived there in the mountains, farming during the day and getting together to sing karaoke at night. They are full of ingenuity though! They use cable carts systems to haul their things up and down the mountainside, their homes are built literally on a cliff, and their roads are forged out of limestone. It is Amazing! The road continued to wind around and not only did we see terraces and plants of all kinds; we also saw where mudslides had torn away sides of the mountain.

There were parts of the road completely missing, we all took turns skirting around the large holes on the remaining portion of the road by hugging the cliffs of the mountain. At one point we waited in a long line of cars and trucks for a muddy hill where a landslide had covered the road. Several large trucks had to try it several times because the mud made it hard to travel. Boeing did so well though, we were so proud of him! He even kept driving when a stupid chicken tried to play ‘chicken’ and race across the road as we went passed. It hit the grill and half flew, half bounced up the hood and windshield as we drove by!  We wondered if it was okay.  Oops...

We both liked seeing the wild flowers, and farmed flowers, on the sides of the road. Calla Lilies grew like weeds everywhere! We were tempted to stop and cut some of them, they are such an expensive flower in the States. The rest was other farms were vegetables, like lettuce. The chicken dung they use for fertilizer was so potent and rancid smelling that I thought it was going to singe my nose hairs! I told Hiva that it makes to realize how important it is to wash your vegetables before you eat them! 

The rain continued and intensified so at one point, after we had been driving for 4 hours, I thought we may need to go back before we too were stuck in a landslide.  We decided to turn around and go home, yet we were so close, so we decided to plow on to Sagada. Why not, we are not dead yet, right?

The road to Sagada itself was a really rocky dirt road, not paved AT ALL. We could see why there were NO cars, only trucks and SUVs. After several miles of brain rattling bumps and rocks, we made it to Sagada. It was a quaint town nestled in the mountain top valley. We were expecting just a small sparse town, but this was larger and more beautiful than we thought. There were inns, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and countless souvenir shops that lined the main road into town.  We wondered how the locals chose this remote location, nestled in the mountains, to build up this bustling town.  Either way, it felt like a small respite from the world. Other than the fact that is was SO cold. I think the thermometer in Boeing read 55 degrees most of the night until we got back down closer to Baguio.

We stopped and asked were the mummy caves were and how to find the hanging coffins. The coffins are hanging from the limestone walls for hundreds of years to protect them from the elements. Others were buried in the caves as mummies. To get there we had to walk passed the old rock cathedral and through the forest that opened into a cemetery. The hanging coffins were in a valley on the other side of the cemetery.  In order to see them, you have to hike down Echo Valley through tall grass and pine trees.  Hiva and I were trying to hurry because it was getting dark and the fog was settling in. (Sorry some of the photos of the coffins are blurry, we were in a hurry to get out and it was getting dark fast) As we walked we could hear people talking in the canyon below…we never did see the people.

We tried to take some photos…but again it was kind of dark. So we climbed farther down into the valley of the coffins. All we could hear then was a lowing of a nearby carabao. Not sure where the people we could hear went. The dusk brought in a heavy fog. I could not help thinking the Cullens and their vampire friends were going to come get us anytime soon!

Walking through the cemetery and the forest on the way back the fog got thicker. It could not have been any better if it was in the movies: a creepy old cemetery on a hill in the middle of the forest, completely deserted and quiet with thick fog shrouding everything. To make it even worse, the old church bell started to toll its dreary warning as we walked by! Like I said, it could not have been better planned in the movies.

We drove home in the dark. I must admit that with it being dark and not being able to see that there is a 7000 kilometer drop beside you makes you have some assurance—false assurance, yes, but it works still the same.

I think the creepiest thought I had all day though was, ‘What if all the rain caused a  mudslide and there is part of the road gone? With the fog and darkness before I saw the road was gone we would be off into the hole! The rest of the drive I made sure to note all the vehicles passing the other direction! I figured if they were still coming at me that meant they had not been cut off from passage yet. 

Halloween Weekend Part 1: Sleeping in a Haunted Mansion in Baguio

We celebrated Halloween last week, as you saw, so that left this weekend open. I told Lady Hiva we should go to Baguio and stay in one of the old mansions several colleagues stay in when they go on holiday. There is one room that is rumored to have a ghost. I told Hiva that we should ask for that room and that would be Halloween enough! She said, “If you do that you can go and stay by yourself!” I did not specify which room we wanted and when they made the assignments for the house, guess which one we got…yep the haunted room! *Doo, doom, doom* HAHA

We left for Baguio at 3am to beat the holiday traffic. The drive was pretty uneventful for most of the way. We had made musubi for the drive (terkiaki chicken of course, I still can’t do the Spam kind) so we had plenty to eat. Hiva slept so I gave myself philosophical speeches like how the car in front of me needed to learn to commit to one lane and all of our lives would be so much better (Driving in two lanes gets us all nowhere).

The sunrise over the rice fields as we were driving was spectacular! We stopped at the Shell petrol station in La Union, Pangasinan to see if the Kennon road was open. There are apparently two roads to Baguio: Marcos Highway and Kennon Road. Kennon Road is more scenic and faster but  is also ‘dangerous,' especially during the rainy season.  Sure enough, Kennon Road was open! The view was outstanding—cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls all inclusive. We were happy we chose Kennon, despite the two temporary bridges that had warning signs: “Weak Bridge, enter at your own risk.” YIKES. I can see how it would be dangerous if it was raining, some of the waterfalls are pouring right onto the road, similar to a raft ride at a theme park where you try not to be the one that gets wet as you pass the water.  It took us about 4 ½ hours to drive from Manila to Baguio.

Baguio is beautiful! Houses and buildings are perched on steep mountaintops and pine trees flavor the air deliciously. It seems like a Filipino version of cities like Wellington, NZ or Hong Kong. There are parks and trees everywhere! We loved it.

We arrived at the mansion and took the tour—in broad daylight, of course—it is gorgeous! It felt like we were staying in Jackson Hole, WY with the beautiful views, the crisp air, and the pine smells. We saw no signs of ghosts either…yet.

It was still early in the morning so we went exploring the city. Camp John Hay was our first stop. CJH was created by Americans several years ago when they decided Baguio would be a good place to have a city—I can see why they liked it, it feels like the States. At CJH there are restaurants, a golf course, and a few hotels. Hiva and I went to the Tree Top Adventure Camp. For a fee you can do several different types of zip-lining. The first was a 60 foot free-fall. Lady offered for me to go first. As I was dangling from a harness, 60 feet up and only a little guy holding a rope to stop me from splattering and a 4 inch mattress below, I presume to stop my fall—however I knew if I hit that mattress I would splatter anyway-- I had the thought, “This may not be such a good idea.” Before I could say anything, they dropped me!

Actually, as I am typing I realized I get myself into that situation too often; where something looks fun and adventurous and then half-way through the experience it dawns on me that I had not thoroughly processed the situation…hmm…but, on the bright side, I am not dead yet!

Hiva and I did the other two zip-lines: One like superman that I did not like because the harness was biting into my hip bones, and the other was “surfing” (more like a swing) and when I tried to make it fun by swiveling, they yelled at me that it was unsafe. Ahhh…*sigh* I never learn. I mean, seriously, why wouldn’t it be safe to swing back and forth on a cable suspended above the trees? (See what I mean about getting myself into these situations? Hopefully my life insurance guy does not follow our blog)

Next Lady Hiva wanted to buy some famous Baguio Peanut Brittle and Ube jam from the Good Shepherd Convent. The peanut brittle is so thin and crisp, we could see why our coworkers put in a request for it when they found out we were going to Baguio. The ube jam is made fresh daily so if you get there early enough in the morning, the jars are still warm.  As for the ube jam, we still haven't figured out how or what to eat it with but it's not bad. The nuns and youth make these products to sell and raise money for scholarships.

Baguio is well known for their strawberry fields, so we went to check it out! It is between harvest seasons so there were no strawberries to pick, but we saw the fields and bought some souvenirs. There is also the huge Public Market and Burnham Park in the center of Baguio, so we went to explore it too. It was wonderful to see all of the fresh vegetables that were being sold at the market. Hiva kept saying, “We need to come back here before we go home.” They also were selling fresh cut flowers. Now, I would say that I am only average height, but I had to laugh because the tent-like market place was set up for smaller people so Lady and I both had to walk hunched over as we looked at flowers!

In the evening we ate at two quaint-artsy places: Café By the Ruins for dinner and Choco-late for a snack. Both had a fun atmosphere, being partially inside and partially outside, and made the night enjoyable. We ended the evening in Burnham Park’s manmade lake paddling boats. The stars were out and the crickets too seemed to be enjoying the evening experience too. This is not something you get to do in Manila!

As we came back to the room for the night we walked upstairs and saw that our room door was open. Did we leave the door open? If we did not open it, who did? As we pushed the creaky door inwards to the dark room scared of what, or who, we would see, we both held our breath. *Do do do do dooo*  Nobody was there though.

As we were getting ready to go to bed I went into the closet and as I passed the mirror I saw a handprint fading on it…but it was not mine! *weent, weent, weent* Did we check into the Bates Hotel?