Philip’s Pines

Now it all makes sense. We didn’t learn about it until we had actually left Sagada, chilling out on the streets of Bontoc, me sick from 2 ½ cups of the strongest percolated coffee I’d ever drank coupled with an hour-long winding jeepney ride. That was a few days later, though. In Sagada, we had no idea that the country was named after King Philip II of Spain and his enamour with the pine forests surrounding us in the cool, breezy mountains.

We’d only been in the Philippines for a few days at this point, and had little to compare anything to. The variety of possible landscapes within a small geographical region doesn’t surprise me as much anymore, but I was still amazed. When you think of a tropical country, much of which is ever-so-close to the equatorial band of the Earth, it’s hard to think of a forest that is somewhat typical of Canada, or New Zealand. But in a way, it’s not so typical. Peppered amongst the fragrant pines are tropical varieties of flora so characteristic of the warmest regions on the planet. It really is an interesting mix, but up in Sagada, the pines truly dominated.

Teresa and I spent the first day walking around the small town, getting to know some of the people and restaurants near our outstanding log cabin that we’d settled into almost right away upon arriving.

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We found a great spot called Salt & Pepper Diner that we ended up frequenting quite a bit. The coffee in Sagada is phenomenal and is somehow perfectly harmonious with the crisp mountain air in the morning. The food is excellent as well. Almost every time I ordered pork or chicken adobo in the Philippines, it tasted a little different each time. Salt & Pepper had one of the best versions.

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We’d also heard about a certain specialty in Sagada. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that up in these mountains exist an excellent microclimate for growing a particular herb that Teresa and I enjoy on occasion. It wasn’t too difficult to come across this particular herb, and upon inquiring with one of the young guys serving us at Salt & Pepper, he handed us a small bag with a little bit left inside out of the kindness of his heart. He also told us that to find a bit more, we ought to head back up the road to a place called Kimchi where a guy with dreadlocks and a generally Rastafari look would be able to hook us up. This was a commonly lived up to stereotype in the Philippines as we would discover later on.

I can’t remember the name of the place next door to Kimchi but it was really quirky and fun to sit and have a couple of local Red Horse beers.

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We’d already passed by Kimchi and had suspected as much; with quotations emblazoned on the side of the outer walls along the lines of “I might have put LSD in the alcohol I serve,” we figured that it was the spot.

Although buddy was low when we went to inquire, he still passed along some of his personal stash, a very generous offer indeed. The scenic mountainside took on an artistic quality for the remainder of our stay.

The following morning, we were up at the crack of dawn. Our room was so large and the windows so wide that the light had no problem streaming boldly on the wooden surroundings.

After a hearty breakfast of fried fish, egg and rice, we took a walk down the road, outside of Sagada, passing into the next village over. Along the solitary road, we passed by dozens of chickens, cows, pigs and goats. The villages use a unique irrigation system where long hoses connect from the higher points in the mountain, hundreds of metres above. They send water down the villages below, which are nestled into the crevasses of the surrounding peaks. At first glance they look like power lines, but upon closer inspection we saw and heard the water flowing. Some spots were sliced open; I’m not sure if it was done on purpose to maintain some sort of desired level of pressure, or what. At these spots, water would be shooting out onto the ground below.

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We found a dirt road that branched off to our right and up the side of the mountain. Eventually, the path narrowed and we ended up hiking along the edge of farmed terraces. All variety of local crops were planted here, some blooming and ready to be harvested, others just budding.

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Eventually, these came to an end as well as we entered the heart of the pine forests. We crossed small rivers streaming down the mountain, we walked over fallen pine needles and roots protruding from the ground. We passed waterfalls here and there. As we ascended, the view below us spanned outwards to spectacular proportions. It just got more and more beautiful as we went along.

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The entire time, we didn’t come across a single traveler. After we’d branched off, up into the mountains, we saw one local man in his solitary home, feeding his daughter. He gave us a pleasant wave and a smile.

After a couple of hours, we’d decided to turn back as we didn’t really bring anything to eat. None of this was planned, we just started walking, having no clue where we’d wind up. Luckily, we had about a litre of water and the river water was so clear, fresh and untouched; we drank a bit of that as well. The sun became really hot around 8 AM and it was a very clear day. The forest provided some cover here and there and we’d put on sunscreen prior. Teresa and I learned our lesson after hiking through the Peruvian Andes.

We made it back to town in time for lunch around noon, and spent the afternoon just relaxing, drinking coffee, and enjoying a nice long reading session with our respective novels. At the time, Teresa was on Stephen King’s Song of Susannah. I, too, was enjoying a Stephen King novel, but I’d finished the Dark Tower series a couple of years ago. I was reading It, a 1100-page whomper which I thoroughly enjoyed. Rarely are fictional characters developed so well, and I guess with that long of a book, they’d better be. I felt sad when I finally finished it on the island of Bohol a couple of weeks later.

Sagada has much more to offer than just hiking and scenery. Next time: Samaguing Cave…and the descending of “heaven” upon Earth.

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