We made it to Sagada. Enjoy piney forests, sweet mountain air, followed by a private cup-and-bucket shower
Mountain Province, Luzon, Philippines
NOW, the red wire connects to the black one, right? No, wait. The red to yellow, and black to the white.Skip to next paragraph
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No. It's the yellow that goes to the white and the black to the blue. Forget the red.
Fifteen of us were standing in the middle of the dirt road here in Banaue. We had thrown our luggage on the roof of a jeepney and were patiently drumming our fingers waiting to get started. Our driver twisted every color combination of wires that hung from under the dash like an end of unfinished macram'e.
Mountain Province in northern Luzon means roughing it for most tourists. But for those adventurous, in-shape hikers who want something less than five-star hotels and three-star dining, it's a worthy trip.
The remoteness, beauty of the forests and rice fields, cool mountain air, and bucolic vistas are coaxing more intrepid tourists to these parts. And what a welcome relief it is from the sweltering heat, congestion, pollution, and car fumes of downtown Manila.
Finally, our driver hit the right combo. The engine roared, er, sputtered. He grinned and slid his MacArthur sunglasses from forehead to nose. Off we went bouncing to Bontoc - a 1-hour drive from Banaue, our first stop on the road to Sagada.
Perhaps ``jeepney'' deserves some explanation.
A jeepney looks like a jeep that backed into one of those quilted, stainless steel trucks that goes around serving coffee and donuts to construction workers, and then was decorated in Spanish Harlem. They're actually a wonderful expression of rolling eclectic art. Best of all, they get you where you want to go. Even up here.
The vehicle is open in the back and has benches for seating on either side. No doors. Luggage, vegetables, extra passengers, pigs, chickens, or whatever doesn't fit inside gets strapped on top.
I hopped in front beside the driver, fast.
Some of the passengers had made this trip before, and survived. They were the ones who knew enough to bring handkerchiefs to tie over mouth and nose to keep out the dust.
One couple actually made the trip in their own car - once. They came through unscathed. Not so their car. That little mountain sojourn cost them $2,000 in repairs. But, they explained, ``that was during the rainy season. The road is a lot better now.''
Hard to believe. It's dirt, mostly one lane wide and full of ruts and boulders. Fortunately, traffic is sparse. In fact, we didn't see anyone between the two mountain villages, save an occasional road-repair man living in a lean-to in the bush.
For serious native art collectors, there are a few store-front shops where works of Bontoc and Ifugao tribespeople can be found in the main towns. Spears, woodcarvings, and exquisitely woven baskets abound, as well as ceremonial pieces.
Vistas along the high, winding road can be chillingly stunning. With no rails or fences to obstruct your view, the ride can be a bit harrowing.
The most spectacular sight was looking down on the rice fields as we zigzagged out of Banaue and down the mountains into Bontoc: men and beasts plowing the patchwork paddies; women bent over, planting rice. Occasionally one would pluck a snail from the water and drop it into a small basket attached to her waist. That meant snail soup was on the menu tonight.
We arrived in Bontoc, a bit shaken but unbruised, about two hours later than scheduled.
Bontoc is a rather unattractive little town with one main street paved with soft tar and bottle caps. We still had a few hours before the jeep left for Sagada. Enough time for lunch, a quick tour of the Ifugao, Kalinga, and Bontoc native artifacts at the Bontoc Museum on the hill, and to browse around for antiques.
You need a real nose for shopping to find anything around here. Almost every store has some little old piece collecting dust, tucked away in a corner. A boar-tusk arm band and finely woven lunch basket were taken down and wiped off in a butcher shop. Tempting, but a side of beef would have been cheaper.