Solivagant: Sagada Part 1

solivagant: n. a solitary wanderer

“I’m here,” I breathed as I stepped off the bus, my feet touching the Sagada ground for the very first time. Days of agonizing over this trip, scaring myself with the grim possibilities of traveling alone in a foreign place and I couldn’t believe I still actually came.

My wristwatch read seven a.m. I pulled my jacket tighter around me as a cold breeze passed by, as if to welcome me. I watched my fellow passengers disperse to their respective ways, sure of every step. I realized I didn’t know where to go. If only I had someone with me then it would have been easier. I would just have to follow wherever he/she takes me to. People always tend to know better than I do.

But I was alone this time. I was on my own.

I remembered from the blogs I’ve scoured over the past three months that the first thing a tourist should do upon arrival in Sagada is to register at the Tourist Information Center. So I began there.

A local instructed me to walk down the South road. The Tourist Information Center will be on my left side. It’s easy to spot.

When I reached the center, my fellow passengers were already registering their names. I asked the guy manning the tourist desk which tour package he could recommend for me. I told him I was alone and emphasized that I was not planning to do anything strenuous.

“Just a tour of the town will do,” I said.

He said I could do with the Echo Valley Tour for Php200. He told me to come back to the center once I am and he will arrange the tour for me.

I paid the Php35 tourist fee then headed out into the rest of the morning.

I was starving, I thought as I continued South, looking for my inn. I didn’t eat anything on the bus ride. There weren’t much vegetarian options where our bus took its stopovers so the most I had for dinner were butter macaroons and some cookies.

I was in this state when I passed by Masferre’s Restaurant. The first thing I noticed were the assortment of pretzel-like bread displayed on the other side of the glass case. I stood there ogling at the pastries like a little kid in front of a candy store. I couldn’t decide what to order.

A young couple walked in, asking where the restaurant was. The guy manning the bread shop pointed to a door on my left. The couple headed for it. I followed them.

Inside, the tables were occupied with people having their breakfast, surrounded by their friends, family. Lovers.

I lingered by the door, feeling like a fish out of water. I was about to turn and leave when one of the waiters saw me and asked, in a shrill voice, if I wanted breakfast.

Suddenly, I was smiling. He was right. This was a restaurant. People come here to eat and I was hungry. It made sense to be here. But what was it that I was so afraid of? That people will stare and ask how come the girl is eating alone? What’s wrong with doing things on your own?

I chose their table alfresco, savoring their mushroom omelette and their mountain tea as the cold wind caressed my skin, watching the clouds disperse and reveal a blue sky beneath, green mountains and pine trees.

I lost track of time. I eavesdropped on a passionate conversation between two middle-aged men about how technology is enslaving humans instead of the other way around. I watched fellow diners leave, replaced by a new batch, who eventually left as well. And I liked watching time and people move on while I stayed there, unmoving.

Coming here, I really didn’t have an itinerary. Except for attending the first Concert in the Clouds, my list of things to do compose mostly of: 1) eating, 2) wandering. So since I was done with the first item, I decided it’s best to start with the next one early.

I paid the bill and headed out. I finally found my inn and after dropping off my luggage, I wandered around town, with only the map from the Tourist Information Center as my guide.

Twice, I took the North-West road but was too scared to venture farther than the Sagada Homestay. After the second attempt, I realized I won’t be able to go anywhere without a little help, so I went back to the main town and mustered the courage to ask a local if he could tell me where the Sagada Pottery is located.

He told me to keep walking up the North-West road. The Pottery is along the road so I will easily find it. I thanked him and went on my way.

It was a long walk along a narrow, paved road between rows of trees rising up to the skies. Venturing into such path alone would have scared me if I was somewhere else. But this is Sagada. They have zero crime rate here.

Dogs, bigger than I was accustomed to seeing, bark as if I committed a crime or something when I passed by. If they stand up on their hind legs, they can be taller than I am. They freaked me out more than the idea of getting mugged.

A group of boys and a little girl, who was wearing a native bag, overtook my pace. They were happily chatting among themselves. Although they didn’t pay me attention, I was glad for the company.

I finally spotted the Pottery. I was so excited, I immediately went up to take a peek. But it was only nine o’clock and the sign read they open at ten.

A Western-looking man came out to tell me they will open up in the afternoon as the potters were busy preparing for the concert. He asked if I wanted a demo. He could tell the potters to come. I told him I was alone so that won’t be necessary. I promised to come back in the afternoon.

I rested on the concrete barrier across the pottery, listening to the wind whisper secrets to the trees. Some vehicles passed by from time to time.

I toyed with the idea of going back to my inn. After all, it was nearing noon. But having gone this far, I thought it would be a waste not to see the Sagada Weaving Room which, according to the map from the Center, is along this road.

I launched the Google Maps app on my mobile phone and decided to continue my morning stroll. Minutes later, I found the group of kids resting on a concrete barrier. I plucked up the courage to go up to them and say hi.

I was told the three boys were from Baguio, while the little girl is the niece of one of them. She is a local of Sagada and served as the boys’ guide today. But she has little legs and was starting to complain about the long walk. She told the boys to just go home. But after resting for a bit, she picked herself up and continued their journey to Lake Danum.

I didn’t bother them anymore as we walked. They didn’t try to strike up a conversation either. We just kept walking — all of us bent on reaching our destinations.

Finally, Google Maps said I have arrived. If I took the turn in my side of the road, then I would find the Sagada Weaving Room.

I stalled, trying to see the end of the dirt road in front of me. But the bushes were thick on both sides and I couldn’t see further than a few steps.

I debated between going home or taking a risk. Walking along a deserted main road is one thing but entering a small path that might not be inhabited at all is another.

In the end, I took the turn. I couldn’t go home regretting not knowing where it led.

For a minute, there were only trees and plants on either side of me. I was close to running back the path I took when the thicket revealed a gate announcing: “Sagada Weaving Room Private Property Do Not Enter.”

It’s okay, I told myself. I was on the right track.

There was a beautiful house perched on a hill, overlooking green hills and a myriad of trees.

A man in flannel shirt and boots, a bolo hanging from his waist, came out of the back of the house. A giant dog was on his heels. I froze when the Labrador sniffed me. The man called it back. I found my voice and managed to ask where the Weaving Room was. He led me down the hill toward a room made of woods.

The Weaving Room was from the pictures I had of it in my head.

Inside, five ladies were working. A baby was sleeping in a makeshift hammock. Apart from the wooden weaving looms, the room was empty. It’s a very plain place and yet wonderful works of art are produced here.

Weaving is one of the major sources of livelihood for the women of Sagada.

The weavers seemed focused in their work, barely talking to each other, that I bit back all the questions I wanted to ask. I contented myself with watching them expertly create patterns as the room was filled with the mechanical sound of their weaving looms. An art in progress.

The walk back to town felt longer. The sun was nearing its zenith but I was grateful for the shade that the trees provide, and the breeze, which remained chilly even at this hour.

On and on, I dragged my feet until a pickup truck stopped next to me.

The driver spoke something in the local language. I apologized for not understanding a word. Then he went in Filipino, “Get in.”

In a different time and place, I would have ran for dear life. But this was Sagada, my legs were weary, and just thinking about the giant dogs I have to pass along the road made me so grateful someone actually stopped and offered to give me a ride although he is a complete stranger.

The driver was a thirty-some guy who was from Bontoc and moved to Sagada for work. He said, passing me by, he thought I was a local so he pulled off his car. That news made me so happy. I wanted to be a local. I wanted to belong here.

The car window was rolled down. I turned my face to the wind and thought I was a stranger to him, too. Yet he invited me in his car like it’s the most normal thing.

The trees blurred past as we sped down town with me riding shotgun and grinning from ear to ear.