Manila, 22 AprilWhen was the last time you took a hike?

If you’re an adventurer, it’s probably fairly recent, but for me, the Great Outdoors has been a challenge I often left unexplored. So when they told me at work that we were going to Sagada for a coverage, I felt intimidated and uncertain of my ability to actually pull it off.

Before Sagada, the last actual hike I remember was in 2011, when we hiked up Mt Pundaquit to get to Nagsasa Cove, and then there was that attempt at Mt Pinatubo in 2009. Writing that all down made me realize how much younger I had been during those attempts, and the fact that they were at least 7 years ago kind of added to my anxiety. 

I asked myself, Will this body, at 33, still be able to conquer mountains?

Spectacular view. (My friend Armin included.)

The guide told me that they call it Marlboro Country because of the horses, but the ones we met during our five-hour trek through Marlboro Country and Blue Soil were mostly cows.

We missed the whole “sea of clouds” thing when we went, but the arroz caldo we had on-site for breakfast was spot-on. There were also two dogs running merrily around. At 5 a.m. What these dogs were doing up a chilly mountain at 5 a.m. was a mystery, but I was glad they were there.

I joined the hike to personally check for quality of signal and speed, and yes, to also check the view, though not too closely. A part of me is afraid of mountains because I’m afraid of heights, so yes, throughout the trek my knees shook with exhaustion, weight and fear alternately, where applicable. 

But it was beautiful. I wondered how many beautiful things I have missed out on just because I let fear get the better of me.

The guide said previous hikers arranged the rocks this way in this area.

The attraction called Blue Soil is caused by an accumulation of mineral deposits in the area, which gave the soil there this bluish-greenish chalky finish. It seemed like a setting right out of Star Wars or maybe a faraway planet in Interstellar. It was right smack in the middle of the woods, and I never would have thought walking so deep into the woods would lead me to someplace like this. It felt a bit like magic, and in that split-second, I felt a little younger. 

Blue Soil hills. 

From there, the trek to the finish line becomes more arduous. My legs, unfamiliar with this level of activity, are already exhausted. However, thanks to the energy of the group, I was able to keep walking (“See Kate, you’re a walker!” sabi pa nga ni Elvin) though a bit slower than everyone else. Somewhere, someone starts playing Maja’s “Dahan-dahan lang” and the group bursts out in laughter. It was a good trek, truly, though I’ll never wish it on myself again, or at least not so soon.

Slow and steady, Sagada.

Sagada’s vibe is slow and laidback. We noticed how the food took quite long to get served in some places, but as the days wore on, I realized that was just us and our rushed-Manila mindsets. Indeed, how could anyone get angry at how meticulously the locals prepare your meal? Lots of vegetables, minimal seasoning, crisp cool air. 

I believe this is the key to longer life: Early to bed, early to rise, and lots of vegetables. 

Confirmed: The city is killing us.

Straight outta Lord of the Rings.

A bit of shop talk: We were there to inaugurate a cell site, which was built in active and constant consultation with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Sagada community. One of the elders who spoke during the ceremony, Jaime Dugao, talked about how the decision was difficult to come to, but at the end of the debate he said they realized that this was more for their children than for them: “There is no denying that the world is changing,” he said. “We admit we must change, too.”

I suppose my hope here is that alongside some changes, some things remain the same. I think about how technology has managed to infect many people instead of improve them elsewhere, despite best intentions, but when I think about how strongly connected the people of Sagada are to their roots and traditions, it brings so much hope to my long-jaded heart.

Susuka pero hindi susuko, hehehe.