Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sagada Sojourn: The sun that rose late, the guide who didn't show up, and the bus that runs on chaos

Sagada - Kiltepan Wulf
Early morning at Kiltepan Viewpoint
Waking up at 3 in the morning isn't easy when it's 17 degrees outside and all you really want is to sleep under a thick blanket until it's light. Still, the promise of seeing Kiltepan shrouded in mists is as good an incentive as any to part with the sandman prematurely, if only for one morning. Staying in Mabbay cut our hiking by over a kilometer and a half than if we were to start from the town center. The waning moon cast a bluish, luminous low on the tree-filled landscape as we hiked (er, I sleepwalked) past houses along the trail (never remembered seeing them years ago). After some moments of disorientation, we found our way through the clearing. There were overnighters near the viewpoint, their campfire still burning as they dozed in their tents. It's a privilege to see the rest of the world asleep, cocooned in darkness.

5 o'clock ticked by. 
5:30.
6.
The sun remained hidden. So was the scenery.
6:30.

We were set to leave when the fog lifted and the distant terraces and mountains revealed themselves as if the mountains woke up and rolled the misty blanket. An emerging sun rendered the clouds aglow, the magical light peeking through bank of clouds and fog defining the terraces of Kilong and Tetepan little by little as if teasing. I was listening to Darlene Zeschech singing praises to our Creator in my iPod as I surveyed the breathtakingly-divine (or is it more aptly divinely-breathtaking?) scenery. If I was sleepwalking and sleepshooting all the while, I was wide awake now. 
Sagada - Ironwulf in Kiltepan II
Kiltepan panorama
The guide who didn't show up. I've known Fabian Batnag since 2005. He was my first guide in Sagada and I thought I've struck a friendship with him so much so that I entrust visiting friends to his care. He even invited us to stay in his house should we run out of accommodations for this visit. 

On this trip, we wanted to revisit Pongas Falls in Suyo. Our previous visit left a bad impression on his colleague in SEGA (Sagada Environmental Guides Association) who not only overcharged us but also neglected his duties as a guide. We thought contracting the services of a guide-friend will put those memories to rest. A week before our trip, I sent a text asking about Fabian's rate as well as the price of jeepney hire (P600 guide fee, P600 transport) and after agreeing to his quote, pinned him for a commitment. He agreed. I have no inkling he was going to renege on his commitment as he even invited us the night before the hike to a pinikpikan dinner (I took a raincheck as I wasn't feeling well). 

The afternoon of the hike, we waited patiently at Misty Lodge for the transport to arrive. After an hour of calling, I reached an unapologetic Fabian. He turned out to have accepted a morning tour that was running very late. He even had the temerity to sound irritated at my insistence for an explanation, telling us we can find other guides and transport at 2pm (impossible due to the sheer number of other guests who ran out of transport and guides).   So we settled for hiking to Lake Danum for the afternoon and early evening.

I am thankful to Fabian for introducing the place to me seven years back but after this incident, I think I will be tapping the guides of the other group, SAGGAS, for future trips.  While I understand that he wanted to take advantage of the tourist influx, I do not accept his lack of professionalism and palabra de honor nor of his unapologetic attitude.
Sagada - Kiltepan Dewy Lantana
Dew on Lantana flowers found at the Kiltepan Viewpoint
GL Lizardo, the bus running on chaos.  I never thought we will be having problems getting on the bus trip back to Baguio since we arrived early enough (11am) for the afternoon trip.  We went to the ticketing office wanting to pay for tickets but instead were issued a piece of paper marked "RT, 39 and 40".  After an hour, the 12 noon bus arrived and after settling on seats 39 and 40, we were told to alight since our seats are for the 2pm bus.  Talk about unclear directions.  After an argument with the dispatcher, we decided to eat lunch at Masferre and wait at the plaza.

We boarded the 2PM bus and imagine our surprise that our seats were also issued to another group.  The dispatcher had the gall to tell us we ought to have paid for and exchanged our piece of paper for tickets.  Did she think we were psychics who can read her mind?  Normally, I don't like getting into arguments but when she told us to alight the bus again, I had to say my piece.  One, we weren't told what to do with the piece of paper passing off as reservations and two, this was the last bus trip for the day and we have to catch the 9pm Victory Liner bus going back to Manila from Baguio for which we brought tickets in advance.  We had to stand our ground this time around.

I'm used to chaotic bus travels with no pretense of order so I hate this "system" that confuses and adds to the chaos.  If the directive is to line up and wait for my turn, I will do it.  If there are clear directions posted on the ticket booth, I will read even the fine print but sorry, I don't read minds.  I enjoyed my stay in Sagada but there's ought to be a better way to handle the ticketing.

Epilogue:  We did catch our 9PM bus (barely) and while Victory Liner had its share of redundant bookings (our seats were taken by chance passengers), the situation was promptly and courteously addressed by the conductor.  Now, if only Lizardo can take a page from the Victory Liner book.
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