The ride started out as a usual routine. Yet, before we were able to take our seats, we had to look for the bus. We knew the name of the terminal, but had no idea where to find it. The easiest way was to ask someone down the road.
Dangwa Bus Terminal was crowded with jeepneys and buses. The vehicles, parked side by side, looked tough. They each were waiting for their turn to a trip on the highlands.
People were already ling up. We waited at the Besao-Sagada counter. There was an hourly trip going to our destination. We were quite relieved upon learning this good news. It was about 10 in the morning of a day warm and sunny.
We initially intended to go to Banaue Rice Terraces but again we missed the 8 am trip of the same day. We arrived at the other terminal five minutes later. The next trip was at 9:30 pm.
Anyway, even if disappointed, the mention of Sagada obviously made us (my wife, her two lady friends and I) smile. I’d heard about the beauty of Sagada and on the internet, I’d seen a lot of the awesome photos of this highland. We were already standing on the high ground of Baguio City. Going to Sagada is like moving up to the next level that is multiple times higher.
At Dangwa bus terminal, there is a good place to eat. Since all seats were already taken, we waited for the next bus and had our late breakfast. We learned that it would take us six hours to reach Sagada. So we must eat well to at least prepare our stomachs. That long hour ride on a land I didn’t know how high it could get us was absolutely puzzling.
We sat at the back row of the bus. We hopped in eagerly only to find out we must wait for the other passengers to come in. I felt quite excited thinking that I would travel, at last, to the beautiful highland of Sagada in Mountain Province.
Past 11 am when the bus finally started. From Dangwa all the way down to La Trinidad, the traffic was heavy. We moved very slowly. There were too many vehicles, bumper to bumper, crawling down and up, then turning on the narrow road.
As a first-timer, I did not mind the turtle-movement of the bus. I had my full attention on the buildings and houses filling up several mountains. Naturally, I thought, when a city or town thrives, people will find places to build their homes. It was amazing to see such careful arrangement and patterns of structures on rows.
Not very soon, the bus slipped through the bottle-neck of the traffic. It left the urban center of Baguio. From La Trinidad, Benguet, the bus passed through a few more towns. The trip, by then, had only just began.
Then, the road became loose, yet the driver still maneuvered the wheel very carefully. This was an obvious protocol. What loomed ahead of us was the bent and winding roads snaking up and down tracing the chops made on the sides of mountains.
The bus swayed, turned and canted in a movement that defined the roughness of the roads. At the same time, it plunged down, then climbed up on the paths that said mountain slopes.
Looking down the window, I can see how higher and higher and higher we were going. The sharp cliffs on the sides of the roads can be scary. One small mistake of the driver slipping off the track or the bus losing its brake simply meant accident.
With this extraordinary road, the safety of all the passengers is on the hands of the experienced driver. Our bus driver was indeed adept in driving the bus up, down, sideways, unscathed throughout the trip.
The bus then made a cautious turn on the sharp curve of the road. This happened many times, turning on acute curves beside the steep cliffs of the highland. We were actually traveling around the sides of one mountain at a time. When I realized this, I was totally fascinated.
Well, for those who traveled the roads to Sagada for the first time as we did, I can say there were moments when I thought that a road trip to this destination was too dangerous. I often caught myself stunned by the look of the zigzagging highways. I also wondered how they were able to construct such winding roads on the mountains. We had two stop-overs in this trip, taking our lunch in the restaurant at the second stop.
Anyway, all those worries or apprehensions would be vanished completely when you begin to see the majestic mountain ranges, verdant trees, high blue skies and neat formation of clouds. We even saw a whole mountain planted with green vegetables.
The drive when the sun was high proved to be less scary than when the thunderstorm began to fall. This time, the thought of slippery roads, landslides, faulty break, falling off the cliff was nerve-wracking. The hard rain and murky fogs obscured the curving roads ahead of us. To make the trip even harder, the brownish soil coming from the mountain sides muddled the rainwater running furiously down the roads.
While it was raining hard, we reached some points where there were warnings on the roads like Road Slipping Ahead and Sinking Roadbed. Some parts of the roads were even under construction with backhoes at the side. Traces of landslides with boulders of crushed rocks fallen at the sides of the mountain somehow compelled me to think something can happen anytime. Twice or thrice, the bus moved back as if losing its break, only to give way to another bus going down on the one-way muddy road.
At six-hour ride, the road trip to Sagada seemed to be never ending. The journey against the bad weather on the road, long, winding and curling around the mountain sides was such an experience I will never forget.