I wasn't sure what to expect from the lengthy bus trip from Baguio to Sagada, after reading contradictory accounts in two travel blogs. This guy described it like an ascent into hell while this girl thought it was 'pleasant.' They couldn't both be correct, unless she's some kind of sadomasochist.
It turns out the guy was dead wrong, as were the scenery-jaded people on travel forums advising fellow travellers to skip out the winding mountain route via Baguio and take a more direct bus from Manila. If the prospect of looking at some mountains, river valleys and rice terraces bores you, why are you even heading to Sagada?
Though I probably shouldn't dispel the myth of Sagada's inaccessibility, as this might be a factor in most of the unpleasant tourists being sieved out and left to lurk in the coastal cities. I didn't see any couples with a noticeable age gap here, which was a welcome change, nor even many innocent interracials for that matter, which probably made me and Jackie the most perverted thing there.
The road to Sagada
Proving that our trip to Sagada was more about the journey than the destination, it didn't even start out as a trip to Sagada at all, but a second attempt to climb Mount Pinatubo after typhoons rendered the volcano off limits when I first came to Luzon for that sole reason. I met up with Jackie in Manila before getting out of there as soon as possible and spending another three days doing nothing in the ever-so-slightly-less nightmarish city of Angeles, being told when we arrived that Pinatubo had just been closed for the foreseeable future due to a rockslide or soil erosion or some equally dull excuse that my dismayed ears failed to register.
Still, there's a nice hotel here, so I'm happy to give Pinatubo a third try in the future. Like Kuala Lumpur's budget flight terminal, Manila's NAIA terminal 3 is one of those places I inevitably end up every other month.
The bus from Angeles to Baguio was only supposed to be a functional connection on the way to Sagada, but when we ascended into the mountains, Jackie passed through her first cloud and I got to enjoy the novel highland experience vicariously through her tropical eyes. We decided to stay for a few extra days.
Far from being a gruelling ordeal, our next trip from Baguio to Sagada was probably the best long bus journey I've ever had, though that might be partly due to the travel time being just five and a half hours rather than the advertised six to eight, in an unprecedented example of South East Asian bus companies overcompensating to help with your time management, rather than knowingly misleading tourists. This is all going too swell so far, we must be heading for a fall.
After getting the day's work out of the way on my laptop I was content to gaze out of the windows and watch rice terraces go by as we wound around the mountains and dipped into river valleys, enjoying the natural air con and good condition roads that didn't even have fallen rock obstacles or terrifying collapsed sections that needed to be tiptoed around softly like my bus trips in Laos. It was basically like taking a day trip of the best sights in the area, except this was the functional A to B travel part. Who knew that could be the best part?
The road from Sagada
Unfortunately, after already extending our time in Baguio our schedule wasn't as loose on the return journey from Sagada to Manila to catch our flight, so we took the more arduous thirteen-hour direct bus (this time over-optimistically advertised as eleven - that's more like it!) from nearby Bontoc. The first part of the journey was great again, until the sun went down, the land flattened out and the rolling hills morphed into endless tyre vulcanising shops and ultrasound clinics.
To make things worse, it wasn't even a proper night bus, with the most inconvenient schedule possible of 3pm to 4am meaning I wasn't off the hook from booking a hotel so we could get a few hours of emergency sleep before the lunchtime flight.
So there's a sour ending for you, patient cynicism fans, I hope it was worth the wait. I should probably talk about what we actually did in Sagada next, it was very nice.