Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TRAVEL STORY | Sagada - Banawe - Hungduan Part 2

Sagada - Banawe - Hungduan
Part 2 - Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins

I already knew that our adventure would involve a lot of trekking and climbing, but I was still unprepared for most of it (no thanks to my just recovering from flu, my non stop smoking and not to mention my weight). Being the biggest in the group, I always fell back during our treks. Thank God the “Gang” were patient enough to wait (or else I would have starved them being the self-designated cook and owner of the stove and cook set, *evil laughter*).  

en route to our 1st destination

Feb. 12 (after lunch)
From our lodge, we met with the guide Charisse was able to talk to near the municipal hall. His name is Ivan (in my head I called him Mr. Sense of Humor, he likes to joke and seen to have  his own brand of it, hahaha). He was very patient though and knows his way around a camera. I was not able to ask him about which guide association he belonged to.

Ivan (Mr Sense of Humor) our guide

2 Guide Associations in Sagada

This is the route we took to go to Echo Valley:
Municipal Hall > followed road to Bontoc > turn right into the Episcopal Compound > go past the Episcopal Church of the Saint Mary the Virgin > follow the path beside St. Mary's High School > Sagada cementery > follow the dirt path downhill > Hanging Coffins

The Centennial Bell

Episcopal Church of the Saint Mary the Virgin

the Church's compound
The trek down was as I expected, tricky. It reminded me of my stints in Banahaw’s Kalbaryo. Parts of the trail were rocky and one wrong step could mean a coffin of your own. I was huffing and puffing while our guide, Ivan, was practically pirouetting on the trail while smoking (dang!). I was moving very carefully since I wasn’t in my best form (from lack of sleep and tired from the journey from Manila) and I was keeping watch of my knees. Trekking downwards is very high impact and very bad for the knees of someone my size.

Me, April, Jen and Daniel
Left or right foot, Tere B ?
a glimpse of the Hanging Coffins from the trail

I was already aware that our destination is considered "sacred ground" to Sagadans and being quite sensitive (others call it having the Third Eye) I refrained from disturbing anything that shouldn't be and to be as quite as possible to show respect to local tradition and ttohte departed buried in the area. I also tried not to be so sensitive, though I  can definitely feel the "ancientness" of Echo Valley.  

the Hanging Coffins up close
them faking "scared" | me trying to catch my breath

The Burial Tradition
Ivan explained about their burial tradition when we arrived. He said that they don’t just hang anyone’s coffin there, that it has to be the wish of the departed to keep with the tradition. They can, of course, choose to be buried in the cemetery we passed. He further explained that the burial involves a ritual of wrapping the body of the dead in a traditional cloth and then it is passed from person to person until they reach the Echo Valley and the burial site. He also said that the coffins are small because the body is placed in the coffin in a fetal position to represent entering back their mother’s womb or as I interpreted it, to exit the world in the same position we all entered it. Please note that my description may not be accurate. These are all based on how I understood the description of Ivan, our guide.

We later learned through Sir June that one of the coffins we saw was just placed a few months back. He said he was able to visit it when it was still quite “fresh”.  

Comparison Photo: 
The top is an older photo from the Sagada Genuine Guides Association's website 
while the bottom photo was taken during our visit.

I made further research about the burial traditions of Sagada while writing this post. There are many information on the internet about this tradition, but it was very hard to verify their authenticity or accuracy. Some mention that the tradition came from a local belief that being buried this way makes it easier for the departed souls to join the heavens and their ancestors. Another source says that Sagadans prefer this burial location so they will not be without wind or sunlight even in death. 

In most of what I read while researching, the burial tradition involves binding the body on a death chair where it will be smoked throughout a five-day pre-burial feast. After this, the body is then wrapped in traditionally weaved cloth (for the ancestors to identify the dead as one of their kin) and then forced into the coffin in a fetal position (which often requires breaking or cracking bones to make it fit the small space). 

Many sources also mentioned that the coffins were crafted from hollowed tree trunks by the very person to be buried in them or by a younger family member if this person is too old or too frail to perform the task. Other sources also mentioned that young members of the community (mostly men) try to carry the body as far or as high as they possibly can  to the burial site to be able to gain the knowledge and wisdom of their dead loved ones.

*After reading many articles about Sagada's burial traditions, I conclude that we may never fully understand or know everything there is about it. We are, after all, outsiders to this peaceful community and we should respect their traditions, rites, practices and their seclusion. It should be enough that they let us in to visit and experience their Shangri-la.

Continuation of the Narrative...
If the trek down was hard, the trek up was punishing (on my part at least). I lagged behind in no time. We climbed the same trail we took going down and then walked all the way to our “lodge” because we had to change clothes for our next destinations. We also took a brief stop by the jump off where my photo-hungry mates made daredevil stunts just to get that perfect shot.

the ascent
whoever took this photo is in trouble!
Israel - Stunt man 1
Daniel - Stunt man 2
the girls on the sidelines

I blew off at Israel on our way back because I caught him littering, this is something I have warned them about and it bothered me that he forgot. 

*if you are reading this site for information about Sagada, please remember:
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.

On a lighter note, this is also the point where I christened my trekking pole as "disco stick" because I threatened Daniel that I will poke him with my disco stick if he doesn't shut up (he kept babbling on the trail). I also had an LSS (last song syndrome) while walking back to the lodge, it was Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" coincidentally. It's chorus kept playing in my head.

Don't call my name, don't call my name, Alejandro ♬
I'm not your babe, I'm not your babe, Fernando
♬ Don't wanna kiss, don't wanna touch
Just smoke one cigarette and hush
Don't call my name, don't call my name, Roberto ♬

Note: I consider this part of our trip incomplete because it would have been nice to also visit the Underground River as well as the the Matangkib Coffin Cave which is located near the Echo Valley. However, time was of the essence. At least, it would be something to look forward to when I revisit this famed Shangri-La of the North.


The Best of Deleted & then Recovered
by Charisse Papa


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