“There’s a Seven Falls here in Sagada?” I asked again as It definitely caught my attention after hearing from the guy manning the registration booth at the Town Hall. We were originally planning to go to Bomod-ok Falls up north but he let us in on the idea of trying this one out since it’s a newly opened trail in Tap-ew, south of Sagada. He searched for a video in his computer then showed us the falls. We were immediately captivated that we knew we had to see it for ourselves.
I only knew of Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls in Sagada so the idea of venturing to a different falls was exciting. Could it even rival that of Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls? With Sagada steadily growing as tourist destination, locals need to find alternative sites visitors can explore. There are also months when Bomod-ok Falls would be closed because of tribal rituals so they found the Seven Falls in Tap-ew to be a good alternative. It took a while to for them to open this route since they have to establish a good trail first. It was late last year, 2010 when they opened it to visitors.
Unfortunately not all guides know the trail yet. It seems the SEGA (Sagada Environmental Guides Association) got here first so we had to hire a guide from them. Since this is a new site, there are no standard prices for the tour yet. Our hired guide was expensive for P1200 then we had a hired van for P800. We were willing to let the exorbitant price pass for now but we weren’t really satisfied with our guide as you’ll find out later.
After buying supplies like water and some food, our Van rode south were we picked up our guide halfway to a village called Balugan. I think we drove only about 15-20 minutes until we reached our jump off point. We started our trek at 10:30am. We passed through vegetable terraces then slowly made our way up Tap-ew Mountain. We headed to the trail on the other side of the mountain where there are more scenic rice terraces to admire. The trail also gets a lot tricky as we descend because of the narrow paths and sometimes muddy ground. I even broke one of my sandals there good thing I was able to improvise in keeping the straps together.
It took us about two hours to reach a viewpoint of the falls from the trail. And yes, the water flow was really impressive and we’re still far from it. Stopping for a while for a bite, we back tracked to an upper trail to lead to a higher twin falls. We took another challenging hike across a large boulder that seemed to come out from nowhere on top of the rice paddies, then up a hill to a large open ground ideal for camping leading to the viewpoint. We finally saw the Twin Falls with its dramatic pour almost converging before it reaches its basin. A group before us was near the falls with a foreigner attempting to go down and swim. He did make it to the basin and swam, but now I wonder how he would go up as our guide told us they used ropes to go down there.
Since it was mid afternoon already, we made our way back to the earlier trail again and this time, closer to the waterfalls they call Pongas, which is still part of the Seven Waterfalls. Going back and forth the trail was a bit tiring but we had to push through further since we have a different exit trail. This is where I really got frustrated with our guide.
Earlier I was being tolerant of our guide’s method. I know he is strong and fast and I appreciate that he carried our tripods but when we reach crucial trails, I find that he’s too far ahead and never really tell us which path we should take until we asked. Now on this trail to Pongas Falls, we stumbled into a downward trail where the ground easily crumbles and the vegetation was too thick to notice if we’re no longer stepping on anything underneath. I tried going down and grabbing hold of the roots but it was really tricky to the point I got stuck and had to retreat. We called out to our guide but it seems he’s too far to hear us.
It took a few moments when we saw him back, probably wondering what’s taking us so long. I asked, “How are we going to go down from here?” He just told us the falls is already near and took our cameras, but he disappeared again without helping us. That sent an alarm in my head because he had our cameras and most of our stuff! Determined, we slowly made our way from the crumbling path, and then made 2 more descents with one drop filled with giant ants and finally reached the base of the falls where we found him sitting idly on a rock staring at the falls.
I was just relieved we made it. I didn’t want to waste my time being frustrated with our guide so I proceeded to explore the wateralls. Pongas Falls is really stunning. 3 separate falls in on one spot. I navigated the rocks and shallow waters to go closer and it was really a fantastic layers of falls. Bomod-ok is a beauty but this one was like 3 times its charm. I made sure before we left that I enjoyed the waters first and it was refreshing.
Our exit was a lot quicker. A few trail descent and rice paddy walks we reached the village of Angkileng. It was like a maze going through their village and I’ll definitely be lost left alone there unless someone points the direction. At this time, past 5 in the afternoon, my water supply has depleted and I was hungry already since we didn’t have a proper lunch only some bread I had with me. And when we finally found a sari-sari store, we bought a liter of coke (which I don’t usually drink) and a few peanuts to refresh and have something to pave our hunger till dinner.
Our van was close by and drove us back to the town center. What I didn’t like is he added another 100 from the agreed P800 since it took us too long to get back. We were just tired and didn’t want to argue. On our trips, we are very generous on our tips especially to our guides and drivers but this time we felt short-changed and didn’t bother to give more, especially to our guide. I had several guides here already and I know what it’s like to have a dependable guide. Tap-ews Seven Waterfalls was really worth for the natural beauty of the area but was slightly spoiled by an incompetent guide. I saw some folks from SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association) already exploring the area and I know in due time we would have more options to go there.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.