Sagada Warnings and Annoyances

Sagada sunlight through the pines
Sagada sunlight through the pines

For the past 8 years or so, I’ve been going in and out of Sagada, Mountain Province since I first went there on a solo trip back 2004. It has been a place of solitude, wonder and invigoration. I’ve brought people there, friends and foreign photographers. Enjoyed the food and the scenery. But throughout the years, I’ve noticed the somewhat subtle changes happening as Sagada becomes really popular. My recent trip somehow made these changes more prevalent than ever in a negative way. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Sagada, I’m sure long time readers would know how I would wax poetic about the place. But I write these Sagada Warnings and Annoyances not to dissuade people from coming, but for them to know what to expect, especially during the peak seasons.

GL Lizardo Bus to Sagada
GL Lizardo Bus to Sagada

GL Lizardo Annoyances

I remember the days when people would just get in the bus, reserve the bus seats by putting their bags and things on the seats at a GL Lizardo Bus heading Sagada or Besao. Yes there was no system before but I got used to it. Lately, to cater to the influx of tourist especially the peak season, they now have ticket booths in Baguio and a system which turned out more chaotic than helpful.

Knowing there would be a lot of people heading back home in the Mountain province and tourist visiting for the Halloween, we were at the Dangwa Bus Station early. There were lines already and we queued for the ones heading to Sagada. The bus arrived and there were about 5 people in front of us before the ticket counter when the dispatcher motioned to the rest of us to climb the bus now and occupy seats 16 up. We obliged. Once comfortably seated, the dispatcher made a boo boo. It turns out a row, seats 20-24 are already reserved and we were seated there already. So we had to go down again but not without a little argument on the dispatcher’s mistake. To make amends he did made sure we get on the first line for the next bus. Unfortunately we were pushed to the back seat. Better than nothing though.

Going back to Baguio was much worse. 1030 am, we were at the ticket booth in Sagada where I clearly asked the woman dispatcher seats for the noon bus. She gave me a small cutout square cardboard with codes “RT 39-40” which I understand would be our seats. I asked again if this was for noon and she confirmed. When I was about to pay she told us we can pay at the bus. A little past noon the bus came, we boarded and got to our seats comfortably. Then later we found out our RT seats were for the roundtrip bus at 2pm and there were people already assigned to the seats. We went down but a bit annoyed and got into some word with the woman dispatcher and told her “I thought the seats you gave us were for noon!”

We got down the bus and decided to just have lunch then. 2pm came and we boarded the bus again. Then suddenly when all seats were occupied there were people claiming that the have tickets to our seats. “What?!” It turns out they sold our seats. My top blew off which rarely does. The dispatcher said that we should have exchanged our card codes for the real ticket which she announced earlier. Heck, she didn’t even tell us. There was even no instruction board at the ticket booth. How could we have known? Good thing the couple behind us backed us up, when the woman dispatcher asked them, they answered “no you didn’t tell us, if we hadn’t asked around we wouldn’t have known” in Tagalog it turns out the couple was pushed back from their original bus schedule 3 times already. The heated argument lasted for about 3 to five minutes as we refused to leave the bus. If we take the next bus, we wouldn’t make it to our 9pm bus back to Manila. In the end got our way and those claiming to have paid for our seats sat at the middle aisle. We made it just in time for boarding on our Manila bound bus with 5 minutes to spare in Baguio.

Ending up in Lake Danum since our guide didn't show up as agreed
Ending up in Lake Danum since our guide didn’t show up as agreed

Questionable Guides and Drivers

I already shared how we had a careless guide last year when we went to Pongas Falls and it didn’t end there. There are two main organizations now in Sagada, namely SEGA and SAGGAS while I mainly had problems with the former, both have some problems of their own as narrated by other people.

For this trip, we contracted a guide from SEGA which we have been texting with 3 days before our scheduled arrangement and he even invited us for a pinikpikan dinner which locals there customarily prepare every all saint’s day. Everything was clear, he would pick us up lunch time for the 7 waterfalls but when the day and time came, he didn’t show up. We called him up first time and said he’s coming then an hour has passed he told us he’s still guiding a few “slow” tourist and are still on their way to Echo Valley. It turns out he took up a group in the morning to get as many clients as possible even knowing he could jeopardize our arranged schedule. It was so easy to tell us the night before or early morning he wouldn’t make it so we could make other arrangements. But no, he decided to tell us last-minute that afternoon when guides were scarce and there were no longer time to go to Pongas.

I’ve heard other horror stories from other people like a guide from SAGGAS overcharging his customer. A foreigner I know had a harrowing experience with a guide in a cave connection. The guide’s red-eyes seem to show he smoked some pot and forgot to bring ropes and lint for his lamp and didn’t has a spare that he had to go back their office and return 30 minutes after. He didn’t even tell his customers what to expect with the foreigner ended up with a broken rib after midway the connection.

Drivers also seem too complacent here. While I was touring a group of foreign photographers, we got a vehicle to take us to the town center since we’re staying at Rock Inn. I clearly asked the guy to pick us up an hour after but again, he didn’t show up. We ended up hiring a jeep from one of the vendors. There’s also another incident when we hired a van to Pongas Falls. There were no rates then but we agreed to a price of P800. When he was about to drop us off, he increased his fee by P200 more.

What to Do

Again, this post is not to dissuade people from visiting Sagada but to make them aware that these things can happen. The best way when dealing with this annoyances is to make for certain what you are getting into. If you’re contracting a guide or a vehicle make sure they are competent enough to do the job and let you know what to expect and they have all the tools they need especially for emergencies. Insist that they be in time. Agree with the price first and stick to it even if they insist on an extra. On the GL Lizardo bus, make sure you get a ticket, that’s when you can be sure you have a seat.