Sagada has always been one of my favorite destinations in the Philippines. The cool clean and crisp air, the mountains covered in a thick forest of evergeens, the clearest dome of blue that is the sky over the town, the cliffs carved by eons of rain and sun which are just begging to be gripped and climbed, and the friendly people and their unique culture–all of this always makes for a transcendent retreat.
Last year, on All Saints Day, Kara and I went there on a much needed vacation. We were also looking forward to witnessing the unique custom of Sagada on Novemeber 1st called Pinag-aapoy. Here locals build a small bonfire on their loved ones’ graves instead of lighting candles.
But first, I had to get my runnng fix that morning. I was training for a 21k trail run that month and needed to keep my cardio level up. And Sagada was just perfect for running.
I wanted to do 15k that morning. Since I was unfamiliar with the town’s trail systems, I chose to just stick with the main roads, which were mostly hard-packed dirt anyway, and some side trails that didn’t look like they’d get me lost.
What can I say? Sagada is a very special place. Prose always seems inadequate when made to account for experiences that are so uplifting. I wish I had the facility of Pico Iyer. Needless to say, it was one of the most satisfying trail runs I had ever done, even though it was hardly the longest.
Kara caught up with me on her bike and we had breakfast at the Rock Inn cafe. Later that day, we would do some rock climbing, and then it was off to see the Pinag-aapoy.
Milan Kundera, in his most famous novel, talked about how the word cemetery could hold vastly different meanings for different people. For some, cemetery means a place of rocks and bones. Others take it to mean a garden for souls that have found rest. The cemetery in Sagada will definitely elicit the latter meaning.
I thought there was a special reason why the locals lit bonfires instead of candles on their loved ones’ graves. Could it be a sacred tradition passed down from generation to generation? But the reason was actually more mundane: candles are easily extinguished by the breeze on this mountainside cemetery, while bonfires are easier to keep alive.
After taking photos of the Pinag-aapoy, it was time to have some dinner at the Misty Lodge and Cafe. It was a long walk from the cemetery to Misty Lodge, which was why it was mortifying to realize after taking seat there that I had left my phone in the cemetery.
I had to run back to see if my phone was still near the grave where we had sat down. I really had to run. By that time, most of the people were already leaving the cemetery. I was resigning myself to buying a new phone when we got back to Manila.
But strangely enough, my phone was still where I had carelessly put it down. Now, it was time to run back to Misty Lodge for some well-deserved pizza dinner and beer.