It was past noontime when my friends woke me up from my sweet siesta inside our homestay in Sagada. I could still remember the feeling of cool blanket touching my skin, the sound of wintry breeze coming from the window and the songs of the birds chirping in melody on a sunny afternoon. I was rejuvenated from my short sleep which was perfect for our next adventure. Veering from any delay, I immediately stood up and prepared.
Outside our stay, I met our tour guide, kuya Bogs – a well-built man in his mid-40s with a scruffy hair, sun-kissed skin and a cheerful personality enough to brighten up your gloomy day. He told me that we are going to do an Eco-Tour. It is a 3-hour loop hike from the Church of St. Mary the Virgin traversing to the picturesque Echo Valley with a historical visit to their famous Hanging Coffins and the Sagada Underground River Entrance. I was enthralled upon hearing the places that we were about to visit. Both excited and thrilled, we took a van and bolted to the first part of the eco-tour.
Church of St. Mary the Virgin
We alighted in front of Mission Compound Grounds along Staunton Road and as expected, the number of travelers were few that time. It was a weekday when we visited Sagada and I think it’s more auspicious this way than traveling on weekends. From the entrance, I could see the Church of St. Mary the Virgin surrounded with tall pine trees and lush greenery. From the beginning and all throughout the tour, kuya Bogs consistently shared his knowledge about the history of certain places and he never failed to entertain us with his funny jokes.
The church was built during the 1900s by American Anglican missionaries. With its historical significance and spiritual influence for more than a century to the people of Sagada, this church garnered a recognition as a cultural heritage site.
The facade is enveloped with amazing foliage and its adobe walls were dappled from leaves of the pine trees. The view on the right side of the worship house is breathtaking with endless mountains in the horizon and the smell of fresh green grass saturating our nostrils.
Inside the church, the atmosphere is cool and comforting. Despite its age, the overall structure is still intact which shows the people’s dedication in preserving this historical landmark. The interior is also embellished with ornate stained glass in the centerpiece and wooden pews arranged orderly along the nave.
Before heading to the valley, we need to cross this cemetery nestled on a mountain. The slope is pocked with white to grey tombstone with the view of a mountain range on one side.
Kuya Bogs highlighted the tomb of the wife of a certain Tokutaro Yamashita. I am not sure if this person is related to the late Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita who defended the Philippines from the US Army during the World War II.
It may be eerie at first but I was amazed on the dates etched on every tombstone. This was indeed a very old cemetery dating back from the American invasion in the Philippines in 1900s. Most people interred in this graveyard were World War II soldiers and veterans.
A few walks from the cemetery, we finally arrived in the Echo Valley. Exploring around the place needs extra caution because the slopes here are too steep. One wrong move or you might fall in the waiting ravine. The place is called as such because of the loud echo bouncing back from a person’s shout.
The valley is populated with limestone, towering pine trees and an eye-catching panorama of mountain range. The landscape looked like a beautiful canvas of vibrant colors filled with fascinating elements.
I stood up on a limestone in one area and let my eyes awash with the scenic view. I felt the cool breeze brushing off my skin and the warmth of the sun enlightening my senses. The feeling was grand which mended my body and soul.
From the valley, we climbed down on a cliff to reach the famous hanging coffins of Sagada. The locals believed that this peculiar burial practice has been existent for more than a millennia. There are reasons why ancient Igorots prefer to be interred in this manner.
First, elderly Igorots feared to be buried underground because the body tend to rot easily if exposed in the soil. Lastly, during the pre-Hispanic period where tribal wars and headhunting were existent, the elders and its relatives were afraid that the heads of their deceased loved one might be smuggled by the headhunters and used as a trophy in certain Kalinga tribes. It is then reasonable for the Igorots to place the corpse of their deceased on the side of a cliff. Source.
The people also believes that the higher the coffin, the more important their family member to them. With this practice, it will also bring their loved one closer to heaven and in ancestral spirits. The coffins on the other hand look shorter than we thought because the corpse are placed in a fetal-position signifying that the way we should exit this world must be the same way we enter it. Source.
Seeing these hanging coffins in person truly speaks the importance of culture and reflects the rich heritage of the Igorots.
Sagada Underground River Entrance
From the hanging coffins, there’s a narrow and steep passageway underneath it leading to the Sagada Underground River Entrance. As we climbed down the steep passage, we delved deeper into the valley’s rain forest. Similar to the upper areas of the valley, the trail was steep which needs extra caution while hiking.
Amid the slippery trails, we were rewarded with beautiful foliage, wild flowers and small rivers flowing slowly in peace. We reached the underground river entrance after half an hour of hike and rested for a while.
The orifice of the underground river is amazing. We enjoyed the sound of birds echoing all over the place and the sound of stream flowing timidly during our rest. The place is scattered with small rounded rocks perfect for creative and fun activities.
After our short rest and some photo ops, we hiked up and reached the other end of Staunton Road near Sagada Weaving which concluded our 3-hour Eco-tour. It was around 1730H and the sun was already setting when we finished our hike.
Travel Guide: Sagada’s Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins
The Eco Tour is a fun and educational activity. This tour however is influenced by the elders. The people of Sagada highly respects their own belief-system and as travelers we should respect their practices in return. Before our Eco Tour we were informed in the morning that the Mission Compound Grounds were closed because the elders need to do a certain ritual. After lunch time, our guides informed us that the ritual was finished and tour activities were resumed.
Sagada Municipal Tourist Information Center
For a safe and fun-filled journey, it is recommended that you visit the tourist information center in Poblacion, Sagada, Mountain Province. Here you will find and choose their package tours. This center opens every 0700H in the morning and closes at 1800H in the evening. For further information, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or like their Facebook page at http://facebook.com/sagadatourism
Echo Valley Walking Tours
There are three available types of tours in the Echo Valley.
This is the package that we availed. It consists of 3 hours loop hike to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Echo Valley, Hanging Coffins, Sagada Underground River Entrance, and Bokong Natural Swimming Pool passing thru small river, valley/canyon, rice fields and Sagada Weaving. Guide fee costs ₱600 for 10 visitors or less.
This package consists of entering the Sagada Underground River. It also includes forest trails and river crossing before reaching Bokong Waterfalls. Guide fee costs ₱1000 for 10 visitors or less.
Echo Valley Hanging Coffins
This package is the simplest of all. It involves a short hike to the viewpoint and to the hanging coffins only. Guide fee is ₱200 for 10 visitors or less.
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