Sagada, the Philippines
I went to a small village called Sagada in the Philippines this April. It is located 300km away from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Although the distance was not so far, it took more than 12 hours to get there from where I stayed because roads to the area were very tough, curvy, elevated, and heavily meandering along the cliffs in a number of mountains. As I remember, there were few straight roads. Worse, the bus that I took was too small, and my seat was terribly inconvenient as it was temporary one between seats. I was stuck in people both sides next to me. Getting there was a tiring but thrilling per se.
Sagada has recently become famous for hanging coffins which are suspended from high cliffs with ropes instead of being buried in the ground or cremated. That is a traditional funeral ceremony there which is said to be still used once in a while. I went there to see the peculiar funeral customs. When I heard the coffins in Sagada from my friend who had already visited there, I decided to go there without a second thought as death and funeral customs are topics of my interest all the time.
There were a lot of coffins with some letters on the side surfaces of coffins, which seemed to be the names of the deceased. The custom suspending coffins on the cliff as a funeral ceremony is not unique only for that area. It is said that some countries have the similar customs, and the reason of doing that is to "prevent bodies from being taken by beasts and also bless the soul eternally". That was a very interesting experience.
The small Filipino boys seemed to do the job unofficially to make money. He was 10 years old, and spoke English so well that he used to point out my incorrect English pronunciation while talking to me about hanging coffins and the area. He also told me a sad story about his younger brother who had died from being hit by a falling rock from a mountain. On the way back to my lodge, he showed me the grave of his brother in a cemetery located around the cliffs. I cannot forget the kindness and innocence that the boy showed me.
In addition to hanging coffins, underground caves were also famous tourist attractions in that area. The cave exploration was a very fantastic experience though it was a little dangerous because of its very tough, and heavily curved terrains inside the cave. It was impossible to enter into the caves without a professionally trained official tour guide. The guide fee was about $20 (800 pesos). It was said that a woman was missing inside the cave a few years ago, and has not been found since then. The guide told that they had to pass a special training program to be a cave guide.
The 'Sumaging' cave that I entered into was about 60m deep, and it took 4 hours to finish the entire cave tour. It was like the combination of difficult rock climbing and easy cave tour. There were a lot of stalactites shaped like a turtle, a cobra, curtains and even woman’s genitalia. I was accompanied by a young guy from the U.K. He was a medical student and taking a backpacking travel to a few countries. We were planning to drink some beer near a pub that night after the cave tour, but we could not meet again because it rained a lot. I had to stay in my lodge all the night, watching the rain outside.