Counting Down From Up High (New Year In Sagada)

Solano, Nueva Vizaya

Ayuyang bar was just calling it a night when we started to pack our bags from its 2nd storey residence. Having just concluded a 5-day post-Christmas hairpin road trip of North Luzon with PALMC, Larry and I decided to push the envelope and head to Sagada to welcome 2009.

The night is young in Ayuyang bar

I set my alarm to 4:00AM, but I was well awake before that, desperately trying to accumulate more minutes into what one could loosely call sleep. After a quick (and freezing shower), we thanked Sir Ely (the bar owner who's also a fellow mountaineer) for allowing us to camp upstairs. We then set to the town center on foot.

Banaue rice terraces: Looking like stairways to heaven

Banaue, Ifugao

From Solano, we haphazardly journeyed on commute. Sunrise greeted us as our jeepney traced the mountain roads of Nueva Vizcaya. The smell of cool mountain air quickly replaced the closed, sweaty atmosphere inside our overloaded jeepney.

Still feeling the Christmas spirit, I gave my ration of peppermint candies to a child sitting in front of me before we parted ways in Lagawe. From there, we took a jeepney to Banaue.

Legendary Eduardo Masferre is very much alive in this cafe

The clouds were hanging low when we arrived in Banaue at 7:30 in the morning. Our grumbling stomachs ushered us into the first cafe we saw. Masferre Cafe, or so I remember it was called - mostly because its walls were decked with the famous photographer's works - was a quaint hangout.

Al fresco dining verandas line this side of the street showcasing the postcard picturesque view of the rice terraces beyond. A quick breakfast and a short walk to the main road later, we were on a rickety bus headed to the big town of Bontoc.

Bump and shake - good thing the roads have improved.

Bontoc, Mountain Province

I felt lost in time when we arrived in Bontoc. It seemed like it was business as usual for the locals. In Manila, the scene would be very different - sidewalk drinking before noon, firecrackers on the street surprising passersby, closed business establishments, groups of friends milling about - there's an overall heigtened sense of merrymaking.

We replenished our cash in this stop because we know there are no ATMs in Sagada (later we'll find out that it already has one). Being one of the guys who initially established the Bontoc Circuit mountain trails, Larry knows his way around this area. He led our stroll to the jeepney stop which would take us to Sagada.

Pine-fresh air

Sagada, Mountain Province

The top-load ride to Sagada cleared everything that's left of my hangover. I was ready for another night of celebration. The air was frigid even at lunch time when we arrived. Backpacker country was teeming with local and international visitors. We were lucky to find an available room at St. Jo's.

*You can find my detailed Sagada itinerary here.

St. Joseph's Inn is popular for its cheap rooms, and partly because it's one of the first to offer some type of accommodation in Sagada. I remember staying in the same place during my first visit to Sagada back when I was in high school.

NYE mass at 10:00PM

The first thing I was worried about for our New Year's countdown was the 9:00PM curfew. But it turned out that we didn't have to worry, because as the night went deeper, it seems that the law also got more lenient.

New Year's Countdown

Media noche at the classy Log Cabin Restaurant was part of the agenda. Each year, French chef locally known as 'Chef Aklay' prepares a special dinner buffet for NYE. Some visitors come to Sagada only for that, but we missed out because all the seats have been booked. We settled for a hearty dinner at Masferre's instead (again, named after the famous photographer).

Here is a sample menu (Dec 31, 2011), taken from their Facebook page

An annual bonfire gathering highlights the New Year's eve celebration in Sagada. Although we opted for the more intimate bonfire within St. Joseph's grounds, we did not escape the echoing ethnic gongs that the locals played (and danced to) non-stop until the next day - a New Year tradition.

Met some Pinoys, some French, some Swedes - it was an all-star cast

The bulk of our New Year's eve celebration took place at St. Jo's porch, meeting other backpackers and exchanging stories whilst sipping coke-rum from a Nalgene bottle. Overall, it was a huge shift from my previous New Year experience in Las Vegas.

The intimate setting and the friendly vibe of everyone provided warmth to a celebration spent away from my family. High above Luzon, the fog crept back in, or maybe that was smoke from the big bonfire. Either way waking up among the clouds and the beat of the gongs is a sure signal that the New Year has arrived with hope and prosperity.

 // Welcome to Indie Diaries - I am now putting a metaphorical face to my blog. Here is my first post. Enjoy! //


  1. The rice terraces as stairway to heaven, haha lavet! Nice write-up Kim. Sa Sagada ka pala nag-New Year. Envy much, ako sa bahay lang. *yawn*

  2. Thanks AJ! Actually this took place on 08-09 hehe... Just reminiscing here :)

  3. Just this morning, I met a friend talking about her Christmas/New Year's Eves celeb in Marina Bay Sands SG saying that nothing compares to our celebration here.

    Reading your story above made me conclude that we are lucky to be celebrating these events in our life the Pinoy way.

    Glad that the smokes you got there was from bonfire. Here in Manila, it was SMOG. Hahaha.

    Happy New Year! Thanks for dropping by my site so I could find you here. :)

  4. Hi Rizalenio,

    It's true -- that's why balikbayans come home specifically on the holidays, for the best experience!

    Maybe it's the smog that drives away the bad spirits! Haha!

    Happy New Year, too!


  5. I wanna try spending Christmas away from home...maybe this year...kaka-miss ang sagada! cheers to 2012!

  6. @The Pinoy Explorer

    You can't go wrong with Christmas anywhere in the Philippines :)

    Cheers back!

  7. @Manong Unyol

    Napakaganda! Sana malapit lang sa Manila para madaling balik-balikan..


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