Mountain Province Overland: Cervantes – Sagada – Banaue – Lake Tabeo

Overlooking Breakfast Spot Sagada

When it comes to climbing mountains, there is quite nothing like the Mountain Province experience. It is one of the unparalleled climbs that affords those who traverse its paths a sense of accomplishment as well as a myriad of sceneries and activities to enjoy. To give you a bit of a background, we are some of the most die-hard fans of the Mountain Province in Luzon Philippines. It is one of the most favourable climbs of all time owing to its climate, culture and scenery. 

As we have developed an affinity for this kind of climb, we make sure that we visit this place at least once a year. To give our annual trip to the Mountain Province a different spin this year, we invited a few friends to join us on a camping trip in one of the coldest places in the region.

Cervantes

Day 1 – October 10, 2019 – 6:30AM

On the first day of our trip, we got ready to set out to an unfamiliar town somewhere in Ilocos Sur. Inspired by a viral Facebook post, we had to insert Bessang Pass to our route. After 5 hours of driving, we stopped by a wet market to buy our food for the night and had lunch at a riverside grill restaurant somewhere in La Union just a few kilometres away before we made a right turn to Bessang Pass.

Bessang Pass is a natural monument and a protected area. It is a memorial that commemorates the victory of Filipino soldiers over the Imperial Japanese Army dated June 14, 1945. These Filipino soldiers were serving the U.S. Army Forces in the Philippines in Northern Luzon and made a mark on history on that very day.

What makes the place so significant is the fact that the Battle of Bessang Pass was pivotal to Japan’s eventual surrender and the end to the Second World War in the Philippines. Incidentally, this very same mountain pass was initially a part of the Tirad Pass National Park as declared in 1938 through Proclamation No. 294 by then President Manuel Quezon.

However, a subsequent proclamation by then President Ramon Magsaysay established the Bessang Pass as a separate National Shrine with an area of 750 acres. By April 2000, the national shrine was formally and finally declared and reclassified as a national monument under the National Integrated Protected Areas System by then President Joseph Estrada.

Our group’s lunch

After lunch, we drove another 3 hours to Villa Maria Inn in Cervantes. This was where we rested and stayed for the next day. The inn doesn’t have a restaurant, but they have a kitchen and dining hall that you can use.

Sagada and Banaue

October 11, 2019 – 5:00AM

We woke up early to prepare a light breakfast since we plan on having the heavy breakfast in Sagada.

At around 7:00 AM, we left the Inn for our Sagada journey. We planned this to be a day trip as we plan to stay overnight in Banaue. From Cervantes, it will take you about 2.5 hours traversing the long and winding road to Sagada. However, it would be best if you accounted for about 30-45 minutes more to make room for stops to view the scenery and for photography. Please note that this highway stretch does not have a cellular signal (for Globe at least).

By 10:30 AM, we arrived at Gaia Cafe for our heavy breakfast–a featured cafe where one of the scenes of the film, That Thing Called Tadhana was taken.

After breakfast, we did the usual tour of the hanging coffins, pottery house, orange picking, and we made a detour to see the coffee heritage house to buy Sagada coffee.

Tip: Buy from the market. Price is a bit steep at the Coffee Heritage House.

By 3:30 pm, we left Sagada and drove down to Banaue. It was one of the most challenging and dangerous driving experiences for me as the fog was thick resulting in a visibility of only 5m. With the sun setting down, we had to drive at 10km/hr at times.

Lake Tabeo Camping

October 12, 2019 – 9:00AM

We visited Banaue’s public market to buy fresh produce for our camp meals.

From here we drove about 5.5 hours via Isabela boundary road. We traversed offroad and reached the highest point of the Philippine Highway system in Tinoc, Benguet. 

We stopped by somewhere for lunch, and by 4 pm, we had already reached our destination, Lake Tabeo.

Lake Tabeo is one of the famous side trips most hikers would take as it is a jump off point for hikers climbing Mt. Tabayoc. It is also an unmissable stop if you are headed towards Barangay Tawangan which is a jump to Tawangan Trail of Mt. Pulag. Lake Tabeo is one of the four renowned mystical lakes of Benguet. The mystical lake is said to be an everlasting pool of water that never dies out–even during the summer season. In fact, the farmers may sometimes get water from the lake for their crops and farm animals drink from the lake. It replenishes itself by collecting rainwater. While there is fish in the lake, it would be wise to exercise caution in consuming it as it may not be fit for human consumption. We were faced with inclement weather when we arrived at Lake Tabeo’s campsite, so we waited for the skies to clear before we began setting up our tents.

While our trip was encumbered by inconveniences owing to the uncooperative weather, we were greeted by a fair-weather the following morning. Unfortunately, we left our sleeping bags, so it was quite cold inside our tent that night. We brought a heater but consumed two tanks of isobutane. The following morning, the owner of the campsite gave us 5 kilos of freshly picked tomatoes for free.

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