Even after my exhaustive second day, I was again up early for my third and last day at the mountain town of Sagada.
It was part of my plan to visit the cemetery I passed by on the way to the Echo Valley at dawn. I asked a guide if the area would be covered with mist in the morning, and she said, yes it would indeed be blanketed in haze just before the sun rises. So there I was, still aching from the previous day’s exploits, slowly climbing down from the hill where my inn was located, a tripod and two cameras in tow.
I let the darkness of the dawn disperse a bit before leaving St. Joseph’s Inn as per my experience the previous day of almost groping in the dark during the Sagada dawn.
The main street was already starting to get busy as I finally climbed that last step down. I later found out that Saturday is the town’s market day.
The air was crisp and chilly as I went past the cool pine trees and the medieval-looking towers of the Episcopal Church. Looks like the tourists were all too tired for an early trek; there was absolutely no one in sight as I made my way up to Calvary Hill. The only sounds were of a morning waking up; bird songs, pine leaves, and my unhurried footsteps against the hard earth.
Apart from the craggy cliffs where coffins are hanged, Calvary Hill is also a burial ground for the mountain folks of Sagada. People who reach old age and have good deaths; meaning they did not succumb to disease, murder or accidents, are the ones that are given the honor of having their tombs hanged at the cliffs. Folks, however, who are not granted those special honors, are laid to rest at the Calvary Hill.
Being buried at this cemetery is no simple matter though. A person’s burial place is determined not by the lot he owned at the hill but by the cause of his death. Sagadans, it seem, are quite the mystics.
After a few minutes of uphill hike, I was faced with a ten-foot high problem. I was contemplating as to how I would scale the elevated makeshift earthen steps leading up to the cemetery. The said treads each being about two feet high and not particularly leveled. It was really more like an eroded part of the hill rather than a proper stair.
This would have been no problem on any other day, but after my cramp-attack at Bomod-Ok Falls, even walking was a task. Luckily, I was able to recall that there was an easier ramp up the cemetery, albeit on a longer route.
When I finally arrived at the graveyard, Calvary Hill was not how I imagined it would be. There was no mysterious mist or haze whatsoever; I might have waited too long or walked too slow.
Well, I thought to myself that I just had to make do with what was there. Fortunately, the sun still has not risen over the pine dotted hills and all I had to do was wait a bit. So I sat at one of the elevated white tombs, and wait I did. I imagine I must have looked weird should a stranger saw me there, alone with the gravestones at the break of morning.
The sun finally rose right behind the peak of the hill, transforming the cool green pine leaves into a shimmering orange. Unlike the previous sunrise at Kiltepan Viewpoint, the clouds actually cooperated this time, not too dense and not too light, just enough to leave some drama against the white tombstones and the giant pines.
Maybe on my next visit, I would finally catch this sacred place covered with a hazy fog, but for now, the sun filtering through the thick pines and into the white crosses and markers was quite enough for me.