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Building Shelter in BuasaoMarch 13, 2007

Building Shelter in Buasao

Buasao is a communal property of the nearby villages close to the border of Abra. It has been off-limits for a while due to a conflict that erupted, but green light has been lit to visit the place again. As a general rule, you don't go there unless you get an 'ok' from someone in the know. From Sagada poblacion, it takes roughly 4.5 hours by hiking through some of the lesser known trails traversing Mt. Sipitan.

Unfortunately, due to 'engineered' burning of the place to propagate new growth of grass for cattle consumption, mature trees burned down, together with the "A" frame that Aklay constructed as his shelter. The new imperative was to build a new one...thus this trip.

Allan, Aklay and TheLoneRider

Since I moved to Sagada, I've heard numerous accounts of this 'fantastic' shelter in Buasao...that it rests on a saddle (a relatively flat area flanked by 2 peaks) overlooking the magnificent Besao valley, that the shaded flat terrain spreads generously allowing for level camping, and that it's very close to a stream (water source!) running off from the higher elevation of Mt. Sipitan. It likewise offers the isolation and seclusion from the 'madness' of the big city (Sagada!). All the variables to make an ideal camping area seem to be all there.

An Invite
Only a handful of Sagada's residents have been there. There has been numerous occasions for me to get an invite but never did. Not wanting to impose myself, I simply resigned myself never to see that fabled place.

One night as I wandered into the bonfire of St. Jo's, I chanced upon Allan, an adventurous local, and Aklay. I mentioned I was itching for an adventure. Allan non-challantly invites me to join the hike to the shelter the following day. I had to be sure it was a bonafide invite and not just a polite 'come on'. "Are you inviting me?" I asked. "Yes". That's all I wanted to hear. It doesn't matter to me who's guest I am...I'm cool with that. I was told me to come the following day at 6 am at the meeting place with 3 days' supply of!

In Good Company
If I could ever choose who I'd like to travel with to Buasao, it could not be any other than Allan and Aklay themselves. These are perhaps two of the most experienced and intrepid explorers/hikers in Sagada. Their knowledge of the terrain - water source, trail paths, do's and dont's, are broad and comprehensive. Just weeks before, they spent 11 days hiking well into the hunting grounds of Abra. With these 2 guys to travel with, confidence is high.

I showed up promptly at 6 the following day, dressed in technical clothing and equipment - the stuff I'd been trained to be prepared with, by the UP Mountaineers; ankle-supported hiking boots, dri-fit clothing, hydra-pack, 65-liter back pack, dual beam headlamps, topographic map, lensatic compass, etc. In sharp contrast, Allan and Aklay were wearing flip-flops, t-shirts, jeans and 3 empty 1.5 liter bottles of coke (to collect water). Even though I brought essential mountaineering equipment with me, I certainly felt like the odd one - city-boy-wannabe-mountain-man. I wouldn't be surprised if they suppressed their giggling when I wasn't looking.

The Hike
We left at 6:39 am and started the 1-hour walk along the paved road to Bangaan village. From there, we took the dirt trail that took us up the ridge. The pace was brisk, and with a load, I was getting winded; but I didn't want to slow the party. My problem about any sport is that it takes about 45 minutes for my 2nd wind to kick-in. In the meantime, I just die until I get that boost.

Upon reaching the top of the ridge, we got our first rest. The view from there was already awesome. The 2nd half of the hike was more forgiving; we were traversing along the slopes or trailing the top of the ridge, neither going up or down. In fact, that section of relatively flat but winding terrain made for excellent single-track riding...if only it was easy to portage the bike up that high.

We passed through a series of alternating open trails, then mossy forest, then open trails again. Berries were plentiful along some sections. From what I gather, there are a few ways to get to Buasao - you just have to know the nuances of when to take them; some are easier but you have to go through a 6-inch ledge with a near-vertical drop. Others are not passable after a rain. Some provide better shade on a scorching day.

Cut-Stone Structure
We finally came upon a broad level area that used to house Aklay's shelter. One peculiar thing about the place is the imposing presence of a square cut-stone structure that was left unfinished. It's been there for so long, no one knows exactly why it's there in the first place. Speculation has it that episcopalian missionaries planned it to be their R&R. Who else? Hunters wouldn't rest there since it's still a few hours from the hunting grounds. Locals would rather stop, rest and eat by the stream; a spectacular view doesn't mean much to them - they eat spectacular views for breakfast!

Shelter Building
Aklay and Allan wasted no time. From the remaining trees that littered the place, they cut and chopped timber that served as shelter posts. They gathered the scattered cut-stone and fashioned them into a moss-lined stone floor. They even built a dalikan (wood-burning kitchen) within the shelter. By the time we left the place, the foundation were all in place. Next project? straw roof, a hinged door, plank walls and get this - an elevated bed.

The 2 of them were simply indefatigable. I tried to be as helpful as I can (scoring brownie points for a possible next invite!), sawing timber, doing some kitchen chore (which I enjoy, specially under Aklay's supervision); chopping onions, garlic and mixing in all the spices.

No camp is complete without a bonfire. But Allan takes it up a notch. Instead of using branches for firewood, he would cut-up fallen tree trunks and use that on top of another, burning 24 hours per day while we were there! Result? A bonfire to make the Chicago fire look like a burning match stick (okay...I got carried away there, but you get the idea). Did I say Allan is strong as a bull? He carried tree trunks on his shoulders while I huffed-and-puffed pulling small tree branches to the campfire.

Ending Thoughts
The hearsay is all true. From the edge of the saddle was a ravine providing a panoramic view of the Besao valley. Drinking water was 5 minutes away from a mountain spring. The saddle was flat and broad enough to accommodate 50 tents! Frisbee anyone? The privacy was there. In the 3 days we stayed, only 1 person passed by. It's not too far either. At only 4.5 hours hike, it's a small price of admission. When the shelter is finally complete, it'll be an oasis.

Do I get to see the place again? Ha-ha. That's the $64 question. First, do I get the green light to go there? Second, with all the forks on the trail, I'm liable to get lost. Third, did I leave a favorable-enough impression to warrant a 2nd invite? I'm crossing my fingers on that. In the meantime, I take delight in finally experiencing the enchanting landscape of the much talked-about Buasao.

--- TheLoneRider

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