People, with drinks in their hand, danced to the loud music as the light flickered in the middle of the place. While it sounds like a scene from your favorite club in the city, that is how one would describe the bonfire event that happens in Sagada every year. Except, the dance is native, the music is created by traditional percussion instruments, and the light is coming from a big bonfire that burns gloriously at the center of the site.
Every year, the Sagada Genuine Guides Association holds a bonfire event and tourists are welcome to join in the celebration. It happens on one night between Christmas and New Year (December 27 or 28), considered a peak season for Sagada tourism.
Aside from the low temperature, this is the reason why I always visit Sagada at this time. They have been doing this for three years and, not missing any, I attended this event every year for three years. And I have no intention of putting an end to this habit.
The first two years, they did it at Kiltepan Viewpoint. In 2011, they moved the venue to Langtiw, near the mouth of Sumaguing Cave.
It’s not free, though. For a minimal fee of PhP 250 (rate last year), you can be part of the celebration. This rate covers transportation from the town center to the venue and back, full buffet dinner (including a native dish called pinikpikan), overflowing drinks (water, coffee, and wine), and a chance to learn more about the dances and the culture of the lovely highland paradise called Sagada. This is partying Sagada-style!
I know I got you at wine. The past three years, they served a number of wines — mulberry wine, blueberry wine, strawberry wine, and a native wine, the name of which slipped my mind. (Guess who was drinking too much at the parteeh?) You can have as much as you want but please behave properly. (Pretty please?)
Some of the guides will perform a native Sagada dance around the big fire and everyone is invited to dance with them.
You can also bring your own food. Yep, even marshmallows that you can put on a stick and heat near the bonfire!
One thing I noticed through the years, though, was that it got more and more chaotic. The first bonfire was exceptional. Food was served early and people were lining up (and they should). In 2010, there were two lines; it took so much time to reach the buffet but it was pretty organized. Last year, at the risk of sounding whiny, was sort of a mess. There were so many queues that got tangled up as they got nearer the buffet. At one point, the lines disappeared and it was ugh. I’m not sure whether it was because the food was served later than usual or the batch of tourists last year was more impatient (or hungrier) than the others or both. But it something has to be done, in my opinion. Still, I would gladly return and join this feast in the years to come.
If you wish to have the same experience, contact Sagada Genuine Guides Association and ask for the schedule of this year’s bonfire so you can plan ahead. I’m not sure if they picked a date as early as now but it’s safe to assume it’s between Christmas and New Year.