SAGADA will be a destination because it has kept itself simple in lifestyle. The residents know what they want and stand pat on that. But times are a changin' and they are making mortar enemies too, like Baguio City. There is a new white cement building that now obstructs the view of St. Mary's Church from Ganduyan's Inn and an even taller building in front of the municipal hall.

Walking to the caves, two years ago, there was still some view of the rice terraces at a distance between the roadside wood and galvanized walled homes. The 45 minute walk to the entrance of the caves was partly a commune with the tall pines that hovered above the head with the songs of birds along the way. It was still a refreshing walk because the changing texture of the landscape from pine to shrubs to rice terraces to pear trees, persimmon trees, banana trees, ferns, to masaflora vines were inspiring. Baguio has no other texture but houses and houses along the road.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Today, there is a construction frenzy that has hit the roadside. Cemented three floor buildings with verandas pepper the view here and there. Roadside stalls not more than three meters wide with woodblock posts and galvanized sheet walls are being readied for the next peak season. Soon to open souvenir shops or sari-sari stores for the tourists are evidence to the seasonal economy the residents enjoy. The same beginnings as Baguio had.

The caves are kept as pristine as possible. But there are tourists who think that their garbage will be washed away by the flowing underground waters. There are culprits who think that they will remain anonymous in the global jungle. Candy and cookie wrappers here and there are wedged between the rocks and the bat poo-poo and pee. I too almost lost my water bottle when I briefly lost my balance between slippery rocks but the guide was swift in finding my bottle in the knee deep pool below. He said that each month, the guides go into the caves and clean it up. He jokes that the new garbage sacks kept at the entrance are for the breakaway group of young guides who do not realize the wisdom of putting garbage in their pockets or backpacks.

We walked to Tetepan where a breath taking view of the rice terraces below and the clean air give you a high. The crunchy walk along the path was a great rhythm in the silent part of Sagada. We met Carlos Reyes who was taking his nth sentimental journey to Sagada since the 1980s. Each trip back was a journey to the same familiar places and taking the photos in the same spot each time. He said that he compared the photos and noted the changes or the lacks. A tree here and there that disappeared, he notes. But this trip marked a major change, he said. There were two new cement houses in the mountain ridge of Tetepan. One was large enough to be a small inn with tiny holes for windows that would miss the panoramic view. Another small one room home that looked deserted but not more than three years old was just below the other.

Although it is fairly safe to live so isolated in the woods in Sagada, Carlos says that there is no water on the ridge in the summer. This was enough reason for a German couple to leave a log cabin in the woods.

The shortcuts and the long cuts also make a huge difference in Sagada. The shortcuts take you into the woody parts of the forest, while the long cuts that run along the dirt roads lead back to the cemented municipal pavements where roadside lodging places have been built. Some have tried to keep the charm of the pine logs in the pine clad hills but some have made rectangular tomblike buildings flushed to the lot lines by flat walls. So, one has a choice now between the warm old wooden pensions or inns and the modern cold cement hotels and inns. There is some passion for terraces in each building that will soon have no view to look out at.

There are lowland people too who sit in their hotel rooms and view St. Mary's from the balcony and claim they have seen Sagada but not enjoyed the most important parts of it.

And there we were, a threesome, avoiding the shush of the cement pavement and walking along the footpaths to Yoghurt House for breakfast at 10:30 a.m. We left the hotel a little before 6:00 a.m.

I made a new friend of sorts, Carlos Reyes, who claims to have spent his high school days in Boys' High with Tony Fianza as classmate and that he lived above the Muller House in those days and is a relative of Atty. Galo Reyes.

Well, if cement is a sign of progress... I have made another mortar enemy of Sagada. As my legs weaken under my weight, I am counting my days in Sagada because soon it will become another cement jungle like Baguio.