The Long and Short of It: An Epic Road Trip from Cebu to Sagada and Back

THE ROUTE. Road Trip 2013: Pt. A to Pt. B and back, March 23 to 31. In short: roughly 74 hours spent driving on the road, covering some 3,000 kilometers to and fro.

It looked difficult enough on paper. The actual road trip bordered on the absurd. But our small group of 11 on board two vehicles did it, driving from Cebu to Sagada and back. The entire trip took nine days, from March 23 to March 31. In all we drove some 3,000 kilometers and spent roughly 70 hours on the road, excluding the ferry crossings.

Getting lost in the urban areas that cost us precious minutes was the worst setback we encountered, and well a miscalculation of mine that cost hours of delay at the start of the trip. But this group of road trippers — the Villaflors and Fernandezes, plus the big guy Jethro Estimo — did well.
Having been spared of accidents, engine trouble, or even a flat tire, we considered ourselves lucky, after driving at an average of 80 kilometers per hour on pitch black roads in the middle of nowhere. We did just about enough planning: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and Plan E. Of course, we had to improvise along the way.

Here, I’m sharing a summary of our Cebu-Sagada-Cebu road trip:

Car 1, Toyota Fortuner, automatic: Jong Fernandez (lead driver), Reggie Fernandez (navigator), Gelo and Geli Fernandez, Abby (support crew)
Car 2, Mitsubishi Strada, manual: Noel Villaflor (driver), Bretha Mellado Villaflor (navigator), Amber, Arwen and Cyan (support crew), Jethro Estimo (who joined us in Manila).

From Cebu:
*Danao City to Isabel (5 hours ro-ro trip)
*Isabel to Tacloban City, Leyte (3 hours road)
*Tacloban City to Allen, Samar (9 hours road)
*Allen to Matnog, Sorsogon (2 hours ro-ro)
*Matnog to Legazpi City, Albay (3 hours road)
*Legazpi to Mandaluyong, Metro Manila (12 hours road)
*Mandaluyong to Baguio City (7 hours road)
*Baguio to Sagada (5 hours)

Return trip:
*Sagada to Bontoc, Mountain Province (2 hours road)
*Bontoc to Banaue, Ifugao (2 hours road)
*Banaue to Mandaluyong (6 hours road)
*Mandaluyong to Legazpi (12 hours road)
*Legazpi to Matnog (3 hours road)
*Matnog to Allen (2 hours ro-ro)
*Allen to Ormoc City, Leyte (9 hours road)
*Ormoc to Cebu City (5 hours ro-ro)

In all, that was roughly 74 hours spent driving on the road, covering some 3,000 kilometers to and fro.

The idea for a road trip was hatched two years ago, when my friend Abe Acosta, a lawyer based in Manila, posted on Facebook a road trip he made from Manila to Cebu. He provided crucial details, such as travel time estimates and the state of the roads along the Pan-Philippine Highway, which he said was generally good. The roll-on roll-off ferry crossings (Cebu to Leyte and then Allen, Samar to Matnog, Sorsogon in Luzon) had regular schedules and the fares were reasonable. He brought his family along. In short, the trip was manageable, even with children.

The Fernandez’s car: what car wash? (Photo by Reggie Fernandez)

In 2011, I proposed the idea to several friends but only Jong Fernandez, a corporate consultant, seemed excited about the idea. We finally decided to take the March trip in time for the Holy Week this year. Jong brought his entire family: his wife Reggie and two kids, ages 12 and 8. My wife Bretha and I brought along our three kids, ages 12, 8 and 3. Jong would drive a Fortuner, I a Strada. Big guy Jethro Estimo, a Cebuano artist and educator, joined us on Day 2 in Mandaluyong City for the Manila-Sagada leg.

Everything was a go, except for one major change of plan: instead of a Cebu-Manila-Cebu trip, we decided to go all the way to Sagada, and back. That single change resulted in the best vacation we’ve ever had.

Peak of Majestic Mount Mayon peeking.

There were many reasons to do the trip, one of which was to see along the long route the many fantastic sights that we grew up seeing only on postcards: the San Juanico Bridge, Mayon Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces. Sagada only gained popularity as a destination only recently, but we had to go there. Another reason was to prove that this ridiculously long trip can be done. The blogs and online forums warned: “don’t bring children,” or “better take a plane,” or that “the risk isn’t worth it.”

The blogs and online forums warned: “don’t bring children,” or “better take a plane,” or that “the risk isn’t worth it.”

At the Banaue Rice Terraces

Perhaps they were right, but we had to find out for ourselves. What we found along the way – kids and adults alike – was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or twice, maybe. And why not?

(A version of this post was published on SunStar Weekend in April 2013)