A Lake with Two Names: Lake Danum/Lake Banao

Lake Danum/Lake Banao Photo by Preserve Sagada © Preserve Sagada

“We are territorial, power-hungry and more brutal than chimpanzees.”
-Frans de Waal

For Sagada, this place is commonly called Lake Danum, while people of the neighboring town, the iBesao, call it Lake Banao. This is because, as to how I understand it, the lake is a part of both municipalities’ ancestral domain. But while it is called a lake, it seems to be a pond.

On the other hand, there is an SP (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) resolution which was passed in 1976, expressing that the lake is under the jurisdiction of Besao and not Sagada. Although for the longest time, Sagada has been promoting, marketing, and earning from this lake more than Besao.

According to my husband, this is one of the most talked about topics at the information center today. Tourists who upon learning that it is temporarily closed said that anyway there is nothing to see there.

I replied to him saying that, that remark encapsulates one of the negative effects of mass tourism in Sagada. Mass tourism paved the way for hit and run or bullet tours that would squeeze in all major points of interest in just a one-day itinerary, worse are the day-trippers who could not even spend a night here. Take a picture of a place or a selfie with it and that’s it.

I added that the problem with the tourists Sagada caters to these days is that they cannot spend even at least 30 minutes, doing nothing, not taking any selfie, just emptying one’s mind and communing with nature. The first time I came here in 2002 when walking was the only means to get to all the tourist sites, 2-3 days was not enough. It wasn’t a problem at all because it gave me time to process the breathtaking beauty of Sagada and a promise to return.

Moreover, in Save Sagada, a question was asked whether a Sagada local should pay the environmental fee, and yes, I think we should. As a SACRED watershed and protected area, the 50 pesos can go a long way in meeting the demands of protecting and preserving this place.

So I think it is not about greed. For me, it is just high time for Besao to ask for a fee, since that jurisdiction is theirs and that they seem to check on and clean the place more often than anyone else.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau said, “All good things are wild, and free”. The truth is, gone are those days when everything is free, when people enjoyed to their heart’s content the bounty of nature, FREELY as those wild horses that once grazed atop the peaks of Kaman Baneng (aka Marlboro) of Sagada and Bontoc. I told my husband, now where have all those wild horses gone?

What was once priceless and enjoyed by everyone especially the locals, now has a price. What was once roaming freely is now out of sight. Lands have become a subject of disputes, territorial and boundary issues arise. This is the PRICE OF TOURISM and DEVELOPMENT and we are paying for it now. So imagine if these two (tourism and development) remain unabated. What are we at risk of losing more all in the name of ”progress”?

UPDATE: The Municipal Mayor of Besao will be issuing an Executive Order to implement Municipal Ordinance 44 to PROHIBIT ALL HUMAN ACTIVITIES INCLUDING TOURISM effective immediately in Danum/Banao. The LGU of Besao will delve deeper into this issue and study the best courses of action to take to preserve and protect the place.



Carmageddon going to Lake Danum or Lake Banao. Sagada was once again not ready to embrace the onslaught of mass tourism during the recent long weekend. Photo by Raymond Gayman

Golden Goose-noun. a legendary goose that laid one golden egg a day and was killed by its impatient owner, who wanted all the gold immediately

Tourism woes in Sagada can be very complicated as Sagada is not just your typical tourist destination. A lot of factors have to be considered like environmental, social, cultural among others. Eventually, if push comes to shove, we might be expecting to see a national government intervention if we cannot solve this problem on our own. I think WE CAN but much of the problem lies within a community that MIGHT NOT SEE the problems and the need to solve it, and would rather take it more as a sign of “progress”.

If one must have noticed, the chaos lasted for two days or so? Now, sustainable tourism is not in any way like that. That was a typical representation of hit and run tourism. In the long run, with such a trend, it will leave Sagada high and dry. And when Sagada is of no use anymore to these tour operators, they would not mind dropping us in a heartbeat in exchange for another pristine and charming tourist destination.

Granted that tourism is the bread and butter of this town, and if earning (MONEY) is the main goal here or if people want tourism to be profitable while being sustainable, Sagada has to find ways to spread the influx of tourists all throughout the year. It is not about stopping tourism, but it is about REGULATING it. And most importantly, do not be scared of regulating it. By doing so, your means of livelihood is being safeguarded in a way that it is being made sure that it is sustainable and could thrive generation after generation. 

I may sound like a broken record, but one way to curb that chaos is to DEFINE, MEASURE, and EVALUATE Sagada’s TOURISM CAPACITY once and for all.

As long as it remains unidentified, Sagada will experience the leanest of lean seasons and the peak seasons will be like crumbs of bread that we all wait to fall off from a table, in a form of massive tourism influx in a day or two that is way beyond the capacity of Sagada.

And if this keeps on happening, this unabated tourism, eventually it will lead to Sagada’s demise. And this demise comes in various forms and not just its profitability as a tourist destination. It could be environmental, socio-cultural, etc., the death of the culture of inayan, etc.

We must also consider that we may be having too many rooms to accommodate the visitors but our sites or the entire town itself and its resources may not be able to handle this huge number of tourists coming in on certain days especially during long weekends.

Road going to Lake Danum or Lake Banao and Besao on December 1, 2018. Photo by Raymond Gayman

Unfortunately, what happened during the recent long weekend has already become a perennial problem. I don’t think it is because we have gotten down into the bottom of things. Much of the remedy only touches the tip of the iceberg. Even some of the solutions proposed or implemented in the form of road widening projects and diversion roads are just STOPGAP measures to alleviate traffic woes. NO, these road projects will not solve Sagada’s tourism problems. Read more… The Problem with Creating and Widening Roads

And tourism problems are not just the pesky traffic problems, we have problems with tourists who only spend overnight and day trippers that are killing the locality’s tourism industry by spending a little of their money here, as a result, they provide more income to outside tour operators rather than the host community. Read more… SINAGAD ANG SAGADA: SAGADA IN THE HANDS OF TOUR OPERATORS

Marlboro sunrise viewpoint, what was once an off the beaten path was not spared from the onslaught of tourism over the long weekend.

Just my opinion, one can start even at the barangay level in curbing mass tourism. And since the carrying capacity remains undetermined, I would propose other than zoning, a moratorium on building new accommodations (for the meantime) while we figure out Sagada’s carrying capacity. This has been done in Barcelona as tourists have outnumbered the local residents. But I am not sure how the reception of this idea will fare here as almost everyone is eager to get their slice of the pie.

Another way is to have a more unified network of an office that coordinates with all business establishments, particularly with the accommodation. Inns should report to this office if they are already full or if they still vacant rooms left. And this has to be posted on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) since travelers highly depend on it nowadays and that is how the world seems to operate these days.

Because if the CARRYING CAPACITY IS UNDETERMINED, the influx of tourists will never be regulated and that is one way of KILLING THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS.