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A Dream Come True: Exploring the hidden nature of Banaue

Posted by ephil on February 20, 2014 in Blog
October 23 – 25, 2013 – the date when I finally set foot on and saw the Rice Terraces

We have planned to come to Banaue many times. But many times, too many things have prevented us from actually going. This year, we just had to go. Maybe because we both knew that our backpacking days will soon be over and it is probably now or never.

Our bus would leave at 10:00pm in October 23, 2013. We would be gone for quite a while so we tried our best to finish as much work as we can during the day.  We even managed to squeeze in an hour of acupuncture because the voucher that we bought would be expiring while we are away.

I was apprehensive and anxious about the long ride ahead because we will be commuting all the way. By all the way I mean from the South to our errands in Makati, Manila all the way to the mountains. More than anything else though, I was excited. I am not sure if it was because I’ll finally be seeing this place that I’ve studied as a child and I’ve heard about so many times but has been very elusive to me, or because I have not traveled in a while.

We arrived 2 hours early in the bus terminal in. As we were waiting for our departure time, a lot of Caucasian backpackers started arriving. The bus was full before our set departure time so it left a bit earlier than scheduled. I slept comfortably throughout the night and only woke up at 5:00am to see the beautiful sight of the clouds discreetly hiding the mountains and the sun slowly starting to rise.

View on the way to Banaue from a moving bus

My heart was beating fast because of excitement. I am just a couple of hours away!

There are five sites included in the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera – Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both in Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in the Ifugao Province, of the Philippines. In this trip, we were set to visit the rice terraces in Banaue. Among the five, it is more popularly discussed in our history books as children. The Banaue Rice Terraces or the Hagdan-Hagdang Palayan ng Banawe is situated in the mountains of Ifugao. These are carved by the indigenous people. It is believed to be made using minimal equipment and even by hand. The plots are watered using an old but very efficient irrigation system. Some of the terraces have stone walls and some have mud walls. It was severely destroyed by several typhoons in the past years but through the joint efforts of the government and the private sector, it was successfully rehabilitated and restored by June 2013.

The Ifugao people are generally shy but not as aloof as when I last went to Sagada. Many are now used to interacting with tourists and are in fact relying on tourism for their main source of living. The fields are owned by Ifugao families. It is handed down from generations. Nowadays, many families are renting the fields out because the descendants prefer to work in the city instead of continuing to farm their lands. Some sociologists also believe that the lack of interest in farming the family lots is due to the modern Filipino inheritance system (Pamana). In the olden times, only the first born would inherit the land of their parents so continuing the farming tradition lies on this first born child. Now that the properties have to be divided equally among all siblings, the sense ownership is lost.

A very noticeable practice of the Ifugao people is the chewing and spitting of the Betel nut. They say it is their local Red Bull because it gives them energy. This habit leaves a red stain on their teeth. Some tourists find the habit of chewing and spitting repulsive so to adopt, the local government and some local private sectors post signs prohibiting spitting of Betel Nut or “Moma”, in their local dialect. The guides have also formed the habit of politely asking their guests first of it is okay to chew on their Betel nut.

When we got to the town, we registered, changed into hiking clothes, brushed our teeth and washed our faces. We had a breakfast of chicksilog with native red rice and brewed coffee and then we’re off.

Banaue town proper

We shared a jeepney and our guide with 3 other travellers. One is a young Japanese man who barely spoke any English. I tried to chat with him and get his name but I could not understand a thing that he was saying. He was very polite but I am pretty sure he also did not understand a thing that I said. The other two was a French couple who ended up staying a night in our home before they came home to France.

We hopped into our Lakers jeepney at 8:00am. It was a cool morning and I was getting more and more excited as I felt the numbing breeze brushing through my face. The travel time from the town proper to the jumpoff point is approximately 45 minutes.I was pleasantly surprised to see the road construction going on at every section of the winding road. Despite the construction, there was no traffic congestion because drivers would take turns in passing through and the materials and the stones were neatly put on the sides of the road. There is very weak phone reception so to avoid any frustrations, forget about receiving and sending out any calls, SMS and emails and just enjoy what the isolation and the nature will offer.

Halfway to the jumpoff point, our jeepney had a flat tire. Just our luck! Good thing there was a spare tire. We got off the jeepney while they were replacing the tire and we were back on in 15 minutes.

No time to waste. After we got off the jeepney, we immediately started our trek. Now, the trek to Batad town, the terraces and the falls was a piece of cake. It was mostly downhill. Along the way I saw native livestock, mostly chicken, just walking around pecking and pecking. Our view althroughout the trek was AMAZING and the air was so cool and clean. I could not count the times when we stopped to take pictures because each part of the journey offered amazing view of nature.

The trek to the falls would take a good couple of hours each way for those with no training or climbing preparation, with multiple rest and photo op stops. Because we took our time, taking as much stops as we wanted and walking leisurely and chatting along the way, this must have been one of the most relaxing treks that I have ever taken.

Halfway to the falls, we stopped at Batad Tourist and Information Center to register and pay a fee. We also made a stop at the local Batad Inns so our friends Camille and Max could check in. The Inn looked like a traditional Ifugao home in a large scale and with some added comfort of the mainland. The rooms in most backpacker inns in Batad have communal rooms and bathrooms. The rates are extremely cheap but their 360 degree view is PRICELESS!

We then started our trek to Tappiyah falls. We passed by some traditional Batad homes where the rice harvested from the terraces were being sun dried in traditional black baskets. The rice grains looked like small round gold bits. We also passed by rows and rows of terraces. Some were planted with rice, some with taro and other vegetables but most were already empty and drying. Our guide said that this is because the rice were already harvested in August and the patches are being prepared for the next planting season. The native rice could only be cultivated once a year so by the time we went there, most of the plots were brown. Nevertheless, it was still stunning and breathtaking.

Now, navigating one’s self through the terraces requires balance since you’d have to walk through the edges of the rice fields which are about a foot long. It is easy to get preoccupied taking pictures and looking at the seemingly endless rows of terraces that one risks imbalance and falling off…on one side is the wet patch of field and the other a cliff down to the lower lever fields.

Finally, we reached the last leg to the falls. There is a resting stop where a local sells refreshments. Just what a tourist may badly need if he/she did not anticipate the long hike. After a quick stop, we proceeded to go downhill to the falls. Tappiyah falls is extremely cold. It does not only offer a relaxing view but also a refreshing feel for those who will dare to swim in its extremely cold pool after a long hot trek. Some also bring their food and drinks so they can have lunch while enjoying the cool breeze from the dropping water. I just hope that everyone will have the decency to clean up after themselves and not leave their trash.

If the trek to the falls was an easy downhill walk, the way back is a whole different story which was mostly uphill all the way to the top. I had to take much more stops than before and just like in any other hard climb that I made, I was constantly thinking “What the heck am I doing this for again?” and “I swear this is the last time I will ever climb or trek!!”…but it never is the last time.

After dinner, we got to Banaue Hotel at 6:30pm, our home for the night. It might be the best and most expensive accommodation in the area. I could tell that it was old, with the architecture and interiors reminiscent of the 70’s but it still had the old “Baguio charm and warmth” that reminded me of my childhood vacations. By this time it was so cold so I was dying for a hot shower. After my long bath, we had our massage for Php500.00 per hour. Not bad for a hotel rate. The traditional hilot massage was very soothing but I couldn’t really tell if it was that good or I was just that exhausted from that uphill climb.

It was dark when we got to the hotel so I did not have any more chance to go around and see if there was any view so when I woke up at 5:30am, just at the crack of dawn, SURPRISE SURPRISE…The view right in front of me was beyond amazing that I almost did not realize how cold it was even at 9 degrees celsius. The towering height of the mountain range was overwhelming and It almost felt like it was closing down on me.

After our buffet breakfast, and a quick stop at the viewpoint, I bid the beautiful Banaue Rice Terraces goodbye with a heartfelt promise that I will surely come back.

This is how they roll in the mountains

These are the things that I will never take for granted. These are the things that I am extremely grateful for…seeing more than a postcard of this magnificent creation.

Here’s to a new year and to many more awesome adventures!

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