day one hundred and sixteen: january 24, 2016: cebu > manila > banaue
Surprise, surprise...another long travel day.
After a casual breakfast, we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Manila then jump in a car to head north to Baguio. Sadly, our flight was delayed a little over an hour. Typical to many SE Asia countries, no announcements were given letting us know what was going on with our flight. Once we arrived, our drivers were ready and waiting for us. Lucky for us, we had a group of five, which warranted paying a driver with a private van to drive us to Banaue, Batad, Sagada and Vigan. The typical route is to take an overnight bus from Manila to Bagiuo and then an early morning jeepney to Banaue, which is quite a long trek, sometimes spanning close to 14 hours. Since we had our own drivers we were able to get there in about 9 hours including stopping for dinner and gas.
day one hundred and seventeen: january 25, 2016: batad and banaue
Our original plan was to wake up super early, drive to Batad and walk the 45 minute trail to the rice terraces in the dark to see the sunrise. Upon arrival in Banaue it was a mix of foggy mist and rain so we decided to get a little bit more rest and head toward Batad around 8AM instead. As we arrived at the end of the windy road, the mist and clouds were beginning to rise but not clearing enough for the full force of the sun to show thru. This ended up actually being to our benefit since it was pretty warm already. Our guide, Marvin, told us that it had not rained in quite some time and last night was the first time in a while. In fact, the day before had been very sunny and extremely hot. We were pretty happy with the weather. Hiking on a cloudy day in the heat is much better than the blazing sun.
After a short 45 minute walk the forest opened up and to our right was a set of rice terraces. From a distance, they look impressive, but another 5 minute walk, we arrived at the Batad Rice Terraces, which we would walk amongst.
It's really an entirely different experience walking along the edges of the rice terraces vs. sitting at the viewpoint observing from a distance. Over 2000 years ago, the Igorot (the Spaniard term for mountain dweller) tribes of this area built these rice terraces using only their hands and simple wooden tools. The retaining walls of the terraces are over 10 feet high and when you're walking along them you realize how incredible a feat this was. In the lower lands, rice can be grown and harvested two to three times of the year, but up in the mountains rice is only harvested once a year due to the difference in weather. This means the Igorot tribes must grow enough rice to last them for a full year!
There's a little bit of photo overload below, but this place was just so beautiful we decided to include them all.
I can vividly remember a book my mom had on the Philippines growing up and being amazed at photos of the Banaue Rice Terraces. I even remember thinking, "I want to see this in person one day" -- (which seemed like a lofty dream at the time). So when we woke up to fog and mist, I nearly had a freak out moment thinking that we weren't going to be able to see anything and I had waited for this day all my life. Buuut, of course....it all worked out and I am overjoyed to have finally witnessed something I've been wanting to see for a long time. :)
After spending time in the Batad Rice Terraces, we headed back toward Banaue. The Banaue Rice Terraces are more well known than Batad and actually are depicted on the back of the 20 Philippine Peso bill. These are much more accessible and there are many cafes and souvenir shops along the main road with very respectable views of the rice terraces.
At one of the viewpoints there was a group of older women and a man dressed in the traditional clothing of the area's tribes who allowed their photo to be taken for a small donation.
Earlier that morning we had done some exploratory shopping at our hotel in Banaue which had a great collection of wood carvings. Marvin had told us that carvings were about half the price up near the terrace viewpoints. We did find that they were slightly less expensive, but the selection was also much more generic and we didn't find anything to our liking. With a large wood panel carving on our minds we headed back to the hotel to see if we could negotiate a better price. We ended up leaving Banaue with a large wood panel carving, two masks, a couple additional wood carving souvenirs, some bags and a traditional Ifugao outfit for me.
Next, we hit the road headed for Sagada, a 3-4 hour drive to visit its famous hanging coffins and burial caves.