The trip to Banaue was a very spontaneous one. I had been planning to go to this part of Luzon, but I was never sure when the perfect time was and who I should get to accompany me. One night, I got a text from Marvin, “let’s have dinner at Cubao X this Saturday.” I casually replied that I’ll check my schedule because I might go to Banaue. Then he said he and his friends want to tag along..
I made arrangements with a couchsurfer, Rae, for us to live in his restored native Ifugao huts in Batad, and when we got a go signal, it was full speed ahead. I got two other couchsurfers to join the group: Mark was going to Sagada alone, but decided to tag along for company and Matt whose status message was “misses sagada and batad” also came. It was a very diverse group, but it mixed well.
The trip from home to the Florida Bus Terminal was a journey of its own. I had to go meet Mark and Matt in Gateway Mall because we all didn’t know how to go to the terminal. We decided to take the train to avoid the traffic, and I never thought I’d be using my Lonely Planet in Manila to look for the locations of the train stations. Eventually, we were able to arrive while the bus was still there, albeit 10 minutes late.
We left Manila a few minutes past 11 in the evening of Friday. The bus ride was pretty good but I didn’t get to sleep properly because of the full-blast A/C. After a long journey along paddies and cliffs, we arrived in Banaue at around 7 in the morning of Saturday. We went to get our return tickets for the next day and met up with Pio, our guide in the Cordillerra.
although the bahag is not used as often, there were still old ones donning their ancestral costume
After all logistical concerns were addressed, we went to People’s Restaurant to have breakfast while getting ready for Batad. The restaurant had a sink hanging from the balcony, so we brushed our teeth facing the rice terraces.. only in the Philippines.
Pio informed us that we were still waiting for two other people who are also living in the same native hut, so we decided to go to the public market to buy ingredients for dinner. After a few minutes of buying and walking around, we started our jeepney ride to the Saddle Point in Batad. The ride was like a “getting to know you” session because we spent it talking about our travels and interests.
There was a landslide somewhere between Batad junction and the Saddle Point so we were forced to go down and hike the rest of the way. We met a group of foreigners who were here to work as interns under the AIESEC program. It was fun to talk to two Chinese nationals in straight Mandarin.. I missed that.
one of the few ifugao baluy left in batad
After 2 hours of hiking, we finally arrived in Batad viewpoint with an amazing amphitheater type rice terraces. After taking in the view, we ordered lunch at Rita’s, while thinking of activities we can do while in Batad. We had to rush because Nancy had to go home that night, so after lunch, we hiked across the terraces to our native Ifugao hut near the bottom part of the mountain. It was amazing. If I had the luxury of time, I can spend a week reading and writing in that hut.
this was home sweet home for us in batad
After a few minutes of rest below our huts, we started the long hike to the Tappia falls. It was a very tiring walk but the first sight of the falls made us forget about everything. Excited to take a dip, we hurried down and and started our way to the pool near the waterfalls. It was freezing cold, but it didn’t stop us from swimming and wading around. This was by far, my favorite in the trip. It reminded me of my trek down the Tiger Leaping Gorge, except this one had a reward in the end, a nice cold swim.
big, strong, and imposing falls with ice cold waters at the end of a long, hard trek
When it was time to go back to the hut, it started raining. We were all wet from the swim anyway, so the rain didn’t really stop us from walking. Thank God for Mavic’s ziplock or else my camera would have been bye bye. I enjoyed the rain on the way back. It was the first time I bathed in the rain for a long time. It was almost sun down when we were back in the huts.
Rain continued to shower while the girls prepared dinner. I had a nice time chatting with my friends and the locals while enjoying a nice homemade rice wine. After dinner, Pio showed us his ancestors’ prized possessions. They were inside our hut (inside OUR HUT!). There was a Bulol (Rice Guard), a box filled with 50 years of chicken blood, a vase with insect infested rice wine and other artifacts. He told stories of how these things were used, not really helping us get warmed up inside our hut.
our trek guides in batad, cousins marlon and pio cooking rice for us
After the session, we continued drinking rice wine inside our hut, when Pio’s drunk friend came and talked to us in Ifugao. He got mad because he overheard us saying he can’t speak Tagalog and that he was drunk. That was actually me who said that comment so while the bed was really comfortable, I had three nightmares because I thought of him getting back at me by getting my head! They were headhunters after all, heads of monkeys, wild cats, and carabaos were hung all over our hut. The worse nightmare I had was someone pushing me down a deep well, and a few minutes later I woke up to see myself on the floor already.
The night went by and although I had a few bad dreams, I woke up energized, excited to watch the sun rise in Batad. We went down to look for Nganga, the thing that the locals chew to clean their teeth. It was a like a mint leaf spring roll with a Betelnut, a crushed snail shell, and dried tobacco inside. It was an acquired taste. I almost puked a couple of times. We were spitting red, blood-like spits all over the place. The tobacco had an effect on me. I was buzzed. It was like I chugged down three bottles of light beer in one go. The effect didn’t leave me until after 30 minutes when I decided to let go of the Nganga and just spit what’s left of it. We asked our guide to get us Passion fruit (Masap in their local dialect) to remove the taste and after enjoying the fruit, Mark, Mavic, Eve and I started our walk towards the peak of the terraces.
sun slowly lighting brgy. batad and the rice terraces
The climb was long and tiring, not only because of the distance and the slope, but also because of the rising sun. We were walking along paddies and terraces so naturally, there wouldn’t be any trees to shelter us from the sun. We forgot to bring water so out of desperation, we drank a few sips from a clean looking stream uphill. After almost an hour climbing, Mark and I were victorious. We reached the peak and started counting how many terraces Batad had, our best count was 106. Eve was a few terraces below us, and Mavic was almost near the middle part (where I left my Ateneo jacket – the 60th terrace according to my count). It was hard, and while walking I was very thankful for malls with elevators and escalators. But I think it’s all relative, people get used to where they live. We were surprised we saw an old lady near the top selling us pineapples from the village. I wanted to get her photo, but she wanted coffee money in exchange.. no thank you.
When we arrived back in the hut, everyone was still asleep. We decided to cook sardines and freshly picked Baguio beans for breakfast. I went in the hut to get a power nap for the return trip to Poblacion, Banaue. I didn’t know how important that 15-minute nap was until we climb up back to the viewpoint where Rita’s is. It was the most difficult climb partly because Eve and Mark were in front of me. They were fast hikers, so I had to keep up. When we reached the top, I didn’t care how much a C2 costs, I needed one. It was time to say goodbye to Mark, our American companion, because he had to go catch a public jeepney on his way to Mayuyao, where the “Paradise Terraces” are. With him and the guide gone, we took our time walking back to the Saddle point and to the landslide area where we’ll meet the jeepney to take us back to the Poblacion.
a bulol by the entrance of a restaurant at the viewpoint of batad
It was a nice walk mostly because the weather was chilly and cloudy plus it was downhill after the Saddle point. We took our time to enjoy the mountain ranges of the CAR. We even saw a group of people transporting a pig that’s ready to be roasted for a wedding the next day in Batad. They invited me to join in the celebration, and I would have loved to if not for work the next day. When we arrived at where the jeepney waited for us, I had the bright idea to ride on top of the jeep. It was brilliant! Although the road was rough, and we almost fell a few times, the sight of all the random rice terraces made up for how uncomfortable we were up there. It was really amazing how these people were able to adapt to the mountainous environment. 2000 years ago, when their race was forced to move upland by the Tagalogs, they were able to engineer an irrigation system that proved to be better than its counterpart in the Luzon plains. They had two harvests per year, because of the constant supply of water from the unique irrigation system that they had.
jeepney traversing the highway cliffs of banaue - a very common sight in the cordilleras
We concluded our trip with a sample of Pinikpikan, a Cordillera chicken broth in Las Vegas Restaurant with Miki, a lone Japanese traveler who we met a few times before during the trip. I don’t want to talk about the details of the preparation, but to make it simple, it’s roasted native chicken boiled in water with preserved pork. It was good, similar to Tinola. But for me nothing beats the native chicken Lauya of the Bisaya.
I have to say, of all the trips I’ve had in the Philippines, this is one of the most memorable and exciting. It is sad that during our travels, we didn’t meet a single Filipino tourist. They were all foreigners from all over; US, Holland, Canada, Finland, China, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, you name it, they were there. I don’t know why, maybe we take it for granted or maybe we’re just not that adventurous and we stick to the safer destinations like Batangas and Tagaytay. But if you ask me, this trip is worth the effort so try to be there to experience one of the Wonders of the World.
For people planning a trip there, load up on cash because Banaue and Batad do not have banks. The total cost of our trip was more or less PHP 2000 including transportation, food and accommodations. To people like me, who are working.. it can be done on a weekend. You leave Manila at 11 pm of Friday; arrive Banaue at 7 am of Saturday; spend two whole days at your Baranggay of choice; leave Banaue at 8 pm of Sunday; arrive Manila at 5 am of Monday. Famous food not to be missed are their rice meals (mixed meat, vegetables and Banaue rice with sunny side up egg on top) and Pinikpikan (Roasted Chicken Broth).