Banaue, Part 1

My brother invited me to join him on a trip to Banaue Rice Terraces with friends from our church and his workplace. Anxious that I might be missing class (I didn't know January 23, Monday, was already declared a non-working holiday), I said "yes" at the very last minute.

The email, detailing the itinerary for the next three days or so, had clear instructions, but this one particularly stood out: pack lightly.

Just finished packing.

I met the rest of the 14 members of the Kaladkarin Society (also the name of the Facebook group where various announcements were posted)—Liw, Lheiya, Ralph, Josiah, Katie, Sally, Me-Ann, Liana, Frances, Jil, RJ, Dingdong, Joan, and Celle—at the Ohamiya Ohayami Bus Terminal at 10 PM, Friday. I hadn't met all of them yet, so I was really excited. They were very warm and welcoming.

It was a good thing we had booked our tickets days before. The bus was packed. And I mean really packed. Chance passengers were seated in monobloc chairs in the aisle. Some Dutch, possibly German, tourists did not have enough leg room, so they decided to sleep on the floor, oblivious of us who frequently stepped on their bags during stops.

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I slept for most of the eight-hour ride, and when I woke up, this scene greeted me. We were on top of the mountains.

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Finally we arrived at the center of Banaue and had our breakfast at People's Lodging. The trick is to order 30 minutes to a hour because it takes them that long to prepare the food. While waiting, we decided to explore the area. The air was cold and refreshing.

Banaue is a fourth class municipality of Ifugao Province. Worldwide it is widely known as the home of the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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This is a panoramic view from where I stood. I took about 14 pictures, and stitched them using the Autostitch iPhone app. Neat.

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Manong, Josiah, and I went exploring. We crossed this old, rusty bridge which, at first glance, resembled the Golden Gate in a way. I felt it wobble when I stood in the middle. Below was a gorge and a stream carving its way through.

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Hey, Josiah.

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Hello, Manong.

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Minutes later, we found the rest of the pack following us. We were quite a crowd.

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True to our form as Filipinos, we didn't miss any photo opportunity. Hey, Ates Liana, Liw, Jil, Me-ann, and Manang!

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The local houses and establishments are built on cliffs and steep inclines. One can imagine the strength of the locals' leg muscles, all hypertrophied because of their going up and down the stairs.

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We came back to the restaurant to have a quick breakfast. I had the local longganisa and egg. The longganisa tasted really good with vinegar. The rice was brown. No, it was not grown on the Terraces.

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Later, our head tour guide, Dandi, explained to us the route. We were amused because he carried with him a board with a map painted on it. He was serious. He explained that we should not take pictures  of children without asking their permission. Believe it or not, some locals still believe that when a photograph is taken, a person's soul is taken it with it.

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We got on a rented jeepney to take us Saddle Point. We rode on top of the roof and had the most spectacular panoramic views.

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Note, for example, this house, suspended on a cliff, supported by thin pillars of concrete. An architectural wonder.

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The pine trees were thriving in the colder climate.

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Meanwhile my feet were dangling.

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Hey, Sally! Hey, Joan!

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We met Nina, a twentysomething backpacker from Denmark, travelling alone. We invited her to our group. She was on her "gap year"—that free year after high school, just before college—roaming the globe. We would spend the next four days with her.

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Jil, Liana, Nina, and myself, with the Terraces as our background.

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Bestfriend Jil's zombie and this native Ifugao woodcarving had so many similarities.

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Hey, Kuya Dingdong!

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After 45 minutes we reached Saddle Point. From there we took a one-hour hike downhill to Batad.

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This was the foretaste of a couple more hikes that would leave us all exhausted.

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On the road I stumbled on these—were they coffee beans or wild berries? Were they even edible. Clearly I'm awful at taxonomy.

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I was panting for air, and my muscles began aching. But the beauty of God's creation seemed to cheer me on. There was still, after all, so much to see.

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During our 10-minute stops, Ate Liw saw these Ifugao children and immediately established some rapport with them, offering them sweets and gospel tracts. Had she decided to pursue medicine, she would have made a great pediatrician.

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At the end of the road we saw the Banaue Rice Terraces. We stood there in awe.

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Of course we had the mandatory photo op.

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It did not happen if it's not on Facebook.


(Photo by RJ)

I was amused when I saw Frances taking a picture of the 1000 Philippine Peso bill, featuring the said wonder of the world.

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We had lunch and loitered for a while at Highway Inn, a comfortable lodging place, where I had an entire bed to myself. This was going to be one of the most memorable adventures I've had in a while. And the fun was just beginning.

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Next post: the trip to Tappiya Falls and my experience walking along the edge of the Hagdan-Hagdang Palayan.

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