The Rice Terraces – Banaue, Cambulo, Batad, Bangaan

Transportation is amazingly inexpensive in the Philippines, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy getting from Point A to Point B.  We had an extremely bumpy ride in a van/jeepney kind of vehicle from Tapik Beach Park Guesthouse into El Nido.  We got there much earlier than I expected so I wandered around the town.  I quickly discovered that there’s really no reason to be in the town unless you’re going out on one of the tours.  I hung out in the Art Cafe long enough to get a bite to eat and use the internet.  I checked to see if the local airport had wifi and the source I checked said it did, so I thought I’d head on out and work on my blog or whatever there.  So I arrived 5 hours early, which gave everybody something to talk about.  At least it was pretty there – there’s a beach on one side and a mangrove lined river on the other.  It was relaxing sitting in the open air departure area and reading.  Of course, they didn’t really have wi-fi, but a lady in the office let me come in and use hers so I could check on my bus reservations for later.  I couldn’t imagine that happening at an airport in the US.

So after a very long wait in the airport, I had a 45 minuet flight to Manila.  I paid 1,800 pesos to get a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal, where I waited another 2 hours for a night bus to Banue.  Since I was never able to confirm my reservation online, I wound up with a center seat (one of the fold out ones in the aisle) but apparently there was a no-show so I did get a seat.  However, I had to share that seat with a lady who had a bad cold and took up most of the seating.

At long last we arrived in Banaue.  A couple I met in Coron highly recommended Bogah Homestay.  A tricycle driver at the bus stop tried to get me to try a different place, and I looked but didn’t like it.  He sent me with a different driver, Jeremiah, who turned out be my tour guide as well, on to my destination.  I loved Bogah Homestay.  The manager, Denwil, and his family members who work there are all wonderful and made me feel very much at home.  The house sits on the edge of the terraces overlooking a river and the main part of town.  The view was amazing.  I had a room on the top floor overlooking the terraces.

Jeremiah and I planned my tour of the rice terraces (actually he suggested a tour and I said, OK)  He gave me an hour or so to settle in, then picked me up and we went to the hot springs.  He stopped his tricycle several times along the way for me to take pictures of the terraces.  Then we got out and actually walked along the terraces to some natural hot springs.  I didn’t think to take my swimsuit, but I couldn’t resist getting in. It was so relaxing.  I talked with a couple of tourists from Manila and a few visiting from France.   After a while, Jeremiah and I hiked back a different route.  I had dinner at the homestay and Denwil talked to me about the terraces and their history.  He also told me about his own life.  He had been one of the children sponsored by the Christian Children’s Fund.  He also worked as a driver in Saudi Arabia.  He had been working as a guide in Banaue, and still does, but he and a partner decided to open the homestay as well.  After dinner he played the guitar and sang country tunes for me.  It was absolutely delightful.

The next morning, Jeremiah returned and we set out for a 2 day trek in the rice terraces and the jungle.  Denwil took us to a the starting point on his tricycle.  We started on a road where they were doing some construction.  When we reached the point where it was just to muddy to walk, Jeremiah flagged down a jeep.  We hopped on back and rode a mile or so to a point where the road was clearer.  We passed several small waterfalls along the way and it was a nice walk, but when we got off the road into the rice terraces, things got really interesting.  The views were spectacular.  The terraces are over 2,000 years old and are vast.  I’ve only seen a small portion of them.  They are still being worked, but more and more young people are drawn to the cities and there are fewer people to work the terraces.  Those who generally harvest enough to feed their own families, not to make a profit selling the rice.

Walking along the terraces can be challenging.  In some places the walls have been repaired, and you will see stone or concrete placards along the way giving credit to the organization who funded the repairs.  In these places there is concrete atop the terrace wall and it’s narrow but easy to walk.  In other places you have to step along the top of stones, which isn’t really difficult, but the steep drop-off to one side can be somewhat unnerving.  The real challenge is the stone stairways from one level of terrace to another.  These are a monster whether you’re going up or down. We stopped for lunch in a little village called Cambulo, then walked on for a few more hours to Batad, where we spent the night at Batad Pension and Restaurant.  The view of the terraces from the deck was stunning.  The people were lovely and the food was great.

On the way into Batad a lady along the trail had offered me a massage.  I said no, but hope springs eternal so she followed us to the inn.  I talked to her for a while and finally gave in.  She got my feet while another girl massaged my back.  It was pretty nice.  The lady was also selling purses made from candy wrappers, potato chip bags, coffee packages, which would otherwise be trash.  She said volunteers had come in and taught people how to do this.  She showed me how to make the purses, and I bought one to use as a model.  I’m going to have my recycling club at school try something like this.

At dinner I sat with Jeremiah, the owner, Emil, two other workers, and three boys who are some how related.  Jeremiah told me the boys (somewhere between 9 and 11) don’t go to school.  The men were drinking gin, and I was very surprised when the boys stopped by the table and poured themselves a shot.  Nobody else thought it was a big deal.  Emil talked to me about the history of the Philippines.  He had been a seminary student, but decided to get his degree in criminal justice and become a policeman.  Then he decided to stay in Batad and run the inn.  He told me that they have good schools in the area, but some of the people are so remote that it’s dangerous for the younger ones to go to school, so they might not start until they are 8 or 10.   While on our trek, we passed a lot of kids walking, and Jeremiah told me that because the secondary school is so far away, they board at school during the week and walk home on the weekends.

The next day Jeremiah and I headed to the waterfall.  It was a fairly difficult hike, but well worth it.  Since it’s the rainy season, the falls were particularly powerful.  Some people were swimming in the lake but it was really cold.  A group of people from England finally convinced me to go in.  It was nice once I did manage to get in, but wow!  So cold!  I took some time to warm up on the rocks like a lizard before we hiked back out.  I had lunch at the restaurant, grabbed my stuff, then we hiked back toward Banaue.  The last leg of the hike was a road that practically went straight up to a point called the saddle.  Denwil met us there and took us back to his place.  I said my goodbyes, gathered my things and took the night bus back to Manila.  My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend in this beautiful region of the country.

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