By Mummy B.
Our travel in Philippines was full of unforgettable and unique landscapes. We loved Manila for its various neighborhoods and its historic heritage, but then adventure wasn’t finished. We went in the Ifugao Region and discovered the magnificent terraced rice fields of the Philippines cordillera where we spent three days.
Traveling in a night bus
After visiting Rizal Park, Mimi and me join Daddy B. (who was working all day) at the Sampaloc bus terminal. The day before, I bought there from Ohayami Trans. our tickets to Banaue, a small city located in the mountains of the Ifugao region (around 280 miles north from Manila). We payed 450 php each ticket ($9,60) and took one for Mimi B. so she can have her own seat. After dining in a small canteen (which was just a few tables on the sidewalk), we get in the bus. We leave around 8pm, indeed it is a night trip and it should last around 10 hours (there is no restrooms in the bus, but one stop is planned during the trip).
Bus trips in south-eastern Asia is far from our western standards. Luckily we are quite experienced now and prepared that the air-con will freeze them, the bus will be more than packed (even middle seats were occupied) and the local music will be very loud. We also had a quite bumpy road (not compensated by the poor shock absorbers of the bus) and the driver has a very local way to drive…
We had everything for Mimi B. : winter pajamas, polar blanket, pacifier and stuffed animals. During the last year and all our trips in Asia, it became quite usual for her to travel without all the comfort of home. She sleeps all way long, soothed by the sound of the motor For us, it is a bit more complicated : in spite of our scarfs and pull-overs, the temperature inside the bus is too cold and the music too loud. We doze until we arrive but can’t really rest.
We arrive at 6:30am in Banaue. We read a lot of bad reviews about this city where many trails can lead you in the middle of the terraced rice fields. Actually we are quite suprised as the city is rather nice even though she needed to build fastly many hotels and restaurants to welcome the visitors.
From the bus terminal, we walk to our guesthouse : Randy’s Brookside Inn. We meet Randy who is the friendly owner of the guesthouse. He offers us a breakfast and we sort our things. Indeed we won’t spend this night in Banaue, but only the next one. So we need to bring with us strictly what we need for the day after and food and drinks for the hike. Yes… it is going to be a sporty day!
Reaching Batad from Banaue, tricycle & trek
After breakfast, we leave our stuff behind to Randy and ask him to find us a tricycle. The driver drives us to viewpoints where we can admire the rice terraced fields… just a foretaste!
Mimi is still quite tired, she ends up sleeping in the tricycle… which is quite a thing when you know how tight it is inside a tricycle and how swinging the ride can be especially with dirty unpaved roads.
On the road we can observe the daily life of the inhabitants here. So different from life in Manila!
We arrive after almost 10 miles at Saddle Point, the last point you can reach with a vehicle on the way to Batad. The place has a small store where you can buy some snacks and drinks. Mimi B. meets there a girl of her age. It is always so surprising to see how kids are able to communicate without having the same langage or thinking about cultural gap.
We rent walksticks which will be very useful for the rest of the day. Indeed we still have an hour hike and the path is steep and unmaintained to reach Batad.
Batad… to go there, you have no choice but walk. No roads lead to this village with magnificent rice terraced fields. While we were walking down (and the day after to walk up), we meet some people with their arms full of packages or corrugated iron. Indeed this is the only way to bring to the village what people need. It is impressive to see how this isolated village has to organize to get all the food and materials needed. Moreover there is no internet or phone network down there, so you are totally cut off of the rest of the world.
Actually the road construction (from Saddle Point to Batad) is in progress, so our path was even more challenging for the first part as there was a lot of big rocks and rubble. We almost need to climb sometimes.
Then we enter a tropical forest and we have to walk with the humide and hot weather. Even if we are not suprised (we have the same weather in Singapore), it is still more difficult in these conditions to hike especially because we are loaded (Daddy B. has Mimi B. on his back in the baby carrier and I carry our backpack with clothes and everything we need for this day and the night coming).
As we are still walking down the path, we meet Romeo. He lives part-time in Banaue and the other part in Batad and offers us to be our guide. We don’t need him to reach our guesthouse (we are almost arrived and there is only one way to get there) but we decide that it can be useful to have someone with us to go to the Tappiyah waterfalls in the afternoon. So Romeo stays with us for the rest of the day.
Ifugao rice fields, a UNESCO world heritage
The reward for all our efforts is wonderful… the terraced rice fields of Batad have an amphitheater shape. We travelled a lot during these last few months in Asia but this is probably the most beautiful thing we have the opportunity to see. This stunning landscape is a UNESCO world heritage site. This is the result of the expertise of Ifugao tribes and were created 2000 years ago and are still maintained in the same way nowadays.
It is breathtaking to admire this amazing human work perfectly mixed with the beauty of nature. The end of June is a risky period to come in the Philippines as it is the beginning of the typhoons season, but we are very lucky to have a beautiful sunny weather and we arrive just before the rice harvest (which is quite late that year). But it is even more dazzling : the rice plants are high and cover the terraces offering us a gorgeous greenery vision of this ancestral agriculture.
We eventually arrive at the guesthouse we found on internet thanks to several travel blogs like Thib in S’pore : Simon’s Inn. Contrary to our guesthouse in Banaue, we didn’t book this one so we don’t know what to expect. They are in the middle of renovation works (they are transforming the dining area in a terrace) but they are still renting rooms. The view is one of the best, overlooking the village so we decide to stay here anyway. We had no troubles with any renovation noises as nobody work on the terrace when we were there. We just needed to pay attention that Mimi B. was not too close from the edges of the terrace.
After a cold beer and a nice conversation with Romeo who explains us the way of life and work of the local population, it is time for lunch. We order a Chicken Adobo (a local specialty with sweet potatoes and soya sauce) and a Chicken Fried Rice.
Hiking to Tappiyah waterfalls
We are quite tired because of the night spent in the bus and all the walk, so we take a nap after lunch. Two hours later we are ready to hike in the heart of the rice terraced fields. We put on our sneakers (we never used any shoes more sophisticated to hike in Asia) and take our walksticks. Mimi is comfortable in the baby carrier, it was impossible to let her walk with us as the paths are too narrow and can be sleepery in the rice terraced fields. We also bring enough water, which is so important for a 2 hours and a half hike.
The walk begins. Guided by Romeo we went down to the village. We can already enjoy the overlooks of the houses and rice fields and we learn a lot about the local life.
Then the hike becomes more challenging and we are glad to have Romeo with us so he can lead us to the right way to find the waterfalls. Indeed the rice terraced fields are a giant maze and the paths are sometimes difficult. You have to walk on a stone wall which is not larger than 12 to 16 inches. On one side you have to pay attention not to fall as the wall is 6.5 to 10 feets high and on the other side there is the rice field which is full of mud. We really watch our steps for the whole way.
Sometimes we need to cross gaps or to climb some walls to go from a level to another in the rice fields. The irrigation system of the rice fields is amazing, even more when you know that it was elaborated 2000 years ago by Ifugao tribes. It allowed them to cultivate rice in these mountains.
Even if the hike seems quite difficult for us sometimes, it is so easy for our guide! We even meet some kids running in the terraces as if there were their playground. When you grow here, you have no choice but being comfortable with walking in this astonishing place. We are also very impressed by kids who played high above the ground in the houses on construction. Another cvilisation, another culture… what seems impossible for us is totally normal here.
Time goes by so fast and we need to be sure to walk back to the guesthouse in the daylight. Indeed the sunset is quite early in this area (around 6:30pm). We decide not to went down the waterfalls but watch it from another viewpoint known by Romeo. After walking up in a steep path, we finally can enjoy a great view. It is even more magical with the impressive sound of the water falling.
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On the way back, we are still amazed by this outstanding landscapes surrounding us. The quietness make the walk even more pleasant. We can see people working in the rice fields and also some women who offer us to come at the guesthouse for a massage. First we decline, but one of them convince us and we finally were very happy with a foot and legs massage after this hike and a cold shower (forget about modern comfort, there is no hot water or air-con).
We have dinner at the guesthouse almost… in the dark! Indeed when the night falls, the terrace becomes invaded by big dragonflyes. Attracted by light, the invasion is massive. Soon there are hundreds of them flying everywhere. This is not the kind of companion you want when you are eating. To get rid of them, the guesthouse owner put a basin full of water under the only light which remains on, so the insects fall in the water and drown.
As you can guess, the nightlife in the village is not very active! But we don’t mind as we are exhausted after this day full of discoveries. We fastly fall asleep in our room. The day after won’t be less busy.