Monday, March 1, 2004

First Banaue-Sagada Adventure


After 10 hours bus trip in an endless zigzag road, we reached Banaue early in the morning when the sun is ready to bless the quiet town. We met our guide/driver Charles Mayong at the bus station. He took us to Banaue View Inn, a simple and homy inn. What we love about it is the glorious view of the mountains and the sky, and the town center below. It kind of make us feel like guardians looking over the activities of the towns people. At our left is the view of the rice terraces, in front of us is the distant view of a waterfall, and at the right is view of the mountains and beautiful sunrise.





First Day, Friday Banaue Site Seeing


On our first day, we had for a short time to rest, and then at noontime we started our site seeing. We went to several viewpoints, showing the vastness of the world known rice terraces. At the main viewpoint, we saw the panorama used for the 1,000-peso bill. Ate Tessy Catbagan, the innkeeper, told us that Ifugaos usually plant rice once a year. It was a period for them to clean up when we arrived, that's why it wasn't that green. The best time is April before the harvest. We came upon the Rice Girls with an old man who plays the flute. They wore colorful Ifugao ethnic clothes complete with headress. They sang for us while the gentleman played his piece. It is very heartwarming; a sad thing though is that, when they're gone there'll be noone to venture in their footsteps. I think they are one of the treasures of Banaue. There are souvenir shops at the main viewpoint, mostly they sell wood crafts, woven products. The shops are very colorful and festive in a way.





After that, our guide took us to Hiwang, located at the topmost of a mountain. There are several "Bale"(Ifugao Traditional House) there; then again the view is spectacular. A fun thing about it is, you can rent the huts, and so you'll have an authentic stay in a Bale. When you're in Banaue, everywhere you look, you'll see something beautiful, the people area great. The weather is my favorite, bright blue skies, sunny and windy at the same time, but still having a comfortable cold climate. Also in Hiwang, we came upon "Bulul", rice gods carved in stones. Usually they should be in pairs, one female and one male. They are placed at some areas for protection.






That afternoon, we went to eat our late lunch at Las Vegas Restaurant and Inn. I can still remember what we ate, it was sweet & sour tilapia, and Arni got the fried boneless Bangus(milk fish). Just at the back of the restaurant is the river which rans along the whole town. I really love the rushing sound, it makes us feel energized. After our sumptous meal, we roamed around the town, bought some souvenirs. I bought a little wood "Bale", now it's placed alongside with my great pyramids athome. We also went to see what's in the market, mostly vegetables like carrots and cabbage. We also tasted a bit of their locally grown pomelo, a bit sour though.

2nd Day, Saturday Sagada Trip

We rented a jeep to take us to Sagada, Mountain Province; it's a 3 hours trip through endless zigzag roads, landslides and vast mountain sceneries. It's awesome to find villages seating in valleys, surrounded by mountains adorned with rice terraces and a beautiful Chico river runs through it. You can see how alive the Cordillera Mountains is. It reminded us of Manchu Pichu, secret villages hiddenamidst nature.




We reached Sagada at past 11a.m., along the road "ukay-ukay" clothes clad the streets. We went to the tourist assistance to get a guide for our caving. We really don't know what to expect in the 1 1/2hours trek. But before that we ate our lunch at Masfere Restaurant. Masfere is a spanish photographer who resided in Sagada during the early 1900s. Inside the restaurant, his photos of Sagada and its people are posted on walls. The furnitures are made out of pine wood, giving the room a distinctive aroma.

There are several steps down the Sumaging Cave, it's very dark, we walked through slippery rocks, in the first chamber, Francis our guide told us to hold on to the rocks for support, and so we did only to find out that they area filled with bat dung. :) Yikes. At the end of the chamber, we saw what they call Pig Pen, opposite its side is another very dark chamber. I assured myself that it's a good thing we are not going to that place, but my mistake, when I saw our guide turned to that side and walked further. gosh. With only a small gas lamp, he went down a very steep slope with running water. He told us that it's ok because its not slippery. But I know "water + rocks= slippery". but he helped us anyways, and yes it wasn't at all slippery. It's just like walking on a coarse concrete sloped floor.




It's a great adventure; we climbed from rocks to rocks and walked/jumped through to small bodies of water. We even had to slip through a crack, walk along rocks beside deep ravines, my favorite is when we entered a waist high small crevice feet first. It's like remembering how I was born when I tried to squeeze out on the other side. At the very end, is a big chamber, with bits if fossils on walls, and a 7 feet deep lagoon. Francis told us that there are not less than a hundred caves in Sagada and some are interconnected.


After our Sumaging, we went to Lumiang burial cave where wood coffins are laid inside the chamber. They believe that when they area laid to rest in an open area with open air, they area closer to God. The coffins are short, because they are laid in fetal position, because of the belief of reincarnation. A big part of the coffins fell off deep in the mouth of the cave below, due to the massive earthquake in 1996. We also passed through the hanging coffins, laid along the rock walls.




It's near 4pm when we headed back to Banaue. The weather became colder, and the fog did set in. We drove through a very foggy road, it was a bit scary knowing that we drive alongside ravines. The driver just followed the bump in the middle of the road. We were in a very dangerous situation, but still we safely reached our inn.

Its a pleasure waking up early, excited to go on with a next adventure. Charles picked us up to bring us to Batad Junction. We reached it after an hour, from there we trekked for 2 hours. It seemed endless but somehow the walk is refreshing, we are amidst thick lush trees, magnificent views and small waterfalls blessed the roadside, a free refill of spring water. At the half of the trail, we came across local backpackers, also striving to get to Batad, there is a short cut and a regular route. A foreigner resting at the gazebo jokingly told them that if they take the short one, itll be the shortcut to their graves. We preferred the regular route. We met at some point again, and they were literally clinging to the walls. We also came upon a couple, who were from a 3 day trek through Mt. Pula, and Marshal, Charles friend who was their guide. He was wearing a red shirt, he reminded me of Dalai Lama.





We reached Batad, an amphitheater shaped rice terraces. We decided to continue with our journey to Tappiya Falls. It was amuchgreat experience to climb up and down, walk up the rice paddies, down through some steep slope, up and down again through some slippery concrete steps. And dont forget that we are always beside ravines. We held on to rocks, walls, and even grass. We almost gave up because of exhaustion. But when we reached the falls, it was all worth it, we suddenly forgot everything. The falls is grand, a bit haunting in a way. It was an overflow of energy, I might say.




On our way to Batad, were up on our feet again. We stopped to rest at every 5 steps. We were panting,and our hearts stomping. Its a test of endurance. This hike physically, emotionally and mentally tested us. When we reached Batad, we bought shirts with I Survived Batad logos. Its an awesome experience that I would suggest to anyone who loves adventure. Not everybody is privileged do and experience this. We ate our lunch in a cozy small humble restaurant, Arni got the fresh veggie pizza and I got the tuna pita with egg. How can something, which tasted so good, exist in such a far off place? You should try it.


On our hike back to the junction, we met 2 guys from Polland, for them hiking seemed effortless, while both of us struggling. My bestfriend told me the reason, because we are girls, and girls have a smaller lungs thats why we tire easily than men do. It rained hard halfway our trek, were lucky we got to hitch in a jeepney, else we may find ourselves rolling down the hill. We were supposed to return home that day, but we decided to extend our stay.

Before returning to our inn, we had our dinner at Las Vegas, had curried veggies and fish. We walked up the road instead of taking the stairs, withour knees and muscles aching. But alas, that night Ate Norma, a masseuse gave us a great full body massage. She combined shiatsu, thaiand reflexology. Its a bit painful at times but most of the time its soothing.






4th Last Day, Monday.

Our bus trip is at 5:30pm, so we still had a chance to roam around. We werent able to go to Bangaan Village and Guijo Pool the other day because we lack time and energy. We decided to visit Tam-An village, proximate to Banaue Hotel. They say at times, villagers there weave but we werent lucky to see that. We saw centuries old Bale, still used by an old lady who was sifting rice. She was also chewing Nga-nga (bettlenut with some herbs.) It makes her teeth red, Charles told us that its for stronger teeth. There is also a nearby village, Poi-Tan, an hour trek from there.


Back in town, we had our last Banaue meal at Peoples Restaurant. We ate pork Adobo, pancit cantonand fried rice. Wehad last minute shopping. I bought my brother and sis necklaces. The one for the guy has edges, chicken claws, for protection, while the one for girls is a simple round emblem for fertility.

Our last hop is at the Banaue Museum, just beside our inn. Its kept by Otley Beyers descendants. He is an anthropologist who did study Ifugao and its people. He also had a story, he left then after 3 years he returned to Ifugao and asked for the hand for marriage of the tribe leader daughter who was just 15 years old. They had a son whom Ive heard had several wives.:)

The museum was filled with interesting artifacts, pictures that said several informations about how they lived their lives back then. There is a book there, where you can read and see how the Ifugaos built the rice terraces. How rocks were cut and placed in sturdy positions, how different levels and types of soil is used.Also how theyintelligently used mountainsprnig for irrigation. And they all did it with bare hands. It shows how hardworking, disciplined and goal oriented they are. There was also data about how they deal with their dead. How they get married and other things that you should see yourselves when you visit Banaue.

To sum up our Banaue adventure, it is more than we expected it to be. It is an overflow of senses, spectacular sceneries, warm and trustworthy Ifugaos, peaceful surroundings, and the total adventure. Its pain and bliss at the same time. Truly to be considered as the 8th Wonder of the world, how the rice terraces encompasses the whole of the Cordillera Mountains. Its something to be treasured; the place is so rich and blest. Its still filled with culture and its people still arent corrupted.

Banaue is never boring, it is for the strong of will and heart, it is for people who have passion for adventure and travel and also for people who loves to interact with people.

Like the endless zigzag road to Banaue, its also an endless experience of adventure and beautiful sites to see. In addition, Banaue also reminded us of the Himalayas, the facial features of the people there resemble Tibetans. The color of their skin is tan and rosy at the same time.