Sunday, October 14, 2012

Into the Mountains: Batad & Banaue

{After our relaxing El Nido days of boat tours, card games, and rum with sweet pineapple juice, we headed north to the island of Luzon.  We have arrived in Sagada, a sleepy mountain town and our last stop in the Philippines.  We are tired!  The last few days have really pushed me both mentally and physically but I persevered and am so glad I did.}

The night bus ride out of El Nido was a bumpy one, and that’s putting it mildly.  When we initially took the van over from Sabang, it maneuvered carefully around half paved roads, taking its time.  The “RoRo bus” however, barreled along the roads with purpose, slowing down for nothing.  Let’s just say, sleep was impossible and we were exhausted as we arrived back in Puerto Princessa at dawn for our afternoon flight. We found an open coffee shop, where a middle aged American ex-pat revealed that he’s married to a Filipino woman younger than his daughter, and that his daughter doesn’t know.  He regaled us with stories of his last ten years in the Philippines including a recent battle with Dengue fever and stories of his work experience on Boracuay, the Philippines’ main party island.  He warned us of the one place to avoid: Port Angeles and its surroundings, the area outside of Clark airport which was once home to a US military base, and whose sex industry is bustling.  Later that night, that’s right where we ended up.

After our flight we had to transfer to a bus terminal which would lead us into the mountains.  Our jeepney dropped us off in an alley reminiscent of the areas in Portland under the bridges at night-dark, seedy and scary.  Children begged for money and everyone stared.  Our goal was to get out of there as quickly as possible.  Cue the next bus to Tarlac, a city where we could transfer and head further north on a night bus.  Instead we spent the night in Tarlac, washing away the sketchy bus terminal with our first hot shower since leaving Korea.  We ate at McDonald’s for breakfast (and for dinner, I have to admit) and pushed on to the city of Baguio.  We drove higher and higher until we were literally in a cloud and all we could see was white.  Upon our arrival we strolled through Baguio’s famous market, bursting with local honey and jam, fish delicacies, and unusual tropical fruits.

  Later we climbed higher into the mountains still, on one of the world’s highest mountain roads en route to Bontoc.  The drop offs (at the highest point 7200 feet above sea level) were enough to strike fear into the bravest souls.  We watched in awe as local Filipino toddlers played right on the edge of cliffs.  The bus stopped midway through the ride for a snack of duck embryo, but we stuck with instant noodles.  

Finally in Bontoc, we crashed hard in our small, no frills hotel room and awaited the morning for the last leg of our journey.  In the morning we had breakfast on our guesthouse's veranda and watched the small city go by.

The morning ride to Banaue led us through small terraced rice fields and fresh waterfalls.  Wild Calla Lilies grew on the roadside.   

Finally in Banaue!

We were hassled for a tricycle ride taking us close to Batad, our last destination, gateway to the 2000 year old UNESCO rice terraces.  I had been hesitant about making the trip, one that requires a long hike in to the isolated villages.  In the company of four other travelers determined to make the trip, Ryan and I decided we would join them. 

After a forty minute tricycle ride the makeshift vehicles will go no further.  Only jeepneys make the trip up to the saddle of the mountain’s ridge.  We decided to forgo the jeep and walk it out from the junction, loaded with packs that carried all our belongings.  An hour or so later, we arrived at the top, only to begin the descent into town.  No vehicles are capable of doing so.  We took the recommended shortcut: a hike down many steps and across narrow paths, all along a steep mountainous drop off covered in jungle.  The rain started as full exhaustion hit, and we made our way to the first guesthouse we could find, recommended by a small toothless woman living in a shack at the junction.  Ryan suggested she start up a business selling water to hikers; she told him she didn’t have the capitol.  I told you they spoke English well here!   

After our two and half hour trek, we made it to her cousin’s inn and spent the rest of the evening around a long wooden table enjoying chicken sinigang, “pizza” and cold beer with our new friends.  Ryan and I enjoyed well deserved massages before we slept like babies in our wooden room. 

The group awoke early for a trek through the gorgeous and spectacular rice terraces and Teppia waterfalls  where Ryan cooled off with a swim.  We wove through a native village where old women still worked on traditional "g-strings" that men wore during work in the rice terraces.  The views were inexplicable, which made the journey to get to them (and through them) worthwhile.  At parts of the hike I wasn’t sure I’d make it, climbing between small rock staircases and steep, slippery paths.  But I did.

Later that afternoon our tired feet (and burning calves and sore glutes) led us back to the junction.  En route to the saddle those stairs which had been downhill on the way into town were even less fun now that they were uphill.  Luckily the views along the way were still amazing.

We spent the night recouping in Banue.  The next morning we strolled through the local Saturday market and indulged in some goodies at the local bakery before our jeepney took us out of town.   

That leads us to where we are now, possibly our favorite destination in this country.  We will spend the next few days exploring Sagada’s hanging coffins and mysterious caves, just in time for an early Halloween.  And on Thursday: BALI!  


  1. Wow, what an adventure! Way to go you two! Love the Jeepney pics! :)

  2. That hike looks awesome. Can't wait to go to the Philippines!