Posted by: neblinoso | February 12, 2010

Banaue Road Trip

I love road trips!  This past weekend we made a doozy of a trip to Banaue to see what some locals call the 8th wonder of the world.  The Hapao rice terraces.  We left for the 10-hour trip Friday around 10pm, lugging our pillows into the van with us to be as comfortable as possible.

We stopped a few times along the way to refuel and take cr breaks.  At one particular stop we’d had a few hours rest and wanted to get out of the van to stretch.  We peeked into the other van in our convoy, but we couldn’t see anyone and figured they were all asleep.  After a few jump shot photos we piled back in and tried to get some sleep along the bumpy road.

We arrived in Banaue around 7am and our convoy split as we were staying in two different areas.  Once we checked into the Hiwang Native House Inn we traveled back to downtown Banaue for a Filipino breakfast of rice, pork and fried egg at the Las Vegas Restaurant.  They had the best tasting coffee, which is still somewhat of a mystery.  I don’t know if it tasted so good because i was so tired, or if it was the hint of chocolate that sweetened the flavor.  Reenergized, we stopped at the local market, to buy food for our dinner later.  All the foods were so fresh.  Even the fish we bought was still doing flips in the bag.  Off to one side were tables of various meats and fishes in every cut you could imagine.  One table had a whole pig’s head just lying there.  I can’t imagine going to the market thinking hmmm, i wonder if the pigs heads are fresh today!  In the middle and opposite sides were stalls of fruits, vegetables and various other spices.

Back at the lodge, we dropped off our food and freshened up for the hike we’d be taking to see the rice terraces up close and personal.  The view from our hut was phenomenal.  I was very excited about staying in a native Ifugao hut.  When i did some research about the area and discovered this inn, i immediately knew that was what i wanted to do and was not going to budge on the issue one bit.  There were only six or seven huts, all atop the mountains at intermittent levels, overlooking the rice terraces.

The Inn provided us with a guide and our driver took us on perhaps the bumpiest ride i’ve ever experienced to see the rice terraces.  I think i have a permanent dent in my head from being slammed against the window so many times due to the roads rugged condition.  The road was also narrow and many times we encountered a jeepney that had to back up in order to let us by.  We traveled for about 45 minutes before getting out at the place we began our terrace trek. 

The guide led us down a concrete path that turned into grass and dirt.  We went through a small village, some houses and a school before entering into the cool shade of the forest, winding our way along the snake-like trail.  It dumped us out right on the edges of the rice terraces!  I have always been curious about how rice is grown.  I’ve just never seen it on the plant.  Some plots had green growth, while others were barren.  We traipsed along edge after edge, making our way up and down, until we were in the middle of the mountain, rice terraces rising all around us.  It looked like a huge rice terrace amphitheater. 

I can’t imagine how long it must have taken the natives to carve the entire mountainside without the help of modern tools.  It truly was a wonder!  We ended up at a small waterfall with a hot spring next to it.  The stream was freezing.  The spring,  nice and warm.  I took my socks and shoes off to try both and within a matter of seconds my feet were ice-cold from the river, but they were soothed by the smelly warmth of the spring.

We relaxed there for some time before returning via the same route.  Given my unbalanced nature, I was very surprised i did not fall into one of the muddy plots.  Many of the places we walked were pretty high up and one false step would either send you into the wet, muddy waters of one terrace or a sheer drop into another.  I did drop my empty water bottle, though.  The cap end stuck in the mud, making the bottle stand upright.  Luckily, i could still retrieve it by laying along the path and reaching down to it.

There was one point along the ride back i thought we weren’t going to make it.  I had nodded off, wrapping my pillow around my head to prevent any further head injuries, and i came to as the van lurched forward, then started rolling backwards.  We didn’t roll far, and the driver was able to rev the van enough to get us over the hump, but for one moment, i thought we might be taking a tumble over the edge.

By the time we returned to our hut, we were exhausted and starving!   We started preparing our market fresh meal.  I was in charge of keeping the fire going, which was boiling the rice and adobo.  Though it took a few hours to cook everything, it was worth it.  Nothing makes you enjoy a good meal like sitting there waiting for it to finish while your stomach grumbles impatiently.   Our meal consisted of a huge pot of rice, chicken and pork adobo, fish, chop suey, cucumber-ish salad.  I even learned how to cut up a mango properly.  Thanks Jing!  There was a spicy soy sauce for dipping, which i avoided after biting into one of the pepper seeds as it sent my whole mouth aflame.  I didn’t think i was going to recover from that, but a few gallons of water and some rice returned my taste buds to normal.

After dinner we started a bonfire and taught some of our colleagues how to make smores.  I love bonfires.  It’s one of my most favorite parts of camping.  My other favorite part is looking at the stars.  We laid on our backs trying to find the big dipper.  I thought maybe it would be reversed since we were on the opposite side of the world.  I think it was Jessica who finally found it among the bazillions of stars twinkling above us.

I think we finally went to bed around 11 or so.  All i know is that i was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.  The next morning we packed up our stuff saying our last goodbyes (with pictures, of course) to the rice terraces.  We returned to town for breakfast where we met up with the other half of our group.  We did a little souvenir shopping along the main street, finding some very good deals on wooden huts, cutting boards and other native tokens.

The ride home was uneventful, save for the bumpiness.  We got back to the hotel around 11pm, saying goodbye and parting ways to our respective rooms/homes.  This trip was the one touristy activity i really wanted to do as i am unsure of when i might return.  It was well worth the long drive…just to sit up on the mountain and see this beauty that has been around for centuries.  

See all the pics here!

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