Catching a bus out of Manila isn't the easiest thing that one can do... multiple terminals for different destinations... and private businesses running busses to the same destination have their own terminals in usually differnet parts of the city. Fun. But here's the beauty of either traveler's hostels or AirBnB... the local knowledge. I had planned to stay the night at an AirBnB place I found, just renting a room from someone in their apartment. After arriving that morning my host was a young real estate agent and he was super hospitable and was keen to chat so we went out for a bite to eat and had great conversation about different cultures and what it's like to live in Manila, etc. He helped me to realize that maybe there weren't so many bus options heading up into the highlands and after I did some research I realized it would be best if I tried to hop on a bus that night to arrive at Banaue in the morning so I didn't loose too much time just waiting around for a bus in Manila (not the most relaxing place for me I found). So my host was great, I made the decision a bit late in the day, which meant I had limited time to get to the bus terminal to see about buying a ticket as the online system wasn't working properly (no surprise). So he ordered an Uber taxi ride and came with me to help out, which was very sweet. We got there in time, but the tickets had been sold out... but two people hadn't shown up... so maybe I could still get a seat? So stuck around and waited and voila, was able to get one of the no-show tickets. And my host stayed the whole time just to make sure it all worked out... and then once I'd boarded the bus, he even came on to give me a bottle of water, making sure I was comfortable enough for the overnight trip. Super sweet and totally uncalled for... but really Filipino folks are by and large so lovely and thoughtful, it was just one more example of niceness I'd experienced while there. So in the end I didn't stay for my booking, but didn't ask for a refund, the help and conversation that my host offered was truly priceless and worth the wee amount I'd booked his room for. Yay for AirBnB!
After an uncomfortable night on the bus we arrived at about 6am or so in Banaue and was able to organize a trek to begin that morning, after getting some breakfast and repacking my stuff into a small daypack. There are a lot of walks possible up in this highland region but I decided not to get too fancy and just for the "typical" three day/two night route since I was on limited time... hate not being able to dawdle but had to pull up the panties and be a goal-oriented tourist for this one :)
And so, we went! I lost a lot of photos on my dead ipod, but luckily had taken a bunch on my camera as well. I was entranced with the mountain/jungle vegetation... so thick and lush. Big trees, vines, flowers... just very cool. The walk went through some pristine mountain forest and then dove down into some valleys and such that were terraced here and there. The terraces formed a part of the village defense... the village was placed in the center of the terraces so to make the approach of any contrary folks very obvious and over open territory. The terraces and the way they were built into the landscape were endlessly absorbing. Have lots of photos that very well could be of the same exact valley but a variety of viewpoints just because they were continuously changing but beautiful, you just wanted to capture and recapture the essence of the place endlessly.
It was neat too to see the progression of the rice cultivation. All stages were in evidence-- ready to harvest, being cleared for planting, fallow, newly growing seedling plants, and all inbetween. The villages had "modern" buildings of wood and/or tin but also many of the traditional huts-- square sided with thatched pointed roofs, elevated off the ground to minimize rodent predation on the grain that would be stored in the attic area under the roof.
Stayed the first night in the small, more isolated, village of Cambulo. The folks were very friendly and welcoming and had some of the village children do some dancing for us, and then we joined in. The boys especially were wearing traditional outfits. There was a very deep cultural history there, well portrayed in a few museums in Banaue (sadly, pictures lost on the ipod) which I was glad to have visited the morning before starting the trek. Amazing wood carvings and examples of the variety of dieties and rituals associated with harvests and living in that highland society. National Geographic had an article about the "headhunters" of the region, published maybe in the late 70s or so that discuss the culture from a vantage that was closer to when the culture was more active and remembered and "real" than it is in today's changing (technologically advancing) environment.
Second night stayed in the village of Batad that is a bit more touristy (several guest lodges with signs and such, within the village center but most on a hillside across the valley and closer to the paved road where folks can hike in within a few hours). Another friendly place, and nice food. I had hired a guide to lead me through the villages which wasn't strictly necessary but I thought it would be a nice value-add to ask questinos about what I was seeing and to not loose time if I got turned around. I'd bet I could have found my way on my own but some of the paths and ways to get around/through the terraces were a bit obscure so I think it was well worth it. My guide was young, a bit of a dandy really, and was interested in working for the police force, so the guiding job was going to pay for his college education. It was fun to kid him about the girls he was chatting up here and there along the trail-- there were little kiosks every now and again selling cookies, crackers, bottles of soda (kept cool by being placed in a few inches of water inside a tub), etc. All of this would be hauled from the nearest commercial center... perhaps hours away. One even had "young coconuts" which is a lovely treat-- you hack off the top to get the coconut water inside... and the entrepreneurial lady who ran the kiosk bought them in Banaue and carried them in several hours to sell to trekkers... not cheap as they have to be transported from the coast but so worth it. Especially as there were some cheeky chickens hanging around that ended up doing some sneak attacks on some unsuspecting trekkers, trying to get at the coconut meat inside the coconuts, leading to some very loud exclamations of surprise and ensuing protestations... pretty funny actually.
And so, here are some images!
|rice just beginning to grow after seedlings planted out in new paddy|
|new and old together. the older huts often used for storage, like a garage in a way.|
|the guest house in Cambulo, the "Am-Way", and an older photo of the children's dance we were treated to below|
|there are different kinds of rice grown in different areas and for different reasons, this was just one in seed I found one day|
|getting closer to harvestability|
|a more modern version of the traditional hut... elevated on amazing tree-root trunks, but newer timbers, really nice aesthetically and obviously in regular home-like use.|
|sometimes the coconut inside is a bit more congealed and you can scoop it out just as this sweetie has done... rewards for concentrated work :)|
|the center of Batad village|
|This is how rice is harvested and stored up here. They're bunched up in topknot sort of things and then hung over rafters or in the sun to dry|
|Typical house scene, where these rice bunches were on a table in the courtyard.|
|a bit of modern with traditional, neat to see technology and utility merge.|
|and of course... flowers! didn't capture too many great photos of the things I saw but this turks head mallow was one beauty...|
|Parting photo of the heritage village of Bangaan that we passed on the paved road driving from our exit point from the trek near Batad, back to Banaue. Pretty sweet.|