New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leaving the blue waters and amazing underwater world behind, I bussed up into the highlands.  I had been recommended by friends to see the world heritage area of the rice terraces around the village/town of Banaue.  I had seen rice terraces sculpted into the hills in northern Vietnam so this didn't feel like the end-all-be-all sort of sight to see for me, but I was intrigued by what friends and travelers were saying, and internet pictures looked pretty cool (is there anything that hasn't been documented and posted in the virtual world at this point?!)

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

wee seedlings are densely planted at one end of a cleared/muddy paddy, not too wet, and then they are taken from the "nursery" and out planted to a prepared paddy somewhere else.  These seedlings are being protected by strands of tape pulled maybe from an old VCR tape... very effective as they catch the wind and shine and flicker in the sun...

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.

Chewing of betel palm nut (fruit) is a regular activity here, my guide was doing it all day long.  You take a pepper leaf (or some other leave that has a bit of flavor) and wrap the nut and some lime and stick the wad in your gum.  As far as modern medicine is concerned it's not great for the health, especially if you add lime into the potion as it scratches your cheeks/gums to allow the intoxicant more readily into your system... but also increases chances of mouth cancer.  though when i mentioned something like this to my guide and some of his buddies who were chewing they said that they know old men who have chewed their whole lives with no problems... so.  Do what you will :)

The nicest kiosk we came across, the one selling young coconut.  you can see one on the left of the counter.  No hairy husk yet, you use a machete to cut off the thick husk (that becomes hairy later) and then just a bit at the top (if you're skilled you don't cut off a finger nor lose any of the water inside!) so you can drink it up then scoop out the gelatinous pulp (on its way to becoming the harder stuff we know of as "shredded coconut" etc.)

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

too small, but this is Batad from on high... just surrounded by tall peaks and a river way below off to the left... steep steep sides of these valleys, so very cool to wind your way from valley to valley around curves and twists... not for those with weak legs!  (or knees! mine were swollen and tight for about two weeks after my three day trip... sigh, not so young anymore!)

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.

I discovered this crazy amazing moth in my room, seemed like it had been stuck  in there for a while, with raggedy wings.   I couldn't hardly believe it was real.  I wanted to help it out, but also get a picture before it flew away... luckily I was able to do both!
so beautiful!!!

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.
Then I went further into the highlands to the village/town of Sagada that's known for the tradition of putting their dead into coffins hung from cliffs or put into caves.  It was a beautiful area in pine trees and neat limestone cliffs/caves/hills... did some cave exploring and hill walking-- very set up for tourists but still interesting.  It's been a long-time retreat for Filipinos and others for years... a respite from the heat of the lowlands.  There was somewhat of a hippy/drop out time as well, but now it's properly "discovered" and a building boom has been on for several years now.  You can still find a quiet corner, but it's hard to overlook/under-hear the construction mania.  The highlight of my trip here was seeing coffee plants/bushes/trees in person, discovering that civet coffee is collected/made here, and then finding the local species of pitcher plant... so awesome.  Not like the ones we have in the states that grow upright as sort of cones from the ground... these develop from tendrils growing out of the tips of leaves, and have a flower spike like an aloe or something like that.  Pretty cool.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Philippine Dream... second act!

OK!  Well, all rants about technological glitches aside... here's what came after my travels with my friend Katherine.  She went off home after our white water rafting trip on Mindanao (which is the same island where all the crazy crackdowns and fighting have been occurring over the past few months... there was a bit of unrest in the south of the island just after we were there but nothing like the full on "militarized response" that it escalated into...), and I took a ferry up to the island of Bohol.   I stayed at this amazing place called Nuts Huts, where I was right in the middle of the jungle and stayed in a traditionally made bunglaow thing, up on stilts, thatched roof, walls of woven bamboo... and all the pictures have disappeared into the ether... first because of Blogger issues on my ipod, then phone, and then my ipod died... so.  Just trust me, it was amazing.  Google Nuts Huts Bohol if you're keen to see it, I would have stayed for days.  Right on a river so you could swim, and kayak, or just listen to the water (and the river/lunch cruises that blared crazy Frank Sinatra music, passing every 15 mins from about 11-3pm every day...)... or cross the river and go for a hike through the forest... which I did, which was sort of like taking a stroll through "the neighborhood" even though it felt like a proper jungle... but every so often a trail would head off to the left or right, or you'd walk right past a bamboo/thatch hut/house... folks were living everywhere.  It was really neat.  I was walking along through what felt like proper deep jungle, and then I swore I heard a basketball being dribbled.  And I thought... nah... wonder what bird it is.  And then it kept going.  And then through a break in the foliage I saw... a guy dribbling a basketball!  On a dirt court, in a small clearing in the forest, with baskets nailed to coconut palms on either end (or some other sort of trunk if it wasn't exactly that romantic-perfect image)... pretty sweet.

Sorry, but no photos unless I can recover the ipod.

The island is advertised as having great nature (check), wee mini tarsiers (saw them, and they ARE super wee, and cute), and this place called the chocolate hills which I had thought I would skip... but then rented a scooter and whizzed around and went right through the area so did end up seeing them.  The scooter trip was a great way to get out and feel free to explore some distance, but also stop when the mood struck and it looked interesting to step off the paved path.  The first diversion to a waterfalls had me also stop to take pictures of a quintessential rice paddy with farmer who was even wearing the stereotypical wide-conical thatched hat... who then walked up and started chatting to me in pretty good English.  He had relatives in the states and had been in business but decided to go back to farming.  Photos are from that area, but not the actual rice paddy scene itself.

Riverside rice paddies, coconut palms... just another typical view on a Bohol gravel road

Probably poor resolution, but a larger perspective....

The chocolate hills are a really interesting geologic area, just pretty exact conical-shaped hills, and just look sort of alien and trippy from an elevated view.  It was cool, but really just a sideshow.  You can google it and see the same photos that I took/saw.  Really the scooter ride around the south part of the island was just a nice way to get out and about.  Just lots of village scenes, cows in fields, people going about daily life in all sorts of ways.  Then I wanted to get on the water, after enjoying the terrestrial side of things there.  And I'd heard of this phenomenon where lightning bugs would congregated in trees and would have a synchronous flashing thing going on... so if you went out at night to see it, it would be quite a show.  So I did that.  And it was awesome.  Still don't know exactly the biological reason behind it, but they gather in groups at the highest part of trees alongside the waterways of the delta. I went out at sunset with a small group and the bugs did their thing... was like a pulsing, starry-night, lava lamp sort of effect.  Very cool.  Then the next morning I went out for another kayak trip in the same area, which was cool to see the same stretch of river but during the day, and we got in a little closer to the mangroves, went exploring in the forest itself, paddling between trees and roots... trusting my guide that he'd know his way out.  And, eventually, he did ;)

This is a typical local small boat, with the one (or two) sided outrigger balance/support set up.  It's tucked away here among the mangroves perhaps waiting for another bushel of nipa leaves to be collected.  There is an industry around harvesting nipa palm leaves for weaving and thatching-- this species specifically as it is resistant to rot where others are not.  My guide put himself through school doing this work... he owns a store and had done other business but now is happy being a guide and sharing what he loves about nature.

Nipa palms lining the river

Navigating the "mangal" or mangrove forest

The "forest" in the river delta system was really interesting, with nipa palms making up the majority of the "forest" at water's edge... which is used widely to thatch roofs and weave walls for the traditional housing option in the region.  If you have more money etc. now you'd be building with concrete and corrugated tin, but dang those buildings get hot.  The thatched ones let the air circulate which can be critical in the hot and humid times.  But insects, cold, rain... I'm sure there are tradeoffs.  The morning before I left, as my guest house hostess and I were watching the morning news, we saw that there had been a "terrorist attack" on the island... and I got a facebook message from Katherine asking me where I was and telling me to get out asap.  There had been some armed men and they were apparently wanting to target a touristy area just a couple of towns away (if you divided Bohol into quarters-- 12/3/6/9, I was at about the 9:00 position, and the attack scene was happening at about  the 11:00 position).  I thought this was a bit concerning as it was in the same "quarter" so to speak, so I asked my hostess about it, and she said "oh, no, it's so far away, no problem!"   I'd already stayed the night and paid her so it wasn't necessarily to make sure I stuck around, and her sentiment was echoed by the kayak folks I went out with that morning-- who also had already been paid etc. So they were all confident that it was no big deal.  All the same, I was happy enough to be leaving that afternoon on a ferry to the island of Cebu-- to stay at a guesthouse run by the relatives of a friend of mine, which I found out about via Facebook.  I tell ya, for all its ills, FB has proved to be an amazing way to make connections while being on the road... make one post and you just never know who will pop up saying they're close by or they know someone at X place so go see them, etc.  More on this later.  But to the Cebu ferry... it was pretty average, just seats since it was just a couple hours, but interesting was some of the cargo...

Do you see what's sticking out of one end of the woven bag there on the floor?  It's a rooster tail!  It was still holy week and folks were traveling far and wide to go and visit family... and many men were traveling with their fighting cocks-- which they had secured in these woven bags with just tails sticking out.  Kind of a "you know you're in the Philippines when..." sort of a moment it seemed like.  The BnB in Argao (BJs by the Sea, highly recommend!!!) was really lovely,  a sweet neat town, a great place to relax, eat amazing food cooked by Joy, and have excellent conversation with Billy-- he had a career in the diplomatic service so we got to share some perspectives on places and cultures, really lovely.  This image is from the rooftop of the BnB.

After the mini-relax session, I got an early morning transfer to Cebu's airport, and flew up/over to the island of Palawan... renown for its limestone karst geology, underground river, and amazing island scenery and marine life.  I did the tourist trip to the underground river, which was interesting for the geology but certainly had to buck up to "suffer through" the mass tourism scene.  But then I was able to book into a three-day "expedition" boat to go island-hopping off of El Nido... the town was touristy but I was able to find a peaceful place to stay on the outskirts for the days on either side of the boat trip.  AirBnB was a great resource to find more of a local connection rather than the larger hotels/hostels.  Here are just a few shots from that trip... want to get this out for y'all to see and I've got free internet here in Skagen, Denmark (yay to the Seamen's/Visitor's center at the port) so we'll see what I can throw out...

Drying rice on tarps... this was a common sight all through my Philippine trip... it was harvest season for many areas and the rice drying by and large was always done on tarps at the road sides... this was cool as it was on a windswept dock... but shortly after I took the photo the family was out dumping the rice into storage bags as an impending grey cloud of rain got closer and closer...

Every island seemed to have its own version of the local rickshaw transport... this was a full-cab thing with all sorts of decorations, pretty sweet!

It was a pretty awesome trip.  We slept on land in thatched huts and spent the day on the boat, stopping at various islands to check out the beaches, snorkel, kayak... the water was clear and turquoise, the plants growing out of the sheer limestone rock were amazing (fat-trunked begonias!), and fishing for our dinner... awesome.  Then I took a ferry up to the island of Coron/Busuanga off the tip of Palawan... for more limestone and snorkeling.  Wish I'd had more time up there... could only hire a boat for the afternoon before catching my booked flight out the next morning... but totally worth it.  Spectacular snorkeling with really healthy coral-- that was the most stunning bit.  The first time, from Australia, Maldives/Seychelles, and even around El Nido/Palawan, where I saw really health staghorn corals.  Stayed at a really neat guesthouse on stilts over water, all bamboo and such, totally local, had to follow a very obscure winding alleyway passing through what felt like peoples' living rooms and backyards to finally emerge on a walkway over water to get to the guesthouse.  Very comfortable and very friendly-- highly recommend the Krystal Lodge of Coron Town.  Here are a few shots from that experience:

There's so much more... but will leave it here for now.  From Busuanga, I flew back to Manila, and then bussed it into the interior to check out the world heritage rice terrace region around the village/town of Banaue, with a visit to Sagada, known for the funeral practice of coffins being hung in caves/off sheer cliffs.  That'll be the next post.  Until then, have fun and enjoy!  :)