After a few days of doing essentially nothing, myself, Jaimie, Eric and Janine caught the night bus from Manila to the small town of Banaue, synonymous to the Unesco World Heritage-listed Ifugo rice terraces – sometimes called by locals as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” – which span the Cordilla, Northern Luzon. Not much to look at itself, the town of Banaue (or Banawe) boasts fantastic views of the rice terraces with People’s Guesthouse being one of the best spots to enjoy over a delicious Fillippino breakfast which consists of fried ham, garlic rice, tomato omelette and a chunk of pineapple, not to mention a mug of fantastic filter coffee, something the Cordilla region is known for.
After breakfast we jumped onto a jeepney to “the saddle” in order to embark on the 45 minute walk down to the small village of Batad, which is no doubt the best place to appreciate the rice terraces. Although tired from the night bus from Manila (450php) we decided to skip the package tours and even go against the recommendations of locals to hire a guide and instead, venture off on our own trek of using the directions of locals as our guide.
A dip in the waterfall was a refreshing end to what was over an hours climb in the blistering midday head. I was so exhasted after a sleepless night I even had to dig out my emergancy salt sachets. How were we meant to hike another three hours to our planned stop I thought? After another two hours of climbing and a couple of “we’re not lost we’re just exploring” moments we saw the village of Cambulo on the horizon. Just as we turned the corner the heavens opened in true Asian fashion which meant we got wet, VERY wet, but it did allow me to try out my new and very flattering poncho I picked up in Myanmar.
We had planned to stop off for the night in Pulo, a small village an hour or so past Cambulo, but the weather meant we were forced to spend the night at Cambulo, in the village’s only guesthouse. Expect to pay more than quoted in Lonely Planet and less than average service. After we had dried off from the rain, not a shower which was non-existent, I enjoyed a couple of beers with some backpackers and their guides and tried my first Fillipino dish of chicken adobo which was rather nice and ten times as meaty as dinner in Myanmar.
Never trust people, or Lonely Planet for that matter, when they tell you the time it will take to hike from one point to another. We set of early the next morning for Pulo before continuing our loop back to Banaue where our backpacks were stored. Thank god we only had our day packs as we trekked for a total of ten hours with just an hour worth of breaks. When I say trekking I mean trekking with the majority of it being a steep ascent up mountains. It was probably the toughest thing I have put my body through and the fact that we had little sleep for the past few days and were fuelled by little food and water, which is scarce up in the mountains, really didn’t help.
As the heavens opened once again, we were forced to continue our trek through the mud and I spent most of the time falling on my arse due to my ridiculous trekking shoes (Converse) and at one point even had a leech join me for the ride. It was nearing sunset and we were told by a local man that we only had another 4km which would take us just under an hour. How wrong was he! It took us another two hours of hobbling in agony down a mountain reaching Banaue after dark. Back at People’s Guesthouse Eric and Janine ordered us all coffee and bought a bottle of rum which I gratefully tipped most of into mine.
The satisfaction of completing a non-guided trek through some of the most stunning lush green scenery I have ever encountered offset the pain I was in and I would settle for another hike like that any day. For those visiting the Ifugao rice terraces, you don’t NEED a guide so save yourself some pennies and rely on the help of locals, many who would be thankful for a small tip. Be prepared though, food and and water is hard to come by so expect to be charged four times the price of a bottle of water in the two shops we found in the two days we were there.
Living life, loving travel