Our trip in the Philippines keeps getting crazier and more challenging than we’d ever imagined nor intended. Along with the long bus rides, crazy rough mountainous roads and unexpected hikes, we upped the ante today and again surprised ourselves with the outcome of the day. Destination: the UNESCO World-Heritage listed Banawe Rice Terraces.
From Sagada, we descended to Bontoc, 2hrs away by jeepney. Bright and early the next morning, we set off to board the local bus to bring us the 3hrs to Banawe (aka Banaue), where we hoped spend the day oogling the famous ‘Rice Terraces’ which were carved into the mountainside by the Ifugao people using only primative tools, some 2000 years ago. Our main concern was about the weather as the region is known for its volatile weather. Soon after we set off, dressed only in t-shirts and shorts, it started to drizzle and got quite chilly, even in our bus as it lacked a lot of its windows! In desperation, we put on our rain jackets just to shield us a bit from the weather, cursing that we didn’t have extra jackets or even different clothing with us. We also started to imagine that this trip along the twisty, winding, land-slide ridden road would end with us promptly getting on the next return bus to Bontoc after we got there.
To our amazement as we neared Banawe, the weather began to clear and by the time we got off, it was even somewhat sunny and quite warm. Whew—glad we had the shorts and t-shirts after all! We were met by Bon Bon, a local guide who we met the day before in Bontoc, and we went for coffee to discuss our options for sightseeing in the area. Really, our only expectations were to walk around a bit and admire and photograph the amazing rice terraces from afar, although treks through the fields were a common activity for visitors here. Bon Bon suggested that we could do a 1.5hr ‘walk’ through the rice fields starting from the highest viewpoint just off the road (we’d get a 'tricycle' there), downhill to Banawe centre, where we currently were. We voiced our concern about whether this would be suitable for the girls to do, and he said, ‘no problem, ma’am’. So off we went, excited for this unexpected opportunity. After all, it was all downhill and the terraces were just ‘right there’.
We set off from the viewpoint at 11am, down a steep flight of stairs. The thing about descending is that often it’s actually harder than ascending. It became very apparent that going down was not going to be as easy as we’d thought. And soon, it also became apparent that it wasn’t all downhill—in fact, we’d have to go up and down twice before the final descent into the town. But wait—there were even more surprises! The nice concrete steps, which were a mere 3 yrs old, eventually gave way to a muddy, rocky, fairly steep and slippery uphill scramble. There were many more of these to follow during the course of our ‘walk’, including the same going downhill. When we weren’t doing this, we were walking and balancing along the tops of ancient rice paddy walls, which were at times only 10cm wide and slippery too from moss, with rice paddies and irrigation channels on one side and sometimes sheer drops on the other. Maddy and Jim each slipped off once, luckily only suffering a wet foot as they fell into the ‘upside’ channel. At one point we had to cross the river via only a single steel beam bridge—Bon bon actually carried Yasmine on his shoulders for that, and again for the uphill scramble that followed. All the while, the sun beat down on us and sweat dripped off our foreheads.
|Looking down from the Viewpoint--notice the stairs on the left, and that's the town centre at top right.|
|See the stairs leading upwards from the botton left?|
|That's Bon Bon|
|This is how high it actually was!|
|One of the narrower ledges|
We finally arrived back in the town at 2pm, three hours after we started-- hot, sweaty and hungry! We thanked and paid Bon Bon (we really couldn’t have done it without him), grabbed a few sandwiches and got onto our very crowded bus. Fifteen minutes later as feared, the rains started to fall heavily.
Our ‘walk’ through Banawe Rice Terraces was certainly more like a trek, with a moderate degree of difficulty for us even if we didn’t have preschoolers in tow. Having proper hiking footwear would have probably helped give us better traction in the slippery and often steep terrain as we only had our Tevas on. The ‘Keens’ were definitely appropriate for the girls, and both were handy as we got our feet wet a few times (except Yasmine, whose shoes were not surprisingly dry and clean!). Interestingly Bon Bon only had on the typical Filipino footwear of choice: flip flops! For him, this really was a walk in the park. In spite of all this, it was a very special experience. It’s one thing admiring the rice terraces from afar, quite another seeing up close and being amongst it. The steepness of the terrain, coupled with the sheer vastness of the rice paddies and their age made us really admire the hard work of the ancient Ifugao engineers. We were so glad that we decided to this, albeit unwittingly and again, we’re so amazed by the abilities of our children.
|Village Women of Banawe|