3/27/07

Batad, Philippines



The long journey to Batad, high up here in the Cordillera, began at the Autobus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila at 10 p.m. last night. There were several foreigners traveling with us on the bus. The first row was occupied by the bus conductor and the relief driver who was already asleep (complete with pillow and blanket!) Harley and I were seated right behind them, our seats already pre-reserved after I called the Autobus office two weeks ago.


Having been warned about the Autobus' arctic airconditioning, I had my Polartec fleece on . Trust me, it is really cold inside this bus. I popped a capsule of Benadryl to help me sleep and by the time we reached the first stop in Bulacan, Harley had to wake me up so I could stretch and use the restroom. There were actually several of these stops along the route as we passed by the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. At 6.a.m., we finally reached our last stop in Banaue, in the province of Ifugao.


Tired and sore on the butt after eight hours on the road, my first agenda was to book our return trip to Manila with Autobus on Thursday early evening (3/29/07). The return tickets cost less here, only 362 pesos per passenger after discounts were given. I surveyed the remaining passengers still milling around the bus terminal hoping I could get other travellers to share the cost of hiring a jeepney to the "saddle" where the one-hour hike to Batad starts. A fellow approached me and offered his van for 1800 pesos all the way to the "saddle". We have the option of taking the much cheaper tricycle which goes up only to the "junction" where the hike to Batad is a longer two-hours. I told the guy we'll decide after taking our breakfast.

We went to Stairway Lodge & Restaurant, a concrete structure perched perilously on a mountainside with a good view of Banaue and the river below. John, a young Australian backpacker sat with us on our table. He's been in the Philippines for the last seven weeks. I told him about the cost of sharing transport to the "saddle" but he's bent on chilling out first in Banaue before going to Batad. That's fine, this mate truly wants it solo all the way. But then, he pointed his finger at a van that has fallen into the river down below us. I found out later that this accident happened only the night before. Hmm, is this an indication of driving skills around here?

Behind our table sat two pairs of young Filipino backpackers who travelled from Manila on the Autobus but are actually intent on going to Sagada: Ramir & Mario and the married couple Harvard and Giselle. What shocked them though was the cost of hiring a jeepney to Sagada - more than 3,000 pesos for just the 4 of them. I offered them the alternative of seeing Batad instead and then taking the public transport to Sagada the next day via Bontoc. After discussions amongst them were made, they decided to hit Batad today and leave for Sagada tomorrow. Which means there's now 6 of us to share the 1800 pesos needed to hire the van. I didn't tell them though about the van that fell into the river.



From Banaue to the "saddle", it's around 12 kms. over bumpy dirt road. I could feel the van groaning like a man sitting on a toilet battling constipation. By the time we reached the "saddle", the sun was already high up in the sky: Time to bring out the sunblock. It's an hour of downhill trek from the "saddle" all the way to Batad. Most of the trail is exposed and we didn't bother hiring a guide. Thankfully, there were huts along the route serving as resting stops where vendors sold bottled water and Gatorade to thirsty, sweaty hikers.



After an hour, we reached the ridge overlooking a truly impressive sight: The rice terraces of Batad. Looking down at this giant stairway to the skies made all that effort of coming down here more worthwhile. This amphitheatre of natural beauty was built more than 2000 years ago by the skillful hands of the Ifugao, thus oftentimes called the "eighth wonder of the world". What's sad to note however is that many of the young generation of Ifugao are not into farming anymore. Most of them prefer to go to school in Bontoc or Baguio hoping they'll get better jobs after. There's concern now over the preservation of the terraces. In some areas, you can actually see erosion resulting from lack of care. Another concern is the rising number of houses being built around the area - I understand that shelter is a basic need but can't they make it the traditional way to blend with the terraces? As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Batad and the other rice terraces in the area truly deserve government attention.



I asked for available rooms at the Hillside Inn and Restaurant as I've read in a guidebook that they have rooms with gorgeous views. Luckily, there were 3 rooms available which we took for only 150 pesos per person. The rooms are downright basic but Hillside Inn exude warmth and character. Besides, where else can you get rooms so cheap with views to die for? Manang Vilma, the friendly caretaker, also happens to be the cook so we ordered our lunch before embarking on our trek to Tappia falls.



After resting and "re-fuelling", we got Mang Elyo, one of the villagers, to guide all of us to Tappia falls for 300 pesos (as opposed to the scum from Banaue who wanted us to pay him 200 pesos each). The trek to the falls actually involve traversing the terraces - which meant balancing ourselves in those narrow paths and making sure we don't fall into the mud - and negotiating a steep descent down the mountainside and following the course of the riverbank until the unmistakable roar of Tappia falls loom into view.

It's a wonderful sight to see the thundering cascade of the falls. The water looks so inviting but I couldn't take the frigid temperature. I was content soaking my tired feet in the cold water and just gawking at the others gleefully combating hypothermia while swimming in the natural pool. The sun was shining so brightly and foreigners in swimsuits sunbathed among the boulders while we Pinoys, as usual, hid in the shade (afraid of getting darker?).



All this beauty that I saw was somehow cut short by a glaring eyesore: trash. Mind you, I saw non-biodegradable bottles of Gatorade dumped near the trail to the falls. When I asked the lady selling drinks along the path, she just shrugged her shoulders saying "di kasi maibenta ang bote ng Gatorade eh" (Gatorade bottles can not be sold back). I am so disturbed at this. The rice terraces are already being threatened by a lack of maintenance and an alarming rise of non-traditional houses, I can't believe that the presence of trash has made the situation worse. I strongly urge the village council in Batad to look into this. They know very well that tourism earns money for the people of Batad.

On our climb back to Batad, I find it amusing that we have to go through someone's backyard. Obviously, the friendly local folks don't mind as they must have seen trespassers all the time. We passed by Mang Elyo's home to find his wife actually doing the traditional weaving while tending to their store selling souvenirs. We bought some souvenirs from Mang Elyo's store.



At the Hillside Inn, the prospect of taking a cold shower confronted me. All that walking made me sweaty and smelly and I wanted to freshen up. Showering here though meant using the tabo or dipper to get the water from the plastic barrel. With enough determination, I sprinkled myself with the water and prayed I'll never scream. I did. Brrrr!

For dinner, we had pizza at Simon's, another walk up and down the ridge, not really very far away. Across our table, the fading light showed the grandeur of the rice terraces in another way that we could not describe. Meanwhile, the cicadas down the forest have started singing their nightly chorus. Ahh, what a nightlife!

12 comments:

  1. Ria Mendoza3:28:00 AM

    I am very happy reading your blog about your experiences on the places you've been. I am most interested with your expedition to Banaue, Bontoc, Batad and Sagada. Some 10 years ago I experienced the same adventure. Actually, I never realized that that adventure will turn my life in something else. I decided to join my friends for a 2 weeks adventure ride to the same destination as you did. I thought its the best time to think and re assess myself before entering the convent to fulfill my vocation as nun. I thought that escapade will bring me peace of mind and I will be able to discern more about my entering the convent. I was accompanied by my priest friends and some close friends also. However, without me knowing my priest friend has asked his friend to join us in this adventure. He was an experienced mountain trekker. He had explored Banaue, Bontoc and Sagad several times.He will be of great help to us to enjoy the trip. I never thought that this trip will change my life forever. During this 2 week experince in Sagada made me realize the beauty of nature and made me realize also that I will not ready to enter the life that I thought I woould be happy. To make the long story short, Sagada made my life different. I never thought that I will meet there the guy who I think is my soul mate and my destiny. Now after 8 long years of being married, we always share the beauty and the serenity of Sagada where we first met. I hope to visit it again with our children when we get back to the Philippines.

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  2. Hi Ria,
    Thanks for sharing your story. The Cordillera is a place where nature is bound to touch our lives once we set foot there. It opens our eyes to many possibilities. In your case, it paved the way to finding what you really want in your life - you ultimately became a wife and a mother. Hope you and your family can visit the Cordillera again.

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  3. glad i read your blog about batad. my nephew and i are planning an adventure trip there next week. hope you could give us more tips on batad.

    thanks!

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  4. Hi Odie,
    The trail to Batad is exposed so make sure you have sunblock and wide-brimmed hat. Accomodation is very basic but rustic, all costing 150 pesos per person, whether that's at Hillside Inn, Rita's or Simon's. Ask for the room overlooking the terraces. Bring slippers for taking a bath and flashlight for that midnight trip to the loo.

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  5. It is interesting story.I hope to visit the Cordillera too in my life.But now I haven;t time,because I work in Van Hire company.I like my job and advice to you .We have a good prices and good services.

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  6. hi dennis ! came across your blog and totally enjoyed reading your adventures ! what fun ! nakakaingit ka ! my husband and i will be visiting batad, sagada ang baguio this july, hopefully it won't rain so much. Do you think one day in batad is enough? please email me back. Thanks in advance !

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  7. Hi Gemma,
    I recommend you stay at least a night in one of the guest houses to be able to fully appreciate its beauty especially early in the morning while having breakfast! I do hope it doesn't rain once you get there.

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  8. thank you. So one day for batad, one for sagada and another day for baguio then. Hopefully we can cover the amazing places you visited there.

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  9. hi dennis,
    just to let you know we had a great time in batad, sagada and caramoan ! we were so fortunate that the weather was just perfect ! thanks so much for all the tips ! I enjoy reading your adventures ! Your blog is very informative, your pics amazing. What kind of camera do you use?

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  10. Hi Gemma,
    Glad to know you enjoyed your trip. I use a Nikon D80. Thanks for dropping by again!

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  11. Ive also visited these places and Im still wanted to rediscover them in the future, especially spending nights at the centre of the rice terraces.

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  12. Im making my DIY Iti for Batad..
    Is the autobus terminal teh same as the Ohayami bus that offers trip to Banaue?

    Your post is really helpful..
    Its an honest account of what can be expected of the trip. :)

    ReplyDelete

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