05 June 2010

Backpacker Bliss

So I figured that it wouldn't be wise to just disappear into the night and not tell people how you are doing. So, this is my requisite "I am alive" post, to those who are reading this and might be concerned.

Anyway, I am here in Banaue, located in Ifugao province, somewhere in the middle of the Cordillera mountains. I don't understand the language that the people speak in, but when I speak in Tagalog, they understand me. I've been here since the morning of June 4, and will be here until tomorrow, when I head over to Sagada, in the next province over, Mountain Province. I will head there by way of Bontoc.

So unfortunately, I do not trust the Internet security in places such as these, so I will refrain from plugging my digital camera here and upload photos. Photos have to wait until I return to the city. I will post a well-needed photo blog entry once I get back. In the meantime, I will just post a narrative of what had happened in the last few days.

I started this trip on the night of June 3. I think that was a Thursday, yeah I think so. I boarded a 10:45 PM bus that was heading to Banaue, and it turned out that I was surrounded by three Danish ladies. Two in front of me, and one next to me. I thought they were Swiss German, as the language that they were speaking had traces of Germanic, and I could recognize the cognate words, so I asked whether they were Swiss German, but they told me that they were Danish. I should have known that, as I noticed the glottal stops all over the place, but forgot about it.

Anyway, the bus was so cold, and midway, I grabbed my fleece jacket from my bag. It was a good thing that I decided to put my bag inside the bus with me, instead of in the cargo hold underneath. Otherwise, I would have turned to an icicle come Banaue. We stopped once, somewhere in a long and winding road, at around 3:00 AM, and I had some hot instant noodles.

Upon reaching Banaue, I took a tricycle (this is a motorcycle with a passenger seat attached to the side) and told the person to take me to the center of town, where I searched for some lodging. That was no trouble at all. I asked to see the room first, and it looked decent, so I took it.

After putting down my stuff, I went hiking. I decided to see native villages among the rice terraces (which can be seen everywhere in town). I followed the directions in the guidebook, and refused to be accompanied by a guide. Plenty of local people offered their guiding services, but I figured that it wouldn't be needed. I also traversed the native villages, and the villagers kept asking me whether I wanted to see the bones of their ancestors. I was hesitant, and in the end politely refused. I thought that I see bones in museums all the time, I think it would be creepy if one brought out a box wrapped in cloth filled with ancestor bones. Although I think refusing the offer was a little impolite, in hindsight. I should brush up on my native Filipino ethics.

By traversing rice terraces and walking on little paths that followed irrigation canals, I reached Poitan Village from Tam-An Village. That was quite easy. I never minded the heights, although it was a little slippery. The paths usually doubled as borders of the rice terraces: there's a field of rice on one side, and the other was a steep drop to another field down below. Both are filled with irrigation water, so even though the drop isn't much, one will get really wet if one slips off. In other occasions, the one side is the face of the mountain, and the other is the rice paddy or just a sheer drop. It makes me wonder why I always find myself in situations like these, when a slip of the foot would lead to dire circumstances. This is the third time: one in Ecuador, a second in Peru, and a third here in the Philippines.

That was fine and dandy, but trouble started brewing once I reached Poitan. People were sparse, and so there were times in which there was a fork in the road and there was nobody to ask directions. I needed the main road to head to Matanglag, which is a village known for carving, which meant that I needed to head north. But with the clouds hiding the sun, and the paths curve like a snake every now and then, my sense of direction was kaputt.

Soon enough, I saw a boy. I asked for directions to Poitan, and that was when I learned that I already was in Poitan. Then came the wrong linguistic mistake. I asked for directions to the kalsada which roughly translated as road. So he lead me to a road. But this road turned out to be not the road that I wanted. This turned out just to be a dirt road that connected to the main road, which should have been referred to as the highway. Bad turn. They all assured me that I should just follow the road (dirt road) and I would reach Banaue in no time.

No time turned out to be hours and hours of walking. And it was hot too. And I didn't bring water with me, thinking that this was just a 45-minute hike. That was bad. I should never venture out without a bottle of water again. I should have remembered my adventures in Pisac.

So here I was, climbing up the face of a mountain with just a road to follow, and soon enough, my shirt was soaked with sweat. I saw a few native villages along the way, and they all had red teeth, from chewing betel nut. They all assured me that the highway was close.

After perhaps two hours of walking, my left leg suddenly malfunctioned. It just wouldn't move. I cramped. I sat on the side of the road. Then suddenly, a tricycle appeared. I asked him to take me back to the center of town, where my lodging was. So he did. As we were traveling on the highway, I noticed the kilometer posts, and wow, I was 4 kilometers away, which doesn't seem all that far, but given the terrain of up and down the road, it is tiring.

Wow. Lunch that day tasted the best lunch ever. And I just sat down in my hotel facing the rice terraces that afternoon, giving my legs a needed rest. Note to self: I need to hit the gym more regularly if I want to be physically fit to conquer the Annapurna or Mount Kinabalu.

The next day (today), I decided to visit the viewpoints of the rice terraces. A local fellow chatted me up the day before asking if I wanted to go there and therefore avail of his transport services. The price seemed right, so I told him to meet me at 9:00 AM. The transport turned out to be the backside of his motorcycle, so I clung to his back and he took me up and up the mountain road. There were four viewpoints in all, and the higher one goes, the better the view becomes. There were some native Ifugao people dressed in native clothing (which consists of loincloths) and I took some pictures of them. They also had chicken feathers on their heads.

So, after two days, I think I had enough of the town. I see a few foreigners here and there, although I don't think it's just a trickle compared to what Thailand gets. The Philippines should do a better job promoting its tourism. And I also saw reasons why this UNESCO World Heritage Site is put in the endangered list. There is evidence of erosion on the rice terraces, as the locals perhaps see tourism as a more viable means of living, than cultivating rice in the terraced paddies. I know, in a way, I am contributing to the demise of this place, but there are ways of conserving this cultural heritage as seen in other World Heritage Sites across the world, but unfortunately, the government here doesn't have its priorities straight.

So tomorrow, I leave Banaue for Sagada. It's time to change the scenery, from lush green rice terraces (whose grain I have been consuming for the past 2 days) to hanging coffins and spectacular caves.

(Brick Building, from my Bogotá, Colombia Series)


  1. So you are definitely in backpacking mode now! Can't wait to see the picture upon your return. It's probably wise to not plug your camera if you don't trust the internet there, we got a nasty virus last year this way in Tierra Del Fuego.

    Buses can be very cold... I made the mistake once of boarding a bus in shorts and tshirt and I froze overnight, even though it was in Panama I believe.

  2. Zhu,

    Yep! And yes, I figured that viruses can be a problem, given that these are public sites, and people everywhere use them. I'd rather wait until I get back home when I upload my photos.