Monday, March 10, 2014

Banaue, Philippines - Ancient Engineering

I'm not sure what the feeling is or where it comes from, but sometimes I wake up and I have an overwhelming urge to write - something...anything. I was considering breaking out my quill and parchment (neither of which I have) and writing a manifesto of sorts (I'm not entirely sure what a manifesto even is), but then I thought to myself, "Chris...you have a blog that you've been neglecting for about a year, why not write there?" And here I find myself, one hour later, more excited than a person reasonably should be on a Sunday afternoon. I'll tell you, this writing thing ain't so bad.

Firstly, I want thank myself for taking such diligent notes throughout my Southeast Asian travels. I guess that's a tad self-indulgent, but really. At times, it was a little bit of a thankless and monotonous sort of task, but it's certainly worth it in hindsight. Well done, Chris from 2012. There are many places that I haven't written about that I have desire to write about, but there is one place in particular where I felt it was long overdue. That place is none other than the famed Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

Thumbs up for rice terraces

Located in the province of Ifugao, the Banaue Rice Terraces were apparently largely built by hand approximately 2000 years ago. They are still used today for farming, and I imagine they've remained just about as impressive as they were in their infancy. I remember feeling consistently baffled at the sheer breadth of the terraces, not to mention what an engineering feat this is. I also remember being positive that Bri and I had made the right choice in taking the long, trying bus ride north of Manila. (Note: The Banaue Rice Terraces is what the region is called, and consists of many different terraces that I'll reference such as Ifugao, Batad etc.)

We left Manila well fed and in good spirits after staying at our friend Dante's house. We had met him in Korea through friends, and I think it's fair to say that his family showed us some of the most incredible hospitality known to man. I still have the urge to send Dante and his family thank you cards every day - they were just that amazing. Simply put, they made Manila for Bri and me. Anyway, I'll have to write about all that good stuff another time. We got on a freezing night bus around midnight, and tried to catch some sleep on the way to Baguio. At this point, sitting upright in cold, questionable buses didn't deter me all that much from catching a few minutes sleep. I have become rather well versed in sleeping under uncomfortable and peculiar circumstances over the years.

We arrived in Baguio as the sun was rising, and walked to the bus station, which was really just an open garage covered in oil slicks and emanating smells I hadn't yet realized existed. Throwing our belongings into a cramped van, we took off for Banaue. The views  - incredible,  the drive - treacherous. There were 11 people in the van, and 5 people puked at some point during the ride. That should give you some indication as to just how winding the roads were. But, like I said, the views were all kinds of breathtaking.


Banaue is just about as nestled into the hills as a town can be. It has a population of 20,000 or so, and it feels like most of that population is busy servicing the tourist demands of people looking to view the terraces, specifically the Batad Rice Terraces. We ended up staying at Uyami's Greenview Lodge. Now, I probably wouldn't recommend it, but it did the trick. Our room was, um, cozy we'll say, and I seem to recall that the lights weren't always functional and the lack of hot water was conducive to waking up abruptly in the morning, ready for the day. Hey, I'm not picky. I never have been, and I sincerely hope I never lose that attitude. Because, in truth, it's not all that fun to write about being pampered at one five star resort or another. That's clearly why we stayed in some places with an awful lot of character along the way (emphasis on awful). It had nothing to do with our budget and dwindling savings, of that you can be sure.

We hopped into the back of yet another jeepney, which struggled mightily on rugged back roads that are a staple of the more rural areas of the Philippines. I still actually prefer these roads to the well-paved roads complete with deadlock traffic that Manila is famous for. Apparently, the Batad Rice Terraces are more impressive around March (when they're a little greener), but I was in awe during my August visit. The day was primarily spent hiking around the terraces, complete with a stop (and freezing cold swim) at the Tappia Waterfalls.


There were about eight of us in all who went on the hike, and I don't think anyone was let down in the slightest. Truthfully, it was (and remains) one of the highlights of any travelling I've ever done. Period. I'm writing this quite a bit of time after the fact, but these images remain with me, with astonishing clarity.

Back in Banaue, I spent the day or so that I had left just walking and observing, which is one of the most enjoyable ways you can experience a destination as far as I'm concerned. The Batad "ampitheatre" (picture 4 of the grouping above) is world famous, but the Ifugao Terraces that surround Banaue are equally incredible, at least in my humble opinion. So, I walked from one viewpoint to another, listening to music, writing, taking photos, pondering, wandering.


 As much as I adore the grandiose views of sprawling scenery, I have certainly come to appreciate the views that you won't find in a travel brochure. I'm talking about scenes that speak volumes about how you experienced the place and not just what you experienced. I was walking down one road in particular where I spoke to a little girl for a moment. As I walked away, I decided to take a farewell picture to maybe get one last smile from her. With the sun beaming overhead, she just stood there and gave me this quizzical glance. These are the things I want to remember.


Every time you visit a place, you take some of it with you, and shed off a layer of ignorance. I think that's why I'm so deeply invested in travel, as a way of life and experiencing the world. The Banaue Rice Terraces in particular have definitely stayed with me, as did much of my time in the Philippines. In the end, we boarded another cold, dark night bus, and allowed Banaue to become an everlasting memory.

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