The 12 hour bus ride, heading north on the island of Luzon (the most popular island in the Philippines) was bearable. But arriving in Banaue is a giant breath of fresh air.
I quickly forget the stifling atmosphere of Makati, a suburb of Manila, as the pristine green landscape unfolds before me. After paying the local environmental fee Peter and I, a polish traveler I met on the bus, hire a tricycle-motorbike to take us to the trailhead of Batad.
Banaue is known for its thousands of years old rice terraces. Having been stamped a Unesco world heritage site brings in the tourist droves, thankfully it is not peak season.
Batad is a village adjacent to Banaue that is only accessible by foot. After an easy 20 minute walk we arrive. On first site it is reminiscent of the quant and remote towns along the Annapurna Circuit I just completed in Nepal. The view is of a valley dominated by steeped terraces, now bright green thanks to all of the recent rain. We navigate the narrow paths between houses and huts until arriving at the Batad View Inn.
Despite having spent the night on the bus we are eager to start exploring. I am foolhardy enough to attempt a run. After unpacking and a quick meditation Peter and I head off, our first stop the Tappiya water fall.
Steep and narrow paths made of concrete weave there way through the terraces. This hampers my ability to run although I test my fitness on the stairs going up and down the hills ridges. Arriving at the booming waterfall it is all I can do to quickly strip to my shorts and jump into the cold water.
The weather here is humid and hot, the fresh water is a welcomed relief. After my swim I decide to go up towards the view point before heading back to the Inn. I reach the top quickly and decide to follow a sign that says “Cambulo 3km.” I start the ascent and find some deceivingly stable dirt path to run on. After tripping twice I revert back to walking. The trail tops out on a road after an hour and I get a view of another rice terraced village below, presumably Cambulo.
That evening back at the inn I meet a middle aged couple from England. They have been traveling for almost a year and plan to be traveling for a while longer. While sharing their stories they reveal they actually trekked here from the direction of Cambulo, having stayed in another remote village called Pula. They also mention some nearby hot springs in a rice terrace valley called Hapao. Both of those prospects are apeling and I decide to write them into my itenarry.
After another day in Batad, including a step hike to another view point and an accompaniment of rain and thunder on my way down, I start my trek towrds Pula. In Cambulo I get lost in a haphazard network of foot paths, each dead ending at a decrepit hut or rice terrace. Eventually I work my way through a maze of terraces, careful not to distrub any of the crop, I cross the river (the same one that feeds the falls) and find the path towrds Pula. The rest of the walk is flat-ish and before arriving in the village I go for a quick dip in the river.
There is only one homestay in Pula and the owner tells me her family is using all the available space because Easter weekend is coming up. I end up in the spare room of another local. When I ask if she has any lunch, all the sustenance I am carrying with me is peanut butter and oats, she says in broken english there will be a community meeting and after a dinner.
We go to the town hall which doubles as the local one room school house. I take a seat in the back row and watch the room fill up. Before long the orator begins, all in Tegalug and Ifague, the national and local languages, respectively.
For two hours I listen to candidates vey for positions like council member and vice-mayor in the upcoming elections. I have to fight off yawns after an hour, only catching the occasional tegalug or english word. I do infer the word “Salamat” means thank you.
Thankfully the speeches are followed by short traditional dances. They are a sort of rythmic circle dance that closesly follows the beat of a steel drum pan. For the concluding dance I am invited up and sufficiently embarrass myself before sitting down as dinner is served; an ungodly mound of rice accompanied by a more humble bowl of chicken.
My hostess has to catch a bus the next morning meaning I was hiking by 6am. Soon after town I take a wrong turn adding an hour to the trek. The scenery changes into a tropical forest. Clouds dominate in this area. I pass a huge variety of trees and plants. Towards the end of my hike I pass at least a dozen different groups heading in the opposite direction. As usual I am doing the trail backwards.
I reach the road just after 10am and hitch a ride back to Banau before catching a jeepny ride to the area of the Hapao hot springs.
When I arrive at the trailhead it is drizzling. Right before heading off I am approached by a local guide. She tells me due to local ordinances I am required to hire a guide for my walk. I am a bit flumoxed. Having walked 1,500 miles in remote wilderness setting, without the help of a guide, you develop a sense of independence. I would have rathered paid her and still gone myself, but she insists I need someone, so I hire her.
The $10 is worth the price of the hot springs, the warm water soaking deep into my bones, the cold water of the adjacent river shocking me into relaxation. After a while we head down the valley to Victors house, my host for the night.
We spent the night singing and talking as we sip away at a 2×2, a rancid gin that is the local choice of drink. The next morning I go for one more soak before heading back to town. My next destination is north west, Sagada, a place known for its caves and hanging coffins.