Luzon wonderland

They are said to be the 8th world wonder: the rice terraces of Batad. No question I had to go and see this beauty / compare to the other world class rice fields I visited in Bali and Flores, Indonesia.

I looked up the north bound bus terminal in Manila and we actually made it there after 3 jeepney rides through this insane city. When we arrived at 8 they told us all tickets are sold out and the line for “stand-by” passengers almost reached the street already. The thing is, there’s no other way to go to the Baguio area during the day and the night busses are always booked out weeks in advance. This line was our best shot. There was one bus per hour and only a hand full of passengers with out a ticket could fit. We waited for hours, slept some time like a proper filipino, grabbed some buko juice (coconut water) and ate. We almost made the 2 o’clock bus but there was not enough space. The thing is people use these busses to move houses for example. They bring cartons of stuff, furniture, sacks of rice it was crazy… And what I don’t get until today is why for god’s sake those other people who know you have to book in advance come to the terminal with their kids at noon and fall in line at the very end without flinching. This is so filipino. Anyway, when the 3pm bus arrived we were first in line, assured of success. It turned out though they have only one seat left. I told the guy that was no problem we would share the seat. No I was literally begging him, desperately falling on my knees. After a lot of convincing they finally said yes and even gave us a little plastic “seat” they use for laundry. What we didn’t know was that the 5 seats of the back row were already occupied by 4 adults (2 of them obese) and 2 children. The other problem was that the bus ride takes around 6 hours to a bus terminal in the middle of nowhere from where we would have to take a 2 hour jeepney to Banaue, where I thought hour hostel was. We arrived at the town whose name I forgot – the last town with accommodation according to the driver – at like 10. Until then I was actually sleeping on the floor between the rows. Everybody celebrated me for being so filipino haha, including me. A woman even borrowed me something like a chair upholstery.

The next day we finally reached Banaue after two overland jeepney rides. There we were in this famous place that I read about many times and it looked awful. Even though it is a rather touristic place, people are so poor, like you usually don’t see it. I was honestly shocked. It turned out Banaue was not our final destination since we wanted to go to Batad. Before I thought it was one and the same… There is only one jeepney per day to go to Batad so we had to take a tricycle. Before that we – smart as we are – bought tickets for a night bus back to Manila two days later.

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The tricycle took us deeper and deeper in the mountains which was obviously exhausting for the little scooter. And then suddenly the guy stopped and said to us: sorry but I have to drop you her, I can’t go further with the tricycle. No problem, so we grabbed our backpacks and kept walking until the scoop: When we turned around the corner, the street ended. There was only an excavator and nothing. We were like “Is that a joke?”, I mean the whole trip was pretty bumpy so far… When we asked, they said: “just go there”, pointing at the excavator. And indeed, there was a trail next to the roadworks. After half an hour jungle trekking we actually saw signs of civilization. A few steps further and we overlooked what was too unreal to believe.

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Our hostel was literally in the middle of the Rice terraces of Batad. The air was clean and cool, people unbelievably friendly. We had the best time sitting on the balcony talking and enjoying this incredible view, with out internet or even signal. After sunset had turned the valley in light pink, I went straight to bed and had the best sleep in a long time.

After the sun waked us up the next morning we went out to explore. Someone has recommended us to go swimming in a river nearby. As we tried to figure out the way, a little boy came by and asked us where we wanted to go. We told him and with out another word he said “follow me”. We went all the way down using the little paths between the rice fields or “stairs” in between two floors. I don’t believe we would have even recognized the way with out him.

At the riverside, his friends were already there. It was so freaking hot, I couldn’t wait to dive into the clear water. I really feel like people from the mountains have a different mentality. The Ifugao people have a rich culture and are kind of an isolated minority in the country. Lowland filipinos even consider Ifugao an insult, because their skin is slightly darker. The communities are largely autarkic and they seem to not care about what is happening in the rest of the world. That’s why they didn’t care about our presence in their river or their backyard. When we climbed through the fields there was a 90 year old lady taking a shower under a pipe that waters the lower field. I had to pass her really close which was kind of awkward but she just didn’t care!

Batad is like a different world. There are no words to describe the view and the somehow healthy atmosphere. The air is so clean – coming from Manila – and all the food is organic. Not till the way back up I could realize the vastness of it all.

Batad with all his beauty will always have a special place in my memory. I really hope it’ll keep his character once the street is finished…

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