I arrived in drizzling and foggy Banaue at around seven in the morning. I could see the steam from my breath and my balls were freezing. I checked in at People's Lodge, which had a great view of a valley and a number of minor rice terraces. I went to the visitor's information center to get some tips on how to get to Batad, the barangay where supposedly the rice terraces are at their best. Luckily I convinced two Germans to take me along with them by sharing the P1,800 rent for the jeep. Of course I could not remember their names (I have a weakness on that), so let's call them Hans and Fredric.
The road to Batad was muddy and totally rough. The jeep was pretty much perching on the sides of the mountains. One wrong serve and we'd end up way below the cliffs. As the fog began to lift, we were treated to an amazing view of the mountains extending towards the horizon. We arrived at the junction where we had to hike for about 30 minutes to reach Batad.
Our first stop was at the Batad viewpoint where a panorama of their famed terraces took my breath away. Shaped like an amphitheater, they form a bowl of terraces that reach towards the sky. Sitting at its cusp was a small farming village. From I could figure, it was not planting season during my visit. The paddies mostly contained mud and a few seedlings.
We took a hike down the sharp slopes where we passed through a series of paddies. I was awed at the thought that I was actually walking on the terraces themselves. Hundreds of years ago people who used only the crudest materials built a magnificent engineering feat that lived to this day.
Walking along the sides of the paddies was quite scary. For one, I did not want to disturb the serenity of the place. Another reason was that I felt that the terraces should not be experiencing unnecessary stress from merely curious tourists like us. So I tried walking as quietly as I could, taking minimal pictures, and stepping on the paddies like it was sacred ground.
Looking at pictures of the terraces, they appear like a set of stairs. But walking around them I discovered that they were humongous. Although varying in size, the width of each terrace (if they are called as such) was about the size of two buses or even more. And god, they were high. We walked along the walls where on one side was a precipice about ten feet high. Falling from them was not really an option. To go up and down from one terrace to another we stepped on protruding stones the size of my palm.
Along the way, we saw a few traditional houses that were composed mostly of roofs stading on stilts. Majority of the houses in Batad however are made of concrete and galvanized roofs. We came across an old woman garbed in traditional wear. I noticed tattoos decorating her arms. Aided with a tall walking stick she stooped close to the ground as she carefully managed across the terraces. She walked barefoot and I noticed how large her feet were. The toes were extraordinarily long and practically clung on the sides of the paddies.
The two Germans and I passed through village at the base of the terraces where people generously greeted us with their smiles. The children were particularly charming. We continued to cross the terraces until we reached the other end of the big "bowl". We started ascending using very steep concrete stairs this time. My companions effortlessly clambered on while I trailed behind. Eventually I stopped in the middle of the stairs because my heart was ready to pop out of my chest and I could hardly breath. From where I stopped, I took a few photos of the place, enjoyed the chilly breeze, and took in all the majestic view before me.
I set off to go back to the rented jeep that waited for us. The hike back was now going up the slope of the surrounding mountains. I experienced cramps on both of legs and I was out of breath. It took me twice the time to reach the outpost because I was resting every few minutes or so. We drove back to Banaue. I said goodbye to Hans and Fredric who caught the bus back to Manila that same afternoon (they were slated to go to Palawan, Pagsanghan, and Bohol within the next few weeks).
Having a couple of hours more before nightfall, I took a tricycle to take me to the viewpoint in Banaue. The fog was rapidly descending when we got there. My tricycle driver was nice enough to take a picture of me with the Banaue rice terraces in the background. I actually prefer the Banue terraces over the ones in Batad. The former were more dramatic because the hills were irregularly shaped. Of course I hated the hiking part of the Batad experience as well. In a few minutes a blanket of fog shrouded the entire terraces.
I went back to the hotel and had a quick shower courtesy of a kettle of hot water that I incorporated into the pail of freezing water. I realized it was already Christmas Eve. I called my parents in Surigao and had dinner at the hotel adjacent to mine. My body was totally sore from all the walking so I slept early. In the middle of the freezing evening I woke up to the singing in the nearby church.
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