Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Destination: Banaue Rice Terraces (Philippines)


The Banaue Rice Terraces. The so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World." Massive rice terraces constructed by hand over thousands of kilometers of steep elevation. These were the number one destination that our group wanted to see in the Philippines, and they did not disappoint.

Banaue


We began the morning with a quick motorcycle ride up to Banaue, which was the main town near the Ifugao rice paddies. Walking into the tourist center, we were promptly informed that the most popular section, Batad, was unreachable due to a mudslide earlier that morning. Unperturbed, we referenced this handy dry-erase map and decided on going to Hapao, which is a barangay (village) within Hungduan. 

We were discussing our travel options over breakfast at a local establishment entitled "Las Vegas," replete with Elvis posters and American flags. Alena, who is from the Czech Republic, suddenly wanders over to the other occupied table in the restaurant, where two girls were chatting in some language. Remarkably, these two were also Czech, and they decided to join our motley crew for the next two days. With our 6 person team complete, we hired a driver and guide and hit the mountains.



The rice paddies were better than advertised. Postcard-worthy views appeared at every turk. Everything was green, with pearly gray clouds brooding over the peaks of the mountains.

Constructed more than 2000 years ago, the terraces serve as a testament to the hard work of many people, both in the design and later in the planting of the paddies. Families continue to make their livings off of the rice paddy production, planting and collecting the rice every year. The Ifugao region had not been replanted yet, so many of the paddies were filled with water, as can be seen above. 

Hapao Hot Springs
Our guide took us through a winding tour of the paddies, explaining the history as we gaped at the countless terraces carved into the mountainsides. Clouds began to roll in as we approached the far end of the tour, but luckily a surprise awaited the brave traveler who had finished this leg of the journey - a natural hot spring! This small pool had heated water that came from some subterranean river, and it was a great relief to relax in it. Soon enough, the rain broke free from the heavens, and our return trip was much quicker and less photo-friendly.

Upon returning to the road, the rain had evolved into a deluge that made driving along the mountain rather treacherous. Remember how part of the area was blocked off because of a mudslide? We were pretty lucky that we didn't get trapped in a similar fashion. About 75% of the roads were unpaved, and thus giant slosh pits after any rainfall. Our fearless driver powered through with his Jeepney, which made use of its massive metal exterior to wade through any obstacles. We arrived in Bontoc for the night, and aimed at catching an early morning Jeepney ride to our final destination.

Pictures pictures pictures:

Awkward family photo. From the left - Alena, Tom, Jitka, Sam, me, and Eva




The natural beauty of the region is hard to fully comprehend. Clouds wandering among the mountaintops, mists rolling in over the forests, it was a magical experience to experience nature here. 

But the journey didn't end here! Last stop - Sagada. Tune in next time.

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