AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Banaue

We woke early to pack the bags and by 8am we were at The Yogurt House and ordering our favourite breakfast. You may think that been up and eating breakfast at 8am isn’t early and it probably isn’t when you think of a normal work day, but we don’t work (this is my 4th month of not working, Annemarie hasn’t worked in 7 months) and on this trip we don’t usually get up this early.

After breakfast it was a 5 minute walk uphill through Sagada, then a killer set of steps up to the guesthouse where we were meeting the others for the minivan. We arrived out of breath and sweating from this short walk. The others had got our note and were expecting us.

The drive to Banaue (pronounced Ba Na Way) was a quiet and comfortable ride. The driver (Lawrence) drove slowly, stayed on the correct side of the road most of the time and used the gears to come down the hill (almost the exact opposite of our bus driver on the way to Sagada). We chatted with the Swiss couple most of the way about what they were doing, what we were doing, difficulties of getting information about the Philippines, what we thought of the country and about back home. On the way Lawrence slowed down for us to see the bus which had crashed. After 9 days the bus was still at the bottom of the valley, its roof ripped off and looking very battered. A gouge in the hillside showed where it had fallen. The brakes had failed and 15 people were dead as a result.  A very sobering sight. It made me angry about the driver of the bus we’d taken to Sagada, he drove on the brakes, hitting them hard into most corners. After one long hill the brakes were producing a burning smell. He sped past the signs warning drivers to test their brakes. The Philippine attitude to safety seems to be that they have always driven like this and they are still alive so it must be OK. Many drivers cut blind corners with no thought about anything coming towards them, the Jeepney we were in drove like that and had to stop very suddenly a few times.

We arrived in Banaue in just under 2 hours, safe and comfortable. I had found a looked up accommodation a few days before and found a B&B on Trip Advisor which came with amazing reviews. The place was called Randy’s Brookside Inn and every review was full of praise for Randy, saying how helpful he was and how nice he was. After scrolling through only 5 or 6 reviews like that I had immediately texted Randy and reserved a room. I had basic directions from Wikitravel and took an educated guess on which way to go. We walked down the hill until we reached a school, Annemarie was now thinking we’d gone the wrong way so I tried to ring Randy for directions, he didn’t answer but I decided to continue down the hill anyway. Randy’s place was the next building after the school.

The reviews were accurate about Randy. After showing us round he recommended a walk that would take most of the afternoon. He said he knew we’d have more questions about what to do in the area but he was anxious for us to get going as the walk would be long and we had to be back before dark as the terraces are dangerous to walk on on daylight and deadly in the dark.

We set off walking up the road and past the viewpoints of Banaue rice terraces. The rice terraces in this area are 2,000 years old and 5 of the terraces are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The terraces at Banaue are the most famous but aren’t actually UNESCO listed because of the modern structures around them. It took us 1hr and 10minutes to get to the final viewpoint. The view down the valley was pretty good.

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From here we went down the steps beside the viewpoint. Lots of steps down into the valley. After a few minutes we passed a house with a guy sitting outside. He started telling us about how dangerous the terraces are and how we need a guide to safely navigate them. He offered his services for P550 and his 12 year old kid for P350. We only needed to be shown the route, we didn’t need someone to give us a helping hand so we took the kid. His English was OK and we could have a few basic conversations with him but nothing much. The kid was able to walk across the terrace walls and up steep steps and slopes with no issue, whereas we were struggling and sweating. We walked up an almost vertical muddy slope then along pieces of concrete the narrower than the width of our shoes.

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This was where we struggled. We followed the irrigation channels around the hillside, walking on the concrete wall of the channel. In places the channel had fallen down the hill, sections were extremely narrow and we struggled to stay on the wall. In other places the irrigation channel had been widened and so were nice and easy. We then reached an innocuous looking section of hillside, a wide mud path with a drop of about 20m on the edge. A wooden cross marked the site. This was where someone had slipped off the path the week before and died.

We continued round the hillside on the dirt path. It was wide enough to walk normally and the kid kept up a fast pace. Then suddenly I slipped, straight off the path went my right leg dragging the rest of me down and off the path and onto the almost vertical slope. Luckily, I’d grabbed out with my left arm and had been able to hold myself from going down the slope. As I’d slipped I’d yelled and Annemarie ran very quickly and grabbed my arm to help haul me back onto the path. A very lucky escape from what could have been a very serious accident. My hands were shaking for a few minutes afterwards and I did my best to block out the thoughts of just how close a call that was…Three reminders of the fragility of life in one day is more than enough and from here we went a bit slower and a lot more carefully (although the kid seemed unfazed).

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We got back to Banaue 2hrs after setting off from the viewpoint. And went back to Randy’s to shower and change out of our sweat soaked, stinking clothing. We ate at the Sansafe, one meat dish, one vegetable dish to share.

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Back at Randy’s we asked his advice about Batad. My plan had been to get the 3pm Jeepney from Banaue then have two nights in Batad, one being because we would arrive late, then the next day we would walk around Batad, spend the second night there and come back to Banaue the following morning. Randy pointed out that we would have a 45 minute walk from ‘the saddle‘ down into Batad and the Jeepney would not leave until it was full. The timing was a bit hit and miss and that would also leave us hanging around Banaue with little to do all day. He suggested a more interesting itinerary, we pay more but hire a tricycle early in the morning, get to the saddle early and reach Batad by 11am ish. Then spend the rest of the day around the rice terraces of Batad and see the waterfall. Then we walk up the valley to a village called Pula and spend the night there. The final day we walk from Pula to the main road and walk back to Banaue. He told us the first part was easy but the second part around Pula was more tricky and we’d probably want a guide to tell us which path was the correct one. He told us what price a guide would ask for and how low a guide would go with good haggling. This was something I hadn’t considered but it sounded exciting. A great way to combine seeing the area up close and having a good trek through the river terraces and a bit of jungle. With the decision made we went to bed early in preparation for another early morning.

Photos of the rice terraces can be seen here.

Posted from Banaue, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines.

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