AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Two Day Trek via Pula

Despite a bad night’s sleep we were up at 6:45am the next morning ready for an early breakfast and departure. By 7:30am we were packed and ready to go. Our ‘guide’ turned up on time and was waiting for us. We had a 3L of water each in our hydration sacks and I was carrying 2x1L bottles of water as well.

We set off across the top of the rice terraces looking down the hillside at the water covered hill as if it was a perfectly natural thing. An amazing sight.

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The walk to Campulo was quite nice. Plenty of rice terraces to walk through and good scenery. Only the heat was making this walk difficult. It only took 1hr 45minutes to reach Campulo, we were there for 9:30am, but we had already drunk both of the water bottles due to the heat.

We were told that we would probably reach Pula around 2pm but everyone would be out in the fields working until at least 4pm, so we should eat plenty before setting off. We sat down to eat our second meal of the day; a huge pancake each and jam that was more like treacle, washed down with a can of Coke. It wasn’t even 10am! After our second breakfast we stocked up with another 2x1L bottles of water and headed out of the village and into the heat.

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After Campulo there was a short amount of flat ground over the rice terraces surrounding the village, then we started climbing. We spent the next two hours heading in an uphill direction. Some sections had a short number of steps, other sections involved what felt like never ending steps. The most surprising thing about this section of the walk was that although we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and totally isolated it was the exact opposite. There were people everywhere, working in the fields, walking between villages, some were just sitting around by the path and others looked like they might be going hunting. After an extremely long set of steps our guide announced that from here on it would be flat. We were very relieved to hear that.

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On the flat the walking was pretty easy going. The heat made it very sweaty work but the views were rewarding. Also, been almost a mile above sea level reduced the air temperature by something like 5-8′c, making it bearable. At a lower altitude this would have been horrible.

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Our guide was in front leading the way, with Annemarie close behind. He spent large lengths of time complaining that other guides made more money than him. He was saying that other guides might charge P600 per person in groups of 6, making them lots more money. We know most guides work for companies and the guides get a share of the money not the whole money, 20% we’d been told, so in that scenario a guide would get around P700 for a group of 6. We were paying him P800 for only two of us, so he seemed better off. Annemarie said this but he just kept on complaining. All the other guides had official badges and were ‘proper’ guides (although what that means is unknown as the training and benefits for tourists aren’t explained), he was just a tout who grabbed tourists that hadn’t bothered to get a guide. He told Annemarie he had a badge, but his had no expiry date because he’d scored so high in the class. Hmmm… He was also obsessed with this nearby mountain. The previous day he’d been talking to a Filipino guy and mentioned the mountain, when asked if he’d even been up the guide shook his head. The next day he was telling us about all the people he’d led up the mountain and only stopped talking about the mountain to complain about his pay. After our breakfast of pancakes he was suddenly telling us about how he carried flour to the summit so he could make pancakes for his groups up there. I got bored of these tall tales and dropped back (luckily bad hearing means just a few metres back and I can’t hear a word). Poor Annemarie and her good hearing…

We sat for a while in a shelter to cool off, drink and rest. It was here that our guide told us he would be turning back and we would go on alone. There were no more splits in the path or wrong turns to make, the path went directly to the village with zero chance of getting lost. I’m sure a proper guide would have made sure we reached our destination safely, but we didn’t have a proper guide did we! Oh well, he’d done what we paid him to do, to show us the route to Pula. We handed him the P800 as agreed. He counted it, then counted it again and again. When he finally realised we had paid exactly what we agreed and offered no tip he looked rather disappointed. I dislike tipping, why agree on a price (especially when haggling the price down so aggressively) then pay extra? Also why only tip certain professions and not others? (I never tip a checkout person in a supermarket even though they earn the same as a waitress who usually gets lots of tips.) Anyway, zero tip and off we walked.

Pula may have been ‘just around the corner’ but it was one hell of a corner. It took over an hour to get there. People in the West may complain about the commute to work but spare a thought for these people. Many of the fields were an hour or more away from the village, up and down steep steps, across rivers and along narrow paths. The villagers walk this everyday, often with heavy loads on their backs. We sit in a car and complain at not moving, whilst sitting still, radio on, air con on, in a comfortable seat.

As the path approached the village the houses in the village appeared higher and higher up the hillside. An old woman, bent over double carrying a sack almost the same size as her, indicated the route up to the village. The final climb was about 30m up the hillside into the village. It was like a ghost town, almost totally deserted. We walked through the village looking for the only guesthouse in town, the blue house at the top of the village. The paths zigzag around the houses which are perched on the slope and after a few minutes we were stood on front of the blue house. It was about 2pm, there was no-one around and the sun was blazing hot. We sat down in the shade and waited.

We had been sat there for a good few hours when an old looking woman came up to the house. She went upstairs them came back and gestured that we take our stuff up. The house was good, all wooden inside. Just a bed, big blankets and a little window, that was all we needed. A hunt for a shower produced no results. We asked the old lady and she gestured to the toilet room. Oh, there’s only a single cold water tap in that room. So we made do and washed under the cold water tap.

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The old lady (no idea what her name is) was cooking something. No choice with the menu here. We’d been told life here was basic, without electricity, hot water and the food would be rice and vegetables. That sounded fine to us and we were prepared. The 3L of water in our hydration sacks were for the next day because we couldn’t get water here (bottled that is. If we needed water it would have to be boiled). We sat down and were served as as massive plate of rice (enough for 4 maybe) and a bowl of something like watercress and garlic. Washed down with tea. A very simple but nice meal. By 7pm it was dark and two lightbulbs powered from batteries charged by the solar cells on the roof lit the room. With nothing to do we went to read for a bit then early to sleep.

We slept OK and woke around 7:30am; early for us but probably very late for the locals. Breakfast today was a huge pancake and more treacle like jam washed down with more tea. About 8am we were ready to set off.

We could see the path winding around the hillside and up and over the ridge opposite the village. So we set off, legs and knees aching slightly from the day before. Around the corner the path descended a long way down to a stream, then immediately back up the other side. Then, what had looked like a gentle slope from the village suddenly felt a whole lot steeper and a good deal longer. By the time we reached the top of the ridge almost an hour had passed and we were once again soaked with sweat.

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Sat in the shelter looking over the village we had a choice of 3 paths. We picked the path which seemed to be the most used and went in roughly the correct direction. After 15 minutes we met some men cutting wood and asked them if this was the correct path. Nope! This is the path back to Campulo (on the other side of the valley to the path we’d used the day before). So we turned around and walked back uphill to the shelter. Another 5 minute break to cool off and we followed the path which is also roughly in the correct direction but looked less used. After about 5 minutes the path became almost unusable with thick bushes and landslips, so yet again we turned back. By process of elimination the final path must be the correct one. The path set off in what felt like the wrong direction but very soon turned on itself as it curled around the hillside, demonstrating just how difficult navigating through this area can be.

There would be no more rice terraces between here and the main road, we were in the forest. As we walked there was a rustle in the bushes, Annemarie looked and saw a large green and black snake slithering up the almost horizontal slope to get out of our way. It’s a good job the snake doesn’t know that we are more afraid of it than it is of us. After this, every rustle and leaf movement carried a certain amount of paranoia of seeing a snake. We had been warned that snakes here are highly venomous and can kill. That’s rare though as they usually get well out the way and it’s unlikely to see any.

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The path climbed and climbed, constantly going uphill. Looking at the stats it showed that we were now 1,000m higher than we had been in Batad the day before. The walk was always on the edge of a drop, meaning we usually had good views down the valley but we also had to concentrate and not let the view distract us. We stopped a few times in the shelters to cool off and drink. Along the route we met a few groups trekking in the opposite direction. They were all French and all probably heading for Campulo. The restaurant/hostel in Campulo had many photos and postcards from French people so I think the French guide books heavily advertised the village and this walk. Looking at our stats showing the constant climbing I can see why everyone was walking the other direction, it must be quite a bit easier.

We passed over a piece of flat and open ground which I think was a flat ridge. When we entered the trees again we were descending and the view had changed. This section of path was wet and the stones and made it a bit slippery. Down we went crossing two rivers along the way. Then back up the other side. Then a track made of stone appeared, 5 minutes up that and the track became sealed. Phew! We were now tired and hungry and ready for a good rest. We followed the sealed track to the main road and realised just how far out of town we were. It was about 8 miles back to Banaue. The good news was threefold, this was a sealed road making walking easy, it was downhill all the way making it fast and there were restaurants at the viewpoints for us to rest and eat at.

At this point Randy texted me to check that we were on schedule and OK. That was a nice touch and shows just how lucky we had been finding a place like that with an owner who actually cared about his guests.

We ate and walked back to Banaue. We had many tricycle offers, but that would defeat the purpose of the walk. Walking down the road we heard a rustle in the bushes and there was a long thin black snake slithering away from us. Two snakes in one day is quite enough.

We both thoroughly enjoyed these two days. The accommodation and food may have been basic but the landscape certainly made up for it.

The whole route had been 19 miles which we completed in 11hrs over two days.

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Posted from Banaue, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines.

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