12.26.2006 - 12.29.2006
Christmas last year (2006), my wife, two cousins, and myself embarked on a journey to visit a land among the mountains, the land of the Ifugaos.
Through the Philippine Tourism Authority, we have procured a travel package to see two Philippine tourist destination that are found off-the-beaten track. We took a 3-day/2-night travel package to see Banaue, Bontoc, and Sagada. The package includes transport from Banaue to Sagada and back via Bontoc, breakfast and a packed lunch for the Sagada trip, tour guide, accomodation, and some souvenirs.
Banaue is situated in the mountainous province of Ifugao, around 10 hour bus ride north of Manila. This is also the site of the majestic Banaue Rice Terraces which are rice paddies terraced on the mountain sides. These have been carved by the Ifugao tribes for thousands of years, even before the Spanish colonization. These are also composed of four UNESCO world heritage sites.
Only two bus companies offer trips from Manila and Banaue, Autobus and Dangwa. We opted to take Autobus from their España Blvd bus terminal. We got the 10pm trip. This was the only trip for the night and so it was packed by people mostly locals. We also noticed about 10 foreign tourists. Around 7am of the 26th, we arrived at the Banaue terminal. We took a tricycle to take us to our hotel, Banaue Hotel.
Banaue is in the midst of the Cordillera Mountain range about 6 hours away from Baguio City. It was very foggy when we came and it was cold, about 16 degrees Celcius. You'd feel like walking among the clouds.
We noticed that some of the passengers of the bus we took are checking in the same hotel. Anyways, Banaue hotel is maintained by the Philippine Tourism Authority. After getting settled in our hotel, we decided to have a walk and do a little shopping. We went to one of the viewing point in the area which was south of the hotel. It is about 15 minutes tricycle ride passing by the town's center.
While my group does their shopping from replicas of idols to local food, I went on taking pictures of the place. The view was awesome, breath-taking. The Ifugaos really did a great job on carving the whole mountain range into stair-like rice paddies.which starts from below to the tip of the mountains. On the viewing area, there are some old Ifugao locals there sitting on the ground and chewing their betel nut. We thought of taking a picture with them which they are happy to do so. We rented some head-dresses, adorned with rooster feathers to match their outfit. It was a great picture with them and a partial view of their ancestral farming area. Each head-dress costs Php10 (US$0.25) for picture taking. We also just gave the Ifugao women some cash for taking the picture with us.
After that, we walked back to the hotel to meet our tour guide who brought us to 4 different viewpoints within Banaue. Each featuring a great vantage point of this centuries old rice terraces. Our last destination of the day was in the Banaue Museum which is just in a private house. The museum faces a whole mountain side of terraced rice paddies. One thing that we noticed and quite felt sad was that many of this rice areas are not longer tilled by the Ifugaos. Vegetation has already taken up some of the older planting areas. This was, according to the museum curator, due to economic concerns where the young Ifugao no longer dream of planting rice but instead go to the cities to work or just work as tourist people. The place is getting endangered as years passed by. Also the curator showed us an old picture of the terraces which was taken by its discoverer where you'd see the whole mountain terraced without any other vegetation. And it is more vast unlike today where vegetation and population has taken over some of the old planting areas.
After our long viewpoint hopping, we went back to our hotel and took some rest. And that night at 8pm, a tribal show was performed at the lobby area. The local Ifugaos performed different dances from war dances, to courting dances, to wedding dances. It was a great experience. They also encouraged their visitors to join them in their dances.
On our next day, we continue our tour to Sagada in Mountain Province. This will be on my next blog. On our last day, we decided to walk to the Ifugao village just behind the hotel. There we were able to walk into the rice fields and talk to the locals there. They also let us wear their tribal costumes and take a picture with the skeleton of their elder.
Anyways, if we had time, I wish we could have gone to the Batad section of the rice terraces. According to people and travel guides, it is a lot more beautiful and a lot more preserved compared to the view sites that we went to near the town of Banaue. We didn't opt to take it because it would entail us to walk for an hour and a half to get into the site. Anyways, there's always a next time.
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