A highlight of the Philippines is the ancient rice terraces in the Cordillera Mountains north of Manila. They’re pretty far to the north; the island of Luzon is big. It takes an overnight bus to get to the small town of Banaue. It was a rainy, foggy morning when we arrived. There are mountains and terraces there, but it was impossible to see them with the fog. It was best to head to Batad.
From Banaue there are a few options, and the local guest house makes it easy. They will organize one, two, or even three night treks into the terraces. My group opted to hire a local guide to lead us to the village of Batad where we would spend just one night. I still regret only spending one night in this place.
The first part of the journey was via jeepney down the unfinished road. At this time the road was mostly mud, but road crews were busy working. Seeing construction like this always gives me pause. Of course the local people need paved roads and development. But as a tourist I want to visit remote, hard to get to places. Paved roads make life easier for the locals, but they also make it easier for tourists to get in. Maybe once the road is paved, Batad will be overrun.
But the road will never be able to go all the way to Batad. The terrain makes it impossible, and there will always be a hike in and back out. Once the jeepney dropped us at the junction, we hiked for three hours. The first couple hours were along a muddy road, and weren’t that scenic.
Eventually we entered a valley, and there were terraces going far up the walls. The fog had lifted, so we could see to the tops of the mountains. Our first destination was a little village, where we had lunch. After the simple lunch I wandered around taking pictures. The locals asked if I was spending the night. I wish I was. I had the time, so there was no reason to be in such a rush here.
But we rushed off down the trail, which quickly became quite strenuous. We were walking on the narrow terrace walls, and had to walk carefully. A misstep here would mean a fall ten feet into a pool below. Once we left the village’s terraces, the trail became steep and muddy. We had to carefully climb the slippery trail. Eventually there were some slightly scary parts along a cliff, with a steep dropoff. At one point we had to jump over a portion that had been washed out. In situations like this it’s better to just leap without thinking too much about it.
Eventually the terraces of Batad loomed into view. They looked like an amphitheater, carved into the walls of the valley. We had to climb down into them, then there was more careful walking on the narrow walls. By this time I was feeling pretty confident and could go faster. The final stretch was another steep climb up to the hotel. It was a difficult slog.
The hotel was basic, peaceful, nice, and cheap. It was just a simple wooden structure. The kitchen was just one guy cooking for about a dozen guests. It took him a long time, but the food was excellent. There’s not much to do at night, so it was early to bed.
Up early for a hike to a waterfall. The trail was difficult with lots of steps down. At one point I had to make another leap onto a step over a looming dropoff into the valley below. The hike back was even harder, because this time the steps were going up, and the day was starting to get hot.
To get out our guide led us on the direct path to the road. I don’t know if we got lucky yesterday witht the bad weather, which may have kept people out. But on this sunny day, we passed dozens and dozens of foreigners hiking in. Perhaps most of them are just doing day trips, and not spending the night.
The peace and quite of the terraces was finished one we made it back to the road, which was a noisy construction site. We had a long, unpleasant hike through the chaos up the steep road. Luckily our guide asked a truck driver about to head to town if we could ride. We climbed on top and enjoyed the scenic ride back to Banaue.
The rice terraces were one of the best things I saw in the Philippines. They are a peaceful respite among the mountains. I still wish I would have stayed longer.