I had slept through most of the ass-numbing 10-hour bus ride up north, and woke up at around 15-minutes before we got to the town proper. Looking out the window, everything we passed was covered in a thick blanket of morning fog. Winding its way through the mountainside and sleepy little barrios, we finally arrived at the bus terminal at around 7 o’clock in the morning for the first stop of my journey – Banaue.
The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. It is commonly thought that the terraces were built with minimal equipment, largely by hand. The terraces are located approximately 1,500 meters above sea level. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces.
Once you step off the bus and gather your things, you’re lead to a little desk where you need to register and pay the environmental fee of Php 20 and maybe take the free shuttle service to the city center if you plan on staying a little longer. I only planned on staying for a few hours before heading on to Sagada, and had no problems finding a van that would take me there for Php 300 – it was one of those old L300 mini vans like looked like a little toaster oven with wheels. Crammed in with me was an annoying family of three, a quiet couple, and of course, Jericho.
Before embarking on the three-hour drive on more dizzying narrow roads, the van driver made a pit stop at Halfway House for breakfast. A simple American Breakfast (Php 105) of toast and jam with eggs did it for me while Jericho tucked into a Full Tummy Breakfast (Php 115) of garlic rice with ham, tocino, and a tomato-onion omelette. Food is simple and cheap in this neck of the woods. Most of the guests at the other tables enjoying a cuppa with breakfast were French and German, mostly staying the night after having spent a week exploring some of the more advanced trails up in the boondocks.
After getting some food in our bellies, we drove to one of the viewpoint platforms to marvel at the beauty of the rice terraces some more. According to one of the guides, the paddies were being cleaned the month I passed by, so it looked a little muddy. Still, it was a pretty amazing sight to take in.
Some complain that Banaue is starting to lose its natural beauty, with the modern comforts of the 21st century housing slowly taking over the landscape and the younger generations choosing to move to the city instead of caring for the land their ancestors tilled and shaped. All I can still see the stairway to the sky, a gradient color of yellow, brown, and green, beckoning guests to stay a while longer.
At each viewpoint, you will always see a group of Igorot elders clad in their bright hilltribe attire, asking if you’d want to take a picture in exchange for a small donation. These guys really know how to hustle (and werk it!), even in their old age. When we asked them how old they were, they said at this point they didn’t know, leaving us with a toothy grin of dark yellow teeth, stained with black and red bits of betel nut they love to chew on all day.
We drove up to the Sunrise Viewpoint deck next, which is usually swarming with tourists. You can get a better view of the rice paddies from this angle, although it wasn’t as green as I’d have liked it to be during my trip since I came right before they started planting the rice. If you want to see them at their greenest, pop by between June and July for the most Instagrammable pictures.
Dotted around some of the rice terraces stone houses, which some people say ruins the view. I think, unless you’ve lived in an Ifugao hut through the scorching summer and at least one horrible typhoon, let the poor farmers enjoy their hard work and build a sturdier roof over their head.
Before leaving Sunrise viewpoint, shopping for a souvenir or two at the nearby shops is always a good idea. I scored a pretty blue tote bag for Php 200 and a magnet for Php 100. A popular item among the foreign tourists are the woven bags and blankets, the hand-carved switchblades, and of course, the Ifugao barrel man – a very popular gift with the children.
I regret not having stayed in Banaue for a little longer and exploring the town or spending a night in an Ifugao hut in Batad. There is so much of nature to escape to and discover, I silently promised myself that I would make it a point to go back. After taking our obligatory selfies against the backdrop of the rice terraces and buying a few mementos of the side trip, it was back into the silver toaster on wheels for everyone and off to the next adventure – Sagada!