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North Luzon: Banaue

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Banaue here we come…..

The complete opposite to the previous few days in and around south of Manila, we arrived in Banaue fresh and ready, even after the 9 hour bus journey! It’s from Banaue that tourists can discover the beautiful UNESCO rice terraces found all over the Cordillera region of north Luzon. The best situated in Banaue, Batad and Bangaan. We were ready to change our flip flops for walking shoes (not in JMs case though!) and it was time to move our legs and hike some mountains.

bus terminal 2

Manila bus station

bus terminal 1

We’re not the only tourists

At 6am we organised a two day, 1 night trek, covering Banaue and the famous village of Batad , the latter of which are apparently the most spectacular in the world. Everything was arranged and we were ready to start at 8am. Breakfast facing the Banaue valley, tour guide found, good price negotiated, quick clothes change, day bag packed, and big bag stored for the two days, we were ready to go. A little note for future travellers to the area though – Either get your guide through the tourist information centre or direct. All-inclusive trekking packages organised at hotels and hostels are inclined to take most of the money for themselves and pay little to your guides who does everything!!! Check the jeepney parking area in Banaue (at the top of the road) to find official registered guides directly.

banaue

View from the breakfast table

batad traffic jam

Main road of Banaue

Benzon, our guide, came to collect us at 8h30. The three of us left for 2 days of exploration!! For the first 20 minutes we were taken by tricycle to the start of the trek. Up, up, up and up we went. We stopped at the main viewing platform for the Banaue rice terraces to appreciate the view. Appreciate them we did. Stunning. The view was great but very overcast, something we expected for the area. The rice terraces were apparently 2000 years old and all with man-made mud walls, unique to Banaue.

banaue sunrise

scooter banaue

Local scooter

first viewpoint us

Banaue rice terraces – Let’s go!

The terraced walls in the other villages were just as spectacular but this time made with stones. The rice terraces in the region are passed down from generation to generation and it’s the first born who takes on the responsibility of land. The majority of the rice harvested is for family consumption only, and not for commercial sale. You can however find Banaue and Batad rice in the local stores. Those working the rice terraces will earn a whopping £2.50 for 9 hours work!!! Our guide explained many terraces had now been abandoned due to the easy money made elsewhere in the ‘modern’ world, particularly working in tourism and in the neighbouring towns.

jungle banaue

First few hours on the trek

Follow the guide

After a quick pause to take photos, we arrived at the start of the trek armed with our wooden sticks and our new best friend Benzon! Lucky for us there had been no rain for a week, so the mud we were walking on was solid and firm. We can’t imagine what a difference a light drizzle of rain would make to the path!

terrace jm

Walking stick for balance

For the first two hours, the countryside was a little strange. The locals had decided to construct a road straight thought a jungle forest but it was nowhere near complete and it looked completely abandoned. It made for easy walking but it was ugly and so destructive. The village it was being constructed for however, had no other access to the outside world except for over a 4 hour walk to closest sealed road. Eventually we passed the end of the ‘under construction road’ and returned to the beautiful untouched countryside. When we say untouched, untouched by humans not necessarily nature. Typhoons that reach the mountains have caused some serious destruction. We traversed the most enormous landslide created last year after a serious heavy rainfall. The landside must have been approximately 300m high!

typhoon banaue

Mud slide alert!

Stunned from the beginning

Some hours of walking later, we arrived in Pula, the first village on our trek. It was here that it was time for JM to change his soles. The first signs of blisters on his heels were visible and the last thing he wanted was a repeat of Myanmar. Relieved, he swapped the shoes for his favourite flip flops. Benzon and JM were now twins! It was also here that we saw our first rice terraces made with stone walls. For us they were just as impressive as the mud walls if not more so. It wasn’t even the best time of the year to visit the region, the rice seedlings were only just starting to grow so everywhere looked brown rather than the famous bright green. Either way they were all spectacular. The stone walls just gave the terraces that little bit more definition at this time of year.

pula 1

Beautiful Pula

cold shower jm

Freezing water!

Our first main stop along the trek was to refresh in a freezing river with a little waterfall. It was situated at the bottom of old Pula village, where only a handful of families live. It is here the rice is completely bio! Benzon explained how there were three types of rice in the area, white, brown and black, it’s cultivated and collected by hand and to separate out the grains is one long, tiring physical process. We stopped for lunch in the New Pula Village, but nothing about it looked new to us. Apart from a school and 8-12 small wooden houses, that was about it. Electricity had only been installed the year before, 2015! We didn’t stay too long because we still had hours to walk to reach Cambulo, our village for the night.

rice

rice making

Work, work, work

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Our route across the valley and through the rice terraces

The section of the trek between the two villages was like a fairy-tale: We crossed local, friendly, happy Filipinos, often children carrying bags of sand from the river as they returned home from school to help build their parent’s house. We took 100s of photos along the way, each time saying the next rice terraces were prettier than the previous ones! They were all great! We crossed the river on a very dodgy suspended bridge and finally after 18 kilometres of up down, up down, stairs and more stairs we arrived in Cambulo, another slightly bigger village, completely lost in the valley, with no telephone reception, McDonalds, Starbucks or any fast food restaurants to be seen. Instead the village consisted of small wooden houses, pigs, chickens and dogs strolling around and a small school. Oh and 20 sore, tired, but happy trekkers staying for the night.

trek Pano

pula to cambulo

water terrace cambulo

No comments needed

bridge soph

Not the most stable!

cambulo Pano

Wow!

Stop for the night

Cambulo is the prime village for a lot of trekkers to stay the night on their way to Batad, just like us.  For us the experience was even more authentic. When we arrived the only 2 guesthouses were full (make sure the organisers of your trek book a room in advance before you leave!) Instead we slept the night in a small traditional house. Our bed was on the floor with only a candle for light. No problem, the more authentic the better! We had a brilliant evening with the other trekkers and guides – drinking beer around a fire with the incredible Derek (another guide with an incredible voice) playing the guitar and serenading us all under the stars!

cambulo house

Our house for the night

bedroom cambulo

cambulo kids

The cute locals

The next morning, after a great breakfast and armed with a packed lunch, we left direction Batad, the ultimate rice terraces! The sun was shining and after walking for over two hours up and down and up and down and down and up AGAIN, we reached the viewpoint over the amphitheatre of rice terraces.

soph walking

Let’s go again

soph terrace

Into the wild

cambulo rice

The wow factor

Voila, UNSECO world heritage site – Batad. The view was spectacular and something we’ve never seen before! Of course as we previously said, we would have preferred to see some serious green rice terraces but it was still amazing.batad post

Photos, photos and more photos!
terrace batad

Ta Dah!

soph and jm batad

Happy team

Locals could be seen working in their terraces even with us tourists walking around on their walls. Benzon mentioned that there is actually a route that the tourists should be taking, so not to disturb those working and destroying the walls but people just take it upon themselves to do whatever they want, especially if they don’t pay for a guide! After some serious photo taking and a well needed break we detoured down to a beautiful 25m high waterfall. After a difficult, hot and tiring descent, the waterfall was a welcome sight. Again JM was the first one in – ice cold!  The next two hours were spent swimming in a waterfall, taking photos and walking the terraces with our guide, we loved every second.

waterfall batad

Well needed!

soph batad

Happy me!

pula rice terrace

jm batad

Happy JM

batad water

Unfortunately for us, but it’s probably a good thing, transport out of Batad is limited. A new steep road has been built up to a certain point, but tricycles don’t like to make that journey, it’s too hard on their bikes. Instead we had to walk another hour or so up a steep hill to reach our own tricycle at the saddle. It was from there that we headed to Bangaan to see one final village and rice terraces. The last hour of walking from Batad was tough. Up and up and up. After 2 days of intensive walking we were exhausted. We are far too unfit and we’d eaten far too much fast food in this country! Eventually we made it to the top, collapsing into the tricycle we took one bumpy, unsealed road to Bangaan.

truck road

Unfinished road!

bangaan cement

Great method to transport goods and building materials to the village

Lucky for us it was only a photo opportunity. The village looked to be in the centre of a hole in the ground, but it was absolutely picture perfect. Much smaller than Batad but a must see. We took photos from the road at the top and watched as the locals sent bags of sand and gravel on a zipwire down to the village to help with some renovations. Very clever thinking! It was now time to get back to Banaue, take a shower and rest those muscles. A huge thank you to our amazing guide Benzon who we spent such a great 2 days with, we can’t believe he does the same trek if not longer more than once a week. – Huge respect. 2 days was enough for us!

Next destination: Sagada!

dream team

Thanks Benzon

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AMAZING!!!!!

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