Girl Power – Trekking in the Philippines

6 Comments 10 April 2009

A splash of pink...

A splash of pink...

View Rice Terrace Photography

View snapshots of trekking in Pula, Cambulo, and Batad 

My lunch was packed, my sunscreen was on, my backpack was prepared, and my chariot tricycle pulled up outside my hotel. When the trike pulled up, it appeared to be already full making me slightly confused. Nora greeted me and introduced Joy, my porter. Nora explained that she hired Joy to be the porter and asked me if it was ok that my porter was a female. I’m all for girl power, so I had no issues with Joy being the porter; in fact, I was actually quite impressed and proud to be trekking with an all girl team! However the all-girl team didn’t end there, a young girl also got off the trike and Nora introduced her as Karina, Joy’s 12 year old niece. She said that Karina didn’t have school this week and wanted to know if it was ok to tag along with us. Hell, when I arrived here I was a bit worried about being a solo traveler – but now I had an instant entourage – I welcomed the company!

The 5 of us, including our driver Yazzer, squeezed into the tricycle meant for 2 and took off. Our first early morning stop was the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces. There are terraces all over this area of the Philippines, however the Banaue and the Batad terraces seem to be the highlights of the area. We climbed up a bumpy dirt road and had to try to counterbalance our weight and sit forward so that the whole bike wouldn’t tip over backwards…which actually happened once already! The trike front wheel went airborne and Karina and Joy fell off the back! The two didn’t seem too phased by it. They got up, dusted themselves off, and hopped back on; they passed my test on toughness. In fact it was then that I realized that I was probably the wimpiest chick in this group!

Banaue Viewpoint

Banaue Viewpoint

The Banaue Terrace viewpoint was one of those few places in the world that really took my breath away. That overwhelming rush of excitement that you get when you see something truly incredible came sweeping over me and left me rather speechless. I personally have seen many famous sites, Taj Mahal, Great Pyramids, Roman Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon to name a few, but I think the effect of seeing those places was less since I had been exposed to all of them before in magazines, television, books, movies, etc. When you come across something that you’ve never actually seen before, it has a more profound effect; that was the Banaue Terraces for me. They were stunning. They had actually terraced a complete mountain – the top of the mountain was even a terrace as opposed to a ‘peak’.

After my rice terrace photoshoot we continued up the bumpy mountain road to the beginning of our trail for trekking. We bid Yazzer goodbye as we would be on foot for the next 3 days going from village to village. Joy strapped on my backpack, Karina took the lead, and Nora and I brought up the rear. The trail was great, not very traveled, but good enough to easily find your way.

Pula kids swimming on their lunch hour

Pula kids swimming on their lunch hour

This was the main way for many of the villagers to transport things in and out of the village of Pula, which was to be the destination for our lunch break. I learned that Joy and Karina travel this trail often as they have relatives in these villages that they visit quite often. However, they normally transport bags of sweet potatoes when they visit. All of a sudden my little backpack that Joy was carrying seemed rather luxurious.

The trail, mountains, terraces, and general agriculture lifestyle reminded me of Peru. Views into the valley of green with mountains surrounding you; a great escape. As we hiked I learned about the women’s daily lives; boyfriends, schools, husbands, and children. A fascinating look into a changing culture. We took a snack break after a few hours; we were high on a ridge with a lovely view of the valley. Nora pointed to a village down in the valley surrounded by terraces; that was Pula. My knees ached thinking about it – but down we went. As we arrived in the village you could hear a water fall and bunches of screaming kids. It was lunch time and all of the kids came running out of their school yard, down steep terraced steps (there was nothing flat about Pula), stripped off their clothes and jumped in the cold water. Oh to be a kid again! Some splashed around and played while the brave young boys climbed up the waterfall and would take a running jump off the top into the blue, cool water below.
Pula Children...and a dog

Pula Children...and a dog

Pula was a typical Ifugao village whose life seemed to center around the terraces and other agriculture. Kids were running around everywhere as there was no sign of adults. The adults go out and work in the terraces or woodworking during the day while the kids are in school. We stopped for a lunch break and ate the food we had been carrying with us. As I sat in the dusty little village hut in Pula with no electricity or plumbing, half naked kids running around among the roosters and pigs; I couldn’t help but have my mind wander back to Puma, Nepal where I lived for a few weeks doing volunteer work. I knew that it would happen – I knew that one day I would look back on that Nepal experience and yearn for it again. Even though it was one of my greatest challenges, I found myself wanting to go back; see my old students, and families that I came to know high in the mountains of Nepal. Pula, Puma…so many similarities.

Our trail -  a bit narrow!

Our trail - a bit narrow!

We took off for the 2nd part of the hike from Pula to Cambulo. My little rolling shady mountain trail disappeared as we trekked up and out of Pula and it turned into tactical trekking for the next 3 hours. We hiked on the actual terraces; poised on the little narrow strip of wall terrace teetering between the rice on my left and a what I imagined to be a deathly fall on my right. Memories of my childhood gymnastics lessons came flooding back; reminding me that I quit those lessons because I sucked. As an adult I have developed a slight fear of heights – so I simply tried to focus on the back of Nora’s shoes as I concentrated on every step of the foot wide terrace wall. Unfortunately at this point I wasn’t doing much looking around at scenery since it would invoke my dizziness and panic.

My all Female team of Trekkers!

My all Female team of Trekkers!

After a total of 7 ½ hours of trekking up the valley and back down we arrived in Cambulo. We checked into one of a handful of guest houses and happily dropped our bags and I treated the ‘of age’ girls to a beer and a coke for Karina. The girls laughed at the blister on my thumb. They thought it was hilarious that my hands could be so wimpy that I would get a blister from a walking stick….yes – even I think that sounds pathetic. My entourage of girls was really a unique experience for me in my travels. I loved the fact that these women were out working in professions that were normally dominated by men. This probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up in the Charlie’s Angels era. We had a great day trekking and we even turned a few heads in the process! Good work Angels!

Your Comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Lynn says:

    Sherry this sounds just wonderful! Anything that you would compare to the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal is a must-see someday for me! The Philippines kind of drove me crazy though and I could NEVER walk on those rice terraces – I would have been crawling cause that sort of thing really gives me vertigo! But an all-girl trekking group really sounds like fun!

  2. Kat says:

    This sounds beautiful (if a bit scary!). What a great experience – the brink-of-death terraces might even be worth it to go sometime.

  3. Diane says:

    Beautiful! You continue to amaze me, girlfriend! Reading your posts are the best, thank you. Di

  4. S.K. says:

    What a wonderful photographic adventure. Thanks for the visual treat! I had not realized how narrow the rice terraces are. I,m sure vertigo would strike me in the same situation. Congrats on achieving your goal of a gallery exhibit.

  5. Travel Ria says:

    A lot of my friends has been saying that nothing beats the beauty Rice Terraces! Natural terraces is our culture, our origin and where we came from.

    When can I meet you Banaue?

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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