I had been hearing about the amazing beaches in the Philippines for years now, so I always had it on my list as a ‘must see’. I had the perfect opportunity to travel to the Philippines for my niece’s softball tournament so I thought this would be my chance to finally experience the Philippine beach hype. I researched it all on the internet, found flights out of Manila to Boracay, searched for cheap hostels and then something happened; a friend mentioned trekking.
He said that there was a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the northern Philippines which highlighted rice terraces in the mountains created 2,000 years ago. Yup, you read that number right…ancient rice terraces built high into the lush green mountains. Right before I booked my beach plans, I decided to research these ancient rice terraces a bit and googled images of ‘rice terraces Philippines’. The first picture displayed and that’s all it took. My heart yearned for green mountains and fresh air; my heart yearned for come cardiovascular exercise; and my heart yearned for photography and culture. The beach sunset was a fading fast in my head and my heart took over.
The Banaue terraces are part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, ancient sprawling man-made structures from 2,000 to 6,000 years old. I arrived in the small northern town of Banaue with no plan. I thought I would try ‘real’ backpacking on this trip and arrive at my destination and figure it all out from there. These still doesn’t come very easy for a type A personality like mine, but I resisted the urge to pre-book a tour, guide, or lodging and threw caution to the wind.
One of the unusual things about the Philippines is that everyone speaks and understands English in addition to Filipino and various ethnic languages. All schools are required to teach their classes in English, therefore everyone has some exposure to it. It was bizarre for me to be traveling through a country where I could communicate so easily, yet my surrounding culture was so very different. Akin to going to the Midwest in America and hearing a Boston or East Cost accent – it’s just out of place.
I was bombarded by guides and hotel owners when I got off the bus, but I fought the urge to accept any of their offers or yell at them until I had some coffee and became a bit more familiar with my surroundings and options. I had been emailing with a guy named Marcial prior to arriving about costs of guides and itineraries I could do, but didn’t want to book it since I was being a ‘real’ spontaneous backpacker. Plus I was skeptical of getting overcharged. However as I researched my options and prices at the small local tourist office, I realized that the prices quoted to me originally were the ‘going’ prices. Luckily Marcial found me that morning…not hard to do in a town of 2,000 people and very few tourists! Plus, he knew what day I was arriving and he ran the Florida bus station in Banaue where I arrived. Marcel was very helpful and I felt more comfortable with him than anyone else I had met by this point so I agreed to have him organize my trekking guide.
He introduced me to Nora, my trekking guide. Yes, that’s right…Nora…a female. It dawned on me that in all of my trekking travels around the world (many, many, many) – I had never had a female guide before. This was quite unique! She was about half my size, and I wondered if she could do mountain rescue if I needed it – but the mountains were more like hills, so I wasn’t too worried. Plus – I saw her biceps, and was impressed and jealous at the same time! Move over Michelle Obama! I learned later that these biceps were formed by pounding rice for years and years as a child and adult.
We planned the following itinerary:
Trekking in Hapao Rice Terraces, overnight in Banaue
Trekking from Banaue terraces to Pula village/terraces to Cambulo village/terrace. Overnight in Cambulo village
Trekking from Cambulo village to Batad terraces and waterfall. Overnight in Batad guest house.
Trekking to Bangaan terraces/village, overnight bus back to Manila
Certified guides cost about 1,200 pesos a day (aprox $24 US) and village lodging costs about 200 pesos (aprox $4).
Let the trekking begin!
Trekking Guide – Nora Atolba – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida Bus Booking Office/Travel services – Marcial Cuison – email: email@example.com Phone: +639185225049
I found a lot of good info on this wiki travel site – http://wikitravel.org/en/Banaue