Nora had been teaching me many things along our hike; what berries to eat, how to catch dragon flies and save them for dinner, and roots to chew on to soothe a sore throat or cough. However one thing that still baffled me was when she would talk about native chicken. She talked about how it was used in various village rituals, the smell of it, how it was slaughtered, how good it tasted – you get the idea. Of course the obvious question that I kept wondering was ‘is there a difference between native chicken and regular chicken?’ Nora looked at me as if I was an idiot and said “Yes, one’s native and one’s not!”
“Oh, I see” I said.
Actually I didn’t see…but sometimes it’s just easier that way; I knew I’d get down to the bottom of it sooner or later. It was actually sooner…we had a special meal of native chicken and rice for breakfast the next morning. Finally this was my chance to really try to understand native chicken. We had seen tons of chickens in the rice fields, out on the trails, and wandering around the villages. I eventually learned that a non-native chicken was white in color and purchased at the local market, while a native chicken was one that was bred at someone’s home and feeds on rice. Basically, I suppose you could think of it as free range, and not free range. Regardless, it was on our table…for breakfast. I was hoping for pancakes, but we had chicken instead. The native chicken was actually very good, it did have a different flavor and the meat was a deep red color which was a bit baffling to me. Native chicken mystery solved! It was bound to be a great day of hiking when we started out with this good ‘fuel’!
We took off from Cambulo with one additional person in tow. Our all girl team had picked up a male! That’s what happens when you are an all girl team apparently; the men want to tag along! We had met another solo backpacker at our guest house in Cambulo, Rowan from Australia. He was going the same direction we were so we were happy to have some additional company. Little did I know that Rowan would provide a massive amount of entertainment on a grueling hiking day! And, little did I know that his favorite comment to make was “Are we there yet?”
We climbed up out of Cambulo using all the native chicken energy we could muster up. The ‘lower’ trail that we wanted to take was closed due to dynamite blasting occurring high above the trail where a new road was being built. Therefore we had to hike up to the new road and follow that for a bit and then come back down. This seemed to be a hard way to start out a long day, and my legs were already screaming and my heart pounding after an hour of hiking. The climb to the road was entertaining as usual. We passed a guy who was working with dynamite and drinking a beer…seemed to me that there were a number of things wrong with that picture considering it was also 10AM. We also followed a young brother and sister team age 11 and 9 . They were carrying a case of heavy bottles each on their backs. Yes, of course this made me feel wimpy considering their sack of bottles weighed more than my backpack and probably half of their body weight. The young 11 year old boy was carrying them effortlessly while toting a huge knife, called a bolo. Nora informed me that all men carry bolos in this area, they never leave home without them. Men vs. 11 yr. old boy….hmmm…I would have to let that settle a bit in my brain. Rowan took one look at the young knife-wielding boy and said, “Damn, my parents wouldn’t even let me have a Gameboy.”
The good thing about the climb was that the views were spectacular as we looked down on our disappearing tiny village of Cambulo. However what goes up must come down (as a side note – this turned out to the be theme of the day). I looked at the scrappy, hand-written sign that said “This Waw Batad” with an arrow pointing down and let out a big sigh. The ‘waw’ down was steep and ominous looking, so I let Karina and Rowan go first and I slowly followed them careful of every step on the loose dirt.
The next 2 hours were spent winding through jungle, and rice terraces amidst the unforgiving sun as Rowan kept asking “How much further?” I will admit, besides this question, he was one of the most upbeat travelers I’ve ever met. He was extremely well traveled. What impressed me most is that he’s definitely enjoying his time on this earth; taking everything in stride with a smile. He reminded me how much fun travel can be when you really open yourself up to the locals and interact.
After another grueling climb we reached a peak with a little resting place where we took lunch. As we walked around the corner, there it was the stunning amphitheater terraces of Batad. Once again, it was another breathtaking view that I really wasn’t prepared for. The terraces went on forever with the little village of Batad poised down at the bottom of the amphitheatre like the orchestra pit. The Batad terraces were planted and green, which made even more of an impact. Rowan and I went picture crazy for a bit and took a bunch of photos as Nora pointed out where we were going next; all the way to the bottom of the ravine to the picturesque Batad waterfall. I couldn’t even see the bottom of the ravine…it was a long ‘waw’ down no doubt.
I must admit, I was skeptical about the Tappia waterfall; I’ve seen many waterfalls and have been rarely impressed. Maybe my skepticism also came from the fact that the hike was a yet another long hike down steep rocks…it better be good I kept thinking. I was pleasantly surprised as the waterfall was this little paradise of white spray enclosed by a rocky cliff. It actually looked unreal it was so peaceful. I dipped my toes in and enjoyed the clear cool water up to my knees while Rowan took the opportunity to dive in and take a swim.
After the waterfall, we started climbing again. Karina actually ran up the stairs pleasantly reminding me of what it was to be young with no fear. We arrived in the small village of Batad and class was in session. No, not primary school, I’m talking about rice school. Nora talked to some villagers and they provided a demonstration for me on just how freakin’ hard it is to prepare rice. I’m sure they don’t think it’s hard, however my only experience in making rice is to go to the grocery store, buy a bag of rice, put it in a rice cooker and presto…rice for dinner. The Ifugao way differed a bit.
First, you have to ‘shuck’ the rice off of the stalk – this requires calluses on your hands…if you have lily white soft girlie hands, this process hurts; spoken from experience. Next, you put the rice in a large mortar and pestle and pound it very carefully with great force separating the husk from the grain. This isn’t as easy as it looks, if you don’t hit it in the center – rice goes everywhere and the villagers look at you as if you as a stupid foreigner; spoken from experience. After that you go through a complex process of throwing the rice and husks in the air separating them (this part is really hard to explain…but I do know that little 12 year old Karina is an expert at this); they didn’t let the stupid foreigner do this step…thank God. Finally you put it back in the large mortar and pestle and go through the process one more time and finally you have a bag of rice that you can cook for dinner. Oiy.
Click to enlarge the photos of Rice preparation:
We had one last big climb up to the top of the amphitheatre of terraces where the guesthouses were located. I’m not real sure why they didn’t have lodging in the actual village of Batad, maybe it was to torture the tourists into walking up to the top. However it was all worth it as clearly it had the best views! The evening was spent at Rita’s Guest House where we were treated to pancakes, a cold bucket ‘shower’ and beer…what more can you ask for after 7 ½ hours of hiking up and down. It was a great feeling to get that kind of exercise and to experience some of the best rice terraces in the world with new friends. Mission accomplished!