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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!