text | Carla Ocampo
photography | Lester Valle
DATE: 20-23 February 2009
COORDINATES: 16°56’4.71″N 121° 8’10.09″E
Who hasn’t seen a postcard of the Ifugao Rice Terraces?
Each of the province’s major towns all have their own versions of terracing. Hungduan, Mayoyao, Kiangan, Asipulo, Hingyon… yet the most well-known are the terraces of Banaue. Tourists often drop by a couple of viewpoints in this town to photograph some impressive vistas of the rice terraces.
But then, ‘ever you stop to ask the locals, they would draw you near to tell you, “Banaue has a secret place, the terraces there are spectacular. Amphitheater-like. And they soar high, just below the peak of their most prominent mountain.”
“In Batad. But it’s an hour’s worth of rough road climbing up to the Saddle, your drop-off point. And then you have to hike down a very rocky trail, by foot, for about an hour and a half. There is no other way to it.”
Through the years, Sitio Batad has gained popularity, by word of mouth, and then by bloggers’ accounts, and with the most glaring “publicity” deed… an independent narrative movie entitled “Batad: Sa Paang Palay,” an entry to the Cinemalaya Film Festival 2006. Batad is highly Googlable.
It really came as no surprise that the mere thought of this oft-mentioned place stirred our itchy feet to action. We set off, armed with Php 3,500 each, gung-ho. That’s roughly a little less than $75, for our backpacker-friends out there. With minimal knowledge about how everything would eventually cost (internet information about Batad seldom have all these details), we threw our cares to the wind. Bring to life Postcard #1.
PRE-BATAD. FRIDAY EVENING.
First official expense of the trip: a taxi ride from our homebase in Diliman, Quezon City to the Autobus station in Sampaloc, Manila. We shelled out Php 67.50 each (ergo, Php 135.00, rate sans heavy Espaňa traffic).
Autobus Transport Systems, Inc.
1455 SH Loyola St. corner F. Cayco, Sampaloc, Manila
To date, there are only two bus companies with a direct trip to Banaue: Autobus, and Florida Bus Lines. In spite of their notoriety for turning on their air-con units at full blast, I chose Autobus for nostalgia (having ridden it before and digging the friendly crew). Lester brought some huge jackets with him, a wise move for anyone riding this bus.
We bought a couple of one-way tickets, each at Php 425.00 (it is advisable to reserve seats beforehand). After a hurried dinner of instant noodles and crackers, we hit the road. Right on time, at the scheduled 10:45pm departure.
DAY1. BANAUE TOWN PROPER. SATURDAY.
The bus was scaling the winding roads of Ifugao by sunrise. We arrived at the Autobus station in Banaue at around 8:00am, zigzag-weary, stomachs growling. Fortunately, the bus station has an in-house kitchenette. A plateful of rice and a small bowl of viand costs Php 50.00. Good food, I must say: the choices are four to five different pots of your typical Filipino favorites. Of course they had Adobo. That morning, they also had native chicken soup, which we ordered. Very rich.
We spent the next hours in Banaue walking uphill to the nearest viewpoint (where the panorama of the terraces is obstructed by ghastly GI sheets. The better, clearer viewpoint is a Php 300-tricycle ride away. Whadda!), and then after, weaving in and out of souvenir shops and checking out the marketplace in the Banaue town center; just window shopping, lest we blow our budget out of proportion.
At the town center or Poblacion, the first jeepney for Batad leaves at around 12nn; last trip is at 2pm, so be on your toes.
Php 150.00 per head takes you to the Saddle Point (that mountain top station, gateway to Batad, which in fact looks like a saddle). A rather improbable option is a tricycle ride to the Junction, way below the Saddle, at Php 300.00 per trip.
Tip for the average turista: never ride anything that does not offer to take you all the way to the Saddle, because the trail is all upwards; try walking from the Junction and you’d be panting your lungs out in no time.
Besides, the hike from Saddle Point to the village proper of Batad is no mean feat.
Once we got to the Saddle Point, negotiations ensued. Earlier, three locals from Batad have joined us in the hour-long jeepney ride from the Banaue town proper (apparently a common practice, that is both convenient and annoying), and by the time we reached the Saddle, things were settled: Batad Girl #1 (whose name escapes me) enticed us to buy some rice wine from her store. Batad Girl #2, mild-mannered and courteous Margie, offered her humble home for lodging, and Batad Man, whom we call Mang Bino, volunteered his services as a tour guide.
We became as red as beetroots when we finally got to the village and started buying our necessities. Commonly sold at Php 50.00, a quatro-cantos bottle of rice wine in Batad commanded Php 150.00, and we bought two (yes, it is a NECESSITY). The per-night stay at Margie’s home was reasonable at Php 200.00 per head: hers was the only house that had electricity in Lower Batad.
There is electricity, too, in other 200-to-250-peso-inns, located in Upper Batad, a few steps from the Registration Booth (where you must, by the way, shell out Php 25.00 per head as fee).
But food in Batad (we’re red as beetroots again) is heartbreakingly expensive. One whole native chicken boiled in ginger stock costs Php 500.00. A plateful of scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions costs Php 80.00. Canned goods prepared with potatoes as extender, whether it’s your friendly tuna in oil or some generic corned beef, go from Php 80.00 to Php 100.00.
Rice was reasonably priced: at Php 30.00, it is authentic Ifugao terrace rice, eat-all-you-can.
Good thing, we met a group of three women on the way to Batad, and we decided to team up and never leave each other no matter what. As the trip progressed, Miss Marlyn, Miss Malou, and Sister Yolly shared our food expenses; again, a very wise thing to do when you decide to take a trek down here.
We slept fitfully after a night of giddy talk over rice wine and guitar jams (Batad folk, and Ifugaos in general, love country music, having been heavily influenced by American colonizers). In retrospect, we understood: prices were high simply because goods are transported ON FOOT down the punishing trail from the Saddle to Batad. An hour’s worth of walking for the average trekker, THREE HOURS if you’re with folks not so used to the rough and tough. We left Saddle Point at 2pm. We got to Margie’s home at Five, just before the sun faded into Batad’s mountain pockets.
The next day is exploration day.
DAY 2. BATAD EXPOSURE. SUNDAY.
Batad revealed its full beauty as the sun hoisted itself above the summits.
Mang Bino, our guide, went to fetch us at the lodge. Normally, his rates would depend on the places you’d wish to see: Php 300.00 for the Best Viewpoint (high up in the summits), Php 200.00 to go around the Batad Village and see the locals in everyday chores, and Php 300.00 to see Tappiya Falls, which, they say, is a beauteous watercourse hidden among Batad’s craggy mountains.
We gave Mang Bino Php 500.00, a Tappiya Falls-Local Culture combo. Could’ve been lower if we teamed up with our companions, but earlier they have chosen Margie as their guide (actually a misjudgment on our part, we could’ve gotten Margie as well, and divided her fee among five of us).
Incredibly, Mang Bino reeked of the night’s gin as he guided us through Batad that morning, but he showed no signs of drunken behavior. Batad men are quite heavy drinkers, partly to keep warm in the chilly nights of Ifugao, and partly to unwind after a day of backbreaking work in the rice terraces.
At the village, you will see locals go about their normal activity, mostly revolving around their precious rice, from harvesting to pounding to winnowing. These are Ifugaos, not the g-string-wearing types anymore, but still moving in age-old simplicity. Be very polite about taking pictures, most of them are wary of photography.
The trek to Tappiya Falls is an exhausting flight up and down the terraces, and then along the rocky trail carved along the mountainside. If you’re not very confident about being surefooted, this may not be for you.
But the view at the end of the hike is well worth the effort. Tappiya is a powerful waterfall, as mighty as it is postcard-perfect. A dip into its ice-cold waters seemed to be a good idea after the tiresome walk, Lester and I took the plunge, shrieking in the temperature. But the waters had a calming effect. We were cleansed of the day’s grime and heat, and after several minutes of alternately submerging our heads and bodies, we were ready again for the trek back.
We were at the lodge by afternoon, for another round of lazy guitars and rice wine. With no less than the world-renowned Rice Terraces as our background, we couldn’t help but sigh: This is the life.
DAY 3. HOMEWARD BOUND. MONDAY.
At 9:00 every morning, by hook or by crook, a jeepney bound for the Banaue center leaves. At times, only two jeepneys are permitted to take the trip: depending on the number of passengers and goods. They have to make the most out of every round.
That morning, a lot of Caucasian backpackers were with us as the jeepney left. Another Php 150.00 each to the Banaue town proper.
The Autobus branch in Banaue is located a few minutes away from the town center. Luckily, we were allowed to hitch-hike as the jeepney we were riding went to tank up at the nearest gasoline depot, which was right beside the Autobus station. We reserved two tickets for the 6pm trip (the one and only deployment to Sampaloc/Cubao), closing our last necessary expense for the entire Batad sojourn.
DOING THE MATH
Expenses per person.
Taxi Fare – Php 67.50
Bus Fare to Banaue – Php 425.00
Dinner – Php 35.00
Breakfast – Php 60.00 (with coffee)
Lunch – Php 30.00
Jeepney Fare to Batad – Php 150.00
Tourist Registration Fee – Php 25.00
Rice Wine – Php 150.00
Lodging – Php 400.00 (two nights / head)
Food – Php 350.00 (three meals in all, coffee is free)
Guide Fee – Php 250.00
Jeepney Fare to Banaue – Php 150.00
Souvenirs/Trinkets – Php 135.00
Bus Fare to Cubao – Php 425.00
Total Expenses PER HEAD – Php 2652.50
And we will quote the venerable Jimmy Santos on this feat… OHA!!!
Bringing your own food supply is advisable. But be sure to share the love.
Travel in groups of four or five, a size small enough to be easily managed, and big enough to ease the pressure on wallets, when you start sharing the expenses on food and tour guide fee.
Batad is utterly beautiful under the bright sun. Going there during the rainy season is a thumbs-down: harsher trails, dismal terraces.
Don’t even think about going to Batad with the wrong footwear. My boutique-sneaker died with mouth agape in the middle of the trail to the village. Good thing Lester brought an extra pair of hiking sandals with him. Be equipped with heavy-duty footgear. By experience, Sandugo and Hi-Tec Outdoor Collection are good brands. Lightweight. No slip. Long-lasting soles.
Batad, according to the Caucasian backpackers we’ve met along the way, is an adventure of a lifetime. So they say, you’ve never been to the Philippines if you haven’t been to Batad. Ergo, journey only with someone you don’t mind reminiscing it with, over and over, for years on end.
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