Carolina: Cruising Past 70: OLA: Breathing Cool Philippine Mountain Air!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

OLA: Breathing Cool Philippine Mountain Air!

Batad Rice Terraces in the Ifugao Province of the Philippines
One of the couples we met in Palawan, Jure and Katarina of Slovenia called to tell us that they were flying into Manila that afternoon, ready to breathe the cool mountain air of the Philippine North, after exhilarating in the breezy sea winds of the South. Since I also wanted Bill to see this part of the Philippines (we visited Baguio 2 years ago), we were with them that evening on a bus and by 8 am of the following day, the tip of the world’s 8th Wonder of the World was at the window of the lodge cafĂ© where we were having hot breakfast.

Hapao Rice Terraces
We lost no time and proceeded first to the Hapao Rice Terraces in Hungduan which have been planted the earliest and are now the most verdant green. Next we proceeded to the Viewpoint of the Banaue Rice Terraces, not yet fully planted. The Ifugao Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras, the mountain region of Luzon, largest island in the Philippines, were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995. 

Banaue Rice Terraces
There are five sites, not including the Banaue Terraces: Batad, Hungduan, Bangaan, Mayoyao, and Nagacadan (we did not see the last three)  These are 2000 year-old rice paddies carved into the mountain slopes largely by hand, without the help of machinery, by ancestors of the indigenous people. They are located about 1500 meters (5000 ft) above sea level, fed by an ancient irrigation system, virtually unchanged, from the rainforests above.  It is said that if the steps are put end to end, they would encircle half the globe.

Hanging Coffins by the roadside
The following day we decided to go to Sagada in the Mountain Province, three hours away, that is, without a landslide. As it turned out, 1/3 of the way from Banawe, a landslide had happened 2 days earlier and was still impassable by vehicle. We arranged for a jeepney to take us to the site of the landslide. Soon 7 other people heard what we were trying to do and decided to join us. With the permission of Engineer Gerry of the DPWH which was still working on the clearing we crossed the area on foot and took another jeepney waiting for us at the other side!

Hanging Coffins at the Burial Cave 
By then we had a Spanish couple from Barcelona, Antonio and Sheila, a Dutch couple from Bonaire in the Caribbean, Remco and Vanessa, and 3 young men, Ryan from Alaska, Sam from Tanzania, and Kennedy from Nigeria, currently all studying in Silang, Cavite, Philippines. The Hanging Coffins were an interesting sight to behold. The practice stems from the mountain people’s belief that their elders, after all the affairs on earth are settled were finally buried in hanging coffins to be closer to nature, with freer spirits, not stuck to the earth.  The entrance to the high main cave, Lumauig, in Sagada was a Burial Cave.

Sumaguing, the other cave
This was connected to another cave, the Sumaguing Cave. Since we had very limited time, the men and Vanessa (the 2 other ladies and myself remained at the souvenir store by the entrance), took the 2-hr cave tour (not the 4-hr through theconnected caves). They still got to sneak through the little hole down below that connects the 2 caves, and experience the coolest of underground rivers they had known. They came back to tell us that the water was so cool, that their hands let off steam as they touched it. And as they headed back up, they saw all the wondrous formations they had just gone through.

the whole gang stopped by a bulldozer
On the way back we thought we have had the day’s final adventure but, alas and alack, 1/3 of the way out of Sagada, there was a bulldozer that broke down, making the road impossible to pass. Since Antonio and Sheila had to take the bus that night to Manila to catch their early morning flight the following day to Australia, I took to the other side and negotiated with a van that was there to take us to the landslide area. As the fog was already settling in, we finally negotiated a better cleared trail that took us to the other side where our jeepney had been waiting for us the whole day!

the foggy landslide area cleared by end of day
The following day, another European, Didier from Belgium, joined us in our last day trip, the one to the Batad Rice Terraces which everyone said we should not miss. A jeepney took us through the virtually impassable, rutted, rocky, muddy roads to the Saddle Point from which we trekked through 400 steep steps down and then on a long trail to the viewpoint on the other side of the mountain. It took Bill and I an hour to negotiate this going down (later it took us 2 hours going up!).

virtually impassable roads
What we saw are a glorious amphitheater of rice terraces surrounding a little village at the bottom. The group split into 3: the strongest proceeded to the Tappia Waterfalls (another hour of trekking), another explored the magnificent terraces (also another hour), and the weakest and the oldest (Bill and I) had to be content with marveling at the magnificent scenery, taking in all that pure, fresh, cool mountain air, sipping icy soda pops and nibbling at native tomato and egg ‘pizzas’. 

a roof load of jeepney passengers
chewing concoction ingredients
But I cannot end this post without telling you of the indigenous mountain people of the Cordilleras who make full use of the colorful jeepneys that take them to and fro the mountain, riding dangerously on roofs and hanging onto the back railings and continually chewing the concoction of betel nut, tobacco, and leaves nut even if they make their teeth very red so that they can keep their bodies warm in the cool Philippine mountains.  

colorful mountain couple
Part 2: Baguio City


  1. It looks like an idyllic place to spend some time just relaxing and appreciating the beauty of the area.
    Also sounds like you met a great group of fellow travelers.

  2. It was idyllic, especially Batad but also quite an ordeal getting there! But wouldn't have missed it for the world, especially meeting those brand new friends from all over the world!

  3. wonderful, carol. i hope i can do this trip in the future

  4. On one of your trips back to the Philippines, surely you can. Fides and Benjie want to, too! Make it an I/ACT activity!

  5. Your trip was made more exciting by the landslides! Good that that did not stop you!

  6. I befriended Engineer Gerry, DPWH supervisor of the clearing operation, and he ordered his men to stop for a while and they guided us through the half-cleared area, always saying 'dali, dali' or the land may slide again. I was able to do it... last...too slow and afraid! Everyone thought that it was the best adventure of their trip!


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