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Three Square Meals

Rice, Rice & More Rice

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Our bus trip to Banaue was fairly uneventful, the monsoon rains had ended the day before and we trudged along at a fairly even pace. The 95 mile journey took us around 8 hours and we arrived at about 5pm. As we entered the town the bus pulled over at a house and picked up a local man, it soon became apparent that this stop was for our benefit as the man introduced himself to me as Salvador a local tricycle driver.

He tried to explain to me in broken English that he could drive us around tomorrow to see the rice terraces. He seemed nice enough but when you've sat on a bus for over eight hours and you still have to figure out where you're going to rest your head that night, having a conversation about tomorrows activities is the last thing on your mind. He followed us around a little bit when we headed down in to the town and directed us to different guest houses, again the fact that we had acquired an unwanted shadow was a little frustrating.

Banaue on first impressions is a slightly bleak hillside town which clings to the side of a valley. The air was heavy and damp, it usually rains every day at about 5pm, but thankfully we were spared this.
In the distance though we were able to get our first proper glimpse of the rice terraces and as we were come to realise, everything is more visually appealing when the sun shines.

We got a room at the Stairway Lodge which had a restaurant downstairs and a number of small but more than adequate rooms upstairs. We had quite a nice view from the side of the building and having made sure we weren't sharing the accommodation with anything of the creepy crawly variety, we were happy.

Our only slight concern was the lack of an ATM, we had (slightly naivly) presumed that there would be one as it was a tourist destination but alas Banaue hasn't reached that kind of modernisation. We had some US dollars on us though and hoped we would be able to exchange some in the morning. Downstairs in the restaurant we met Salvador's wife who explained that she was a tour guide and gave us the big spiel about how she could take us to Batard, which is the main rice terrace people visit. Apparently you cannot go without a guide and you have to hike an hour to get there after a two our ride on the tricycle. Now if the thought of a one hour hike didn't put us off then the price tag did, and with our limited funds we decided it wasn't really an option. Not able to really take in all our options, and still thinking we would need to sort out the money situation before we did anything we resigned those to decisions to be made in the morning when we had hopefully had a good nights sleep.

We ate dinner in the restaurant and it was nice to be away from the malls and all the fast food that we had been consuming. Adam wanted sweet and sour fish but that apparently was off the menu that evening and he ended up being served a watery soup with a whole fish which had been sliced up in to it. It wasn't exactly what he was looking for but he ate it all up. I was fairly content with my Chicken in Oyster sauce, but the meal came to an abrupt end for me when a massive cockroach like bug with wings flew into my head. Adam's phobia is spiders, but mine is anything which flies around erratically and I decided it was time to retire for the evening.

The next morning we headed down with our dollars in our pockets and were met by Salvador and his wife, and we wondered just how long they had been waiting for us. We explained that we had limited funds and we needed to change some money before we did anything. With our guide on hand we were led up to the local money changer and got an ok rate. Working out that we would need a certain amount of money to catch the bus back to Manila that evening we came to the conclusion that Batard was just not an option. Instead we decided to head to Haopo where the Hungduan Rice Terraces are, no guide is required, all we needed was Salvador to drive us there.

Once we had filled our tummies with some breakfast we climbed into the side-car and set off on our little journey. 99P1020018.jpg
Not long into the trip we came across a JCB which was scrapping mud from a landslide off the road and into a pick-up. With all the rain that they get in the region, mudslides seem to be a very frequent occurrence. In fact on our trip we encountered quite a bit of mud, one section of the “road” in fact was just mud and Salvador expertly manoeuvred us through it on the way down. The majority of the route to and from Haopo is on very, very bumpy tracks and our insides were well and truly shaken about. They are improving the road in places but it seems to be a fairly slow process as the area is not very accessible.

Salvador stopped at several points along the trip for us to get out and take pictures. The scenery was breathtaking, even more beautiful than we had seen in Munnar.
The same varieties of green were on display but the mountains themselves seemed to have more grace and the atmosphere was more magical. The fast moving river that runs through the valley, crashing along over boulders was in start contrast to the peacefulness of the surrounding hills.
The pace of life associated with growing rice appears be one which ambles along, as they can only be planted and picked once a year. Salvador explained that during the time when the rice is simply growing, the women workers turn their hands to weaving and the men to carving. The fruits of their labours are for sale in a number of shops in Banaue.

After paying a small environmental fee we were made our way to our final destination of the Hungduan Rice Terraces.
They are the largest in the area and views from the little platform that has been erected are really something to behold. The terraces rise up and then individual fields are divided up, it looks like a patchwork quilt has been draped over the hillside. It stretches on and on and you wonder how many people it takes to harvest all of this rice by hand and also how it is all consumed. This second question is easy to answer as traditionally rice is eaten with every meal, even the fast food restaurants serve it. Salvador said that all the land is privately owned and it is portioned up into triangles which point down the hillside. Then each family harvests their own crop and takes it to market/town to sell. With the sunshine hitting the lush greenery, the view was dazzling.

The journey back was just as bumpy, if not more so as for most of it we were heading up hill. Once we reached the mud section we became stuck and in the end Adam and I had to get out as Salvador tried to find a way through. Thankfully another tricycle driver came along and helped him out, we tried to offer to push but he waved us away. We got a little bit muddy, but it was very clay-ey so thankfully we didn't sink in too much, I did get one flip flopped foot a little stuck but with a bit of effort managed to pull it free.

Once back in Banaue we thanked Salvador for being a really good guide. He had tried his very best to explain things and gone out of his way to tell us stories about the history of the place. For example when the Japanese had invaded. His wife had explained to us that he was ashamed to speak English because he wasn't very good which we both thought was very sweet and considering we can speak absolutely no Filipino we should be the ones who are embarrassed.

Later in the day while we waited for our bus back to Manila we had a late lunch at another guest house restaurant, it was really nice, probably some of the best food we've had in the Philippines. Then we had a wander around town and had a look in some of the shops selling the local handicrafts. I lifted up one bowl slightly and something made a high pitched noise and kind of flapped, I dropped it sharpish. Not wanting to just leave it for someone else to discover, or for the thing to suffocate I decided to wait for the non-existent shop owner. When they hadn't appeared after about five minutes I called upstairs and a middle aged woman slowly descended. I explained to her that I thought there was a bat or a bird in a bowl and pointed to it, she simply and said 'yes,' and had a look on her face that kind of said 'and your point is??' Slightly confused but safe in the knowledge that I'd done my duty we left.

We headed down the hillside slightly and walked over a very rickety bridge, it was certainly one of those situations when it was best not to look down!
Soon enough it was time for us to catch the bus and we headed up by tricycle to the bus station. As we waited for the bus the 5pm rains rolled in and yet again it was quite an onslaught, none of the locals battered an eyelid though as the roads turned into streams. The bus was a deluxe apparently, maybe this would have been the case a decade or so ago. However we did get massive seats and a tv, so it seemed as though it was going to be a comfortable ride back to the capital. How things change....

More Soon

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 05:46 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world

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