|Sunrise hike across the rice terraces|
The next morning, the sun filtered through two curtains: my room’s and the village’s. As I opened mine, I could see the terraces veiled in fog, which gently unraveled as golden light spilled into the bowl-shaped valley. From the balcony of the Hillside Inn, the village far below was waking to another day amidst one of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Batad Village is an international backpacker’s destination where wonders abound. A 45-minute hike traversing the narrow, vertigo-inducing walkways between rice paddies will take you to the imposing Tappiyah Falls that thunders through a rocky gorge. During the pitch black of night, pockets of trees along the mountain slopes glow with the bioluminescence of fireflies. A dozen of these living light bulbs waltzed their way into my room the night before, attracted by the incandescent lamps of the inn.
Sadly, modernization is inevitably taking its toll on the landscape. In recent years, most Ifugao farmers prefer to roof over traditional huts with unsightly galvanized iron sheets instead of cogon grass, which has to be replaced every five years. Even worse, some empty water bottles and refuse litter the forest trails.
|Take a chilly dip at Tappiyah Falls, 45 minutes hike from Sitio Chung Chung|
More alarmingly, the rice terraces of the Cordillera are threatened by landslides, destructive rats, erosion caused by invasive giant earthworms, and migration of native farmers who abandon their ancestors’ terraces and move to urbanized areas in pursuit of higher income. If these problems continue at the current rate, these irreplaceable landscapes will reportedly vanish in less than a decade. Preserving this incomparable haven requires the concerted effort of authorities, locals and also travelers.
|Batad villagers showcase indigenous dances for visitors at Hillside Inn|
However, there are also positive signs of change. In some isolated villages, the sun not only makes food grow but also produces electricity. From Batad, a local guide took me through a 10-hour return hike to visit the neighboring villages of Cambulo and Pula, where some huts are powered by solar panels. Increased eco-tourism is also uplifting communities, making local inhabitants value the terraces more.
|The emerald amphitheater terraces of Batad Village|
On my third day, morning mizzle blessed my exit from the valley back towards the “Saddle” ridge where a jeepney will neigh its way back to the town of Banaue. As the sky poured, brooks traversed the mountain trail, making our hike up more difficult. “The rain will stop in five minutes,” my guide foretold, mentioning her communion with forest spirits as we took shelter in a wayside lean-to. After five minutes, it stopped pouring. Without a doubt, this amphitheater carved by human hands is the grandstand of the gods.
This blog post is an excerpt from a travel feature I wrote in 2009 for ROAM Magazine, Issue No. 2.
|Hike to Batad from Bangaan – another UNESCO-
listed cluster of rice terraces
HOW TO GET THERE: Take a jeepney (P150, 1.5 hours) at Banaue town bound for Batad ‘Saddle’, which sits on the rim of a steep bowl-shaped valley. For fantastic views of the rice terraces along Talop, Kinakin and other villages along the route, ride on top of the jeepney (at your own risk!). From the ‘saddle’, it’s an hour’s hike downhill to sitio Chung Chung overlooking Batad Village and the rice terraces. Alternatively, you can hire a tricycle (PHP 700, up to 3 persons, return). Do note, however, that tricycles can only can only take you up to Batad junction, 1 to 2 hours hike from Batad saddle.
Upon arrival, you have to register at the Tourist Information Center at Chung Chung, where most of the accommodations are. Jeepneys leave the “saddle” back to Banaue only a few times each day (usually around 9PM) so it’s best to ask the locals for the schedule. Or try asking around for travelers who have arranged a ride out.
Tourist guides, for hikes to Tappiyah Falls (PHP 500 for 1 to 5 persons) and villages beyond, charge P1500/day. Darwin and Harriet Poligon (+639156291855) are reliable guides who have taken me on hikes around Batad since 2008. Instead of passing through Batad Saddle, you can opt to enter and exit Batad village by hiking from other villages like Kinakin, Cambulo and Bangaan.
Although Ifugaos are very congenial, remember that photography is taboo for some superstitious individuals, most especially among the elderly. Many will be tolerant though, in exchange for loose change or—a token much more appreciated—a box of matches.
WHERE TO STAY: I always stay at the very warm and friendly Hillside Inn (P200/night; Contact Maya at +639193799599 or +639057699796), a simple accommodation with the best views of the rice terraces. Continental and Filipino meals are served (P70-100). Other wonderful options are the traditional huts of Ramon’s Homestay and Ugay Lodge.