The Ifugao rice terraces are often described as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and if put end-to-end, would be longer than the Great Wall of China. Ironically the Chinese introduced the art of building them to the Ifugao tribe of Northern Luzon, the largest Island of the Philippines. We were based in Banaue, for three nights.
DAY 1 – We set off armed with rain ponchos having seen the weather forecast. Our group of four (me, our guide Carlos, Roy our driver, and my partner ‘Mr Roy’ to differentiate between the two namesakes) boarded a jeepney named ‘Indiana’ with a driver called ‘Jones’. Our first stop was for Carlos to buy a waterproof which he’d either forgotten or didn’t think was required. As they’d run out, he bought a heavy-duty green plastic bag used for cabbages and asked the shop keeper to cut him head and arm holes.
On reaching the Bangaan Rice Terraces we met Conchita, a local villager and our guide for the day. It had now started to rain, and the narrow path down the terraces was steep, slippery, muddy and dotted with deep, high steps. On hitting the paddy fields, we walked along narrow ledges: sometimes there was a rail, but it was often either low or far away. We stopped frequently for photos and through the mist saw the village of Bangaan in the distance below. We continued past a school and church and began seeing the lime green nursery fields as full planting hadn’t started. Conchita told us about the stages of rice production and how the Barangay (village) Chief does everything first i.e. puts the first plant in, cuts the first rice. Some of the fields had weeds and Conchita pointed out the snails, and their vibrant pink eggs which must be cleared before the planting as they would eat the seedlings.
Eventually we reached Conchita’s simple wooden house and were shown how the rice is stripped from the stems before pounding and winnowing using a large basket. It is all done by hand and naturally we had to try.
We were invited to see local houses. An old one was used at a grain store, but we could still see the carvings of a hunting scene along it. The ladder was raised, to signify no one was in, and there were cogwheels on the posts –which prevented snakes and rats climbing in. We continued to the house of Miss Virginia, an elderly lady who spoke to us in good English whilst her husband carved wooden trinkets to be sold underneath the house.
Back at Conchita’s we sat down and had an excellent and welcome cup of black coffee and bought a pair of salad servers from a small display of goods.
Having been told how they now have pulleys to carry the vegetables and rice from the bottom of the terraces to the top, I cannot believe I didn’t realised I’d have to climb back up the terraces. Conchita led, holding out her hand to help me with some of the more precarious sections. It was hard because of the altitude, steepness and by now it had started to rain heavily, and we were getting very hot under our plastic ponchos. Once at the top we said our grateful goodbyes and hauled ourselves back into our waiting Jeepney for the trip back to the hotel.
DAY 2 – Another jeepney took us to Bataad but this time the weather was brighter. We stopped at a local view point and had the obligatory photographs taken with a group of elderly ladies dressed in traditional outfits who pose for a few pesos.
We drove along a 6km road, which previously you’d have had to hike to get to our starting point. It was very muddy after the previous day’s rain and there were lots of stones and leaves on the narrow paths. The mist gave way to light, but persistent rain and it began to get steeper: this time, we knew we were going to have to hike back up. Locals and fitter tourists overtook us and as the rain got heavier, donned ponchos and cabbage bags before we started to see signs for the various hostelries in Bataad, which included our resting point, Simons View, where we had much needed energy drinks.
We could see another village further down but having heard it would take us another hour to hike down, we decided reluctantly to wend our way slowly back to the top. Ironically the sun came out and we melted under our plastic casings. Thankfully we got back safe and sound if wet and muddy. We hopped into the Jeepney and roared back to the hotel for a very well-earned lunch and change of clothes.