March 24, 2005 

the Cordillera Mountains

Ok, so this is truly out of my comfort zone (city life and its worldy offerings!) but it is still our backyard. Call it another village perhaps, one that's a twelve hour drive away. As with the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall, its one of those places that you just got to do. Even once in your life.
And boy, am I glad I did it. Finally, I've huffed , puffed walked and climed the great terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, woohoo! It's one those crazy spur-of-the-moment things…when you have a car and got nothing better do for a week, well here's an advice: get an atlas, ask a few questions at the Lonely Planet website and then hit the road! For starter's, here's climbing the Rice Terraces 101:

a for All-terrain vehicle— If you' ve got one, then put it into a spin and drive all the way up to the mountains! Anything less than that should be left in the city. Take a bus or rent an SUV. Believe me, the damage ain't worth it.

b(1) for Banawe— Bad! The first and only 'big' town in the Cordilleras hits you right on the face, not on because of her celebrated beauty, but more with her mediocrity (of course, its just me.)
But come on, Ive lived in Manila all my life and I know Third-World mediocrity when I see one — join one of my walks and will show you barong-barongs at their best– ok so maybe Im ranting but I did expect more from the PREMIERE Cordillera town in one of the PREMIERE tourist spots in the country! The buildings kinda remind me of the slums of Tondo; all 2,3,4,5 storeys of them; with their unpainted walls, protruding metal linings and downright shoddy constructions. And what's worse, this type of aesthetic seems to the norm in the town. Sad considering its on the fringes of the famed Terraces. What can I say? We (the lowlanders) have finally bought salavation and civilization to our highland (the Ifugao people) brothers under the guise of tacky construction methods.

b(2) for Bangaan— If you've had enough of the Banawe bull, then head to Bangaan. Now, this is where your SUV would come in handy. I would really think twice and (re)consider doing this circuit if youre not used or havent tried driving along a mountain road. Its a rough stretch for over an hour with vertigo-views of steep ravines right beside you. And should you risk having rains (as we did) , well, landslides can make your trip all the more an adventure. If youre not sure, take those heavy duty Ifugao cross between a bus and jeep. Oh, and be sure to sit on the roof! If you do proceed however, you'll find its worth the trip. Bangaan is one of the four UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites and its not (yet) as commercialised as its big bad Banawe brother. The views are great and the weather is cool. We stayed at what's probally the only lodging in town –Family Inn– run by a cogenial Kapampangan lowlander who serves a mean fried chicken and a tasty tapsilog (ditto with the fiery vinegar dip!). Beds at P100/ head. As what some Tsinoys say, " cheap as the dog's shit." The price of the food , however, is the same as a Manila fast joint's, about P70-P100 per meal.

b(3) for Batad— the most stunning part of the Rice Terraces, period. I'll let Ms. Serena Bowles' lovely pics( thanks wherever you are!) do justice to this man-made wonder.



Things I learned and picked up along the way:

I. Mountain guides are like politicians == when they say something like "its a two-hour hike" , it usually means four. Or maybe five. Depending on the number of mis-steps you take down a craggy ravine or your dexterity in balancing when you walk on the 12-inch ledge that is the Rice Terraces themselves. Before you take a hike, ask (even the most naive questions!), it could just save your life.

II. Tapuy is synomymous with Tutong== or that's burnt rice to you. I just recently found out that the native Ifugao rice wine tastes like my mom's favorite munchie!

III. the Ifugao's speak more English than they do Filipino== maybe it's because I have Dao Ming Si's eyes *wink wink* but somehow, I have a feeling the Ifugao's tend to speak more Bush than they do Balagatas. Or maybe it's just me.