Philippines Day 3: Banaue

Awww Banaue, the 8th wonderful of the world according to the Filipinos for its ancient mud banked rice terraces snaking their way up the steep mountains. We arrived early morning and it’s cold, much much colder than I expected. At around 4600ft of altitude, Banaue is in the clouds, and socked in when we arrive. Walking through a cloud its constantly drizzly. Disappointed I ask Jenn if she wants to try to get to Sagada today instead. We don’t have any solid arrangements for rooms since we never received any email responses before we had to leave for the bus. We hadn’t really decided but when we stepped off the bus there was a guy calling my name. I asked if he was with Native Village Inn and he said yes. I pulled Jenn aside and asked what she wanted to do, that this part of the trip was more important to her, and she looked at me with a look of feigned shocked surprise asking if I was pushing the decision off onto her. She said lets go with Native Village Inn. This turned out to be a wonderful decision.

We waited while the others going to the same place as us were gathered. The guesthouse is 9km out of town on a ridge reached by a dirt road and so cannot be walked easily, and there are no public Jeepneys. The owner has their own so once everyone was on board we got underway. I was a bit worried if I didn’t like the place it’s hard to back out. But my fears weren’t necessary.

We arrived chatted with our fellow travelers. We had a Dutch couple, a Polish father and son, and a Colombian couple. The Dutch woman was very beautiful, but clearly not a backpacker with her scarf wrapped around her pack where it’s sure to get dirty. They apparently weren’t prepared for the bus and were absolutely exhausted and declined to do anything today and went right to bed. The younger Polish guy seemed to suffer from a touch of Autism. He would talk in long run-on sentences, eyes wide open not blinking, often going off on tangents. Very intense. His father didn’t speak any English and was a bit isolated. It makes me glad I was born learning English at home. The Colombians were immediately our best friends, very easy to talk to and full of jovial personality. Armando is finishing up his Masters while Adriana just finished hers. They come from different backgrounds with Armando splitting his childhood between the city and a cattle ranch while Adriana is from Bogota. Armando is an electrical engineer and a gamer so we had plenty to chat about, and growing up on a cattle farm he’s also quite familiar with horses.

Our de-facto group talked about our options and plans. The Dutch couple had reservations in Batad for the following day, and we planned to go to Sagada, but everyone else had wanted to do something so Batad became what everyone else planned to do because of how close it was. Then conversation turned towards the day’s plans. We had most of a day to work with having come in super early. We decided on a hike to a nearby hot spring through rice terraces with great views leaving around noon.

We were shown our bungalow; a cute structure raised about 5ft off the ground not much larger than a queen bed with a thatched roof. It was adorable and rustic. Above the floor were beams low enough to wack your head on, and wing like shelves going out to the roof to put things on. There were 2 lights but neither worked yet because the generator wasn’t running. Small windows were built into the sides and slid open with one pointing out towards the rice terraces. I’m convinced we had the nicest of the 6 bungalows. We went to take a shower but to get hot water they had to turn on the generator for us. We got all lathered up each to our own stall divided by a wall, but partway in the hot water was shut off when the generator ran out of gas. We hollered for some help and they filled up the generator and got it started again, but instead of standing there soaking wet and cold we both put up with the cold and got rinsed off.

Then it was nap time. Hardly any time passed before we were both out. I think about an hour passed before I woke up STARVING. We hit up the kitchen and had them add us to the size of the order of curry and pumpkin soup being ordered by the Colombian couple. We wondered around a bit waiting for our food and noticed the bench near our room with possibly the best breakfast view around.

The food was amazing but we also hadn’t eaten since our late lunch at Kashmir the day before. We’d have to try again later tonight, not that there were other dinner options when staying here.

Everyone gathered and we got in the hotel Jeepney and headed down rain soaked muddy roads back towards town. I remarked about how well the Jeepney handled the rough terrain so well and Jenn kindly pointed out its kind of what the Jeep was made for.

We made a couple of viewpoint stops and at one Denver our guide put on some traditional clothing for us to take pictures of. Touristy. I still took pictures anyway, it was kind of fun his humor about it.

We pulled over next to an elementary school in session overlooking rice terraces and started our hike. It was longer than I expected most of which was snaking along the walls of the rice terraces. There is something really nice about doing this. It’s open and airy, but calm and quiet with a lot of visual interest. Though trying not to fall in the mud I was watching my feet more than what was around. Near the end we walked through what felt like a little village with cobble stones between the houses, but it was a single family’s house. The family was clearly doing pretty well compared to their neighbors and was pretty large. The tail of our group was perpetually falling behind. We had picked up a Filipino woman who had brought her Romanian boyfriend to visit and her brother, and this triplet stopped constantly and walked so slow. Luckily we had two guides with us so we could kind of leave them behind. The Polish lad would stop and turn from time to time to talk to the Colombians. Jenn walks a similar fast pace to me so we were always at the front looking backwards wondering why everyone had to walk so damn slow.

Arriving at the hot spring we quickly ditched our now wet clothes under some shelter. A woman had a little shop setup with snacks and drinks and I bought a beer. They had a strong pilsner I picked, and everyone warned me how strong it was. I looked at the label, 6.9% and I laughed and said that’s not that strong. They were confused and I had to explain the awesomeness of California’s craft brew scene. Most of my favorite beers are this strong or stronger, my all-time favorite these days is a wonderfully floral Imperial IPA from a local microbrew that is 10.9%. They were surprised that California was known for beer. Sad days. I think though if you aren’t on the West Coast you probably don’t know that California has a huge Craft Brew scene with new microbreweries popping up all over, or that we have our own styles of beer, known for hoppy strong ales, Stone Brewery being a prime example that is now found most everywhere.

The water of the hot spring was exactly what we needed with this cold weather, and the perfect temperature just like a hot tub. The beer also hit the spot and I was a happy Colin. We talked at length with Armando and Adriana about horses, about our childhoods, about travel destinations and plans. Then Armando laid down a challenge to go jump in the cold river flowing right next to the hot spring. I couldn’t say no. My honor was at stake in front of my girl! Or maybe it was that I was getting hot. I jumped in first, it was chilly as you’d expect from a mountain stream. Armando didn’t wimp out either. It was refreshing. Jenn who is cold adverse even got in past her knees, but getting her to dunk her head was never going to happen. I couldn’t stay in for too long and headed back to the hot spring for a while.

Eventually it started getting dark and we had to start the slow trek back. We took a different route this time which took us over a suspended walking bridge with beautiful green plants draped all over it. Despite our slow pace we still beat the Jeepney back to the road and spent some time in a local’s house while Denver, our guide showed us how rice goes from the stalk to just the grains. It was quite work and skill intensive.

By the time he finish our Jeepney was there and we jumped on board with the last fading light, tired, cold and wet. Going back to the Inn felt like an adventure. A couple of times we had to deal with close passes of trucks and buses with barely enough room for one vehicle. I had images in my head of the Ice Road Truckers series where they send the cast to a foreign country like India to drive runs. The muddy road threatened to give way in my mind, or perhaps our vehicle pushed off the side of the cliff. We got back safe and sound and immediately ordered our food before going back to our room to get dry and hang up our wet clothes in our room to get as dry as possible.

Dinner again was great and we had more time talking with Armando and Adriana. I was freezing and it was getting late. I suddenly didn’t feel very good. I think it was the tiredness more than anything, but the world was a spinning a little and I was worried about our next couple of days so I prodded Jenn to head to bed.

It was quite an amazing day, and felt more like two, the bus ride and the terraces split by a nap. I enjoyed our hike and our new friend’s company.

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