Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Trekking the Batad Rice Terraces

Batad Rice Terraces

Thursday, January 8th  Batad Rice Terraces

Greenview Lodge, Banaue
Jeepneys, Banaue City

Our rambling Banaue Hotel, a 15 minute walk from the town center, is cold, dark and cavernous but we have slept well and are hungry for breakfast. The warming trays of scrambled eggs and mystery stir fry dishes are unappealing to me, but the brewed coffee is a welcome relief  from the instant coffee we’ve had during most of this trip.  Our driver picks us up at 8:00 A.M. to shuttle us to the Greenview Lodge where we meet up with Joe, John and Marky. Their rooms are extremely sparse and drafty and John tells me that he froze during the night with just one thin blanket, but their hotel has more charm than ours and is in the center of town. 

The Road to the Batad Rice Terraces
Road Construction, Batad

We climb into our private jeepney for the 45 minute drive to the departure point for our hike down the rice terraces of Batad. There are two long bench seats along either side of the vehicle and support bars overhead to hang onto when the going gets bumpy. The cliff road is under construction and we jostle along the narrow road as workers dynamite the hillside. I am a little worried that an avalanche of rocks will cascade down and crush us but I have obviously survived to write this account. We stop frequently to take photos of the jaw dropping vistas of rice terraces below and the verdant green mountains beyond. We are at 5,000 feet and mist hangs in the saddles between the mountains. As the morning warms, John and Marky climb on top of the jeepney, holding onto the luggage rails for the ride to the end of the road. It is common for overloaded jeepneys to pile both baggage and passengers upon their roofs, but I am anxious that an unexpected stop or bump in the road might send my boys flying.  

Marky and John on top of our Jeepney
We leave our jeepney at the end of the road and I give myself a silent pep talk as I stare down into the steep valley below and begin our trek down the to Bataad Village, hundreds of feet below. Sometime later this afternoon, I will need to climb back up to this saddle point to meet our jeepney for the return.  The cliff road ahead is still under construction and we begin our hike down along it, sidestepping piles of rocks, gravel and road working machinery and soon veer off to hike down a lush jungle path. There are occasional breaks in the foliage where we have glimpses of the rice terraces below but with each step down, I worry about how I will manage to climb back up. The flooded rice terraces are silvery reflections in the overcast morning with occasional patches of green where the starter shoots are growing. The pathway is steep and varied, alternating from dirt to chiseled stone steps cut into the hillside. 

The trail down to Batad
Marky, Batad Rice Terrace

Art, Joe, John and Marky, Batad Rice Terrace View

Half way down there is a tiny village, clinging to the hillside and we register our names and pay the Heritage fee. There are two simple restaurants, several home-stay guest houses and a village school. Our guide instructs us to order our lunch now so it will be ready on our return hike from the Tappiyah Waterfall, sill far below us in the valley.

Keep Batad Clean and Green
Signing into the Batad Visitor Center

We continue our climb down and enter the labyrinth of terraced rice paddies. We walk along the narrow dikes, a narrow stone pathway framing the edges of the flooded rice fields, stepping carefully upon the uneven stones, set deep in the mud. We pass a few tourists returning from the falls and I ask how difficult the final climb is down to the waterfall? If given time, I am quite sure I can make it both down and back up, but I do not want to be the one to slow up our group so I opt to return to the village above and wait for the “boys” at the restaurant.

John trekking the Batad Rice Terrace Dikes
Batad Rice Terrace Dikes

It is lovely to walk back alone and at my own pace. I retrace the stone pathways edging the terraces and as the pathway grows steeper, I stop frequently to catch my breath and inhale the view.  Two young boys, perhaps 4 or 5 years old offer their guide services to me and I laugh and take photos of the young entrepreneurs. 

Marty hiking the Batad rice terraces
Children along the path
Children of Batad

When I reach the hillside village, I choose one of the simple cafes and drink an especially delicious beer sitting on a wooden bench with an amphitheater view of the rice terraces below. For an hour, I am the only patron at the village cafe and I enjoy the solitude. The beer that I have consumed eventually requires that I find a bathroom and I ask to use the toilet behind a stained curtain and am surprised that the latrine also overlooks the valley below. An hour later, my boys return and we eat our pre-ordered lunches of fried rice and vegetables before starting our trek back up to the saddle and the waiting van. The return trek is not as difficult as I anticipated; my family is patient with my slower pace and an hour later, we are back in the van, jostling along the hillside road towards Banaue town. 

Upper Batad Village
Beer at a Batad Village Cafe
Hillside Inn, Batad

Lunch after the hike, Art and Marky
Return hike along the road
We poke into a few dimly lit shops with a smattering of souvenirs displayed on dusty shelves. Banaue is not your typical tourist town and there is little to buy here outside of necessities but John and I admire several “hunters” packs, made out of a rattan fiber and worn both as a rain covering and a day pack by the rice farmers. There are only a four for sale in three different town shops and we examine each carefully, comparing the workmanship and trying to discern whether the hunters packs are vintage or newly made. One is an obviously antique; brittle, stained and with a broken bottom and John and I decide to sleep on the decision and make our purchases tomorrow. 

Hunter's Backpacks
It’s after 4:00 P.M. when Art and I squeeze into a cramped trike to take us back to our hotel to shower and rest. A motorcycle powers the trikes which can carry up to 3 passengers, but two fat Americans make a pretty full load. It costs 20 pesos, about .50 cents, for the ride back to our hotel.  

Banaue City Trikes
Marky shopping in Banaue

We assume that finding a trike to take us back into town will be easy but it isn’t and we end up walking the 20 minutes back into town. We meet Joe, Art, John and Marky at the Greenview Lodge for diner. John has just downloaded his grades online and tells us that he has all A’s so we are in celebratory moods; order a bottle of reasonably good Chilean red wine for $750 pesos, about $18 and toast to his success. (Joe points out that one of John’s A’s is an A-)

John, straight A celebration
Joe and Marky Greenview Lodge, Banaue