From Sagada to Banaue —here is where my travel journal goes on. On the way back to Manila, we headed down to Banaue to stay a couple of days. Stopping by Banaue is also one way to cut the drive to Manila by about a third of the time. But as expected, the meandering zigzag roads on the way to Banaue are as tricky going up as going down the highlands. We were thus, amazed at jeepneys crammed with passengers, and at least a dozen of them perched on its roof, as these snaked through the roads from one village to the next. The cool breeze and the smell of pine trees though will keep anyone refreshed throughout the slow, arduous drive. I do suggest that anyone planning to traverse the roads from Sagada to Banaue do so while the sun is up.
For decades, we kept postponing a visit to the highlands, often preferring the many city attractions of Baguio overBanaue. Honestly, we were all quite eager to finally go and see the 2000 year-old Banaue Rice Terraces over the long weekend in January. For years, my children would admire the Banaue Rice Terraces, purported as one of the past Wonders of the World from black and white photos in their Social Studies textbooks, or even from its drawn illustration on the old one-thousand-peso paper bill. And what a far cry from the printed pictures the real thing turned out to be!
Unlike Sagada, Banaue boasts of the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel most likely built in the late 1970’s. The hotel is a vast, imposing, concrete hotel, with walls and ceilings covered in varnished pinewood. It must have been a grand and majestic edifice as it still is today, perched amidst the rice terraces. Interestingly, even their table linens, chinaware and beddings, were reminders of that era gone by. But, mind you, all the rooms have balconies overlooking the vast landscape of the villages adjacent to the property. Nonetheless, the alternative options for accommodations in Banaue are homestays and inns usually run by locals.
Upon arrival in Banaue Hotel, we immediately noticed the life-size wooden carvings of ‘machetes’ or the Ifugao warriors, standing like guards at the hotel doors. At the hotel lobby, we didn’t need to go far to browse and shop through an assortment of handmade Ifugao crafts, and beautifully-woven blankets, sweaters, and table linens. That evening, we were fortunate to have been treated to a cultural show of legendaryIfugao dances and costumes right at the hotel lobby. It was also quite unexpected to have shared the hotel dining room and the cultural show with scores of European tourists that weekend.
Banaue is actually made up of many adjoining villages, each with its own Rice Terraces. One would have to choose the trail they will opt to take to bask in the view of these manmade wonders. From natural lake pools, amphitheater-like terraces, and local museums, Banaue has so many attractions to offer for the nature-loving and adventurous soul. The treks though can take at least a couple of hours through foot trails. For my family and I, we decided to trek down to Lam-an Village from the hotel to the adjacent town of Poitan with the help of a local guide. What we were told would be a half-hour hike turned out to be an adventurous two-hour trek on the borders of scenic rice terraces, narrow and unevenstone paths, over three mountains, and bridges perched meters high above fresh-water streams!
Our Banaue adventure did take us through mountains of green rice fields and lush pine trees, with magnificent views of waterfalls and raging rivers. For this alone, it was worth every sweat it took to finish our trek! But even more, acquiring firsthand the thriving Ifugao culture amidst pastoral farming villages and meeting the most welcoming locals, had made this trip truly worthwhile. I’m pretty sure that after this trip,at last, my childrenhave learned to appreciate the colorful culture of Banaue and the Ifugaos, a far cry from the black-and-white photos they were used to seeing.