THINKING of going to Sagada for a vacation during the long holidays after Christmas? Think again. The recent indie film “That Thing Called Tadhana” has made Sagada so popular that it has now become the in place for many urban dwellers to escape to during the holiday season. There are other alternatives like Banaue, Mount Pulag and Buscalan but they have also become popular destinations for organized tours to the highlands, so expect them to be crowded as well during the holidays.
So for those who plan to go to the Cordilleras but wish to avoid the crowd, one of the best places to go is the town of Mayoyao in Ifugao province. It rarely gets tourists even during the peak month of December. Those who are bold enough to go there are rewarded with one of the best clusters of rice terraces in the world. In fact, its rice terraces are one of the few included in the UNESCO World Heritage site together with other terraces in Ifugao like Batad and Bangaan.
Although the town center is only 45 kilometers away from Banaue, it is not easy to go to Mayoyao. There is only one bus that traverses Banaue to Santiago every day. The winding roads that go up to Mayoyao are mostly unpaved. Only vehicles with high-ground clearance can take the punishing three-hour drive to go there.
What the town may lack in tourist facilities it makes up in its natural attractions. There are at least eight rice terraces that dominate the landscape of Mayoyao. There are several waterfalls, several mountain trails (with one that goes up to Mount Amuyao and connects to the town of Barlig in Mountain Province) and several unique stone structures. It is a backpacker’s dream come true. You go out exploring during the day and spend the nights blending with the locals.
How to get there
There is one bus that goes from Solano, Nueva Vizcaya via Banaue to Santiago, Isabela and another one from Santiago to Banaue, and both make a brief stop in Mayoyao. So for those who wish to catch either one of these buses, they have to get on an evening bus from Manila that goes either to Banaue or Santiago. The Mayoyao-bound bus in Santiago leaves in the morning, while the one from Solano passes through Banaue around noontime. Recently, there are several minivans (UV Express) plying the Santiago-Anfonso Lista-Aguinaldo-Mayoyao route. The trip takes three hours (fare P140) from Santiago to Mayoyao.
Those with own private vehicles can access Mayoyao either via Banaue or Anfonso Lista. From Manila, take the triple Xs (NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX) and exit at Pura and continue until San Jose. From San Jose, continue drive to Maharlika Highway via Dalton Pass to Santa Fe, Bambang and then Solano. After Solano, the road forks at Bagabag: go straight to Banaue or turn right to Santiago. The road to Banaue passes Lagawe before finally entering Banaue. Drive straight to the town center and continue driving to Bangaan, then Ducligan before finally ascending to Mayoyao.
The backdoor entry via Santiago starts right after a few kilometers after the junction to Magat Dam. It is easy to miss. Turn left and drive through the irrigation road and cross the long-span bridge at Magat River. At the end of the bridge is the welcome arch of Ifugao. Continue driving to Alfonso Lista, then Aguinaldo, before finally reaching Mayoyao.
What to see, what to do
As soon as you arrive in Mayoyao, register at the tourism office and pay the P25 environmental fee. The office can also brief you on the many attractions around the town, and help you prepare your itinerary and get a reliable local guide.
The town’s main attraction is still its well-preserved rice terraces: Mayoyao Proper; Chumang; Chaya; Bongan; Balangbang; Banhar; Buninan; and Mapawoy. A guide can take the visitors on the trail that connects Bongan, Mayoyao Proper, Balangbang and Buninan. The trek down to the terraces allows visitors to get a closer view of the Mayoyao’s unique rice terraces built with stonewalls.
The visitors will also get a chance to see Mayoyao pyramidal houses. The first level where the four posts are located is where the daily chores like washing clothes or pounding rice are done, the second level is for sleeping and for cooking, and the uppermost level is for storing rice and other supplies.
Three kilometres westward from Poblacion is the jump-off point to Tenogtog waterfalls. Tenogtog is just one of the half a dozen waterfalls around Mayoyao. Its jump-off point is the same as the one leading to Mount Amuyao.
Located in Balambang is the unusual Lumagig stone. It is a big boulder held by a smaller stone and is sitting precariously atop a rock that looks as if it would roll down from its base. The locals believe that the big stone was placed there by the spirit of their ancestors.
Another attraction is the Apfo’or or Burial stone on top of a hill. These centuries old igloo-like stone mausoleums contain the bodies of the town’s ancient warriors.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lodging in Mayoyao is very limited. Most visitors usually stay at Milcah Lodge. Milcah is owned by a charming old lady named Ruth Domingo (0935-2087698). Lodging at Milcah is P250 per person per day.
Another place to stay is at Pfalay Ta-o’ Inn also in Poblacion. It is a four-bedroom house with hot shower.
Big groups can also stay at Mayoyao Hostel. It is located about one kilometer from the poblacion. It has several rooms, a large parking space and affords a nice view of the five terraces.
Finding a place to eat in Mayoyao is not easy as there are no restaurants as most of the locals prefer to cook their own meals. There is one or two carenderias (local eateries) at the public market but you have to inform them in advance so that they can cook something for you.
But the best way to eat in Mayoyao is to inform either the owner of the lodging house where you are staying to cook something for you for lunch or dinner. Here you will be treated to local home-cooked meals like cured meats and fresh vegetables. This is the best part of your stay in Mayayao: these home-cooked meals make you feel not like a stranger but a part of the family of these gentle but shy people whose culture and traditions have survived for many centuries.