Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sagada to Banaue

I woke up very early this morning to view the group of terraces near Sagada before catching the last jeepney to Banaue, where I am now. I didn't even have to set an alarm. The ceaseless racket from dogs, roosters, and pigs being slaughtered before sunrise saw to it that I woke up at an obscenely early hour. I'm glad I did wake up early, because the terraces were absolutely spectacular. I had to hire my own transit to the area, and drag my guide along to show me the trail, but it was worth every 'piso.'

We approached the terraces from atop a mountain ridge between two steep valleys. We descended into the bigger valley, where golf-course colored layers of rice climbed up the walls of a steep limestone canyon. The terraces themselves were constructed of grey limestone boulders, which contrasted nicely with the bright green of the rice. He led me down a steep set of stairways, through a village perched on ridgeline, and down into an amphitheater of endless plots of rice clinging to the cliffs.

After about an hour of hiking deeper into the canyon and photographing each and every plot of rice from all angles, we came finally to a limestone sided slot canyon sporting a big waterfall and a swimming hole. I had to take a quick dip. I wasn't in long, as it was kind of awkward swimming while my guide just watched me. So I got out and we began the long hike back out of the valley. We emerged at the top sunburned and drenched in sweat.

From there, I hopped into the next jeepney (what passes for public transit around here) bound for Banaue, which boasts the UNESCO world heritage/8th Wonder of the World rice terraces. Just before we departed, three very attractive local girls sat next to me on the bus. Not only did they actually sit next to me, but they were willing to talk to me and flirt with me as well! How could this be? Since when do I ever get to have the attention of not only one, but three pretty girls? Something must be unusual.

And during the course of our conversation, it quickly emerged that they were Jehovah's witnesses! Of course! I knew something wasn't right! The conversation sort of fizzled out after they tried to push their magazines, pamphlets, and DVDs off on me.

Anyways, at the next town, Bontoc, I was able to catch another jeepney to Banaue. One thing about jeepneys: they are terribly uncomfortable after the first 40 minutes on a dirt road. Naturally, the three hour journey from there left my behind in shambles.

So now, I'm here in Banaue. I spent what was left of the afternoon viewing the terraces around here. They are even steeper, but tacky development throughout the town along the highway makes it difficult to photograph the two thousand year old set of terraces. Moreover, because they harvest and plant rice twice a year in Banaue (due to its lower elevation), I missed the correct season. I should have come in late April. At the moment, Banaue rice consists of tiny little sprigs poking out of murky, muddy water. It's not the lush green bounty spilling over retaining walls like Sagada. Just so I don't sound too negative about Banaue, I should say that the terraces here really are impressive. I will have pictures available as soon as I can! Stay tuned!

Things should improve tomorrow though, when I make the three hour hike to Batad, at a higher elevation. Things should be greener and more photogenic in Batad.

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