Monday, January 23, 2012

Surviving the Trail Leading to Batad

The early morning sun on the famous Banawe rice terraces
The Miriam ladies' quick breakfast
The ladies sampled riding on the jeepney's roof
It is almost two years since I first went up the the mountain provinces.  My last trip was my first time to Banawe and Sagada towns. We went there to enjoy the sites and the cuisine, at a leisurely pace. Last weekend I was asked to join a group of ladies, 2 teachers and 19 students from the Environmental Planning Department of Miriam College.  They want to conquer Batad.

Smaller terraces outside of Banawe
I immediately said yes without knowing what I was up against. I googled Batad and found pictures of a high rice terraces cluster hovering over a small town at the base. I thought it was different compared to both Sagada and Banawe.  I am intrigued and willing to personally take a look.  Prof. Pinky Gendrano told me it involved going down to the terraces site which may be gruelling.  I glanced again at the picture of the Batad terraces and thought, how could going down this flight of rice terraces be hard.  I figured at the worst, I could make it, at my own slow speed.
Narrow roads and precarious structures
The Miriam College group with Mang Ramon
Prof. Rosel with her wards
We arrived at Banawe the morning of Saturday and were met by our host and guide, Mang Ramon and his cousin Kuya Donato. We made a quick breakfast at the Stairway lodge and hired a typical mountain jeepney to tackle the rough roads  leading to our goal place.  It required a few of the nimbler girls to ride open air, on top of the jeep. The travel was about an hour snaking through the mountains. It gave the girls their first glimpse of the mountain rice fields after Banawe. We made two stops, everytime the students alight the jeep, taking snaps of awesome sights and scrutinizing the merchandise at souvenir shops. They were excited, shouting and screaming on top of their shrieky voices. Locals were courteously smiling and laughing at the commotion they create.  We made a couple of small stops and the girls were taking pictures of almost everything.
The start point is the Batad saddle
View of Batad from saddle
Prof. Gendrano sweeps the group 
Our third stop was already the Batad saddle, nestled between the valley of two adjoining peaks. This was the farthest the jeepney could go.  from then on, we had to continue our way down to the Batad town proper by foot.  I was anxiously trying to spot the town from the saddle while worriedly grasping my two heavy bags. The view had a wide and awesome vista - but all I could see was the endless slope of the mountain and forest with a small and vague image of what resembles a glassy part of a rice field and hints of small houses.  I cannot discern my googled image of Batad. 

Further down the road
We were told we could hire porters for 100 pesos a bag.  I mutteredf that it solves one problem and decided to trust my heavier messenger bag to a young lad, retaining only a small backpack and my camera. We were also presented with a choice of a difficult-but-short route against a longer-but-manageable one.  Of course I took the longer-and-easy choice. After a few minutes of haggling with porters for the group and again perusing through the same wood craft souvenirs, we began the claimed hour-long trek from saddle to town proper. Minnie Rosel took an elevation reading from the GPS apparatus lent out by Miriam college.  It read 1100 masl. 
There were a lot of tree ferns on the trail.
Through the greens
Edible fruits of a ginger
High elevation blooms
The first part, the girls were all excited, picking grasslike dandelion flowers and taking pictures with the view and almost anything. They were still noisy and giggly.  It was all our first time to this part of the mountains thus we were curious.  After a minutes, we were joined by our porters who started late but tackled the harder shortcut.  They glided with ease through the steep and large steps even if they were burdened with our bags.  For the rest of the way, they chose to stay with the group, even if we knew they could easily overtake us. 

I was taking every stride carefully, also leisurely because, as expected, I was enjoying looking and taking pictures of the flora.  I saw tree ferns, ground orchids, flowering weeds, trees and especially flowering Rhododendrons, which you won't usually see in hot Manila. There was rich vegetation to see in the rock crevices, in every bend and turn.

Still a mountain to go...
Souvenir shacks
Dwarfed by the mountains
Before halfway point, souvenir shacks provide shelter but at the same time taking advantage of resting tourists.  It was almost an hour of walk and we are only half through.  The souvenir shops were in reality a welcome part of the trek, providing a diversion for the company.  The girls seemed to still have spirit, scrutinizing what they could and ordering what they want.  They were also probably stalling for a few more minutes of rest time.  It was also a relieve that it was cloudy - at least we did not have to have the hot sun adding to our agony. About two or three more shops were dispersed in the extent of the saddle-to-town trek and our group made stops in all of them.

One third to go
When we reached the last souvenir shop, we were told it was the two thirds trail marker. Walking, and resting a lot, already took us more than an hour but still no view of Batad and its famed rice terraces. But after making a last turn at the next bend, we were given motivation as hints of the rice terraces came clearer. I anxiously went ahead of the pack with our guide Kuya Donato accompanying me. The strides became manageable because of the promise of nearness.  One by one, traditional structures were appearing.  A few more steps and after almost an hour and a half, the famous image I googled came to full view.  It was simply beautiful!  Looking at it made me forget the about the the efforts of the descent. After we finished, Minnie took another GPS reading.  It read 890 masl.  We walked down a total of 210 meters vertically.

The Batad town at the base of the rice terraces
We spent the next few days in Batad, and immersed ourselves in true Ifugao culture. The hour long effort descending from the saddle into the valley made us literally captives in the town, but the detention was pleasant.   I could not at all say it is restful as most of the Batad attractions are literally a hill and a mountain away from each other.  Though most of the Miriam college ladies chose to partake in the trek to the View point and the Falls, I heard one of them say the descent to the valley was the easiest.  I could not agree more because personally I chose to stay put in Mang Ramon's homestay, just to conserve energy for the trip back, which was a whole different and much more challenging tale to tell.
The iconic Batad view
Batad is no walk in the park. It is indeed a challenge to conquer, which gives much credibility to what is printed in the souvenir shirts they sell 'I survived Batad!'.  But don't get me wrong that I did not enjoy my experience, because I truly did.  Just the glimpse of the hidden valley was prize enough for me for doing the trek.  Staying in an Ifugao house and the  lifestyle immersion was an added bonus.  The Batad massage was pure heaven. 
The ladies conquering Batad
To Mang Ramon, his family and staff, thank you for making our Batad stay the most pleasant and extraordinarily memorable! I will hopefully return, stay longer, see the sights and hopefully shed more of the pounds in the process.      


Anonymous said...

Thanks for honestly relating your experiences and opinions and good luck to you.
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blogalag said...

Sir Pat! Thank you so much for all the help, especially on the "herding" in Banawe and in Sampaloc after the trip! We owe you one he he. Good to have conquered Batad with you :)

Siyang said...

Very beautiful!