Days 2 - 3 (13th – 14th November 2010) – BATAD
Before I start my report, I would point out that if you are going to Batad, then you don’t need to hire a guide from Banaue, despite how much they will tell you that you do. It is very easy to reach Batad and I would advise you to hire a guide there, as it will be cheaper and the guides, being local, know much more about their area. The only proviso is if you intend to trek to Batad, via Pula – then I would say take a guide from Banaue (but more about trekking in a later report).
Also, whilst I’m on my soapbox, if you are going to Batad, you can just about do it as a day trip from Banaue. But I would say it deserves more time and you should plan on spending at least one night there – two is better.
DAY 2 (Sat 13th November)
The next morning we packed up our main bags and stuffed just a few essentials plus a change of clothes into our day sacks. Where we were headed for the next 3 nights, was so remote, there weren't any roads and we had to carry everything we needed, on our backs.
We weren’t about to chance eating at the Peoples Lodge’s restaurant again and headed down the street to the Halfway Lodge and Restaurant, where we had a lovely breakfast of omelette and fried rice. However it did take some time to prepare, as I don’t think they were expecting customers.
The previous afternoon we had chatted to a couple of trike drivers about going to Batad. We knew there were a few options of getting there. The better option was to try and catch the jeepney that goes all the way up to Batad Saddle and then walk down to the village. However, we had been in email contact with the guesthouse where we intended to stay in Batad and they had told us the road from the junction up to the saddle had been destroyed. This was due to landslides caused by the Super Typhoon Megi (or locally – Juan), which had crashed through 3 weeks earlier. The Banaue Tourist Information centre also confirmed the road was indeed still closed.
One young lad, called Mark, said he would take us for 300 pesos, which seemed a good price and we had arranged to meet him at 9:00 am outside our hotel. As breakfast had been slow, we were running behind schedule. But when we got back to the lodge, there he was waiting for us. We dragged our main packs down all the stairs to the basement and they were locked up in a storage room for us.
At 9:30 we squeezed into the trike and we were off to Batad Junction.
Mark explained it would take about 1.5 hours to get there, as he would have to drive slowly due to the road being bad. The road, was way beyond bad, it was atrocious. His skill at manoeuvring along the very muddy rutted track was extremely impressive. At 45 minutes into our boneshaker, we asked him to stop so we could take some photos of the “Hanging House”. It’s not actually called that, but it does adequately describe it. The house has been built on the roadside with a large proportion of it balanced precariously over the cliff edge on rickety props. It brings a whole new meaning to the saying “living your life on the edge”.
Arriving at the junction, we peeled ourselves out of the trike and were approached by an old man of 60. We told him we didn't need a guide, but he said are you Mr Graham? We couldn't work out how he knew my name. But it turned out that the inn we had emailed had sent him to show us the way. Once we set off, we soon had a small taste of the scenery that was awaiting us, as we glimpsed some beautiful terraces down a valley. Also we saw why the route was not open to traffic (at that time – it will now be open). The track (as it could never be called a road), had been washed away in places and there were huge ravines of about 4 foot deep. Lots of landslides had come down and blocked the access completely. After walking uphill for about 15 minutes we came across a huge landslide which we had to climb up and over. On the other side was a jeepney and the two men were trying to clear the landslide, with an iron bar. They had been stranded for 3 weeks, and judging by their progress, it would take them another 3 just to move 6 foot. They were living in the jeepney and had a small stove for cooking - what a tough life.
Onwards and upwards we climbed, passing a truck that had obviously had a slight problem with one of the bends. Here we briefly stopped in order to take in the stunning scenery. It was slightly embarrassing having the old 60 year man with us, as we had to keep stopping for a rest. Not for him – but for us!! He was as fit as a fiddle and just had a steady pace. Despite this we made it up to the saddle in quite good time of about 1 hour 5 minutes, at 11:40 am.
Again at the top another man approached us and said "Mr Graham"? I was beginning to think I must be famous in these parts. Sadly not, again he was the guide from the Hillside Inn, we had emailed. I think they had sent him to ensure we didn’t end up staying in one of the other establishments, as there is absolutely no need for a guide to get to Batad village either from the Junction and especially not once you are at the Saddle.
Before we headed down hill, we climbed the steps up to the lookout point to grab a couple of photos down the valleys and to marvel at how they were constructing a new place on the hillside with a maze of timber scaffolding.
There are two routes down to Batad the quick and steep route or the longer winding route (better if you are coming back up). We opted for the steep route with the slippery steps. Fifteen minutes later we had to squeeze past a tracked excavator that was in the process of trying to clear the track down to the village. Of course the only way past was to climb over the loose rubble on the cliff side, whilst clinging onto the machine for dear life. How on earth the machine ever got there is still a mystery to us. Answers on a postcard please.
Continuing on, we again had views across to some stunning rice terraces. Then we were passed by a string of locals carrying logs on their shoulders. Our guide explained that these were for the cooking fires. It is mind boggling to think that everything in Batad and the surrounding mountain villages has to be brought in by hand. This was doubly difficult, when we visited, due to the Saddle road being closed to traffic.
Just before we reached the village we passed a group of eight Filipinos, up for the weekend, from Manila, who said they were also heading down in the same direction as us. Then at 12:30 pm we arrived into Batad, only 3 hours after leaving Banaue, which we thought was good going. Upon entering, you are first greeted by the registration hut where you are asked to sign the book and leave a small donation for the upkeep of the rice terraces. I think we simply checked what the average of what others had given and gave the same, 50 pesos comes to mind. From here it was only a few steps down to The Hillside Inn (you can’t miss it as it has its name emblazoned on the green roof) – no website, just email Maya at email@example.com (she is very prompt in her replies). We had chosen this place as we had heard was it one of the better inns. However there are a few more places to stay (some apparently with hot water option). Just as we were checking in, the group of Filipinos arrived, so we would have company.
We were shown our 200 pesos each per night room on the top floor front corner and it was very basic. It had two double beds squeezed in and was decorated in the minimalist style of plain plywood walls and ceiling, with the nice touch of a reinforced concrete pillar next to the bed. This was going to be home for the next 2 nights. We drew the curtains back to take in the view, which actually was absolutely stunning. It was even made that little bit clearer; due to the fact that one of the panes of glass was missing (my wife solved that at night by stuffing some spares pillows into the hole).
The accommodation in Batad, I believe, is all basic. But if you can’t rough it for a few nights then you are going to miss out on one of the most scenic places in the Philippines. We basically had the top floor to ourselves as the Filipino group lodged in the ground floor rooms. So we had the communal shower and toilet block as our personal washroom. There isn’t hot water here, so be warned. I ended up using the ladies cubicle, as it had a shower head that worked (unlike the one in the men’s’). I wasn’t brave enough to use the scoop and bucket that was the alternative. The tips here are to bring some shower sandals, as the floors can get dirty, even though you are supposed to leave your boots outside. Also bring or buy a toilet roll. We didn’t and ended up pinching the serviettes from the restaurant (is this too much info!!)
Now if you are reading this you no doubt have some idea of what Batad has on offer i.e. it is an amphitheatre of stone walled rice terraces and is supposedly regarded as the eighth wonder of the world. I must admit it was a pretty damn good view. It's just that we knew that with it being on a hillside, that all the trekking would be downhill, and of course what goes down...........!!
We went down to the restaurant / viewing balcony and met the group of Filipinos and we all got chatting. They were very friendly and kept offering us different types of local snacks, (give me free food and I'll follow you anywhere). We ordered lunch from the impressive menu and had a meal called "Malawach" with cheese and tomato. Strangely, this was an Israeli meal and not Filipino. It turned out that the very first tourists who visited Batad were from Israel and hence the food. It was great sitting on the balcony with a fantastic view of the rice terraces as a back drop.
After lunch, at 2:20 pm, our guide, Charlie, said he would take us down the hill, through the village and onto the Tappia or Tappiyah Waterfall. He must have thought we were super athletes or something, hadn't we just climbed up to the saddle and down to the inn. Wasn't this enough punishment for one day? Obviously not, as led us off. Going down we passed by some remaining thatched Ifugao huts where the women were pounding the rice and then it was time for our first experience of descending the face of the stone walled rice terraces. The terraces, which date back over 2000 years, were built with alternating small stones protruding from their sides. To descend, you have to start with your right foot (if the wall is on your left, and therefore your left foot if the wall is on your right) and cling on as you go down, pretending to your guide that this is something you do every day. As you near the village at the bottom you will have traversed along the top walls of the terraces, some of which are quite narrow. All the way down you get to see just how high some of the terraces actually are. Certainly you don’t want to be falling off, even though you would have a soft, if not somewhat sludgy landing.
In the village, Charlie showed us the old huts which are built on stilts to keep out snakes and vermin. He told us that some tourists like to stay overnight in them and they can be rented. Also down here the farmers have managed to purchase a communal rotovator to plough their paddies, making a tough life just that bit easier.
Through the village, down some huge steps and across a landslide that had wiped out the path, at 3:15 pm, we finally made it to the waterfall. We would never have found it without a guide. The waterfall was pretty spectacular and was gushing forth, no doubt with all the recent rains. The 8 Filipinos had also done the same trek with their guide (seems to be a standard first day route). They were more adventurous and tried wading out into the deeper water. But the force of the falls was far too strong to try and swim. Also Charlie told us that the swimming isn’t as good there as it used to be because the water has brought a lot of rocks down from Cambulo, further up the valley. Taking pictures here was also a challenge due to the gloom caused by the imminent rain shower and the volume of spray being thrown up.
Having spent 45 minutes there and after sheltering from the rain in the small derelict hut, it was 4:00 pm and time for our daily torture session. I mean we had to head back uphill to the inn. This was no easy feat, as the steps were quite tall and we had read that they took no prisoners. This was indeed the case and it wasn't long before our legs were burning and sweat was pouring off us. It was more the humidity than the heat, but boy were we soaking wet. It was very tough going. There was a small shelter at the top of the steep steps where we sat and rested and some enterprising kids brought out some soft drinks to buy.
Charlie took us back a different route, along the middle of the terraces and we stopped off at a strategically placed small thatched lookout hut, which provided beautiful views out across the mountains. From here it was back uphill. But again this was a challenge as the main track had been wiped out by a landslide and we had to scramble up a muddy incline through the trees in the gloom. Anyhow we made it back to the inn just as it went dark at just after 5:30 pm.
It was then time to brave the cold shower and as we are rough tough seasoned travellers, we didn’t scream for more than 5 minutes!! We kept thinking to ourselves that we were actually paying for this privilege and at home, if criminals were treated this way, there would be an outcry!!
Down in the restaurant, we met up with the Filipinos who invited us to join them for dinner and we sat around chatting. They were a great bunch and were an adventure group of friends who had hired a big SUV and travelled all the way from Manila just for the weekend. After a great meal, they brought out their snacks and a bottle of fire water, which they shared. Can’t remember what it was, but they chased it with Nestea Iced Lemon.
That night we slept the best we could in the cool mountain air, with lots of blankets and trying not to get rusty splinters off the exposed reinforcement pillar
DAY 3 (Sun 14th November)
The next morning dawned and we were treated, at last, to some sunshine, as the weather had been quite overcast up to this point. The rice terraces looked rather stunning in the sunlight.
After breakfast, again taken on the verandah, with the sloping terraces spread out in front of us, we had a small walk with Charlie around the huts near to the Hillside Inn. He introduced us to an old lady whom he told us was 97 years old. She showed us her tattooed arms, which Charlie said represented the terraces she owned, sort of like title deeds. He also explained that the tattooing process was quite painful and when she had them done she wasn’t able to work until they healed. Her house was an old Ifugao Hut and was adorned with many buffalo skulls and jaw bones. The buffalo were apparently slaughtered on special occasions and sometimes deaths. Also the number of skulls represented the wealth of the family.
We then said goodbye to the Filipino group who were heading back to Banaue and then their long journey to Manila. It had been great meeting them and their friendliness had made our brief encounter all that more enjoyable.
It was then time for us to head out as well. Charlie wasn't available that day, so had arranged for his nephew - Hubert, to guide us. We had a chat about where we could go, and he suggested visiting the highest village in the area called Pataye. The highest obviously meant uphill, and it was located on the top left hand side of the terraces.
He suggested we take some walking poles with us (which he provided). This immediately made us realize that today was going to be tougher than the waterfall walk. Anyhow, at 10:45 am, Hubert set off with us in tow. He was sporting his oldest pair of flip flops, whilst we had our rugged walking boots, and he still easily outpaced up. How the guides managed to climb hills in these, amazed us. We think they must be born wearing them or be part mountain goat.
Walking left from the Inn; we traversed the middle of the terraces and then headed steeply uphill.
Up and up we went with the track getting steeper and steeper. The only stops were to let Hubert spit out his momma juice, and for us to replenish our fluids which were rapidly leaking from our faces. We eventually made it to the village at 11:40 am (so just about an hours slog), only to discover it consisted of approximately seven traditional wood and straw huts, a collection of pigs and a handful of chickens. Sadly the place was deserted, as it was Sunday and they were all at the church, down in the valley. If we had brought a bar of soap, I think we could have had a wash as our shirts were saturated. However the views from the top of the ridge were breathtaking and well worth the pain of getting up there and we spent a good thirty minutes soaking up the scenery.
There were a few trees up here bearing large cannon ball sized greenish/ yellow round fruits, and when we asked Hubert what they were, instead of telling us, he just climbed to the top and collected some for us to taste. He said the villagers wouldn’t mind him taking some. Turned out they were pomelos, which is something we hadn’t tried before. They looked and tasted very much like grapefruit. From Pataye we could make out another village on the other side of the ridge and Hubert told us it was Cambulo. Now this was of interest to us, as we intended trekking there the following day. So we picked his brains on the best route out from the terraces.
Leaving the summit at just after noon, Hubert explained we would be going back via the irrigation channel, which wound around the rear of the mountain. This turned out to be a narrow concrete walkway along the top of the water channel which fed the rice terraces. Once we had braved and survived this challenge, the fun began. As we had done the day before, we had to climb down the faces of the terraces. Now yesterday had been difficult but that was nothing compared to these descents. Some of them were exceedingly high and the protruding stones very small. Hubert went down like the pub was about to close, whilst we took our time and looked like we should have had crampons and ropes.
By 1:30 pm we had reached the concrete steps that lead all the way from the valley floor up to the top of the mountain. This route, Herbert told us was the way to Cambulo.
Here we sat on the wall of a terrace in amongst the small yellow sun flower shrubs, dangling our weary legs over the edge and soaking up the view. Whilst we were resting, a man climbed up to us, on his way to Cambulo, sporting a magnificently carved walking stick. Hubert explained he was a carpenter and had made it, for sale. It was lovely, but we still had a lot of travelling to do and couldn’t carry it with us.
Sadly, we had to move on and we made it back to the Inn for 2:30pm, all the while making mental notes of the best route back to the concrete steps. As the next day we intended to try and trek without a guide.
We paid Hubert his 400 pesos guide fee and off he rushed to watch the Manny Pacquiao (Filipino) versus Antonio Margarito (Mexican American) boxing match. We had wondered why the place looked deserted; everyone must have been watching the TV (Pacquiao won by the way, so everyone in the village was very happy)
We plonked on the balcony seats and settled in for a well earned lunch.
On a side note, we were really glad that we had taken the walking poles this day as they came in very handy and it would have been much harder climbing and descending without them.
After a lazy lunch, we were feeling fairly tired, but that wasn’t going to stop us. So boots back on and we decided to do a short walk to explore the sights to the right of the Inn. Setting off on our own, one of the dogs from the Inn came with us, and as we reckoned he knew where he was going, we simply followed him. This did lead us through some people’s houses, but they didn’t seem to mind, and they smiled at us as we passed through. Our journey finally led us to a ridge line on the right of the village, where we had a view back to the terraces from a different perspective. Down in the bottom of the hill was the hanging bridge that you must cross if you do another trek on offer, which leads up to a viewpoint on the far side of the valley.
The sun was getting lower, and we retraced our steps back to the Inn to cold shower and plan for the next day. Charlie was waiting for us and said he would guide us. But we explained we simply wanted to trek out on our own, as we had read of others who had done it and thought we were also capable enough to manage it. Tales were told of Japanese tourists who had wandered off and got lost. They had been discovered cold and wet after having camped out overnight in some banana plantations. We think he was pushing his services on us a little, but he also did seem concerned about our well being. But we weren’t to be swayed and declined his offer and paid him the 400 pesos we owed him for the waterfall trek. It was kind of academic anyway, as we simply hadn’t brought enough money with us to pay for a guide for the two days.
(I must pre-empt the next part of our trip report, by stating here I am in no way promoting or advocating trekking in these mountains on your own. By all means take a guide – it is very easy to get lost).
So that was it for us at Batad. We’d had a great time and really loved it. The following day we were heading off on what we knew would be a two day trek back to Banaue.
LOTS OF PHOTOS HERE
PREVIOUS LONG TRIP REPORTS
Part 1: Cauayan to Banaue