We’ve seen some spectacular beauty so far on our travels; in New Zealand we encountered towering volcanoes and sparkling emerald pools on the Tongariro Crossing; vast shimmering lakes surrounded by cloud-capped mountains in Queenstown and patchwork fields studded by lush rolling hills in Golden Bay. In Indonesia we were again awed by huge fiery volcanoes when we visited Mount Batur and Bromo and hit paradise when we washed up on the golden beaches of the Gili Islands. None of these sights, however, prepared us for the extreme beauty we discovered when we travelled through the Ifugao and Mountain provinces of the Philippines.
Our Sickening Journey to Banaue
As we headed to Manila after our week on the beautiful island of Bohol I began to feel a slight soreness in the back of my throat every time I swallowed. I tried hard to ignore the fact that my glands were swelling up and my sinuses sore as I battled to complete a freelance work assignment over the next couple of days but by the time we boarded the overnight bus to Banaue I was feeling sicker than ever.
A vicious 10-hour journey followed whereby we were pelted with freezing air conditioning and flung from side to side as we climbed ever-higher up winding mountain roads. At some point I must have slept because when I awoke, both my ears were completely blocked and nothing I did could equalise them. I emerged from the bus journey in a deafened, exhausted stupor, sneezing my way up a steep hill to find a guest house.
Even in my sickened state however, I was already charmed by this small mountain village with its tall wooden buildings, hordes of chickens and narrow windy paths. We threw open the rickety shutters in our bedroom to be greeted by a cool rush of clean mountain air and our first glimpse of the famous Banaue rice terraces lying under a haze of misty cloud in the distance. After a short nap, some breakfast and a cocktail of cold medicine and pain killers we headed out to explore.
The Banaue Rice Terraces and Locals – in Pictures
I was feeling too weak to hike up to the top-most viewpoint in Banaue so we whizzed up on a trike instead, catching glimpses of tiny wooden houses, packs of stray dogs and the green-yellow terraces beyond as we went. When we got to the top, Andrew and I stood in silence, taking in the most incredibly beautiful view we’ve ever seen. From a grassy bottom bisected by a glistening river, steep flights of lush rice terraces climbed upwards on either side to meet a low, white-grey sky, heavy with the promise of rain. The outlines of tiny villages perched on mountain-sides stretched off into the distance and if you squinted you could just make out the tiny ant-like shapes of people walking through the terraces below.
Save for two other tourists we had the view completely to ourselves and stayed up there for a long time, taking pictures, breathing in the crisp air and checking out some weird stone statues. A group of old women with brown, creased faces dressed in traditional clothing asked us to take their pictures in exchange for a donation, thanking us with wide, almost-toothless smiles.
Eventually we decided to head back down the mountain as the sky darkened with rain, on the way we passed dogs trotting up the road and small houses with washing hung outside and chickens pecking around in the grass. As we passed one porch a little girl in a pink top called out to us in greeting:
“What’s your name?” she asked, grinning and posing for pictures with her two brothers, “My name is Tellika.”
As we carried on down the path we were met by a steady stream of children heading home from school; many of them were keen to ask us our names while a group of three little boys puffed out their chests and demanded that we give them all our Pesos. As we stopped again to take pictures we encountered an old man clad in a traditional headdress wanting to pose for us and challenge Andrew to a spear fight.
Eventually, we were chased back to our guesthouse by the thickening rain and settled in for the night in our cosy lodge, preparing for our difficult journey to the supposedly more impressive rice terraces in Batad the next day – what followed were the toughest and most amazing few days of trekking I’ve ever done in my life.