Banaue, June 21
We left Boracay fully rested and ready to experience another side of the Philippines, the mountainous jungles of the north. We had heard about the ancient rice terraces of Banaue and were eager to witness these architectural marvels. The Banaue rice terraces are often referred to as "the 8th Wonder of the World" and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Quick fact - the rice terraces are the only ancient megastructures in the world that were built without slave labour (or so the internet says!).
The immense engineering project was created by the Ifugao native people. The rice terraces have an impressive irrigation network of water channels and streams and they cover the sides of the mountain valleys for miles, deep within the North Luzon jungle. Many of the terraces are still in use today and they are said to have been constructed over 2,000 years ago, with some people arguing that the number is closer to 3,000 years. Regardless, to put it into perspective, the lost city of Machu Picchu is said to be less than 500 years old... so the terraces were not something we were going to miss!
We arrived at the small Caticlan airport (Godofredo P Ramos Airport) and had a chuckle at the layout. Departure Gates 1 and 2 (the only gates) were located only two meters apart in the same waiting room. Basically it was the same departure gate but someone had decided to name each exit door as a separate gate, I guess to make the airport seem a little bigger?
While waiting for our flight we noticed that a considerable number of younger Japanese couples dressed almost identical - similar shorts, shirts, hats and shoes. Even the same colours and brand names, it was as if the outfits were co-ordinated well in advance. It seemed kind of strange to us, but added to our curiousity about our upcoming trip to Japan.
We boarded our small Dash-8 plane on PAL Express and flew to Manila. To be brief, the flight was terrible. Let's just say our pilot seemed lost and kept circling into a storm that fiercely shook the small propeller plane, to the delight of the screaming and vomitting passengers onboard. I'm still confused by the situation (it wasn't a runway clearance thing, and even if it was, the opposite side of the airport was storm free). Nicole had a classic moment where she shouted "Why won't they just land this f****n plane already!" Good times!
We spent a couple nights in Manila before boarding our bus north to the village of Banaue. While in Manila, we noticed that all tricycles, taxis, and buses have "How's my Driving" painted on the back or side of the vehicle, with a phone number to text or complain to. The irony is that everyone drives like a maniac! There really is no point in posting road signs or even having street dividers for that matter.
One evening, we enjoyed several cheap San Miguel Pale Pilsens at a local streetside restaurant and got to chatting with a couple (Dee and Marcus) who were also staying at our hostel. They have been travelling for over two and a half years, with a brief break in Ireland to get married... and we thought our trip was long! It was great swapping travel stories and picking their brains about some of our future destinations.
Our overnight bus on the Autobus transit line was interesting to say the least. The bus was the most dilapedated, beat-up bus we've ever been on.. and we've been on a lot of buses! Windows cracked, broken chairs that didn't recline, whistling breaks, air-conditioning that was blasting with broken vents making it a human freezer, and of course no lights to read. And the drive was up steep, windy mountains at night... yikes! We've loved our time in the Philippines but have had both our worst flight and worst bus trip while in the country.
We arrived in Banaue two hours late (11 hour bus trip) and jumped on a jeepney (our first time in one) that took us to our hostel, the People's Lodge. Our room was adjacent to a balcony that had stunning views of the town and rice terraces (see photo album). It was amazing to finally be there, surrounded by the lush, beautiful, bright green stairs in every direction.