After a long but not too uncomfortable bus ride down the beautiful island of Palawan to Puerto Princesa we jumped on a flight to Manila. After waiting for thirty minutes for a taxi, which seemed kind of strange for the capitals airport, we were on our way to the Where2Next Hostel in Malate.
Our taxi driver pointed out the girly bars and red light district of Malate as we made our way through the city. Beautiful girls in fancy dresses sat in rows behind dark glass, waiting to be chosen. We skipped this particular activity and went straight to our hostel where we passed out after a long day of travel.
The next morning we enjoyed our free breakfast and took full advantage of the very helpful hostel staff. They helped us book our night bus to the north and figure out what to do with our day in the city. We ended up taking a walk down to the mall and movie theatre, taking advantage of the cheap movie ticket price here in the Philippines.
Our bus left Manila at around 10pm heading up to the province of Ifugao and the town of Banaue. We were happy to have previously booked a room at a homestay in the town and to be met by the owners friend who had us in his tricycle, up the hill and sitting on a balcony with a cup of tea before we even realised we had arrived! The view from the balcony was breathtaking. Banaue is well known for its rice terraces but actually seeing them; sitting in front of them every morning as we eat a delicious breakfast (of rice!) was beyond all our expectations. We spent our first day relaxing, catching up on sleep and eating the wonderful food, home cooked by Bea the manager of our homestay. It took us a while to get used to the strange red stained teeth of most of the Banaue population. They constantly chew on something called Betel Nut which is bright red, supposed to help strengthen your bones and help keep you healthy. It is also something that they do not swallow and so they are left to constantly spit out this vivid goo that paints the streets red.
Unfortunately Greg was just starting to get a stomach bug and so our hopes of taking the typical tourist trail and hiking to the small town of Batad to view the most popular rice terraces were dashed. After five weeks of lots of beer and food we decided that perhaps this came as a blessing as a hardcore hike didn't sound quite as appealing as it once did.
We were very lucky the following morning to meet a lovely English couple, Henry and Lucky Perkins. These two had already spent four months in the Philippines and still had one to go. They had a great love for this country and made us realise that we had seen so little and wish we had more time.
The next morning the four of us took two tricycles over the mountains towards the oldest rice terraces of the region, Hapao. The ride itself was a big part of the adventure, probably the bumpiest ride we've ever taken, through small mountain communities, splashing through huge muddy puddles and swerving from the dogs and chickens that run wild through the streets.
Upon reaching Hapao we took an hours hike around the rice terraces through forest paths and even tinier communities. We watched the women work the fields, picking the rice throughout the day while the men carry it back to the homes to lay it in the sun and dry it out, ready to be pounded to remove the husks.
Eventually we reached the Hapao hot pool, one small pool around 5 metres wide with warm waters and the eggy sulphurous smell just to prove that it's natural. After hiking for one hour in the midday heat, we decided to leave the pool until after a dip in the ice cold river that ran next to it. The water was freezing upon entry but incredibly refreshing and after the first brave submerge it really didn't seem too cold. The water was running very fast but we were between two small falls where you could comfortable sit and enjoy the flow of the water passing by. The hot pool felt like a lovely warm bath after the cold rush of the river.
Our hike back took us through the rice terraces, along the irrigation on a very narrow and precarious path. Walking through the green terraces, carved into the mountains and surrounding us on every side was well worth the small hike. After a final push of strength up some of the steepest steps we've seen we made it out and back into our tricycle for the ride back which our driver told us was our 'free massage' due to the even bumpier journey home. The heavy rain made it an even more interesting ride.
The following day we said our goodbyes to the Perkins and took that long nine hour bus ride back down to Manila. After a lot of debating on where to head to next we decided instead to treat ourselves to a nice hotel in Manila for one night. We found the water themed H2O hotel in Manila Bay and couldn't resist. Unfortunately, our bus arrived into Manila at around 4am and we couldn't check in until 12. We took this opportunity to do some sightseeing once the sun had risen. We took a short walk to Intramuros, a walled town which is the oldest district of Manila and was once the seat of the Spanish government. Walking through the narrow cobbled streets, between old stone buildings and we almost believed we were in Spain, until the tricycles drove by and ambushed us with offers of tours anyway. We visited the San Augustin church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines and incredibly beautiful. Eventually the heat of the day and the lack of sleep from our long bus journey ceased our history lessons and so we checked in at H2O. Our room had an aquarium for a wall with a beautiful array of colourful fish swimming past us as we relaxed in the huge bed and enjoyed the free drinks and snacks before ordering room service! What a day!
Now that we've recuperated after our long bus ride we are hopping on a bus up the coast to Zambales for a little more beach before our journey home in a weeks time.