Ok, the bus journey to Banaue wasn't as bad as I was expecting despite the cramped conditions and that my window kept leaking. I did feel sorry for the kids that had to sit in the seats down the aisle, they did not look comfortable at all. Anyway at 6am we arrived at a wet, cloudy grey town - Banaue in North Luzon and so began the search for a hotel which we anticipated to be hard as all the ones we had rang from Manila were fully booked. We went into the first place we saw, Querencia Hotel and result they had a spare room and for only 400 pesos / £6 so we took it and grabbed a couple of hours kip.
Feeling a bit more refreshed we headed out to explore Banaue and book a 2 day hike to see the rice terraces since it is a UNESCO site. The town is on a hillside and the buildings look precariously built. We did a loop of the town which didn't take long at all and consisted of a dusty, polluted market square packed with tricycles and jeepneys parked up waiting for customers. The market itself is across a ramshackled wooden building and a new concrete building and not really what you can call a market. But the rice terrace and hilly back drop make up for it (well when it's not raining and full of cloud). Determined not to be put off my the rain we headed out of the town to the viewpoints but this was a pointless exercise as the cloud cover was persistent and provided a limited if at all view of the terraces. We plonked ourselves down wondering what on earth we could do to pass the time when Sharon - a local assistant at a school came past and offered to show us around her school - Patilong Elementary School. So we accepted. The school was quaint but basic and was being prepared for the holidays to end. After killing an hour there chatting, Sharon wouldn't let us leave without giving us both a present - a carving of Jesus in a log and a wooden water buffalo. She was too lovely. Due to the rain and lack of things going on in the town the evening was pretty quiet with us chilling at the hotel with some food and several games of cards.
The next day was 3rd January and we were up bright and early for the walk through the rice terraces to begin at 8am. The tourist info guy forgot to tell us we needed a packed lunch, so we did a frustrated run around town trying to cobble one together, very hard in a rubbish town. He did manage to remember to tell that Fran and Paul had arrived and were doing the same tour but an hour behind us. We joined up with another 2 German couples, who seemed nice even if one of the guys was an oddball, and set off. Due to the rain the previous couple of days the track was thick in wet sticky mud making walking a bit of a challenge and the view for most of the day was forrest and greyness. Least we had a couple of good guides. Half way round we stopped for lunch and Fran and Paul caught us up but we carried on whilst they had lunch. Later in the afternoon, having slide our way around, we finally broke into the rice terraced areas which looked very picturesque being a sea of greens and terraces running up all the hillsides and at different stages. Some terraces were barren, some growing seedlings getting ready to be planted properly and some ready to harvest. Tiptoeing along the narrow rocky terrace edges was a bit hairy especially in slippy muddy trainers. We passed through a couple of small hillside villages to get to the village we were staying in called Cambulo. It was crazy how many children each family up in the villages had, I guess other than working the paddy fields there's not much else to do. Finally we made the guest house had a cold shower and relaxed and half an hour later Fran and Paul arrived looking worn out. One couple arrived several hours after it had gone dark, navigating that walk in the dark is not something I'd want to be doing. After chatting and eating we were all in bed by 9pm. The oddball German guy wanted us to leave at 7am the next morning, no chance mate, so we told him 8am.
Having slept easily that night, we were back ready to leave at 8am. Our guide told us we were losing one of the German couples (sadly not the oddball) and Fran and Paul would be joining us, result. The weather and views were so much better that day and we walked to the main rice terraces of Batad. Wow! These terraces were built over 2000 years and cover the hillside throughout the valley except for a small patch in the middle where the village sits. It's literally jaw dropping and it's hard to imagine these being hand built and dug out. We spent a couple hours bimbling about this area but a couple of things made me laugh (even if they shouldn't have) firstly I watched a young boy catch a snake with a stick and once he had it where he wanted it on a rocky ledge he proceeded to club it to a grim death, first with his stick and then with a rock. It was gross and I could see bits of the snake flinging off in all directions. Then he got bored or more probably there was nothing left of the snake and he trotted off home. Then we strolled about and paused at a small souvenir hut and while a dad was being interviewed by some school children, his little boy was trying to shove pebbles up the dogs arse. But he had the good sense to put his hand in a plastic bag to do this. The poor dog was obviously use to being harassed. You had to laugh though. Once we left the main Batad Terraced area the scenery continued to be pretty even if the trail returned to be difficult and muddy and a little tiring. The banter between the four us and the two Germans was good and made the rough bits bearable. Eventually we made it to the jeepneys where we piled, exhaustively, into the tricycles and headed back to Banaue with a pit stop at Bangaan village to see their rice terraces from a viewpoint on the road. The road back to Banaue was a jumpy ride with the road being half built and carnage across the road.
Back in Banaue we went to check back in at the hotel to be told the room wasn't ready and wouldn't be until 6pm. Covered in mud, sweaty and shattered I was not happy but eventually we got our cold room and tepid shower before meeting Fran and Paul for a well deserved beer and food. The next day was our last in Banaue and the weather was beautiful, but in a town with limited things to do it proved a slow day that mainly consisted of eating.
That evening the four of us got the night bus back to Manila, which instead of being 8-9 hours was 11 hours and arrived at 6am as the driver decided to pull over for 2 hours to assist another coach that had broken down. Worked out better for us as we couldn't check in until 11am so we had to kill 5 hours walking aimlessly around Makati. We did manage to find the most amazing breakfast place albeit expensive but it was worth every penny. The rest of the day in Manila had us visiting the Ayala museum which provided an insight in the Filipino history and how they had been under the control of the Spanish, American, English and Japanese. Other than that it was a night of eating, drinking and packing before our separate flights out of the Philippines the next morning.
Up bright and early on 7th January to head to the airport, next stop...back to Bangkok.