Spelunking in Sagada and Rice Terraces in Batad

Trip Start Mar 21, 2006
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Trip End Oct 05, 2008


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Flag of Philippines  ,
Friday, April 6, 2007

Greeting's to all!!

This last week of traveling with Heidi has been one of the highlights of our trip and one of the most physically active portions as well! On Sunday we loaded a bus leaving Baguio at 1pm and headed to Sagada, Mountain Province. Sagada is a beautiful little mountain town about 7 hours north of where I live and is known for their caves and beautiful hand woven products. Being that the Philippines is a Catholic county and that this week is Holy Week I was worried about our destinations being packed with people, but surprisingly it has not seemed that packed and we have continued to enjoy our one on one time!

One of the benefits of being a PCV is that there are fellow PCV spread all over the country so one, you have a free tour guide and two, a free place to stay. Stan a 60 something volunteer from my batch was nice enough to host us in is beautiful wood interior home. Stan was a very gracious host and even had hot coffee and toast for us when we rose each morning. Without any doubt the highlight of anyone's visit to Sagada is entering the caves. Sagada has a very well organized and trained guide association called Sagada Environmental Guides Association (SEGA). I hope to start a similar association with the guides I work with at my site. So our first full day there we hit the ground running and did the short cave tour in the morning. It is required to have a guide to tour the caves and we had a wonderful one. Not only is Sagada known for its caves but also for their indigenous burial practices. The Kan-ka-na-ey people historically have practiced the tradition of hanging coffins, and while this is not practiced anymore you can view coffins hanging amongst the elaborate rock formations throughout the town. Our first stop heading to our cave was the mouth of another cave, the burial cave. There were nearly 100 coffins placed precariously along the wall of the caves mouth and our guide told us that many of these coffins were over 300 years-old. It was interesting to learn about the symbolism of the lizard carving founds on top of many of the caves. The lizard is seen as a sign of good luck, however if a lizard is seen during the burial of an older person that is seen as a bad luck. Many of the coffins have lizards carved on top of them so I can only assume this is for good luck! Our guide Perry was very knowledgeable about these traditions and clearly proud to share some of his history with us. We then headed further down the road lined with pine trees and spectacular views of rice terraces to enter the cave. As we walked down the 200 plus steps to the mouth we could feel the cold air as we got closer and hear the many bats flying above. One of my favorite parts of caving is getting dirty and you indeed get dirty in these caves. There is bat guano everywhere and by the time we finished our 2 hour tour inside we were both covered in guano and on a huge adrenaline rush from our bending, crawling, and twisting through the narrow channels inside. Heidi's first spelunking experience was a huge success and I am learning to love this as perhaps my favorite adventure activity next to hiking!

That evening Heidi was nice enough to cook for myself and five other PCV's. Stan our host kept saying what a treat it was to have a home cooked meal, and indeed it was especially, Heidi's wonderful cooking. We walked up to the small but well equipped public market in town and Heidi was inspired! She made gazpacho (cold Spanish tomato soup), coleslaw, jicama salad, and mongo beans with fresh local zucchini. Everything was delicious and we all enjoyed the treat of a good home-cooked meal! That night Heidi finally experienced the thrill of the most popular Filipino past time, Videokee!!! Dan a PCV from last years batch who works and lives in Sagada lead us to a small little place, on the outskirts of town being that Sagada has a 9 pm curfew. The place was set underground and surrounded by rocks and when we entered there was a bunch of locals signing already. The rule of videokee here is that no matter how bad you might sing you never boo someone and surprisingly enough the entire room gets into the songs and creates a choir of backup singers. While some performances can be difficult to listen too, it is always a fun environment and Heidi indeed rocked the mic on her first time!! I think the favorite of the crowd was our duet of, Salt-n-Pepper's, "What a Man."

On Wednesday morning we departed Sagada and headed out on a 3 hour bus ride southeast to the famous town of Banaue. Banaue is located in Ifugao Province on of the poorest in country, but is also home to the 8th Wonder of the World, 2000 year-old rice terraces. Prior to coming to Banaue I had heard form many locals that Banaue is over run by tourist and has lost its charm. When we arrived in the afternoon and got settled in out hotel right in the town center Heidi and I both commented that the terraces did not seem that great. We both had been expecting a view that would literally take our breath away.... patience was all we needed because once we left Banaue and headed to Batad Village further north of Banaue we were amazed!

Yesterday morning we took an 8:30 am bumping hour-long trike ride up the mountain side to the Batad Junction. We thanked our red toothed trike driver Jun-Jun, and headed out on our 2 1/2 hour hike up and down to Batad Village. (Side note: Almost every man you see in Ifugao has read teeth from chewing Moma. Moma is a local nut of sorts that they combine with lie a slightly tobacco ridden white powder and chew. The lie makes gums bleed, hence the red teeth and randomly placed red splotches seen on all the roads in Banaue)
While the hike to Batad was indeed a grinder it was well worth the fresh air, views of terraces, mountains all around and the sounds of the birds along the path. There were many a tour group passing us on our hike there headed further up to the Batad Saddle, and we felt a little smug waving the jeepneys by and hiking the entire way. Once we reached the saddle I was instantly approached by a nice looking older gentleman who asked to be our guide. I immediately began speaking to him in Ilocano and assured him we did not need one but thanked him very much. He was quite surprised to hear a white person speaking his language and once I did he seemed less interested in being our guide and more interested in why I could speak Ilocano. The language has been a very fun part of this trip with Heidi. As many of you know she has always been the world traveler and linguist of the family and while many Filipino's do speak English, it has been fun to be able to use the little Ilocano I have learned and I think Heidi has enjoyed watching my interchanges with the locals in their language. People receive you very differently when you can communicate with them in their language and it helps separate me from the "Average Joe" tourist that is just passing through.

Our long hike was worth the effort once we caught a view of the incredible rice terraces in Batad. I truly have never seen anything like it in my life! The village is placed at the bottom of at least 200 terraces rising high to the clouds along the mountainsides. This was the perfect time to come because planting began about one month ago in preparations for the coming rainy season so the terraces were green and spectacular. We stayed at a simple but lovely little Inn placed on top of a mountainside. The half open air dining area faced the amphitheatre terraces and we enjoyed the movie like view we dined. One of the highlights of Batad for me was getting to walk through, up, and around all the terraces!!! It was incredible to think that these terraces were built 2000 years ago in order to provide food and income to this community and they still serve that function to this day! As we climbed higher and higher the views of the terraces and surrounding mountains only got better and it was all I could do to stop taking photos!! Truly spectacular!

Another highlight of Batad was our interactions with the local people. Both times we walked amongst the terraces we walked through the village, filled with a combination of native Ifugao Huts and the more "modern" GI sheet (steel roofed and sided) homes. While the GI sheet roofing is much more practical then the grass roofed huts it was incredible to see these simple structures serving as a home to so many people. The cooking in the native huts is all done outside so as we walked along we saw, men, women and even small children preparing their meals with simple pots and sticks of wood burning underneath. While for so many westerners this scene might appear primitive and perhaps even scary, I was humbled by their simplicity of life and the clear hard work it takes to live in this community. The people of Batad were smiling, warm and friendly faces to be greeted by and while their hard way of life was clear you would never know it from the smiles of the children and the warm responses we received when they discovered I speak Ilocano.

Sadly we had to leave Batad this morning and are now back in Banaue where we will spend the night and catch the 7 am bus to Baguio City tomorrow. As I have said before this time with Heidi just keeps getting better and better and it will be sad to see her go on Wednesday at the airport in Manila! I feel very fortunate to have a sister that will put her life on hold in the states and take a month to come explore my second home in the Philippines! This is indeed a very special country and I feel so blessed to be getting to know its people, culture and traditions! The humble village of Batad and its rice terraces will remain a highlight and at the top of my list of destinations here in the Philippines!

Sending love, peace and hugs to all!

Sherry
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Comments

lb4bear
lb4bear on

thanks
Bear,
Just wanted to say 'hi' and thinks for keeping us informed. It's so fun to read your updates. You write them so thoughtfully and include all the good details. I'm so glad that you had such a wonderful time with your sister. Aren't sisters awesome?! I look forward to when you get back and I get to hear about it in person, but for now I'm glad you're in the Philippines because you seem really happy and it sure sounds like your doing a lot of good for the country and people of the Philippines! Keep it up! I look forward to the next update! Fondly, Lindsay 'LB'

dianao
dianao on

Beautiful
WOW, those pictures are great ... how lucky are you to be able to be in the presence of such magnificent sites? You two look like you're having so much fun! Miss you lots, I look forward to more of your wonderful entries!

-Diana

lb4bear
lb4bear on

concerned
Bear,

I understand that one of your peers is missing in action? I saw a CNN headline and feared that it might have been you! I'm glad it wasn't, but am concerned about the missing PCV. I can't imagine what you're feeling, especially if you're close to her. Let me know the latest when you can k? And any way I can be praying for the situation.

Fondly,
LB

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