I woke up at 5:30Am, and summoned all my strength to get dressed and went outside. How I wished I could have a day of rest!! My body begged for it, but I had to meet my best friend in Manila on an arriving flight the next day. I had no idea how I could get back so fast, but I had to try.
It was early, but the entire village was up. There was smell of breakfast in the air, dogs and roosters and pigs making noise, kids running around… I decided not to bathe, since I could only imagine the water temperature after a night like the one I’ve had!! I used a soap towelette I brought with me to wash my hands and sat down to a breakfast which was exactly the same as the dinner minus the green beans. I was waiting to see if the man would bring up the issue of payment, but he never did. His hospitality was genuine, and I could tell he really liked my ways. Of course I left 80 pesos ($1.65) under my pillow in gratitude, but he wouldn’t know about that until I would have left the village.
As I was eating with him, I saw the older missionary lady from the night before talking in Tuali with a local on the steps above the man’s yard. Her tuali was quite good, and I correctly ascertained that she has lived in Cambulo for a while. So on the way out of the village, I smiled at her, and she said hello.
Sister D. turned out to be much cooler than my initial impression of her. Her way was very direct, unpatronizing, and genuine – and she didn’t try to switch every topic of conversation to god the way many religious representatives do. An American ex-pat, she left medical school in the US to join the mission in Cambulo, and lived there for over 35 years now. She asked me where I stayed, and grimaced when I told her. "Did he overcharge you?" she asked. "No, actually, he didn’t ask me to pay," I replied. The look of surprise on her face was not strong enough to cover her obvious disdain for the man. Then I remembered the "prayer" at dinner, and realized that there might be some bad blood there that runs deeper than I care to understand.
The house of sister D, unlike the native houses, was relatively private with her personal things hidden from public scrutiny. At the front steps of her door was a chained up baboon that growls at anyone who attempts to approach it. A baboon out of the zoo is a lot like a severely retired human individual with a criminal mind. In fact that’s the general impression I got from him. Sister D told me that the locals are very cruel to the baboon and like to throw things at him. I believe her, because even in cebu, I’ve seen people shamelessly throwing rocks at dogs. She also introduced me to an elder, who, when he found out I was trekking alone, asked me if I had a good walking cane. I told him I didn’t, and he came back shortly with a beautiful long one. That cane would later save my life twice, and I am so thankful I met this man.
Sister D walked me to the rice terraces that lead toward Batad, and stood there watching me as I attempted to walk on. Walking along the terraces is a tricky thing: Each step is essentially a pool of muddy water where the rice grows, and to step into one would mean getting wet up to the knee and getting stuck in sticky, slippery mud. The only dry land on a rice terrace is its rocky edge. The rocks are about 10" in width, with the watery/muddy terrace to one side, and a 5 meter fall to the next watery/muddy terrace step on the other. In short, if it weren’t for that walking cane the man gave me, I would have been in serious trouble.
All in all, the trail from Cambulo to Batad, and from Batad back to the main road to Banaue was far more challenging than the road from the previous day. Maybe I was already tired, or maybe there were more steep climbs.. But I can honestly say that I pushed myself beyond all limits that I thought I had.
Of course being a dumb ass that I am, I forgot to prepare for the journey. I forgot sunblock, and while the hike to Cambulo was mostly in the shade, from Cambulo to Batad I was exposed to the direct sun rays and quickly felt my skin get red… What were my options then? Walking back to cambulo over the scorching direct sun rays felt suicidal. So I just pressed onward, not letting myself rest any more in order to quickly get to batad, and hopefully, score some sunblock.
On the mountain overlooking batad, my strength finally gave out. My legs spasmed and refused to move. My body exhausted by sunburn and previous day’s journey refused to balance. So like a baby I went from step to step on my ass until I reached a little oasis a few meters above the village, where drinks were sold, and where was SHADE. I collapsed on the wooden bench there, and took long sips of their overpriced bottled water (I didn’t encounter any streams on the way to Batad), and didn’t care about anything else!
Two hours of rest did me a lot of good, and I felt strong enough to continue. As I rested I saw an American couple who shared some sunblock with me. They were with a local babysitter (guide) who was honestly pretty messed up looking. He gave them dirty looks, obviously anxious to get back to Banaue early enough to pick up another customer. I watched them intensely as they left to go back to the main road, since the trail from Batad back to Banaue is NOT obvious. In fact, the enterprising owner of the bottom part of the oasis structure wouldn’t give me directions, but instead tried hard to get me to hire him to SHOW me the 30 minute way to the trail for $11!!! This theme is so recurrent, the only people who are this way are the ones in the tourism business!
I watched very carefully as the American couple was lead away. There are few landmarks in the terraces, and not all are continuous (they are often separated by impassable gaps and elevations not seen from a distance).
I thought I memorized pretty well the exact terrace levels they navigated, but I was wrong. I took a level 2 levels below the correct one, and soon ended up in a somewhat precarious situation. I could walk back and try to find the correct level, or there was a gap about a meter wide (and 20 meters deep!) that I would have to jump. What made the jump scary, was that the other side was about a meter higher than the one I was on. So in order to make it I would have to land on a tiny rock sticking out of the wall in front of me, before pulling myself up a meter to safety.
As I stood there contemplating my options, I saw an old man next to me. In his late 60s, wearing a "traditional" (key word for ancient/obsolete) native skirt-like garment for men, he asked me if I wanted to pose with him for pictures, for 10 pesos. I told him I was just trying to get to the road, and I don’t know if I can jump the gap. The man then took his walking stick, stuck it between the rocks of the wall across the gap, and using it for balance and precision support gracefully jumped on the small rock sticking out of the wall. He did it several times for illustration (and my personal humiliation), so at this point, going back was not an option for me. I took a deep breath and… well, im still here to write about it, aren’t I?
The rest of the trail was less beautiful and far more grueling than anything before. But i was used to many things already, and the infamous narrow bridge that was described in tourist literature didn't look so intimidating any more.
The last hour was by far the worst. There was a split in the trail with no clear demarcations. One was leading straight along the mountain ridge, but the other was a series of about 1000 high steps leading up to the very top. I was tempted to take the easier road when I heard what sounded like human sounds coming from the top. I took a chance… and climbed.
When I got to the top (called the Saddle), there was a group of men there wearing jeans, t-shirts, and guns. They had lots of rice and fish spread out on a long table and invited me to eat with them. Most were drunk, some were half sober. Turns out, they were an entire police unit from Baguio (another part of north Luzon) who were sent to work in Ifugao for 3 weeks, and they were spending their day off looking at the terraces. After having a meal, I accompanied them down a shortcut to the road. The sun already set and it was getting darker, so I was trying the best I could to rush down. The boys, aside from their police training, were natives of a different mountain province, and quite used to walking up and down mountain trails. But for me, darkness in the mountains felt like sure death. Just slipping on one of these steps could mean falling down the cliff. The police were quite understanding tho, and didn’t make too much fun of me on the way down. And they even helped carry my knapsack.
We got back to the road, and the private jeepney they hired was waiting for them there. There was not enough space inside, and I volunteered to join one of the policemen to ride on top of the jeepney. It’s a great experience and I recommend it to everyone. Just watch out for the tree branches!!!
We were slowed down near a mudslide area,
but all in all got back to banaue by 6PM. I was stinky dirty and my foot sores were hurting so badly I had to pinch my tongue with my teeth to keep from making noises, but I went straight to the bus station and took the last bus out of Banaue to Solano.
In Solano, I stopped by the Solano City Lodge where the owner remembered me, and didn’t charge me a dime for using one of the rooms to shower and get myself in order (I left 40 pesos and some cookies there for her). She also sold me an 85 cent pair of flip flops since I was unable to get my shoes back on my broken down feet full of sores (I am NOT Maresyev!). I still had my walking cane on me, and it proved most useful in helping me walk to the bus stop, when every step sent painful stars to my otherwise clear vision. I grabbed the first bus to manila, and for the next 7 hours, I rested myself, treated my worst foot with antibiotic ointment, and thought about Sister D with respect and admiration.