Rice fields are common sights in Asian countries. A glorious amphitheater rice terraces in a higher altitude made 2000 years ago with the most basic of tools, on the other hand, can only be found in the Philippines. This is the reason why we travel to the famed Batad Rice Terraces also known as Banaue Rice Terraces and see for ourselves its magnificence.

Getting there

Batad-Rice-Terraces-Pathway

It was sometime between 3:30 – 4:00 in the morning as I scratched my sleepy eyes and grabbed a cup of coffee. We were on our last pit stop. It was quite close to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, roughly 3 hours away from our destination, Banaue. Even though I’ve slept most of the time in the van with one row of the seat all for myself, my body still ached and wishing for a bed. I am already praying for the goddess of courage (if there is such being) to push myself for today’s Banaue tour. Or to the gods of rain, for, well, you know, rain, so we can skip the tour and stay in bed.

After 3 more hours of travel, we arrived in the town of Banaue. The rain god heard my plea for it was drizzling. It looks like its going to be one rainy day. The monumental terraces stood in solemn elegance. It is a proof that nature and civilization can co-exist peacefully. I want to take back that silly prayer. We had a few minutes to unpack and head out to meet our tour guide, Elmer. We dubbed him as 50 Cent for he has quite a resemblance to the rapper.

“Well, you guys are lucky for its light rain today. A week ago, the downpour was heavy”. Our guide told us warmly, a direct opposite of the cold gust of wind that is creeping our bones. After finishing our breakfast, we finally took off.

“Would you like to rent a jeep for the day?” Elmer asked. It will be a shame not to experience a trip on top of the jeepney. We hopped on top of the jeep and head to our destination – Batad Rice Terraces. The town is already wide awake. We saw tourists flocking at the transportation stops. There are kids going to school and souvenir shops opening their stores. Cruising our way to the town feels like a rollercoaster ride. Except that the route was a steep road and you do not have a seat belt. The rain also soaked our clothes wet and the cold wind slicing through our skin. I lasted for 7 minutes and decided to go inside. My companions, Boris and his dad, Bruno, together with Elmer stayed. But, I would say it was an exhilarating experience!

Life in Batad Rice Terraces

 

solu hut in batad rice terraces

We arrived and started our trek, walking sticks in hand. Call me silly but before I had no idea what it was for. And for the duration of the trek, that walking stick became my best friend, will elaborate later on.

I lost count on how long it took us to arrive at the viewpoint of Batad. It is a remote village at the bottom of the elevated rice fields. The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras consists of 5 clusters. The Batad Rice Terraces are a part of the said list. To correct a common misconception, these are the terraces that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Banaue Rice Terraces are not included due to the presence of modern structures in the area. All the rice paddies share a similar structure. The paddies are molded and carved into the mountains. Agriculture was sustained due to an intricate irrigation system. Folklore made it possible for the techniques to hand over to the next generation for over 2000 years.

 

February is the start of the farming season. Farmers prepare their seedling/nursery during this time. The rice terraces are muddy in color, with a patch of green for those who already started the nursery. The Batad Rice Terraces group is usually the first one to start the nursery in among the 5 clusters. According to Elmer, the terraces are in vivid green during the end of March – April. It is in beaming golden colors during the harvest season. Although of course, the heat during summer season can be excruciating, the site of endless greenery will definitely be worth it. Lastly, the harvest is enough to sustain the families for the year until the next harvest season.

We took our sweet time exploring every inch of the terraces. We also made the most of all the pit stops since we have 2 photographers in the group. A cheery good morning greeted us along the way from the villagers who passed us by as they go on their day.

The Ifugaos

 

Our guide Elmer and the overlooking view of Rice Terraces

Our tour guide, Elmer.

 

“Why are they drinking at 11 in the morning?” I asked Elmer as we approached a group of men drinking. There was another group of locals nearby, huddled close to a boiling pot of dish. “This is a wake”, he answered. Usually, when someone at the age of 60 or older passes away, the wake is more of a celebration. But, if the person was young, the wake is solemn.

We reached the village and he explained to us the formation of the house, in which is still used up to now. It resembles an elevated pyramid. The roof is made of thatch and has 4 pillars which are supported by rocks below. The livestock takes the first floor. Rat guards are placed strategically at the edge of each pillar. The house has a spacious floor, where it can be used to have meals together and a good night’s rest.
 

 

Walking in the pathways along the paddy fields is not as easy as it looks for first-timers. That’s when the walking sticks come in handy. It helps to keep your balance to save you, the seedlings and your pride from falling. The main village is only accessible by foot and located at the bottom of the terraces. We walked through the pathway at the edge of the terraces. It is wide enough for one person (sometimes 2) to walk through at a time.

“Ça glisse! Slippery”! Our guide yells as we continue our trek. The track is muddy and slippery as we walked towards the village. A rooster crowed at one corner. Pigs looking contended lazing around and a few lazy dogs that throw us a curious glance. A glimpse above is a humbling experience. The Batad Rice Terraces looks spectacular.

We passed by a small souvenir shop. We asked about the wooden statue that we frequently see but had no idea who or what was it about. It is called Buloy, the rice god. It is usually situated at the edge of the terraces to guard the harvest. At the corner of our eye, we saw an old man garbed in the traditional Ifugao clothing, with a pounding stick on hand. He spits on his hand first before proceeding. It was a remarkable encounter, to see him larger than life. An excerpt from Roy Franklin Barton‘s book titled “Ifugao Law” described the Ifugaos perfectly;

 

“The Ifugao is a hillman and loves his hills. He is of an independent nature and cannot stand confinement. A great many prisoners jailed by American officials have courted death rather than endure incarceration”.

  Roy Franklin Barton

We finally arrived at the canteen for lunch. We were tired and hungry but we still have some questions for our guide. We ate quietly for the meantime, as we heard a group of travelers drinking on the other table. “Can I take a video of you preparing moma“? Boris asked Elmer after eating. “Sure”, he gamely answered. Moma is a piece of betel nut mixed with lime powder and lemongrass. It is like tobacco and coffee rolled into one. Although, for first timers it can be like an equivalent of 4 bottles of beers.

Afterward, we slowly made our way back to the jeep. The road going back to our hotel was quite a sight or lack thereof. We seriously have a newfound respect for the driver. He navigated breezily through the road covered in clouds. It’s really close to zero visibility but the driver knows the road like the back of his hands.

“Bye guys, hope you had a good time and enjoy your Hapao tour tomorrow!”, Elmer told us cheerily as he left. You know what, as I hold the steaming cup of coffee while watching the waterfalls from the terrace, I think we definitely will. And the Banaue Rice Terraces tour is something that will be difficult to forget.

 

 

References: 

Lumbera, Bienvenido – “Early shelters and houses”

Barton, Roy Franklin – “Ifugao Law”

tourism.gov.ph

unesco.org

Photos and Video by Boris Chevreau

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Maria Eloisa Alameda

A self-proclaimed oddball who secretly sings to Taylor Swift songs. She has a huge fascination for deities, temples, and anything about the 'Ancient world'. She prefers old school writing, her desk buried under notebooks and scribbled papers.