Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Burness Corner: Banaue Rice Terraces

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Banaue Rice Terraces.

Burness's Blog
Banaue is famous for its rice terraces, and was the reason why we were visiting the small town. In itself the village is nothing to look at, but the surroundings are spectacular. Thousands of rice terraces which are over 2000 years old line the mountains for as far as the eye can see. It was fairly misty when we arrived in the morning and we weren’t able to see the terraces in all their glory as the mountain peaks were draped in fog.

We checked into a guesthouse we’d picked from the lonely planet named the Banaue View Inn. It was on a hill with amazing views of the terraces and a good choice. We had a short rest before lunch, after which we set about exploring. It was great being in the mountains with the cool air, and in a small peaceful town. The previous few months of heat and hectic city life was fairly wearing and an escape to the highland countryside was a welcome break.

After a shower and some lunch, we decided to take a walk up to the viewpoint. We weren’t successful in finding the it but I don’t think there would have been much of a view anyway as we would have been shrouded in mist We had to walk through a small village where every house kept livestock, mainly chickens and pigs, and the occasional territorial dog that would bark like crazy at us during our approach then run and hide as soon as we got close. The main path seemed to pass straight through the local people’s houses and barns. It felt a bit intrusive, but the local people didn’t seem to mind and were very friendly.

We eventually passed through the village and reached the first of the rice terraces. The path continued along the top of the walled rice terraces snaking its way up the mountainside. At some points the path was very narrow and we had to use both arms outstretched for balance, as if we were walking a tightrope. If we’d slipped we’d have ended up either foot deep in the terrace encased in the wall we were walking on, or even worse in the terrace below where we would have fallen head first into the muddy water with a resounding soaking.

We clambered around the rice terraces not knowing exactly where the viewpoint was until the visibility became poor with the fog and it was also starting to get a bit late. We descended and went back to our guesthouse.

I wasn’t overly enamoured with the town, apart from the rice terraces it really was nothing to look at. The town consisted of a collection of cheaply constructed houses with corrugated iron roofs, dispersed with a handful of hotels and restaurants. As with most of our destinations on our travels our time in Banaue was short. I knew there were trekking opportunities in the area which sounded amazing and I wasn’t too keen on hanging around Banaue town. After discussing with Nev we decided to book a three day trek for the next day.

We woke up early, met with our guide and then got a Tricycle (a kind of Phillipines tuk tuk) up to the viewpoint. It was a much clearer day and the terraces looked a lot more impressive when we could see the full range of them.

We moved on from the view point, found the start of the trail, which is pretty high at around 2000m, then started the trek. The first part of our trek was to be around a four hour walk through jungle like terrain until we would reach a small village called Pula. The rainy season, or should I say cyclone season, had just past (the Philippines is subject to around 80 a year). There were many fallen trees we had to scramble over, and a lot of the muddy trail had been washed away. This meant that we had to take some minor detours climbing up or down muddy cliff faces with shear drops to a river seemingly miles below. Along with having to jump from stepping stones to cross rivers, and cross waterfalls using bridges made out of the narrowest pieces of extremely slippery wood, it made for a fairly harrowing, but thrilling experience.


After lunch it was time to move onto Cambulo, another small village without electricity, where we were to stay the night. It was a short two hour walk to Cambulo through rice terraces. The views were absolutely breath taking, we were encircled by mountains and each mountain was sculpted with stepped terraces, some inconceivably high. The people who work the upper terraces must have to walk for hours every day. It’s a mesmerising sight, the rolling hills alone are spectacular, but add the chiselled beauty of the ancient 2000 year old terraces and you have an awe inspiring scene.

After taking plenty of breaks to take in the view, we finally arrived at Cambulo. Our guest house was nice, but basic. I had to make do with a bucket of freezing water to wash myself. Myself and Nev played a bit of scrabble until dinner, then after dinner we had some entertainment provided by the kids of the village. They did a little bit of a song and dance routine, finishing up with a few of the boys getting dressed up in their traditional tribal gear and dancing around. After they were finished, we were met with a chorus from the children of, ‘we want to hear your voice’. After much persuasion I managed to get Nev to do a duet with me of ‘O Flower of Scotland’. We sang it with patriotic gusto, and frankly, I think we scared the children a bit. Probably for the best though as we didn’t get an encore.

The next day we had a short trek to Batad where we were to stay the night. It was similar to the previous afternoon’s trek, both in the terrain, and in the breath taking beauty. As we approached Batad one view point was particularly special. We could see the spectacular walled rice terraces of Batad, with the village in the valley and other small houses dotted around the mountains. It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky and commanding views of the mountains beyond with layer upon layer of rice terraces.


At this point I really should mention how great our guide was. His family actually owned rice terraces, and he’s worked in the paddy fields all his life. He’s also built new terraces from scratch, and has a wealth of knowledge about rice farming, which was handy as we had a lot of questions to ask him. He was quietly spoken and a tad shy, but really friendly and helpful and opened up the more he got to know us. All in all the trekking experience was fantastic, and this was partly due to our guides expertise and knowledge.


Had you heard of the Banaue Rice Terraces before travelling?


What were your expectations?

Pretty high. I'd seen your photos, and knew it was going to combine a natural and a man-made Wonder, which I was looking forward to. And I was looking forward to getting back into the mountains.

What was your first impression?

When we arrived it was a bit misty, so we couldn't see all the terraces. Unfortunately the town of Banaue is a bit of a dump, lots of corrugated iron, so I wasn't that impressed. But the terraces I could see looked pretty cool, and it was nice being in the mountains, and it was good being in the hotel with the view over them.

What did you like most about the Banaue Rice Terraces?

The whole experience when we decided to do some trekking, which took in the rice terraces of Banaue, Cambulo, and Batad. It was good to get a comparison of the rice terraces and we were fortunate with the weather.

Going through a clearing after walking through the forest, and seeing Cambulo for the first time, and just seeing rice terraces as far as the eye could see. [You preferred Cambulo and Batad to Banaue?] Yes. But it also helped that the weather improved, and by the time we got to Cambulo we got some blue skies. [Also, these terraces are double planted, so had more green, and were at a prettier stage in their development.]

What didn't you like about the Banaue Rice Terraces?

Banaue (the town) is a bit of a shithole. Again, I’m not even sure if, for me, a rice terrace would fall into the category of World Wonder [Why not?] Just because none of the originals exist. I find it difficult to put them in a category of a Wonder because they are constantly being reconstructed and rebuilt, and probably nothing of the original terrace still exists. Also, I preferred Batad and Cambulo.

Would you regard the Banaue Rice Terraces as a World Wonder?

No. Probably for the above point. And I think there's better rice terraces out there. [What about Cambulo or Batad then?] No, they weren't an impressive enough structure or feat of engineering to be in a Wonder category for me. But they looked very pretty and it was a good combination of natural and man made, and it was interesting seeing how the mountains were carved and stepped and layered, and seeing how extensive these rice terraces were. And that in itself was quite awe-inspiring.

1 comment:

  1. Find me a charming small town in the Philippines and I'll buy you a San Miguel. Most (all) are cobbled together corrugated roofed dumps with impassable streets and horrible air quality. Sewage odours hit at the worst times-like at dinner and when trying to sleep.


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