We returned to Ubud for the final three days of our three and a half weeks in Bali, to do a little shopping and generally take it easy. Then on Wednesday the 5th we caught a flight to Jakarta, briefly gaining an hour, then giving it back, as we continued onto the Philippines—our first destination in the northern hemisphere since crossing the equator in September.
We arrived in Manila at 6am after a 4 hour flight and little sleep. We had a hotel booked for the first night, and figured we’d make things up after that. For the next 36 hours, we pretty much camped out there: sleeping, showering, and laundering to start, followed closely by vegging out on the internet. We made occasional incursions to the nearby mall for food and supplies, which gave us a taste of the frenetic, jeepney-powered energy of Manila. But generally we laid low to refuel for what was ahead.
On Friday night we checked out, hailed a taxi, and tried to find a bus to take us up to the Banaue Rice Terraces (pronounced: ba-NA-way), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course we never found the bus terminal we were looking for (Autobus) so we went with another in the area that looked good (Florida) and bought a ticket for the 9:10pm bus (only 400 pesos/person, or about $9). Our bus showed up late, so we didn’t hit the road until after 9:50. For the next eight and a half hours (yes, this was an overnight bus!) we were assaulted by blasting air-conditioning and the vocal stylings of Kenny Rogers. Actually it wasn’t Kenny Rogers the whole way, but there was music always playing. We were told later this was to keep the bus driver awake. Reassuring.
We had been tipped off about the A/C, so we brought layers (thank god) and had earplugs for the road noise (and Kenny), but still, it was comically awful. I must have managed to doze off, given my surprise to see light outside when I was jostled awake at 6:30 on Saturday morning in Banaue. We groggily got off the bus, reclaimed our packs, and tried to figure out what to do as various people, startling with their blood-red, betelnut-stained lips, asked us if we needed rides or guides or rooms. We were offered a free jeepney ride into town, saw some familiar foreign faces (from the bus) inside, so we hopped on, and they brought us down to a restaurant and guest house.
The familiar faces were a young couple from Slovenia on a five week holiday. We sat down with them, ordered teas and coffees, and picked their brains, as we had no plans. Meanwhile, we were joined by a local tour guide, Lolita, who explained some of the different tour options we might want to consider. We worked out a plan to do a less ambitious (than the multi-day, 7-hour hikes Lolita was initially proposing), half-day hike around Banaue that afternoon. She kept stressing that we should sleep first, so we ended up getting a room at the guest house for 700 pesos, laying down in the bed with all our clothes on, and falling asleep hard until noon.
When we finally awoke, we discovered that the Slovenian couple had stuck around to hike with us, which was a pleasant surprise, as they seemed nice, and it would be good to have some company for a change. But before the tour we needed to book our bus back to Manila. We’d read about a morning bus that we were hoping to take on Monday, but it no longer existed. There were only overnight buses like the one we had arrived on. We had already booked our hotel in Manila for Monday night, and we were flying to Palawan on Tuesday, which left us with only one option: booking seats on the overnight bus leaving Sunday night—the very next day! Ugh. At least we’d have two partial days to explore the rice terraces.
So the five of us, two couples and Lolita, caught two trikes (motorcycles with attached cabs for two people) up to the Banaue Viewpoint. From there we began our hike by going down, down, down a series of narrow, muddy, slippery concrete (and occasionally mud) steps to the river at the bottom of the terraced valley. I slipped once, luckily at a point where there was a railing, and Stephanie almost fell into the river at the bridge, which was nothing more than an I-beam between the two banks. By the time we got to the bottom of what I’m guessing were several hundred steps, our thighs were screaming and our legs were trembling.
For the next few hours we walked up and around the terraces, sometimes on concrete barriers no more than a few inches wide, with a waterway on one side and a twenty foot drop on the other. The views were stunning, and always changing, as the clouds shifted and clipped the mountaintops. Unlike the flatter terraces in Ubud, Bali, here we were surrounded by terraces, above, below, and on either side of us.
Lolita led us on a large loop that eventually ended back at the guest house where we were all staying. We sat down at the restaurant, ordered beers, and toasted to our aching legs. Then we begin making plans for a more substantial outing on Sunday…