Rice, rice and even more rice

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July 1st 2011
Published: July 13th 2011
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Part I

by Polona

Back at Friendly's

After landing back in Manila, we arrived to a rainy capital. The plan was to take a taxi and go straight to the bus station on the other side of the city and get a night bus up north. Well, that was the plan, but you know how it goes with plans.

We stopped what seemed to be a million taxis at the airport but all of them said the same thing – the area of Manila where the bus station is was flooded so there was no way they would take us there, unless we added another 200 – 300 pesos to the meter price. We did manage to get a guy who was really eager to get us in his taxi, but as soon as we took off he started demanding extra money for taking us to the flooded area. We would have none of it, so after 5 minutes we ended back at the airport. After that we were pretty sure the bus station is actually flooded. With the heavy rain and not being able to find a way to get to the bus on time we made a decision: back to Friendly's gueshouse (I guess the decision was slightly helped by the fact we were exhausted and that Friday is Grilla Manila day at Friendly's 😊 ). So we were back where we started our journey in Philippines. We made a good choice as we later found out that the bus station we were supposed to wait at was knee high in water and we would have to wait there for more than five hours

Arriving to Friendly's we were greeted like coming back home. We saw Carlos was already busying himself with the grill, so we dropped our stuff in the room – this time the only space available was the dorms, which were so much more airy and the important thing – there were lockers here, which meant we could lock all our valuables – win, win, win, as we (well Jan to be honest) didn't have to bother with the safety net for the backpack. The next thing to do: get food for the grill. Again we were at Robinson's center, looking for all the yummy food that would be good to put on the grill. We ended up with some nice steaks again, some yummy ribs, bread and veggies – at least something healthy . Coming back to the hostel and being "the regulars" Carlos put our food on the grill before others, which he had lined up waiting to be grilled, so we didn't wait as long as we were afraid – after the flight and everything we were starving so we were two happy bunnies. We sat down and the food in front of us looked so amazing...and it was...well let the picture s do the talking 😊.

We were making plans to leave for North the next day, but waking up on Saturday we decided to stay in Manila one more day and just refill our batteries. We spoke to some people at the hostel and they were all warning us that going to see the rice terraces in Banaue could be a silly decision due to the rain and bad weather as we would not be able to see anything and might even get stuck there due to common land slides. So we did lose some enthusiasm for leaving and started looking for alternatives but we made a decision and we bought the tickets for the Sunday night bus to Banaue.

We weren't "good tourists" the first time in Manila so we decided to do some catching up. We started our walk in China town, where we managed to find the dumpling place that Tita Lily showed us (if motivated by food, I can find anything!), and the food was amazing yet again. "Hole in the wall" you rule, OK? OK! Besides the grill night at the hostel this was the only other place in Philippines where the food was actually really, really good!

Then we walked to the historical part of Manila, Intramuros. It's separated from the rest of the city with a big wall, and was erected in 16th century, but destroyed in the 2nd World War and later renovated to its current state. You can also find a lot of art galleries in the fort, exhibiting traditional Filipino art – paintings, statues, furniture... From Intramuros we went on to the biggest park in Manila, Rizal park. We have this strange luck that we manage to come across the weirdest events wherever we go – Rizal park held, I think, the 30th anniversary of a Christian group called "Couples for Christ". Don't get me started, hi hi, but you should see the masses of people there, they completely took over the park. Oh, and so I don't forget - on our way back to the hostel we stumbled into a club called Hobbit! People who think this is unimpressive please skip the next part and mercy on your soul as you obviously don't know what good literature is. It's literally made after the Lord of the Rings novel. The mural of the Fellowship of the Ring on the wall and the entrance - a replica of the entrance to Hobbit' homes in Shyer. Awesome!!! Oh, oh, and someone told me people employed there are all, well let's call them Hobbits, which would be even more cool, although I am not sure if that is 100%!t(MISSING)rue. OK, I'm done.

What else? Oh, of course as it was Saturday it was "Wine appreciation night" at the hostel, which made Jan happy. In the middle of the evening Jan and a Korean traveller we met at the hostel for the second time, Junior, decided they will compete whose afro is more impressive. So Junior brought a comb and worked on Jan's hair...The result?
Grilla ManilaGrilla ManilaGrilla Manila

After all the 'good' filipino' food this was amazing
Jan was a definite winner 😊.

We did one thing we wanted since Kuching as well – we went to the cinema and we finally saw Hangover 2. It was a good thing people warned us about the cold, so we took some extra layers with us. The movie itself? Well, it feels like a copy of number one which is really funny, but if you could swap them around maybe this would be the funnier of the two movies.

Sunday was a day of waiting and preparing for the night ride to Banaue and Jan's recovering from the night before. It was finally time to get our stuff and leave for North, hoping we would be lucky with the weather.

Cordillera mountains

The bus to Banaue was another thing – there were maybe 6 of us on the bus, but thankfully the bus needs to go no mater the fact that it was far from being full. A guy called Richard introduced himself to us, saying he knows the Banaue area, he gave us some info about the area and then said if we needed a guide for the area that he would be able
Batlle of the afros...Batlle of the afros...Batlle of the afros...

there is only one winner
to help us (hmm, hint number one). But he did leave us alone at that point.

As the bus was almost empty, Jan and I took the advantage and both sat in separate rows to get more room and to be able to sleep. Boy, were we wrong. Due to the air con on the bus it got so cold in the middle of the night that Jan actually used his extra pair of thick socks to cover his freezing hands. I did go and try to explain to the driver (funnily enough he kept on putting more and more layers of clothes on to keep himself warm!) that the bus was freezing cold and if he could turn off the AC (they can either have it on or off, they can't regulate it at all 😞). So he turned it off but after an hour it was back on. So the night was quite long in the end as we were all trying to find ways of keeping ourselves warm.

We arrived to Banaue early in the morning, I think it was around 7 am. Before the bus got to the station Richard walked over to us, still sleeping, and started talking about Banaue, what tours he would take us to, what we need to do that day...he just wouldn't shut up or leave...and it completely put us off, so as soon as the bus stopped we tried to loose him – easier said than done, as he was an eager beaver. We finally managed to escape from him in the town where he wanted all of us to go for breakfast together before starting our trek?!?. We took his telephone number, so we could call when we would decide what tour we would like to take around the area. As if 😊. We went to the nearest hostel to get some breakfast, alone, and in the middle of it another tour guide approached us – we later realised it is typical for Banaue. So being a bit discouraged, our decision to leave straight for Sagada was not difficult to make. We took a local jeepney, where we met Julian – from Germany. He has been travelling for years, staying at places, working as a diving instructor, and packing up his stuff when ready for another adventure.

The jeepney ride took another 2 hours to get to Bagio, where we switched to yet another jeepney, arriving finally to Sagada an hour later. You can imagine that at that point we were more than fed up with jeepneys,buses,...

What to say about Sagada? It's a small town/village in the mountainous area of Philippines, 1477 meters above sea level it a population of around 1500. The main attractions of Sagada are the surrounding caves and the Sugong hanging coffins.

After a well deserved breakfast all 3 of us said we could at least check one of the "must sees" in Sagada that day, and we decided to go and look for the hanging coffins, as it was the closest to town. It took us some climbing and a short hike, but it was well worth it – I have never seen anything like that. Coffins were literally hanging from surrounding cliffs. Apparently it is a traditional way of burying their loved ones. It is really hard to describe, as you must see it, so I hope the photos will give you a better idea what I am talking about. The newest coffin was hung there as recently as last August.

There was low season in the North of Philippines at the time we were there, so all the hostels were pretty much empty. We ended up staying at Albert's hostel, neat place, with wooden furniture and flooring, and what is most important; fireplace! Julian had an idea the first night, it would be cool to have some munch mellows to nibble on, and you know what, we actually found them! It felt like camping 😊.

The guys were planning to visit the biggest attraction of Sagada the next day – the connection caves,. I heard some areas in the cave were really narrow and not at all suitable for people who are a bit claustrophobic, so in the end I decided I will not go. I followed the guys to the entry of Lumianf Burial cave where over 100 coffins are stacked at the entrance, the oldest being over 500 years old. At this point I said goodbye, and the boys went into the cave whilst I went hiking to the local mountain (well, more hill), as apparently the views from the top were supposed to be breathtaking. The hike was pretty boring, as you walk on the road for the majority of time, before going into the woods. Arriving to the top, I was like "Oh, well, it's pretty, but so not worth the walk" 😊. Ah, well, at least I did something, right?

Final comment before passing it to Jan: the weather up north was brilliant for the whole week, sunny, with maybe a few showers during the night, but nothing like they were telling us. So I am happy we decided to give North a try.

Part II

by Jan

Besides the hanging coffins the biggest attraction of Sagada are two caves. The burial caves already mentioned by Polona and the Sumaging cave (big cave). Usually people visit the entrance of the burial cave and go to the big cave separately, but there is an option to do a cave to cave connection. You start at the burial cave and then go through an underground passage and exit at the entrance of the big cave. Polona decided against it as the guide book claimed that the connection is not suitable for people who are claustrophobic. It is a bit narrow in some places but it's not too bad. It's like trying to squeeze under a table. It is narrow but it's only for a meter or so, you are never in a tight area for much longer. But you definitely need a guide as you can easily get lost. The guide brings a gas lantern with him and you quickly realize it's much better than any torch. It lights up the whole cave (360 degrees light), it can get wet and it works between 8 to 10 hours.

The connection itself was amazing, the caves are 'natural', there is no artificial light, no stairs, no rails to hold on to. You enter through a very small entrance (which you would never even find by yourself) and then start descending into the cave. On some spots you use a rope to climb down and here the guide is really helpful as he helps you with every step. While we had to try very hard to climb down, the guide was funny to watch. He walked on wet, slippery rocks in flip flops, climbed down with one hand while still holding on to the lantern and possibly helping you with your bag as well. I guess the saying do what I say, don't do as I do really does apply in this case. My favourite part of the cave was when you have to pass an underground lake. There is no other way but to jump in, hold your bag over your head and walk with water chest high. After about an hour and a half we reached the big cave, which by itself is worth visiting. The underground river formed a few interesting shapes into the rocks (pregnant woman, curtains etc). There is a nice lake in which you can swim if you want and as the name suggests the cave is big.

The whole walk is supposed to take about four hours but we finished it in two hours. The low season helps as we were the only two tourist doing the connection cave on the day. In high season groups and groups of people are in the cave and you can easily get stuck in places waiting for the people in-front of you. Being from Slovenia I have seen quite a few caves, but the main two, Postojna and Skocjan are very touristy (the later much less, than the first and well worth visiting) and the visitors are well taken care off (in
Postojna they don't even have to walk as there is a small train that runs throughout the caves), while doing the connection was something new for me and it felt like quite an achievement in the end.

We had a chance to get a ride back to Sagada but decided we want to walk the 3 kilometres and check out the views. While resting for a couple of minutes before heading on we got invited to join a group of workers, working on a wooden shed, for lunch! After making sure they had enough food we joined them for rice, chicken broth and some tea. We ended up talking with an elderly gentlemen for more than an hour. He was very interested in how we can travel like this, how life is in Europe etc. Him inviting us to eat with them, sharing their food is just a classic example of Filipino hospitality! It's in their culture, they are really friendly!

Back to Banaue

After another day in Sagada we headed back to Banaue. The scenery on the journey itself is magnificent so I decided to do the second part of the trip on top of the jeepney, to get the best possible view. When we arrived to Bontoc I was all set, just waiting for the jeepney to leave, but once we were ready to leave our bags got moved from a jeepney to a mini van. Damn, there went my chance to ride on top of a jeepney 😞.

We arrived at Banaue and checked into Greenview Lodge from where we had amazing views on the Banaue rice terraces, the main attraction of the place. Banaue is a small village with about 2000-3000 people but has become a big tourist attraction because of the surrounding rice terraces and because of the cooler climate. Its a place to escape the heat, but when we were there it was bloody hot! Not sure if I was supposed to be happy about it or not. It certainly did not help with all the trekking we did over the next couple of days.

Our first trek was a half day trip to the surrounding villages of Tam An and Poitan to see the traditional way of living in these parts. In Tam An people don't burry the dead, instead they preserve and stack their bones in handwoven blankets. While in Poitan you can see a stone post. It's just a stone, but locals believe that if the stone gets wet it means bad luck, so they built a roof over it and decorated it with skulls of water buffalos. Both villages are positioned in mountainous slopes, surrounded by stonewalls to protect them from invading tribes. The protection is no longer needed, but not so long ago tribal wars were a scary reality.

The walk was really nice, you walk between the rice fields and actually get to see rice from up close (we have to admit that neither of us actually knew what the rice looks like up close). We walked on the sides of the irrigation systems used to water the terraces. The water from mountain rivers is diverted into the fields to water the rice, and it then waters all the terraces moving downstream. We got to see the traditional houses and learned why they are designed the way they are. They are lifted from the ground to protect them from floods, on each of the wooden 'legs' there is a round piece of wood to prevent the rats from climbing into the house. The area below the house is used for storing livestock (chickens, pigs...). The first floor is the cooking and living area (we had a chance to look inside a bit), while the attic is used for storage and to dry rice, as the heat produced from cooking is perfect for it.

After arriving back to the guesthouse it was time to go check out the main terraces from the viewpoints. We took a tricycle to the top viewpoint (there are four) and then walked back down to the village. The views were spectacular, I would say check out the pictures, but I don't think they can do it justice. We were there in the right time as well, just about a month before the harvest when the fields are vivid green. When they turn 'gold' the rice is ready for harvest and after that the terraces are naked before being re-planted (being a rice expert and all that I can now tell you these things 😊. The view from one of these view points is actually on the 1000 peso bill. Oh, and another fact the Banaue terraces are made from dirt and clay, while the Batad terraces which we saw the next day are made from stone. Both were built by Ifugao tribes and are believed to be more than 2000 years old! They were carved into the sides of the mountains where the water supply enabled them to divert the water to the fields. Its is just breathtaking! Funny enough when we showed pics to our new Indonesian friends they were not impressed at all. Well rice terraces to them are something like corn fields to us, even if they are carved into the mountain and very old. I can understand that 😊.

Oh, when we got back to the town we met our guide Richard again. He was selling ice-cream in the city Hmmm, I wonder, is he a guide or is he an ice cream man? Well, maybe he is both. At least he didn't try selling us another tour.


Batad was the highlight of our trip in the Philippines, it is just amazing and I am a bit sorry that we only spent a night here. To reach Batad you need to get to the 'junction' and then walk for about two hours, first up to the saddle before descending to Batad. It's supposed to take two hours, we got there in just over an hour. Damn, we are fit 😊. There are no cars in Batad, no internet, cell phones only work if you know the spots where to stand and even then you can only text! It is so peaceful and the views are just amazing! We stayed the night there and just relaxed. It's the cheapest place we've been to in the Philippines as well. Room is 200 pesos per person and the food is about half the price compared to other places. We stayed at Simon's View – pizza from the menu is a must try. The view we had from our window was too good to be true! I know Philippines are known for the beaches and not for remote places like this, but Batad should be a must on any backpackers to do list.

We got a guide in Batad and he showed us around the stone rice terraces of Batad on the first day. Again the views were out of this world. I thought Banau is nice, but this was something completely different. It was just amazing. Again, pictures just don't do it justice!

The next day we trekked to the neighbouring village Cambulo, climbed to the view point to see the even more amazing views and rice terraces before walking down to the road leading towards Banaue. This trek is supposed to be 6 hours long. Phaa, it took us three and a half 😊.

When arriving at the road a jeepney just dropped off some tourists doing the same trek in the opposite way and we finally got a chance to ride on the roof! Funny enough the jeepney was completely empty and the two white tourists wanted to go onto the roof. I am happy we did it here as the ride was just about half an hour long and it's not comfortable at all! It's actually all but comfortable. My butt ached and Polona got pins and needles in her leg which resulted in one of the funniest sites ever! When we arrived to the village she could not climb down from the roof, she was flat down on her stomach, her legs hanging over the top of the jeppney, screaming that she can not get down. A group of local girls were laughing out loud at the site, while a nice old lady was running towards her to help, with another local coming to her rescue. I did manage to get her leg in to the ladder so she got down eventually! She was a good sport and started laughing as well. Well, roof ride and entertainment for the locals 😊.

Budget travel tip: bring some water with you if heading for a tour as water is very expensive in Batad, as they have to carry it all the way to the village! If you are staying over night you can drink the water at your guesthouse and re-fill your bottle there. The water is from the mountain streams, so it's as clean as it gets!

Hire a guide in Batad. Getting to Batad is easy enough. From the junction there is only one way, so you really can not get lost. You can then get a guide at the tourist info (first thing you get to in Batad). They are more than half cheaper then guides from Banaue and know more about the area. Hiring a guide in Banaue will cost you between 1200 – 1500 per day (including the walk to Batad) while guides in Batad charge 500 per tour around Batad terraces and waterfall and 800 for a trek to any of the surrounding villages.

We had a day to kill, waiting for the night bus back to Manila (this time it was warm on the bus, go figure!) so we checked out the local market and actually bought some souvenirs! The region is famous for Kamagong or Mabolo - a fruit tree found only in Philippines, which is really dense and hard, belonging to the ebony family. It's used for furniture, statues etc. We bought two small statues as I was planning to send some clothes home anyway (the warm stuff I haven't taken out of my backpack in the first two months!). If this would be the last stop of our trip we would probably fill up our bags with the things they were selling. Cheap, good quality and really, really nice! I could fill a flat with the furniture (chairs, desks...) they were making! Oh, and Polona finally got the nerves and went to the local salon/shoe shop to get her hair cut a bit. The fastest hair cut I have ever witnessed, I took about
More riceMore riceMore rice

working on a mask...
5 minutes all together.

Back to Manila

We arrived to Manila at 6 am and went straight back to Friendl'y where we got an air-con double room for the price of a dorm! Seems Benjie, the owner, really likes us 😊. Maybe it's because of the advertising on this blog 😊.

We spent most of the time just chilling at the terrace of the hostel. The only thing we actually did was visit the hole in the wall for dumplings again. We have been there three times so it deserves to be named: Dong Bei Dumplings. It's easy enough to find as well (642, Yuchengco Street) . Oh, we also went to Divisoria market where we spent about £5 for two tops, two pairs of shorts (Polona) and two dry-fit t-shits for me. And on our way back we also saw a Balut stand where we bought a Balut just for the chance to take a photo of it for this blog. Balut is a Filipino delicacy. It's a duck egg, but it only gets cooked when the duck embryo is already developed. It can be either 8 or 12 days old and it looks disgusting! No idea how it tastes. I could not bring myself to try it. See the picture if you wonder why!

And that was more or less it for the Philippines, we said goodbye to Carlos and the rest of the regulars at the hostel and headed towards the airport to catch our flight to Indonesia!

Philippines, the last words

We did much less than we expected in the Philippines. We visited Manila, Donsol, Coron, El nido and Puerto Princesa, as well as the places mentioned here.

before heading to the north part. Before we arrived we were thinking of going to Boracay, Bohol, Siquijor Islands etc as well but we missed it all. We are now really in the relax mode not caring much what we do see and don't see and just making the best of any given situation! And we love it!

The highlight of it all were the places described in this blog and the people. They are amazing, really friendly, always ready to help and chat. It helps that most speak English (after the Spanish left Americans sorted out the public schools, probably the only good thing they did. Spanish were happy to keep the locals uneducated). The downside is the food! When Balut is a speciality, no wonder! The best food we had was the Friday BBQs and the Dumplings 😊. But to be fair the fruit and the fruit shakes are so good - mango being my favorite. And also, beer is good as well, as is rum 😊.

We had really high expectations of the Philippines and were a bit disappointed for the first week after not seeing the whale sharks in Coron but looking back at it now the expectations were met and I would love to come back one day to see the parts we missed this time!

Till next time!

All the pictures from Philippines

Additional photos below
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we saw loads of small puppies, it seems we were there just the right time of the year

14th July 2011

You got there before I did!
see.... you reached Batad, Banaue and Sagada even before I visited the place. Glad you enjoyed your time there. I can't imagine you doing the "topload" (riding on top of the jeepneys). And it's BALUT not Batuk. :)) Hope our paths cross again. who knows? Maybe you'd come back and meet those whale sharks after all. And eat the lumpia (egg and seaweed roll). Safe travels!
14th July 2011

Hi, thanks for the 'spell check', I fixed it to 'Balut' :) Sorry that we didn't manage to see each other again, but please don't feel bad about it. When you do go up north, you really should check Batad, its is incredibly beautiful! Especially if you need some quite time :) Hope to see you again, either in Europe or in Asia. And yes, i do think i will come back to Philippines one day. Not just because of the whale sharks.
19th July 2011

Greetings from Slovenia
Hey cousin, hey Jan. I love reading your blog and the fact that you're enjoying yourselves so much. I wish I'd seen Polona climbing down from the jeepney. Keep having fun and I'll come see you when I win the lottery :P
24th July 2011

To my cousin:)
Lol, I guess you would probably die laughing seeing me getting down the jeepney's roof. Jan almost did. I am glad you 2 are reading the blog- will save me loads of time explaining about the trip when coming back home:)

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