Banaue Philippines Rice Terraces

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My ridiculous fiasco of a journey to the rice terraces starts like this. In December my January travel partner canceled so I asked my Grandmother if I could crash her yearly January trip to the Philippines. Grandma said yes. Prior to the trip, she would call me every few days to ask what I wanted to do. I  knew I definitely wanted to see the rice terraces. I did some internet searches and understood the general logistics. My grandmother explained to me that she is a native of the Philippines and she insisted she take responsibility for the arrangements. At the time her requests sounded completely reasonable and I agreed, however, I think my situation is the epitome of why Billy Wilder said “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. My Grandmother doesn’t know how to use the internet!

After hanging alone in Manila Philipines for a few fabulous days my Grandmother came looking for me. Early in the afternoon she and her entourage came knocking on my hotel door. She collected me and all of my luggage and took me to her house in Tany Philipines, all along the way from Manila to Tanay, giving me paperwork that I didn’t really understand and she didn’t either. She explained to me she hired a driver for me, Santos… AHHH! SANTOS! She told me when Santos would be driving me to the rice terraces and that her maid Marisel would accompany us. She also mentioned that she would take care of the finances. It sounded like the situation was worked out and under control. As the trip was nearing she told me that I had no accommodations and asked me to financially cover that end. Pretty easy in my line of work unless I’m profusely sweating in the jungle with no internet or phone access which was my exact situation. I had to get a driver to drive me to an internet cafe to research a limited number of hotels. Then my grandmother explained to me that I would have to share a room with Santos and Marisel. I was outraged that she thought it would be ok to sleep in a room with a man I don’t even know! Since sharing, a room with strangers was out of the question. I had to cover the accommodations of both Marisel and Santos as well as their meals! Needless to say, that wasn’t a very good day or the highlight of my travel blogging career.

Six Am Santos pulled into my Grandmothers garage to load Me, Marisel and our luggage into his truck. Since I know how to use the internet and reviewed posts on other peoples trips to the rice terraces, Santos’s version of what the journey would be like didn’t really sound right. He reassured Marisel and I that our journey would last five hours. The internet stated that it would take twelve hours, but Santos said: “No no, there’s a new highway”.  I was just like “Ok cool is there a Starbucks on the way?”, and that was the last of my cool!

Five hours later Santos said “we’re here!”, and we were in a city called Baguio, but I didn’t see any rice terraces. Santos stopped the car to review his GPS and he seriously said with his Filipino accent in the deepest voice “FIVE MORE HOURS! I have never been to the rice terraces.”  The look on Marisel’s face was worth a billion dollars. The rice terraces are in Banaue, not Baguio! Silly me! Why would I trust a professional driver that’s been practicing his career for thirty years and using google maps?  Maybe my Grandma wasn’t the only one that didn’t know how to use the internet.

As the sun sank low into the sky disappointment set in over the fact that I would miss golden hour at the rice terraces that evening. We kept driving and driving it went on forever. In the darkness, we finally made it to Banaue. I was pretty scared by the appearance of Banaue. On the main town road, there was shanty little shack after shanty little shack.

We finally arrived at the gates of the Native Village Inn and I disappointedly checked in  Santos, Marisel and I in for one night because that’s all that was available. A twelve-hour drive for one night! My disappointment didn’t last long. As I walked into the lodge I spotted a wine glass and I just felt like I had found civilization. Of course, I had a bottle of wine in my luggage. As I sipped my Cabernet the absurdity of the day and the twelve-hour drive melted away, and then Elvis appeared, not Elvis Presley but Elvis the tour guide. I told Elvis about our twelve-hour drive and he laughed and laughed he said our driver took the wrong road and the drive should have only been five hours. The Cabernet helped me laugh along with Elvis, but the wine wasn’t enough to convince me to take Elvis’s offer of a tour of the Philipines on his Motorcycle. I did agree to have his brother as my tour guide through the rice terraces. In the darkness, I climbed the ladder up into my hut and slept under a thatched roof through a chilly night.

The next morning I emerged from my hut into the frosty air to the delights of a gorgeous misty vista overlooking the rice terraces. Wrapped in a warm sweater peacefully I sipped my steamy hot coffee while I admired the massive green and silvery view.  The hotel staff served me a Filipino breakfast of rice and eggs and Elvis’s brother Marvin showed up.

Marvin took one look at me and called me a fashionista and suggested that I not wear the cowboy boots I had on. We all loaded into Santos’s car and our first stop was the market we shopped a bit then drove to admire a vast panorama of the rice terraces. Our next stop was to see the rickety hanging coffins of Sagada Philippines. As we drove under huge puffy white clouds set against a bright blue sky we noticed large pom pom like golden bundles in the street. We stopped to take a look and Marvin explained that the bundles were drying rice. I picked one up and to my surprise felt how heavy and dense the small pom pom was.

Marvin then instructed Santos to drive us a little further. Santos parked the car and He, I and Marisel got out. I thought we were just going to take a picture. Marvin told Marisel and I it will take a half hour to hike down and three hours to hike up. I had no idea I was going to be hiking and I think my white dress and sandals proved my thoughts. Perplexed by the time frame Marvin gave us I just kept following him. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful. It was like an explosion of Technicolor. The sky was a bright cheerful Cobalt blue that made the green grass almost electric looking. We started walking and encountered different people from all over the world. We posed for photos with the Native people. Perplexed by all the rest stops and  amazed by the rice terraces I snapped picture after picture and then I started to notice the condition of the hikers on their way up. My perplexion then turned into fear. The Hikers on their way up were sweaty, flushed, huffing, puffing and completely distressed looking, then I thought to myself  “Oh! this is why it takes half an hour to get down and three hours to get back up!”

We Kept hiking down until we came upon a gorgeous waterfall and found it the perfect opportunity to take a cooling rest before we tackled our upward hike. If I had taken care of the logistics of my trip I would have been prepared with the proper attire to enjoy a plunge in the water and hours of playing underneath a waterfall, but I gave that responsibility to someone else and in the end, it was my failure, so instead I just stared at the waterfall.

We all started our hike back up and barely went far and we were already starting to struggle. Marisel and I were huffing and puffing. Our guide Marvin was gliding and floating up the ascent. Brutally we hardly gained any distance and made it to the first rest stop and seriously had to lay down. We weren’t the only ones! Thank the Gods there was water at the rest stop. My white dress was clear from a layer of sweat drenching it. We attempted to hike again and struggled to the next rest stop and took advantage of the rest and I was grateful for the breeze and how it dried my dress. The routine became repetitious. As we slowly gained the distance back to the car. Poor Marisel was sunburnt. We were exhausted, saturated with sweat and so close to the car but had to rest again to get enough strength to make it back to the car, but there were no more rest stops. We just sat on a log except for Marvin, He picked me some fern and flowers and decorated my hat. Drained and beat up we finally made it to the car. Poor Marisel was so wet and sweaty she had to change her sweat-soaked clothes.

Exhaustion consumed my body but amazement and delight danced in my mind over what I had just seen. We all piled into Santos’s truck and he once again reassured us in his characteristic deep voice that the drive would be only five hours. The drive ended up being twelve hours again. Even though the logistics of my trip were a ridiculous fiasco it was worth every bit of mismanagement of epic proportions just to see something so amazing for even a minute.




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