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Trying to contain my emotions

I didn’t want to make the trip, almost succeeded in avoiding it, which I would have regretted! There were a lot of challenges coordinating the trip and I was milking all the reasons not to go. I mean who looks forward to business trips where you go to interesting places, don’t get to do anything but work all day long, and by the time you are ready to do a bit of exploring, you are either too tired or there is nothing left to see except the familiar night life, if you are lucky enough to be in a major city! Plus, I really hate traveling while nursing a hang over from the previous night’s partying. There just aren’t enough barf bags!

The main problem is the distance of the destination. Isabela is about 460 kilometer (285 miles) away from Manila and I have to go there by land since I also have a stop over in one of the provinces along the way. I really can’t stand long land trips, especially when I am not the one behind the wheel. But work pays the bills, and I have lots of bills, so I have to endure the uncomfortable ride to Isabela.

Isabela is primarily an agricultural province. Located in the Cagayan Valley, it is one of the richest provinces in the Philippines and dubbed as the rice and corn granary of the country. It’s fertile rolling hills and plains, bordered by the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, make it a vision out of a postcard!

But what excited me the most about the trip was the prospect of making a side trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces. I had a look at the map and found that it is only about two hours away from where I was staying. Quickly, I researched on how to get there using public transport just in case my companions didn’t buy the idea of a side trip.

Meanwhile, short of making a PowerPoint presentation to convince my companions to do the side trip, I planned in my tree house cottage of Villa Diana. Knowing that some of the people in the group were first-timers in the Philippines and had some sense of adventure gave me entry points to exploit.

My Tree House in Villa Diana

Armed with my arguments, I came down to dinner with the group only to realize that the conversation was about how close we were to the famous landmark. Perfect! I didn’t even have to open my mouth because the decision to do the side trip on our way back to Manila the following day, was made quickly. My inner travel diva was jumping for joy and swinging from the branches of the tree house!

We left Villa Diana at eight in the morning and hit the road to Banaue. By about 10 AM our van started negotiating the zig-zagging road leading to the viewpoint. It took us another 30 minutes before the majestic structure came into view and directions pointed us to the best vantage point.

It was truly a majestic site! A living example of a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, the terraces were carved by ancestors of indigenous Filipino people dating more than 2000 years ago, using minimal equipment and harnessing the power of their natural environment. The terraces were built on the sides of the mountains for the indigenous people to plant crops and tap the water source from rain-forests on top of the mountains for irrigation. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity, architecture and engineering of the structure that resembles the pyramids of Machu Pichu.

Banaue Rice Terraces @ the View Point

We had lunch in one of the local hotels. Their restaurant was right in front of the rice terraces and I was told that their deluxe rooms also open to this majestic view. I could just imagine waking up in the morning to this glorious site and I was almost tempted not to leave.

The Banaue Rice Terraces have peaks reaching as high as 1500 meters above sea level and are considered as the 8th Wonder of the World. They have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995. There are several hiking sites, which can take you for a closer interaction with the structure and the community around it. Sadly, it is experiencing a major preservation challenge as the current generation have little interest in maintaining traditional, agricultural lifestyle. But in its present state, it still evokes so much emotion – a mixed feeling of achievement, pride, joy, anger, sorrow and triumph.

Pyramid

Too bad I only had an iPhone to capture the moment but I vowed to come back and explore the various hiking sites for closer interaction.

Our family’s ancestors were from Banaue, Ifugao in the northern part of the Philippines. It is a wonderful province where the Banaue Rice Terraces can be found. The Banaue Rice Terraces is a 2000-year old terraces carved into the mountains with the use of only the hands of the Ifugao tribe. It was engineered by the tribesmen so that there will be an effective irrigation for the rice field with water fresh from the mountains.

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We originated from this tribe called “Ifugao”. This tribe is characterized by their colorful clothing, tan skin, straight black hair, almond eyes, and many skills. Along with the other tribes in the north, the Ifugao made the rice terraces.

I was curious to see our land of origin and the people there. I was also wondering how the tribes have westernized. When my dad went home for the summer break, I asked him to take us there for a tour. He was delighted to see the interest we had for our family’s history, and he agreed that we should have a trip to the north. Though we do not have any relatives left in the province because of migration, my dad was still very knowledgeable about the place.

While we were on our way to the province, I asked my dad to share something about our ancestors. He told me that our great grandparents from our grandmother’s side were Ifugao. When the Americans came to the region, the tribes started to become westernized. My grandmother was one of them, and soon she married a Latin-American who were among the invaders.

my grandmother

When we got to the place, I was thrilled by the cold weather and the glorious mountains. The fog was thick at dawn, and the water was ice cold. In the late morning, the sun started to shine through, and made the ambiance more wonderful. Yet it was the rice terraces that I wanted to see. According to my dad, the original 2000-year old terraces were far from downtown and we had to go mountain hiking for 2 hours to get to see the place. I was not prepared for such a hike, but it was my only chance to see the terraces. While hiking, my sweat was rewarded with such beautiful views of the mountains and the thrill and adventure of walking by the cliff and crossing spring waters.

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When we reached the terraces, it was truly wonderful! We got to walk on the sides of the terraces while we were assisted by an old Ifugao man, who was wearing a “bahag”, the famous tribal g-string. He even sold us a native meal of grilled chicken for lunch. It was a super close tribal experience. We saw an original Ifugao house, and even experienced their food.

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The trip was tiring, but worth it. I was imagining our ancestors while we were travelling. I pretended that I was a traditional Ifugao while I walked the terraces. I even bought some souvenirs that the tribe made. I was so happy that dad took us there. Yet I’m so sad that our pictures got ruined because of my stupid cousin who destroyed the film (digital cameras were not yet sold at that time).

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If you want to visit Banaue, I advice you to be prepared for mountain hiking and cold weather, do not dwell downtown and talk to the natives to get to experience the original tribal living, and bring a decent camera.