5/12/2005 - Sagada, Banaue, and Batad!  

  We've had a lovely week finishing our tour ofNorthern Luzon. On Monday morning our friend and protector, Ronard,accompanied us to the bus station and saw us off at 6:00 a.m. Mostof the time, the "road" was a rocky track with stony cliffs on oneside and a plunging drop off that disappeared into misty forests onthe other. The road is being paved in random sections, one side at atime, so the rocky parts were interspersed with paved sections thatinspired our driver to make up whatever speed he had lost on therougher parts of the road. Tony soon began feeling quesy and went tosit in the front of the bus and snap photos of the cliffs, while Axasettled peacefully to sleep, rocked by what the locals wryly call "thecordillera massage," and Sarah was left to morbid speculation on thespecifics of the trajectory of the dive the bus seemed always about totake off the side of the narrow road. We had only one stop, where apart of the road had washed out and a backhoe was up on a cliff highabove, dumping down dirt to rebuild the road.

At around 1:00 p.m. we reached Sagada, a charming little town nestledhigh in the mountains. We stayed at a lovely little convent-turned inncalled St. Joseph's, with beautiful gardens and a relaxed atmosphere(so relaxed, in fact, that Archie, the receptionist, was always drunkbefore noon). After lunch we started out for Echo Valley, no more thana 20 minute walk from where we were staying. A little boy beganwalking beside us and asked where we were going. When we told him, heannounced that he was our guide. He led us down a well-marked trail tosee the famous hanging coffins, occupied by the important dead of theIgorot natives. We also visited a burial cave filled with littlecoffins of people not important enough to be hung outside. Jonathan,our guide, told us that he would have to charge us three times thegoing rate for guides, because there were two of us and a baby. Thatnight, we put up our mosquito netting for the first time after a fewclose encounters with unsavory creatures.

While eating delicious homemade yoghurt in Sagada, we met Jason andCatherine, two young Canadians who had spent the last five weekssurfing on a little island called Siargao. We found that we wereheaded for the same place the next day, to see the amazing riceterraces of the Ifugao. Arising early, we packed up and carried ourbags to the jeepney, with Axa in her new favorite post, "riding thebag." It was a lovely bus/jeepney ride to Banauae, through misty, wildmountains. We were greeted there by processions of Ifugao tribesmenbeating together sticks and dancing in the streets. One of theirpeople had died, and they were doing a ritual mourning. The riceterraces at Banauae were beautiful, but we wanted to go somewhere alittle less touristy, so we took an hour-long trip in a tricycle(motorcycle with a sidecar) and hiked in 15 kilometers on a mossy,jungle trail with stone steps in the mountain, to the isolatedvalley-village of Batad.

Just a few moments before we reached the valley, the rain startedpouring down, so we reached the village soaking wet and first saw thegorgeous green natural amphitheatre of Batad through mist andraindrops. All of Axa's clothes got wet in the rain except the onesshe was wearing, so after we gave her a bucket bath and took her downto dinner wrapped in a blanket, the owner of the lodge lent her someclothes We paid $2.00 a night to stay at a rough little lodgeoverlooking a more awe-inspiring view than most 5-star hotels. Fortwenty centuries the Ifugao people have farmed their rice on terracesbuilt into the mountains, combining ingenious practicality withbreathtaking beauty. Like so many ancient practices, this one is dyingout. They now produce less than a third of their rice needs, and manyterraces are overtaken by weeds.

The Ifugao people also carry their children wrapped in cloths tied totheir bodies, but they laughed and laughed at the number of times wewrapped ours around ourselves. they just wrap it once and tie it on.When we met our guide, Maribel, she was wearing her baby. She took usto Tappia Waterfall, where we did not swim, because Sarah had a nastycold. We hiked back out the main road and caught another tricycle toBanauae to take the night bus back to Manila. We've decided tochristen that ride "Voyage of the Ice Cube." It was cold and rainy inBanauae, but when we boarded the bus we felt the temperature dropseveral degrees. We put on another layer of clothes, and watched theother passengers take out blankets, scarves, hats, and anything elsethey could to warm themselves. People had told us the bus to Manilawas cold, but we assumed they were just talking about air conditioningin a tropical world. This bus driver was a sadist. Despite repeatedrequests to turn down the A.C. (one group of four sent one of theirnumber up separately at intervals), he kept the bus an ice box. Wewrapped the baby up in two layers of clothes and blankets, and she wasprobably the only warm person on the bus (and the only one who got anysleep that night). There were people wrapping themselves in curtains,covering the vents with towels, and moving from seat to seat to findthe warmest place. It was truly bizarre. Tony says he will buy a carin Banauae and sell it in Manila before he takes that bus again.

In spite of the bus, we are here safely, and staying with Gary, afriend from Tony's mission here five years ago. Today we triedhalo-halo, a delightful dessert with almost everything in it-two kindsof ice cream, various colors of jello, several varieties of beans,flan, crushed ice, milk, and some other unidentified objects. Quitepossibly the best dessert I've ever had! Well, our little babytraveler is saying we've been at this internet cafe for long enough.We hope you're all well.

Tony, Sarah and Axa


The botanical gardens in Baguio.

St. Joseph's Convent

hanging coffins in Sagada

hiking into batad

bathtime! (no running water)

Breakfast in Batad, two friendly Canadians, sleeping under mosquito/cockroach nets.

Diaper change at another exotic locale, pattycake with the natives, Tappia waterfall.

looking back on Batad
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