Wow, is all I can say. Nothing we can say or any pictures we can take can do this place justice. What a beautiful, awesome, peaceful place.
The Cordillera is a mountain range in the middle of the Philippines. It is famous for the traditional tribes, head hunters and the rice terraces some carved into the mountains 2000 years ago. There is one main place all the tourists go to which is Banaue, but the whole area is a backpacker and hikers mecca...... if you can put up with the slow bum numbing travel!
We travelled by bus from Baguio to Sagada, 7 hours to do 150kms! I can't believe some of the roads we drove on, on a 52 seater bus! Most of them you would need a 4WD to drive on them. Winding mountain roads, that were dirt most of the way and one way! So some of our time was taken up reversing back along the road to let someone else past! We had what Willy called a 'load master' which is what they have in a helicopter. His job is to let the pilot know how much clearance he has and this is what the guy on the bus was doing, just letting the driver know how close he was to the edge!
We arrived in Sagada at about 1.00pm and we had planned on doing a hike or 2 that afternoon but as soon as we arrived it started to rain so we just chilled out, had coffee etc! The Sagada area has heaps of really good hikes thru the mountain ranges, over rice terraces and lots of caving; it is most famous though for its 'hanging coffins'. Instead of burying their dead the tribes' people in the area put them in coffins and hang them from the cliffs. Some of the coffins are 400 years old but most were put there in the last 40 years which is an honour if your family can afford it as you must sacrifice something like 20 pigs and 60 chickens to the gods!
Anyway, unfortunately due to our visa time constraints we only had a day and a half in Sagada so we just did two hikes while we were there, one to see the hanging coffins (which we got lost doing and covered in mud!) and one to a viewpoint to see the rice terraces, we then caught the last jeepney to a town called Bontoc (which only took an hour to do 20kms!)
We only really went to Bontoc because we read the rice terraces here rival those most visited in Banaue and they were yet to be harvested so they would still be green. We headed out to a village called Malincong, once again in a jeepney that I can't believe drove up the track! The drivers here would need 4wd training! We got some awesome views though of Bontoc which is a pretty city in a valley surrounded by rice terraces and with a mighty river flowing through it. Also we were travelling with all the local people who live out in this village, including two very old women who were in full traditional dress with a snake spine wrapped in their hair, so that was pretty cool. I know there are many places (like in Banaue) where these people just dress up for the tourists to charge them for photos, or in Vietnam where the government has ordered the people to wear traditional dress.
Anyway we were invited to walk through the rice terraces to the village and it was quite hard work, up the steep stairs and narrow paths and it was probably about 2kms from the road to the village but the people you have sympathy for were those 2 old ladies who were bent over crippled from all of the years of planting and picking the rice, and for the men who have to carry it to the mills. We followed a couple of men who were carrying the rice and when we got to the top one of them could speak pretty good English and we were talking to him about how it all works and got Willy to have a go at picking up the rice. Willy couldn't even pick it up! He reckons it was at least 60kg! The man helped him to get it onto his shoulders and we got a picture. For those of you who can look at the pics go in and have a look and note the old man in the left corner laughing!
The rice terraces there were really nice, they weren't as green as expected but we were glad we went out to the village.
The next day we left for Banaue, which is the main area for the rice terraces. Another bus trip that took 2.5 hours for 50kms, but we had some awesome views of the mountains and nice little villages. And we had live chickens on our bus....
Banaue though is the place that words can't describe, it is amazing, it was beautiful and we are disappointed we are on such a time schedule here it is a place you could sit and stare at for days. Where we stayed looked right out over the rice terraces and the village. It was beautiful.
We decided we would walk up to all the viewing points to look at the rice terraces, instead of driving. It was a nice walk, it took a while and there were a few stray dogs around, which I hate! Anyway when we got to the top and had seen all the scenery we had heard you could walk back through the rice terraces all the way to Banaue. That sounded nice and we asked a local and she said 'yeah sure, just follow the path'. Yes, well the path went 100 different ways and I think we walked over every square meter of the '8th wonder of the world'. We weren't lost, you couldn't get lost, just we could see where we wanted to go but couldn't get there! It was crazy it took us so long and finally we ended up in someone's backyard....
So all the tour buses come to Banaue to see the terraces as it is the easiest town to access. And yes as I have said it is beautiful and you really have to see it for yourself but there is another town called Batad an hour tricycle ride away and then a 2 hour hike into the town that is really the place to see. We headed out there early the next day, it was really cloudy and we were starting to think we wouldn't be able to see anything but lucky it lifted and we got the awesome view. What a crazy place, I can't believe it was all done by hand. We walked down into the village and then we hadn't learnt from the day before, back thru the rice terraces where we got lost again and I fell over, luckily into the rice and not over the edge! It was so steep I got a bit of vertigo! I had mud everywhere.....again. Once again it would have been awesome to stay in Batad for a couple of days and explore and gaze but we couldn't and we caught the night bus back to Manila.
We had seen on the weather report that there was a typhoon coming across the Philippines but I guess we were protected by the mountains. As soon as we got out of the mountains it was crazy, the rain! It took us 12 hours instead of 9 hours to get back and they had to stop and get all the bags out of the bottom of the bus so we could drive through a river! It was a crazy sleepless night!