Dec 23 2014.6 P.M. At Work. Mandaluyong.
I went to work with my travel backpack and ready to spend Christmas somewhere I haven't been to! My shift was about to end but I still didn't know where to go. As I handed my customer a Php20 bill for his change, I found my destination--BANAUE!
As soon as I clocked out, I rushed to the bus stations only to find out that they were fully booked! Of course, it was Christmas Eve the next day! What were you thinking, Glen?! But I was hell bent to go to Banaue. I asked around and found an alternative route. Lucky me! I found the last bus and got the last seat. Unluckily though, it was at the center aisle, which meant no uninterrupted sleep. Fortunately, the bus collector I had made friends with, did not charge me the fare! A pamasko (Christmas gift) for the lone traveler! Awesomesauce!
Dec 24 2014. 10 A.M. Christmas Eve. Banaue, Ifugao.
Reached the town! Got myself the last available room. Luck is on my side!
Since I always, always pack light and wasn't ready for Banaue's cold weather, a little holiday shopping wouldn't have hurt. Bought some warmers and beanies. Now, properly clothed, I was ready to leisurely enjoy the rest of my day, with the tourist map on my hand. I went on an uphill quest to get to the viewpoint and finally see in person what I usually just see on postcards, textbooks, and on that Php20 bill--- the famous Banaue Rice Terraces.
There's a sad story behind this smile. These old natives mostly stay under the sun, drizzle and cold to make money from donations from whoever would wish to take pictures with them.
I felt so bad for him, gave him a generous amount, and then realized, Gah! There goes my budget for Noche Buena. I didn't mind eating porridge and that smile was worth every cent.
Where's the view? There wasn't much. Too foggy. I was feeling disappointed, then a local told me, "May iba pa ma'am" (There's another viewpoint)
Tip: Take pictures after giving a tip. The smiles are better! Christmas or not, be generous!
Old man on the left already had a stroke, but still needed to make a living, which explains why he was wearing warmers. While resting and catching my breath on the bench beside them, he had already told me his whole life (and love) story---telenovela-worthy! And nope, this still was not "the" viewpoint.
This, is "the" viewpoint! According to locals, it would've been best if I had come before the harvesting season. It would've been lush and green. Nevertheless, it was equally breathtaking! Carving these steps with the available technology 2,000 years ago, makes these ancestors brilliant engineers.
I rarely join in the pictures but these natives insisted that I should, and even offered the seat! (Which I reluctantly took. Who takes a seat from old ladies?!). Later, I found out, it was because I was the most generous tipper that day. Well, honestly, people have been kind to me since I started this trip, I was just paying it forward. I'm not Christian, didn't know if they were, but I was celebrating the season! It's the season of giving!
You've probably seen these faces in NAIA posters! They're popular ya' know!
So I've been to, and seen the highest viewpoint. After a 3-hour cold leisurely walk (with rain showers and chatting up the locals in between), I rewarded myself with an inexpensive cup of hot instant noodles then descended. Back in town and looking around for something else to do, I stumbled upon a Batad tour. I signed up. Why not?!
I did some more snacking and eating-- my favorite past time, then headed back to my hostel. And, hey! They were just putting up a few shiny Christmas garlands. While most Filipinos put up their Christmas decors as early as September, they did theirs on Christmas Eve. Come to think of it, while walking around Banaue the whole day, I rarely, rarely saw homes festively decorated with Christmas trinkets. I couldn't even remember hearing any Christmas song. Despite all that, I don't think their Christmas is any less happy.
I dove into my bed for a quick nap, the next thing I knew, it was 9 PM and dinner time! Well, accurately (almost) Noche Buena time. I only had hot tinolang manok (chicken stew), but for a famished kid, it was as yummy as Cebu lechon! I wasn't alone, I had my family back in Cebu over the phone.
"Hey Mom! Guess what? I'm in Banaue! You know where the Banaue Rice Terraces are? I saw the real thing!..." I was telling them of my misadventures since the day before and my plans for the next.
Dec 25 2014. 9 A.M. Christmas Day. Batad, Ifugao.
We were dropped off, then we trekked our way to Batad. I was with 2 Germans, 4 Israelis and 2 Americans. Except for the guide, I was the only (short-legged and obviously unsporty) Filipino. One step for them was equivalent to two for mini me! I had to keep up--double time! With my best buddy, Mr. Walking Stick, I made it!
Amphitheaters are really more fun (and challenging to go to) in The Philippines!
We went down and over the valley to see Tappiyah waterfalls. And man! Those steps were not meant for Filipino legs! And I'm not kidding when I say that I bruised my chin and knee going back up because they often met.
Was it worth the trouble? Let the picture speak for itself.
After seeing the falls, we enjoyed lunch overlooking the Batad Terraces (What a view!). You can't have that everyday. Then we trekked our way back to the drop-off point.
When we got back to Banaue, I had some drinks with new-found German and American friends over the American's hostel. They were just two but they had a four-bed room with a view! We sat and chatted, killing time while the Germans and I were waiting for our bus back to reality. And just so you'd know how small my world is, after all the chatting, I found out that one American was actually a friend of a good friend.
Dec 26 2014. Reality. Ugh.
After spending 12 hours in the freezer bus, we made it to the urban jungle of Manila without turning into a popsicle.
This Ifugao Christmas definitely wasn't my normal Christmas, but it made it on my list as one of the best!
If you are planning on doing this trip, here's a list of other things you can do:
-After enjoying the viewpoint, trek your way back to town through the terraces.
-Trek Tam-an, Poitan, Matanglag and Bocos
-Visit the Museum of Cordillera Sculptures and Banaue Museum
-Try rice wine
-Enjoy the culture
So how far can a Php20 bill take you this Christmas? It took me all the way to Banaue. Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.