Teresa and I had a couple of days left in the Philippines’ Ifugao Mountain Province, and we hadn’t run out of hiking steam just yet. Our last day in Sagada began with a large pot of percolated coffee whose strength I underestimated. The jeepney ride back down to Bontoc had me feeling extremely nauseous to the point where I almost threw up. A quick bowl of hot chicken soup with a boiled egg in the middle did the trick in that regard, readily available from a little restaurant on the side of the road. Soon after, we hopped on another jeepney back to Banaue where we’d catch a tricycle to take us up to a junction known as the Saddle.
From up here, we were able to catch a backdoor view of our destination, the small village of Batad. The road leading down was so steep that tricycles refuse to take anyone down because of the difficulty and fuel expenditure upon heading back up to the Saddle. We rested up here for a brief while, snacking and stocking up on water before heading down to the village.
After about half an hour of knee-rattling steep descent, we wound up at a narrow trail that led us into the back of Batad. From up here, we had a view of the entire village as it all descends down the slope of a human-made terraced mountainside. Collectively, and colloquially, known as the Auditorium, this semi-bowl shaped landscape is a sight to behold. We registered at a little booth upon our entrance and veered to the right where we found Rita’s Hillside Inn, the topmost homestay in the village that provided an even better view of the Auditorium, or the Ifugao Rice Terraces.
Rita is the husband of Romeo who owns the guesthouse, and their daughter Germaine runs much of the day-to-day operations. The rooms are wooden and basic, no air-conditioning, or even electrical outlets for that matter. The only form of electricity in the room was the single lightbulb in the centre of the ceiling. The small bed was topped with a thin mattress and a rugged, holey mosquito net hanging from the above that wasn’t quite long enough to tuck under.
The entire village is sloping and the only way to get around is to walk on the narrow pathways which are mostly stone steps. There are no vehicles or roads. The few days of hiking we’d taken part in in Sagada had started to wear on us so it was a bit tiring the first day just to go find a place to have lunch as we’d be climbing up and down hundreds of steps just to get from one place to the next. It is great exercise, though, and the villagers must have some of the strongest legs to be climbing these steps day in and day out for their entire lives.
The food is delicious, especially the local rice. It’s white with these purplish grains dotted throughout and has a distinct, hard taste. Of course, we had to get adobo and here, it was the best I’d had up to this point; a coconut chicken adobo. I’m not sure of the name of the place we got it, but it doubled as the lady’s home, of course.
That first evening in Batad, we headed right back up to Rita’s to relax, read our books with the magnificent spanning view before us. Many people come to Batad to hike from village to village as there are several others peppered throughout the mountains accessible only by foot. We tried to plot out our route for the next day with the help of Rita and her binoculars. Even without them, she was able to spot the smallest details throughout the Auditorium, including who was walking where. We weren’t planning on doing a whole lot of village hopping as we were now on a bit of a time constraint; we’d booked a flight from Manila to Cebu City, down in the Visayas, on our last day in Sagada. We had a couple days up here before we had to head back down to the capital and fly down to the islands.
Our plan for the next day was to begin hiking along the top of the Auditorium and around the bend, out of sight and on our way to the next village over, Cambulo. In this case, our pride got the best of us and instead of constantly asking for directions, we just went in the general direction that Rita told us to go. We went the right way, but we were several tiers higher along the terraces than we were supposed to be. The hike was still amazing and the views were spectacular; we were essentially trekking along these endless viaducts that channel water to the terraced crops, rice and otherwise. To our left was mountain, to our right was cliff and the pathway was narrower than the width of my shoulders. We just kept going, one foot in front of the other.
We hiked for well over an hour, weaving along the mountainside, at one point jumping across a small stream where the land collapsed beneath Teresa’s feet as she leaped across and creating a separate, temporary stream. We finally came to a river that we had no way of crossing and that’s when we realized we may have been going the wrong way. We turned back, constantly trying to find an alternative route, our skin and clothing covered in little bur-like spikes from the thick bushes. It wasn’t until we made it back to the edge of the Auditorium, on the opposite side of Rita’s that we realized where we had slipped up. Several tiers down from where we’d passed the Auditorium was a wooden sign pointing hikers in the direction of Cambulo. By then, we were beat and the sun had been blazing down on us the whole time. It was a little disappointing that we didn’t make it to the village, but we still got the hike in with the amazing views to boot. In fact, the route we took was far more elevated than the one to Cambulo, so arguably, the view was even better.
We decided that the rest of our stay in Batad would be chill time, but that’s nearly impossible if any amount of walking is involved due to the constant elevation and descent, the non-stop stair-like structure of the village itself forcing us to partake in difficult physical activity if we wanted to get anywhere. A relaxing time at Tappiyah Waterfalls was next on our journey that day and although the road there wasn’t the easiest, it was well worth it for the view and the peace. Our time in the Ifugao Mountain Province was rapidly coming to an end, but it wasn’t over just yet. The area with the unusual and phenomenal Auditorium still had more to offer.