Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Philippines, Part 5: Banaue, Batad, Sagada, and Baguio.

Before I left for Banaue I needed to withdraw some money. Unfortunately, none of my cards, debit or credit, would allow me to withdraw any money from the ATMs in Manila. Finally, after 8 attempts, I found an ATM that worked.

After Sheila and I arrived at the bus station, we chatted in her car until it was time to depart. I was really enjoying my time with Sheila and was sad that she couldn't join me. Sheila walked with me to the bus. As I was storing my luggage under the bus, some guy yelled at me as I happened to be in his way while he was loading something.

"Hey, get out the way. What are you doing back here anyways?"

"What's it to you!" Sheila snapped back.

I loved her fire.

And before I left, of course, Sheila had to take a picture of me in front of the bus.

"Man, everybody is looking at us, Sheila, " I whined.

"I don't care what anybody thinks!" she quickly replied.

I couldn't help but to smile. :-)

"Awww. Have a nice trip, Adam." Sheila said, as I was about to leave. "Make sure to take a lot of pictures!"

She waited until I boarded the bus before she left.

Okay, now I've experienced my share of terrible bus rides throughout my travels before, but my trip from Manila to Banaue took the cake. I've never been so miserable before on a bus. And it wasn't because I was cramped or that I thought the bus driver was reckless, either. No. I was miserable because it was unbelievably cold. It was literally an icebox in there. I could have carried on some frozen pizzas and they wouldn't have thawed. In fact, the pizzas would have been MORE frozen by the time we'd reached Banaue. Seriously, that flippin' cold.

The bus stopped abruptly. And as I was half asleep with my shirt lifted over my ears and nose, I slowly opened my eyes and noticed a young man standing over me in the aisle. We starred at each other for a solid 5 seconds, silently, before he handed me something and exited the bus. It was a note. It read: "Hello, I saw you before at bus station. Send me message sometime. Here's my number..."

"Seriously?" I thought. Good Lord.

Once I arrived in Banaue I took a tricycle to a hotel. After I put my belongings in my room and registered at the front desk, I stepped outside onto the balcony and was amazed with the view.

"Hello, Banaue," I thought, grinning. "Wow."

I noticed 2 other guys standing outside enjoying the view as well. I introduced myself and inquired about their plans as I didn't have any. Their names were Joey (Filipino) and Farid (Swedish). They went to university together in Florida, and Farid came to the Philippines to visit Joey who lives here. They said that they had hired a guide and was going on a day trek to Batad. Not having any plans, I asked if they'd mind if I joined them. They didn't, of course, as the more people you have the cheaper it'll be.

As we were eating breakfast, we noticed a group of 4 sitting beside us. Joey asked if they would like to join us, too.

They were in.

Great, we thought. Now that we were 7 people deep, and our price for the trek significantly decreased. Our group now consisted of 4 French (3 of which from Morocco), 1 Swede, 1 American, and 1 Filipino.

Batad is an hour away from Banaue by jeepney. Joey, Farid and I rode on top of the jeepney giving us an amazing view of the rice terraces, mountains, and country side. It was simply gorgeous.

"This is what traveling is all about," I said, while on top of the jeepney, enjoying the scenery.

To ride on top of a jeepney......CHECK!

Once we arrived outside of Batad, the 7 of us began our descent to town and to the "nearby" waterfall. The locals tend to exaggerate time and proximity.

The scenery and atmosphere in Batad was heavenly. And as we approached the quaint town of Batad we found ourselves awe struck by the lush greenery goodness that engulfed us. A sensational sensory overload, indeed. As I walked through the rice terraces, I spread open my arms and lowered them allowing the rice to gently caress my hands.

Due to the trek's level of difficulty, however, everyone moved at their own pace. Thus, at times, we found ourselves spread out amongst the terraces. I can't stress enough how arduous the trek was. During one of many breaks, I began to laugh at the absurdity of it all as everyone arrived at different times, huffing and puffing. However, a member of our group, Dina, felt that I was laughing directly at her as if I was making fun of her. She didn't respond too kindly.

"It's NOT funny," she voiced in dissatisfaction, her face now beat red, gasping for air.

Farid and I exchanged glances as if to say, "Yikes!"

We were all exhausted. However, Dina did look as if she was about to keel over. Poor thing.

We all joked how this better be the most amazing waterfall EVER!

I was talking and laughing with Farid about how I would like to go on one trek - just ONE trek! - in Southeast Asia where it's an easy, casual stroll through the wonderful wilderness. You know, a trek that's neither dangerous or exhausting; just a nice enjoyable stroll. Is that too much to ask for? ;-)

Everyone took a load off once we made it to the waterfall. And it was so glorious. We spent a good while there, talking and relaxing. Nobody really wanted to leave as we knew we had to endure another painstakingly long trek back. Ugh! But time was of the essence...

Before we had our lunch in Batad, we stopped and enjoyed a few recreational games of basketball and volleyball against the locals. We laughed as we didn't know where the extra energy came from. I think the children re-energized us some sort of way. In any case, we had a blast.

We made it back to our jeepney just before it began to rain. We laughed as we noticed t-shirts being sold that had "I survived Batad" written across the front. We celebrated and enjoyed a cold beer, toasting to "our survival."

The next day we arranged for a jeepney to take us straight from Banaue to Sagada. We were 8 strong now as another person, Jennifer, a Filipino-American, joined the group.

Here's a funny story:

Pierre, from Paris, asked me "So Adam, you said that you're from St. Louis, right?"

"Yeah, St. Louis." I replied.

"Because I used to live in a city just outside of St. Louis called St. Charles."

"Wait! What?!" I said in disbelief.

"Yeah, I used to live in St. Charles."

"Get the hell outta here!" I hollered. "That's where I actually live, in St. Charles!"

Apparently his father had some work there for a short while so they had to move there. Strange, ey? Who would have thought I'd run into a Frenchman in the middle of the rice terraces, in northern Luzon, Philippines, that used to live in little 'ol St. Charles, Missouri. Too weird.

Sagada is a small, quiet town located in the Cordillera mountains. The main reason people come here is to view its caves and hanging coffins.

The town had a 9 pm curfew for tourists due to its history of terrorism. At the tourism (terrorism) information center there was a notice posted on the wall listing all and when the terrorist activity had occurred. This included incidences of shootings, grenade explosions, bombings, and ambushes.

"Ambushes?" we all said. We couldn't help but laugh at that one. How did the people report that incident? We began reenacting how the police report transpired:

Policeman: Tell us exactly what happened.
Victim: We were ambushed!
Policeman: Ambushed?
Victim: Yes, we were tricked! They made us go down a street that we really didn't want to go down. Afterwhich, we were surrounded by men on every rooftop.

Oh, man. We had some hilarious conversations. Good times, good times.

The next day we took a local bus to the city of Baguio, located at 1,450 meters in the Cordillera mountains. The city is nearly absent of any tourists so it must have looked strange seeing 8 backpackers walking in a single file line as we searched for cheap accommodation. None of us were too impressed with the city. It was really dirty and overpopulated. From our hotel we could see the city's slums scattered along the hillside. It reminded me of Brazil's favelas.

That evening we went out in a group of 8 for the last time, as Jennifer was taking an overnight bus that night and I was leaving the following morning back to Manila. I didn't feel like staying in Baguio for another full day then taking the night bus back. Plus, I was anxious to see Sheila again.

I had an incredible time with everyone, and I'm extremely grateful for the people that continually seem to enter my life during my travels. Big shout out to the French connection: Dan, Dina, Marine and Pierre; To my Swedish hommie, Farid; and to my Filipino friends, Joey and Jennifer.

Again, it always seems to amaze me how and when I seem to meet people. And always...always at the right place at the RIGHT time.

Next Stop: Donsol & the island of Samar


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