Ifugao tribesman carved them out of the Cordillera Mountains more than 2,000 years ago. Often cloaked in a mysterious fog, the Batad Rice Terraces, located in the north of the Philippine island, Luzon, are often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. If connected end to end, along with neighboring terraces at Banaue and Bontoc, it’s believed that the terraces would reach around the world. Their combined length is about 17 times that of the Great Wall of China.
The journey to get to Banaue is not easy. First, we took a nine-hour overnight bus from Manila to Banaue. The highlight of the bumpy, curvy, accelerate-then-brake journey was meeting two super traveling duos – one from the Netherlands and another from France. We’d end up trekking the magnificent terraces together the following day after we’d all caught up with our beauty rest.
To get to the starting point for trekking the UNESCO Heritage registered Batad Terraces, we had to ride a jeepney – a whimsical form of public transport in the Philippines – from Banaue Town to the Batad Saddle. The one-hour ride was rather treacherous with patches of rough finished roads and muddy passes on a 15-kilometer stretch.
Jeepneys are traditionally painted in a vibrant fashion with Christian icons and passages from the Bible; the stainless steel aluminum modes of transport also traditionally bear a name that is emblazoned on the vehicle’s forehead. Our jeepney was named Bethel Church.
Bethel Church’s interior was disco-like and our driver and his entourage played heart-thumping music that gave us the extra energy needed to keep holding on to the interior bars so as not to slide around the seats or onto the floor. A bumper sticker on Bethel Church’s rear window declared, ‘Safety First – Jesus on Board.’
Thank goodness we had an extra passenger, for on our return journey to Batad, Bethel Church had a head-on collision with a tricycle (like the jeepney, this is another form of Filipino public transport, though consider it the jeepney’s more diminutive cousin. Tricycles are motorcycles with an attached cabin). Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Incredibly, our jeepney driver, who was spitting betel nut juice out of his mouth through an open window prior to the collision, didn’t even get out of the car to speak to the tricycle motorists, one of whom dashed out of the doomed tricycle at the time of impact. We concluded that both parties were driving too quickly for the rainy and curvy conditions, not to mention riding over the center line. Our jeepney driver stated that the tricycle driver was drunk. Coming from a litigious land, we found it so surprising that neither party exchanged contact information before driving on.
Rewinding a few hours back – prior to our riding excitement – our trek through the Batad Rice Terraces was extraordinary! With walking sticks in hand our group of nine descended a lush ravine for about 45 minutes before we reached the overlook that revealed the amphitheater-like Batad Terraces.
Only a few of the terraces had recently been planted; they donned evergreen rice plants that made them easy to spot.
I pondered how men and women routinely climbed the terraces – wouldn’t it destroy their knee joints over time? I also wondered how the Batad townspeople’s ancestors crafted the terraces thousands of years ago. From how far away did they carry the stones? How did they devise their brilliant irrigation and engineering techniques that brought water from rainforests to quench the terraces? Even in present times, how do the locals get supplies or appliances delivered to their home in spite of such terrain?
Our walk toward Batad Town found us traversing the terrace walls, some of which are about 12 feet high. We climbed down to an overlook point where we relaxed for 45 minutes while other members of our party hiked down to a waterfall. The view was serene. The fog that had hugged the mountains earlier on during our hike had lifted.
Some locals were seen hunting for snails within a terrace. A cute scrappy dog was on the lookout for food; he found a perch overlooking the dramatic vista and rested there. We treated him to a handful of our trail mix.
After our moments of respite and reflection, we began the grand ascent back to the Batad Saddle. To break up the climb, since it was about lunchtime, we stopped at a hillside-hugging homestay restaurant decked out with traditional Ifugao woodcarvings.
As we waited for our red rice, noodles and sautéed vegetables to be prepared, we played with a litter of puppies and admired the view that the locals surely must take for granted since they see it everyday. The home’s friendly residents removed stalks of rice from a hand-woven basket and threshed them.
Two feisty roosters engaged in a cockfight.
Fortunately, the action was spontaneous and natural – unlike some of the unsettling, forced scenes we would later see on a Filipino television channel devoted to cockfighting. One animal gracefully removed himself from the action when it was determined who the alpha rooster was, whereas on television, it seemed that victory would only be determined following the death of one (or even both) roosters.
After we had filled our bellies with Filipino comfort food and coffee sweetened with glorious fresh brown sugar, we continued our climb.
Our legs and joints cursed us. A light rain started to fall. Finally, we reached the summit.
After our eventful ride back to our home away from home in Batad, we enjoyed bowls of Greenview Lodge Noodle Soup and reminisced about the splendid rice terraces, man made wonders which would be so at home in the Land of Oz. We’re so glad we endured rough roads to get there!