Tappiyah Falls, Musings on the Trail, and the Bulul

We had no detailed plans for this trip, except to see the terraces and Tappiyah Falls. We told Dandy, our awesome guide (contact him at: 0910.346.5310), of our bare plan and he told us that if we weren't in a hurry, we could hike to Cambulo. Thank you Dandy!  I have not heard of Cambulo, a neighboring community reachable by 2-3 hours of trek.
That was the masterplan.
Finally, it was time to walk along the terraces.
We went on the month of August, and the village was in the middle of the harvest season. That explains why some fields are empty while others still have lush green stalks. The rice terraces is at its greenest during the months of April-May and October-November. For more info on the planting/harvest seasons, please visit Meanne's post.

Notice how some of the huts' roofs are made from GI sheets? The roof of a traditional Ifugao house is made from cogon grass, but this needs to be changed after several years of wear and tear. The practicality of using GI sheets win over the effort of maintaining a cogon grass roof, so here comes the dilemma: when should we choose preservation of millennia-worth of culture over the convenience of  modern technology?

We passed by a hut with animal skeletons hanging on the walls.  In the olden times, this signifies that the family is wealthy. However, nowadays, these people who stuck with the culture are no longer the richest. The family who has kids who finished college and now working in the city are the nouveau riche. 

It's a sad tale of how the government does not provide enough, enough for the people to be inspired to keep and preserve the heritage.

Ok. Back to the trail. After more than an hour of balancing on the terraces, we finally heard the strong gush of water nearby.

We passed by a fork where the water from the falls flows around a curve. From afar, it looked like an elephant with its tusks and trunk.

A few more steps away, we finally saw Tappiyah Falls in its majestic glory. The current was strong that day because Typhoon Mina was raging in the highlands.

I think this was the time when my Canon G10 started showing signs of giving up on me. See the drops of water on the lens? πŸ™‚ Well, I kinda forgot that G10 is not water proof when I saw the falls. 

The guys went nearer but I stayed behind, too afraid to lose my balance. I couldn't swim either, it was too cold. There were no other people around except for the three of us, so I just sat on a huge rock, dipped my legs into the water, stared at the falls and let the sputter of water drench me. That explains the emo photo above!

On our way to back to Mang Ramon's, we saw a carving of Bulul, an Ifugao rice god. I was fascinated by the simple way they have fashioned their god. The figure of an all-knowing man with both arms resting on his knees has calming effects on me.  I keep one on my desk at work.
We made it back to Mang Ramon's homestay in time for lunch.
Photos by Aaron Manila, except of course, the ones he's in. πŸ™‚

Call Ohayami Transit for your bus reservations. Manila-Banaue tickets cost P450 as of August 2011. Contact Number: (632) 516.05.01
When in Batad or in neighboring rice terraces, contact Dandy Umhao, our knowledgeable and accommodating guide. Contact Number: 0910.346.5310
This is part of the Day 2 of a long weekend trip to Banaue:

Going Local at Ramon’s Homestay

'Go Local!'

We saw Mang Ramon's catchy slogan on the trail to Batad. We made no reservations prior to the trip, but luckily, Ramon's Homestay still had an available traditional Ifugao hut. For P700, we were able to experience living in a 'no-nail' house.

We were drenched by the rain and the almost 4-hr trek made us hungry for dinner at 4PM. Good thing we didn't have to walk outside to find decent food because Ramon's Homestay offered home-cooked meals for a reasonable price. They served us brown rice, from the grains harvested from the terraces in front of us.  
Our home for the night.

The traditional hut is another impressive manifestation of the Ifugao's advanced civilization. It may look bare and simple on the outside but every part is carefully chosen and each part is functional. (See study here.) The one-room hut is made of wood and the roof is weaved from thatches of cogon grass. The parts of the house were made to fit each other like a puzzle. This is the reason why the hut can be dismantled, carried to another place (through bayanihan), and assembled back again. The hut can fit 6 persons comfortably inside, plus more if you choose to sleep on the wooden floor.

Mang Ramon's niece, Irene, offered us a 30-minute massage for P150. We sprawled on the floor of the hut while Irene and her companion kneaded every tired muscle. We learned that Irene is a registered nurse, and while waiting to be employed, is helping her uncle in the business. I really think that the massage went beyond 30 minutes, and we had to remind her of that, but Irene said it was fine and they did not charge us more.

There is electricity in the area, but to make your stay more authentic, power is not supplied in the huts. Mang Ramon will give you a kerosene lamp for the night. Better bring headlamps for added light. Aside from the huts, Mang Ramon offers regular room accommodations for P250 per head. The huts can also be rented on a per head basis, at P350 each.

The one-room hut - with our things all hung out to dry

The sumptuous dinner, soothing massage, cold weather, and quiet night with the occasional sound of crickets put us to a refreshing sleep.

The next day we woke up to the sound of clattering in the kitchen and by the time we went out of the hut, breakfast was ready. Mang Ramon sat with us through breakfast and engaged us with stories of the Ifugao way of life. 
Mang Ramon is a champion of the Ifugao culture. On days when the homestay is packed with guests, he gathers the Ifugao community and arranges a cultural show for everyone to enjoy. He also builds traditional huts with the help of relatives and community members. His most recent work is an Ifugao hut installation in Sagada, near the pottery house. During harvest season, you can even watch Mang Ramon grind rice grains.

Somewhere along the conversation, Mang Ramon pulled out his bag of tricks πŸ™‚

Then he said, "Would you like to try them on?". One look at Mang Ramon's face and you know you just can't say "No".

Mang Ramon dressing me up and me looking like the part - muntik na kong maiwan!
And so we did try them on and put a camera-worthy face. Let's just say I'm brave enough to put this photo here. πŸ™‚

And I belong! 

Mang Ramon's homestay is definitely the best place to stay at to complete your Ifugao culture immersion.

Photos by Aaron Manila.

Call Ohayami Transit for your bus reservations. Manila-Banaue tickets cost P450 as of August 2011. Contact Number: (632) 516.05.01
When in Banaue, contact Dandy Umhao, our knowledgeable and accommodating guide. 
Contact Number: 0910.346.5310
This is part of the Day 2 of a long weekend trip to Banaue:

The Road to Batad

Hearing a French man based in Singapore say that Batad is the best place he's ever visited in Southeast Asia is heartwarming but knowing that you haven't set foot on the rice terraces yet is just, well, sad.

The Rice Terraces in the Cordillera Administrative Region are collectively acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Note that the Rice Terraces is tagged as a RED cultural site, meaning that it is included in the list of heritage in danger.  The listing includes five clusters of terraces: Nagacadan in Kiangan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad Terraces.

Frequent landslides have threatened to damage the 2000-year old work of the Ifugaos, the last one reducing one section of Batad Terraces to a rubble. With that in mind, I vowed to visit Batad on the next long weekend. Pushing it far back in my calendar might mean not seeing it in its pristine form.

On August 26, Thursday night, we set off for Banaue. We made reservations with Ohayami Trans for the bus scheduled to leave at 10PM. It was a good choice to call ahead because the place was packed with people buying tickets at the last minute. The ride usually takes 9 hours, however, typhoon Mina decided to come with us to North Luzon, so the bus had to take extra caution in avoiding muddy landslides on the road.

We finally arrived at the Ohayami Bus Terminal at 9 in the morning, Friday. We were met by our ever reliable guide, Dandy Umhao, at the station. (Thanks to Chyng Reyes!) Dandy herded us to the People's Lodge and Restaurant for a quick breakfast. There we were joined by a group of 4 other travelers.

This what I love about Benguet and its neighboring provinces like Mt. Province.  They serve brown rice and fresh, crisp veggies! I'm not a fan of vegetables but whenever I'm up north, I transform into a veggie gobbler!

After a hearty meal, we rode a jeep to Saddle Point, the jump-off for Batad.  It was drizzling when we left and halfway to Saddle Point, we were told that the jeep could no longer take us.  There were several landslides up on the road and the safest way was to travel on foot.

Alright! Bring out the poncho! Rain is no problemo for the hunchback-packer!

After 1.5 hours of trekking, we reached Saddle Point. We stayed for awhile and waited for the rain to dwindle down a bit. We were having doubts about the weather but we were so close to seeing the terraces so we all decided to press on.  The trail to Batad was muddy and I was starting to feel miserable because of the weather, but the trail led us to clearings with wonderful views of the mountains. Those were more than enough to entertain me.

Grieving over his camera. It's time to get a weather-sealed toy.

It took 2 hours from Saddle Point to Batad proper, and Mang Ramon's signage (inviting us to go local!) was a welcome sight. Stay in a traditional Ifugao 'No-Nail' house? Of course! We we're sold!

We finally saw the Batad Tourist Information Center and on its back laid the famous rice terraces, magnificent even in the rain.  The fog muted the color of the lush greenery but it did not take away even a bit of splendor. The amphitheater looked like it was carved by nature itself, just like how stalactites and stalagmites form inside caves, but if you realize how this was done by the Ifugaos, you would be in awe.  How they tilled the sides of the mountains at a time when no machineries existed is proof of their sophisticated civilization. Aside from creating the stone walls that divide each terrace from the other, they were also able to build an irrigation system that gets water from sources high up in the mountains. Ifugaos made sure that the fields' need for water is supplied. They did not just carve out from the mountains, they built a complex agricultural system.

Batad Rice Terraces
(see the damage caused by the landslide at the left section)

At Mang Ramon's homestay, we were welcomed by Mang Ramon and his niece, Irene.  True enough, he made us 'Go Local' during our whole stay (more of this in my next post).

We ordered dinner and a cup of coffee while we took in the amazing view in front of us.  It felt like staring at the pages of a book. By 8PM, we pulled up the ladder into our hut and called it a night.

Photos by Aaron Manila.
Call Ohayami Transit for your bus reservations. Manila-Banaue tickets cost P450 as of August 2011. Contact Number: (632) 516.05.01
When in Banaue, contact Dandy Umhao, our very knowledgeable and accommodating guide. 
Contact Number: 0910.346.5310

This is Day 1 of a long weekend trip to Banaue:
Day 2: Tappiyah Falls
              Going Local at Ramon's Homestay

Boracay for P5000

I'm writing about this because the sun is scorching hot.

And this humid weather reminds me of this:

The 4-km long, powder-fine, white sand beach of Boracay! 

When I first visited the island, I did all things the Boracay way -- got myself a henna (and almost had my hair braided), did the zorb, ate a lobster, drooled on cakes and shakes, and bought sand art and wood carvings from the lucky peddlers who happened to ask me, the eager guest. I just had to get all those touristy things done.

The next time I was there, I'd like to think that I was wiser. Boracay, with its grand establishments, need not to be expensive. There are a lot of things to choose from and prices vary from the tourist trap fancy to the backpacker-friendly rates. But hey, if you want to spend, go ahead and do it. 

Going to Boracay during off-peak months gives me almost 25% savings from accommodations and activities. Plus there is no need to worry about the crowd which usually flocks the strip of heaven during summer and long weekends (Well, except for our Korean friends. It seems that they favor the beach all-year round.) Reservations are not necessary and the usual walk-in inquiries and check-ins work. Haggling powers are especially effective during lean months.

The goal for August 2011 trip was to stay in Boracay for 3days and 2nights and get to experience parasailing, for under P5000.
I usually stay out all day, so a non-AC room was fine for me. First we found a cheap place to stay in but I wasn't quite comfortable with walking in a long alley. I then remembered Roque's Place, where my friends and I stayed in 2009.  Roque's is located at the back of La Carmela at Station 2, near the police station.  The non-AC room was priced at P600 per night.
However, if you wish to go back to bed for some afternoon siesta, better get an AC room. Another thing to consider is if you prefer staying near the establishments (say you plan to get dead drunk and your autopilot mode only works within a 100m radius) or if you don't mind doing some walking.

Photo from 2009 - this is how the huts look like from the outside
For groups of 10 and above, try checking the rates of Casa Fiesta in Station 1. We were a group of 11 people (who went there last 11/11/11 -- I just had to say that!) and paid P930 each for a 2-night stay.

      Expense: P600 x 3nights / 2 = P900
      Budget Left: P4100


This one's quite tricky. If you're a foodie, you might want to check out the really good places to eat at before going.  We are all eternally hungry when we're on the beach and everything looks yummy until you taste it. Some cheap food thrills in the island: Chori burger. Isaw and hotdog with rice for a meal. Jonas' Shake (priced like Jamba Juice but it tastes better). Master Siomai.

We usually save up on some days and splurge on the last night's meal. Our meals included Mang Inasal, Andoks, and Decos. For our drinking water, chips, sudden cravings, and other needs, we got them at the grocery at the other side of D' Mall.

Photo from our 11-11-11 trip
Most establishments offer cheap happy-hour rates for drinks and cocktails. My favorite is Red Pirates at Station 3, with beers priced at P40 each. You could also try the White House at Station 1 where they serve drinks at 50% off the price.

Another good alternative is to buy ice-cold beer from the grocery and drink it while walking on the shore at night. Watch the poi dancers swing fires or catch some live band perform for free entertainment.

The Boss in Boracay!

I wish I had a beer in hand and sand on my toes each time the sun sets.
     Food Expense: P2406 / 2 = 1203 (includes meals, drinks, chips, ice cream, coffee, and the occasional shake and siomai cravings!)
     Budget Left: P2897


Here comes Superman!

It's the best thing I ever did in Boracay.  For 15minutes, we were suspended on the huge Superman balloon. It really did feel like being the superhero -- flying with the sea down below you, minus the briefs worn on top of our clothes!☺ The whole stretch of the beach was in full view, the world was quiet (which never really happens in Boracay), and the setting sun provided a wonderful backdrop.

Many agents are on the beach offering parasailing, snorkeling, island hopping, and other beach activities. These guys get a commission so if you want to save up, the cheaper way is to go directly to the office. Diamond's office is located in Station 1.

     Expense: P1400
     Budget Left: P1497


This accounts for the things I forgot to bring like sunglasses and toiletries.  I bought a nice wide-brimmed hat and some pasalubong to take home too. Transportation expenses such as cab fares and terminal fees are also included here. I am fond of long walks so there is no need to ride a tricycle from Station 1 to Station 3. Think of the daily walk as a great exercise!

     Expense: P1310
     Budget Left: P187

Adding these all up, I spent P4813 for the trip.

Mission accomplished!

Photos by Aaron Manila, except the one from 2009.
Airfares not included in the P5K budget but we booked cheap flights too! Round trip tickets at P1282. 

Best Boracay Find – Red Pirates Pub

The search is over for my favorite place in Boracay. 
We were walking along the stretch of the island's fine white sand towards Station 3, with the goal of finding a good spot to see the sunset, without the crowd, vendors, and loud thumping party music.
And there it was, almost at the end of the shoreline, past Angol Point. A stone throw away from the haunted-looking abandoned villas and a 5-minute walk from the last resort at Station 3, Asya Suites. 
It was nearing sunset when we saw a hut with blaring reggae music.  Red Pirates Pub almost looked like a shack from afar, and with trinkets and fishing paraphernalia found all over the place, I felt like walking straight into a pirate's isolated cove. There's an overgrowth of shrubs and vines in front of the hut and when we stepped inside the bushes, we found seats made of driftwood. On the shore were several chairs and tables, mats, and hammocks too - strewn all over the area.

Local fishermen and foreign guests alike were having their bottles of ice-cold beer on the pirate shack.  Beer was sold at an happy hour rate of P40 per bottle. It suited our Boracay-for-P5000 goal (including the parasailing fee -- more of this in another post). 

A couple of guys were on the beach playing frisbee. I learned that one of them was the owner, Joey. He owns and manages the pub with his wife Jen.
Red Pirates is casual, to the point of being ordinary, but in a place where almost every establishment tries to send off a city-like vibe of luxury and party-all-the-time mood, I will gladly choose the unassuming hut. Plus it's location in Station 3 rarely gets visited by flocks of people (and vendors too).  I hope the pub can keep its seemingly authentic vibe.

We took a chair and couple of bottles of beer, sat and watched the sun go down. The sunset, a beer in hand, and Buffalo Soldier playing in the background was just perfect.

Captain Joey also offers paraw sailing for up to 10 guests, with published rates of P800 per hour/boat. They also hold BBQ buffet feasts on Friday nights, complete with reggae and chill-out music. At night, the warm glow of the torches make the pub more inviting. The next time I'm in Boracay, I'm definitely going to spend more time in Red Pirates.
Red Pirates would surely please those who want to drown the loud sound and avoid the throng of party-goers. 
As the pub's mantra goes: "NO shoes, NO shirt, NO PROBLEM! LIVE SLOW, SAIL FAST!", 
I say, "Aye, aye Captain!".

Visit Red Pirates here or check out their Facebook page.

Photos by Aaron Manila.