Touching down in the tumultuous and balmy city of Manila you would not envision the Philippines to be home to over 7,000 islands with picturesque beaches and turquoise seas, which is why the rice terraces of Batad -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- are often forgotten. The terraces are a stunning scene to behold, sculpted like giant staircases from the mountains of Ifugao. Considered a backpackers Mecca by many, the rice terraces are a worthwhile journey. My journey to Batad began atop a jeepney, which was a unique experience in itself.
A Jeepney is an old military vehicle, leftover in the Philippines by the U.S. army after World War II. The colossal beast had been transformed into a passenger bus, as were countless others on the islands. Each jeep is uniquely festooned with a colorful and loud fashion and my jeepney to Batad was no different. The rooftop served as an overflow seating area for the passengers down below. At my first glimpse of passengers surfing the rooftop of a Jeepney through the mountains, I realized exactly where I wanted to be for my journey to Batad.
I clambered to the roof of the vehicle and I recognized this was the ideal perch to take in the sites and to appreciate the crisp mountain air. Upon reaching the top, I gripped the support bar and clung to it firmly as I swung my legs over the side where they swayed freely.
The path to Batad originates in Manila with a nine-hour overnight bus to Banaue. The bus ride is uneventful at night with only a few quiet stops for food and drink. However, nine hours can quickly turn to 18 in the heavy rains. Landslides and washed-out bridges can turn a long passage into a treacherous one. That is exactly what happened on the return ride to the bustling city of Manila, but after experiencing the people and backdrop of Batad, it was well worth the exertion needed to make the trip to see the rice terraces. Banaue is also home to magnificent rice terraces, but many do not spend more than a day or two in that city. It often serves as central hub between the surrounding towns.
While Batad is not far from Banaue, the ride can be a difficult one. Encountering washed-out bridges, landslides and neglected roads are common. Rains come and go which, made my return just a little more interesting. Riding on the roof of a Jeepney may be everyday practice for a local, but it is an exhilarating experience for a foreigner like myself. It is an opportunity that shouldn't be passed upon and a drive that will not be forgotten.
The village of Batad sits on a crest high above the center of town. Upon reaching it, a 45-minute descent by foot coils to the center of town. There are no roads that lead to the quiet village of 1,500 people, which means that walking is the only mode of transportation. There are few guesthouses in Batad, however many villagers will welcome you into their home, cook for you, and share a glass of traditional rice wine. Many guides can be found during the decent and they offer their experience for a minimal fee. A guide is a worthy companion in a town such as Batad. There are many paths and sites to miss without proper planning or an eye for detail.
Trekking the rice terraces of Batad is a trail commendable to any traveler. The 2,000-year-old terraces require careful navigation and balance. With pathways only wide enough for one person to pass and steep drops of 10 or more feet in some places, carfeul navigation is required. But there is no greater reward than reaching the promontory overlooking the brilliant terraces whittled into the mountains of Ifugao.
When traveling to the Philippines don't overlook the road to Batad. The passage from Manila is long but an eighth wonder of the world awaits. The homestays, people and culture will embrace you. Make the trek so you can call the rice terraces your home, if only for a few days. The rice terraces are truly extraordinary and it proves once again that no expedition is too arduous when the payoff is so large and in many cases, such as this one, the journey is half the fun.
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