Monday, July 2, 2018

Banaue Bound Part 4 - Batad Rice Terraces -- from a distance.

Batad Rice Terraces have been called the best by many who have seen it.  From my research I knew that unlike low and sweeping Hapao,  Batad's rice paddies were planted way up high. 
These terraces also seem to be the most photographed and visited by tourists -- I read countless
blogs where travellers boasted of trekking up to the highest point and looking down on some truly amazing scenery.
But I am nothing if not practical and definitely self aware so I told our guide John that I had no illusions (and delusions)  of walking along Batad's tall terraces -- to see them from afar would be  enough for me. 

We reserved the trip to Batad for our second and last day in Banaue as our guide John  said it would take the most part of a day.  It was bright and sunny when we set out,  and it was certainly going to be a hot day for walking. 

Our first stop was one of the various Banaue Viewpoints -- one of the few vantage spots where you can appreciate the grandeur of the rice terraces.   Some have become quite commercialised --there are vendors hawking trinkets and locals dressed in native attire who will gladly pose for photos, for a fee of course.  

A few years ago, visitors to Batad had to walk over 4 kilometers of dirt road to reach the mountain path that would take them to the village.   Progress does have its perks -- today a wide paved road takes you right to the edge of the mountain, where the trail into the village begins. 

The trail starts as a jumble of loose rocks and stones, a very narrow footpath on the edge of the mountain.  It is quite a long drop below and I doubt that even the treetops could break a fall.

I wonder how I can possibly traverse that stretch.  John says that I have only to stay close to the mountain and not look down and that this seemingly perilous part is only a few meters long.  
I wait a bit and watch as others traipse through -- I finally gritted my teeth and with John hovering  at my elbow, I tentatively made my way down.

I survived!  It was heartening to see a few others who were as slow as I was but I also took note of the younger tourists -- particularly the foreigners who bounded down like long legged gazelles.  
Not to mention the locals -- children, old men and women, who walked past us carrying all sorts of stuff - pieces of hollow blocks, sacks of cement and animal feeds, 5 gallon water containers ... it was just amazing. 

The trail to Batad is just a 30 minute trek carved out of the mountainside.   I'm glad that it hadn't rained the past days as it would have been harder if the path was muddy.

I see my old friends from the Kumano Kodo, the kino ne (tree roots) so naturally, we have to take a selfie together.

Batad reminds me of the age old conundrum -- how to preserve ancient and historic sites yet make them accessible to those would should appreciate them.  
In this case, developing the road to Batad has increased tourism in the area, so much so that homestays, pension houses and restaurants have mushroomed.   This is definitely not a good example of sustainable  tourism. 

This sign marks the official boundary of the barangay of Batad.  As the faded signpost declares this is one of the five terraces that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The others are Bangaan, Hungduan, Mayoyao and Nagacadan

We walked a little farther on, on a paved footpath this time.  Tall reeds called cane grass make up most of the shrubbery.  John said that these are used as roofing material, in making roll-up window shades, and other various handicrafts.

Before we could even say "eureka" or "voila", we turned a corner and there it was -- the famous rice terraces of Batad.  We stood at a vantage point where we could best appreciate the overall grandeur of these amphitheatre style terraces.  
From where we stood, John pointed out three options for a better view of the terraces ...
1. The topmost part, encircled in red is where the fit and the brave walk to.  From there, John said that you get the best view of the terraces down below;
2. The middle part, encircled in yellow would take another 45 minute walk down to a cluster of houses where you can venture off and walk on the pilapil to enjoy a mid-level view and finally;
3. The green roof, encircled in purple is a restaurant where you can get a closer view of the terraces without having to balance along the heights.  John said they also serve a decent lunch.  
That clinched it ... we all voted  for option #3. 

The walk down to our destination took about fifteen minutes over uneven and sometimes tall steps.  Believe me, descents are always harder than ascents. Only the thought of a cold drink and some food at the end kept me plodding along.

Batad Pension House and Restaurant gives visitors this marvellous view -- the entire breadth, length and width of Batad terraces are arrayed right before you.   While quite stunning, I also felt that some portions of the terraces were no longer as well maintained and preserved.   Still, if you look past the crumbling walls and the paddies overrun with grass and vegetation, you can probably imagine how glorious Batad must have looked many many years ago. 

The owner of Batad Pension is an accomplished woodworker.  The furniture and the decor are all done by him.  The wooden benches were so interesting but how would I have lugged them out of here?   If you want to see smaller pieces, his studio is right below the pension.

The pension is in the midst of a renovation -- a large deck has been built, jutting out into space and giving guests a more unencumbered view of the terraces and the mountains that surround it.
It was too hot to stay outside but on a cool and cloudy day, this spot and a cold beer would have been perfection itself. 

We ordered a tuna flat bread -- not to be confused with a pizza.  The dough was thicker and reminded me of a dense, crispy naan -- decidedly more middle eastern than Italian.

This friendly pooch walked in and kept me company -- was it my dog charmer skills or was it the crumbs from the tuna flatbread that fell non-accidentally on the floor.

We lingered for as long as we could until John finally herded us all out of the pension for the trudge back.  Time to say good bye to the terraces behind us and climb up these dirt paths ... 

... and climb up some more.  As usual, the walk back to where we had left the jeep was a little bit faster than the walk into the village. 

We can rightfully say we had our  Batad "adventure" even if we did not experience walking on its seemingly sky high terraces. Admiring the breathtaking vistas from a distance was grace enough 
for me.  And the short but at times challenging trek was definitely a good walk ...  unspoiled. 

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