Off the Beaten Path (or Any Path): Trekking in Banaue

November 17, 2017 at 6:35 am

We arrived in Banaue early in the morning, fresh off the night bus from Manila. Immediately we were swarmed with people trying to “help” us book our trek. While this is never too pleasant, it’s especially unpleasant at 6 in the morning! After trying to dodge them and have our breakfast in peace, we finally decided to head to Sagada that day instead and book our trek the next afternoon when we returned. 

That next evening we were fortunate enough to stumble upon Brookside Inn, and our incredible kind and helpful host Randy. He arranged our trek for us: two days and one night trekking through the rice terraces to finally reach Batad. In the morning we took a tricycle to a lookout point, and then began to hike.

The hike began as an ever so ordinary one. We walked through a forest, up a few hills, but nothing to strenuous or exciting. Then, the rain began. It tumbled down on us, in buckets, and it was then that I realized my fancy little raincoat I had bought on Amazon didn’t actually block out rain. Perhaps not the best timing. As we trudged through the mud, soaking wet, knee deep in mud, I realized I would probably have to throw out my shoes once we got back. It was also absolutely freezing. I don’t know about you, but when I pictured my experience in the Philippines I imagined warm weather and beautiful beaches, I never expected to be huddled around the remnants of a fire trying to salvage a bit of its warmth. We ate lunch quickly around that little fire, and set off again. 


Until this point, it had simply been a cold rainy hike (with no views because it was so foggy out). After lunch though is when the adventure truly began. This part of the hike took place on narrow rice terraces, barely a foot wide. Remember those balance beams you had to walk across in gymnastics as a kid? Well this was pretty much the same only hundreds off feet in the air, and the face of a cliff on one side of you. 

As I walked, doing my best not to slip, I suddenly heard a thud and a cry for help from behind me, and our guide threw down his backpack and raced by me. When I walked to where he was, I saw our friend had fallen, and was dangling off the edge of a cliff ten feet below, thank goodness caught in a thorny branch. This was probably the scariest travel moment I have ever had! We helped her climb back up, but after that we all walked much slower, totally shaken. Had that branch not been so thorny….
We stopped in the next village to bandage her sprained ankle, and had to take it a lot slower from there. 


At a certain point it seemed we may not reach our destination, Cambulo, by nightfall. We kept asking our guide how much farther it was, and he consistently said an hour (but surely we were not walking in place? How could it always be an hour?!). It began to get dark, and as a city girl, I was shocked by just how dark it could get. Far from any city or town, we were walking on these narrow, steep terraces with just our phone flashlights to guide us. It was so foggy that even the moon was invisible.


When we reached the next village, just as nightfall had begun in earnest, we asked the guide how much farther, and calculated that at our pace it would take us about an hour and a half. And there was absolutely no way we were going to walk another hour and a half on the dangerously slippery path, our phone batteries (and with them our flashlights) quickly slipping away.
That was when Ohad and I really got off the beaten path. We told our guide we could not go on, and went into the village. There we asked if anyone had a floor we could sleep on for the night, and a wonderful woman named Antonia opened up their tiny little day care room for us and said we could sleep there. She even brought us some blankets, and cooked us some plain rice and a steamed vegetable (I still don’t know what it’s called but she showed it to me hanging from a tree the next morning). As we dried our wet things on the fire outside, we sat around with some of the children from the village as Ohad played a guitar they had and we sang songs. We had no heat, no shower, no wifi of course, but we did have a floor to sleep on and the incredible kindness of strangers. While we were not in the nice warm guesthouse with all the others who had embarked on this route in the morning, we did have a much more special experience. Thank you the members of Pula Two (I believe there were no more than one hundred) for hosting us unexpected visitors that night, and for welcoming us so warmly.


The next day wasn’t supposed to be too adventurous, we were supposed to be taken by someone from Pula Two to a jeepney station near Cambulo, to meet up with our guide and our friend that went with him, to take the one jeepney a day to the main road, where we would hire a tricycle to Batad. A boy from the village took us there, and the hike was quite easy in the light. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And still our guide did not arrive. Finally the jeepney driver told us the car was leaving, and so hesitantly we got inside, crammed into the small jeepney with who knows how many other people inside and on the roof. The five minute drive was completely harrowing, as the jeepney attempted to drive on the very narrow mountain passes, which barely resembled roads, at each turn just making it, but sometimes only inches away from falling into the depths below. 


After a few of these turns I finally asked one of the women sitting across from me how long the ride was. I was expecting about 20 minutes, but it turned out the ride was an hour and a half! And how long was the walk.? Oh, about 3 hours. So at that point I told the jeepney to stop and we climbed over the many many people and got out. For many of the hours of our walk through the mud that day we actually were ahead of the jeepney. We asked numerous people along the way how much farther to the main road, and each gave us drastically different answers. At a certain point I got stuck in the mud, and had to be pulled out (how the heck was the jeepney supposed to drive through that?!). 


Finally, we neared the main road, and as we did another jeepney pulled up, and the last people we expected to see waved us in: our guide and our friend! I really thought we may never see them again. Together we made it back to Banaue, and on to Batad later that day.

Lessons learned:

-you don’t have to throw away your muddy shows, send them to the laundry and they will look brand new!

-trekking in the pouring rain is not the best idea ever

-buy a real raincoat 

-the kindness of strangers will always surprise and amaze you