Blitzrieg Trip To The North

The following piece was written three years ago. It has nothing to do with the photograph except that both transpired in Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines

Blitzkrieg Trip To The North

The Long Ardous Planning and Preparation to Assault Batad

Emong had just ravaged the Provinces of Pangasinan and Ifugao.  Here I am returning from the Florida Bus Station near Lacson Boulevard on May 9 Saturday, a day after Emong had officially left the country, was desperately trying to find the first bus going to Banaue, Ifugao.  This was despite of the news that 80% of the roads in Ifugao were closed down due to landslides and the weather forecast for the rest of the week was 40% rain in Banaue.  What choice did I have? I got summer thesis jury assignment on Friday.  Rescheduling the trip for the following week was simply out of the question due to other commitments one of it being the premiering of the movie “Angels and Demon”. Summer was already winding down and the rainy season might come in pretty soon.  Wait a minute, the rainy days had already arrived. Flashes of scenes of my being stuck in Espaňa Boulevard a few nights ago due to flood began playing. I desperately need to conquer an inner urge for an adventure to somewhere I have yet to visit. Batad, Banaue was teasing me to traipsing along its trails leading to the amphitheater of rice terraces. So, for lack of any other good reason not to go, I decided that there was no other better time for me to go to Batad than that very moment – suddenly, I was wearing mountaineering clothes with gears.

However, I was walking back home sulking and a failure.  For my first try to secure a ticket to Banaue was fruitless. The Florida Bus which currently the only bus that I know plying Manila-Banaue in Sampaloc, Manila area can only managed a foothold to Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya the gateway to Ifugao Province due to many debris left by landslides.  I have to contend myself with seeing the movie, “Star Trek” at Robinson Place and a “Heroes” Season 3 marathon at home in the evening so that I can forget for the moment being excited and catch the necessary sleep I need. Earlier in my excitement about the trip I was feeling kind of sickly due to lack of sleep. The next day, was indeed another day. Jogging around the UST Grandstand strengthen my resolved to hike Batad. By afternoon I was able to procure the coveted ticket for a 9:10 p.m. trip.

To Batad or Bust

On my way to the station rain began to pour – an ominous sign perhaps telling me to reconsider my plan.  But, I already bought the ticket. I was feeling kind of shameful to go back home not accomplishing my plan. I already failed getting married at an age when I thought by the time my son reaches his teens I could still play basketball competitively with my son and now I’m going home simply because the rain started pouring in and my destination could still be reeling from the aftermath of a typhoon. If I have to die trying to get to Ifugao the P450.00 is worth dying for.

At the bus station the scene was bedlam. All vehicles were trying to park on an area where all the people and their luggage were standing waiting for the second coming of Christ. The seats behind them were immaculately devoid of occupants. Probably being reserve for Christ’s entourages. I had to leave the taxi right in the middle of the rain into puddles of water and slammed myself at this formidable wall of people who seems confuse why I am forcing my way through them as if I was the one not thinking properly. I breached the wall but I had to scale human stupidity and unexplainable compunction of people who grunted words I rather forget. Rainwater began to threateningly submerge Lacson. The bag I bought was starting to fall apart at the seam literally. I had an enlightening realization that a brand name for a popular skateboard gears does not translate to good mountain hiking back pack. I have not yet finished the “Heroes” Season 3 series maybe there was still time to go back and just consider everything as a feverish ramblings of a guy who couldn’t accept that Harrison Ford couldn’t possibly come up with another sequel of Indiana Jones that will not suck as the last one did.

At 8:45 p.m. I quickly rush to the incoming bus and boarded it as if it was a pit stop in “Amazing Race”. I was the first one to arrive and as the winner of this leg of the race, I’m the first to take a leak at the bus’ toilet cubicle. It was really an amazing experience. But would it be even more exciting if the bus was already moving in Dalton Pass and you’re trying to connect your pee to the toilet without hitting the toilet seat, the wall, or yourself from your pee’s ricochets.

The Proposal

At around 5:00 a.m. we arrived in Ifugao. The sky was showing promises of not having rain at the moment. However, the roads to Banaue were littered with debris which kind of damped my optimism. I was guessing I just missed a day what could have been an unpleasant experience in Ifugao (flash scene of a snow avalanche).  The tricycle driver that took me to People’s Inn told me that the day before, rain was pouring pretty bad.  I don’t know if I should sigh a relief for the good weather or (change of backdrop and background music to something ominous) consider the moment as the silence before the storm and I was just being set up for a tragic scene where I will be forced to pit with nature for survival as I struggle afloat the open sea and avoid getting pulled down deep by the strong sea currents and waves (pan camera to the gigantic wave behind me and I turned to watch it about to engulf me). Ahh! The tricycle driver was still talking about how it was while typhoon Emong was vacationing in the area. Now all I had to worry about was how to get to Batad and get there without being: a) lost in the mountain (scene from my previous experience in Balbalasan, Kalinga when I got lost, “Noooo!”  b) killed via slippage on rocks and falling over ravine (flash scene from my Sagada trip and slipped at Echo Valley and somebody shouted, “Oh no! they killed Kenny again!”), c) rained over (flash scene of waiting shed filled with people snuggled together pressing toward me in Morayta fronting Espaňa while raining heavily).  The scenes began to playing in my mind over and over again until the tricycle driver offered to accompany me to Batad for P2,000.00.  I told myself, this young tricycle driver who is just entering college as freshman this class opening have mistaken me for a novice traveler who does not know my way around places (flash a scene in Pangasinan where I fell from a bicycle and another scene where as I was boarding a bus my head hit the installed TV set), who had been to Ifugao in several occasions and was really determined to succeed conquering Batad using my own resources was being duped into spewing P2,000.00 just to be accompanied to Batad? I acceded to the offer. The tricycle driver then mentioned that I need also to pay an additional P350 as environmental fee. I answered yes to it. That I should also pay for our food. Again I said yes. I think if he mentioned that I should carry his bag I might have also accepted.

Quit with the long introduction already, It’s so very 80’s movie.

After a breakfast of omelet and a half sausage which had never taste so good before and eating it while staring at flower pots that was standing in the way of my view of the rice terraces, my enterprising tricycle driver/Sherpa arrived.  I was told that we could finish the trek to Batad in less than a day and still have enough time to hike to Bangaan and see the four Banaue Rice Terraces view decks including the one that was featured in the one thousand peso bill. He mentioned it in such a way as if he was just telling me after shopping at Glorietta Shopping Mall we could catch up the movies and still have time for a quiet dinner. Initially, I was planning to stay over at Batad for the evening and upon returning to Banaue the next day catch the bus to Baguio. But the trip to Baguio via San jose Nueva Ecija next day was scheduled to leave at 7:00 a.m.  So, it was an imperative to make the journey to Batad a short day trip and spent the evening at Banaue. I opted to rent a room at People’s Inn.

Part of also of my consideration for the Batad trek was the expected very long hike from I don’t know where it was supposed to start, but after traversing the initial phase of the trip via tricycle, I realized that I was not THAT prepared. Our trip to the place called Junction took us about 45 minutes and several bumps in the head and my mangled body. Under normal condition vehicles can still go beyond this point until the place called Saddle Point if the vehicle was a privately own or hired. Otherwise, public utility vehicle going to Mayaoyao will only take you until Junction and the hike begins here. Towards Mayaoyao , Bangaan another tourist must-see place forked to the right while to Batad ascend to the left.  The other reason that we started our hike at the Junction was because the way to the Saddle Point was being cleared of landslides debris. Our tricycle which already suffered blown tires could not be taken any further up lest I end up purchasing the bits and pieces our tricycle might turn into if we solely rely on our Revicon brand vitamins thinking positive mantra that would cause the road to miraculously turn smooth and will be accommodating to us because we never visited brothels in our entire lives.

We walk for about an hour and a half until we reached Saddle Point. At Saddle Point there are refreshments and a souvenir shop. You can also take a peek of the next peak which is already Batad.   I stupidly told my guide how lovely Saddle Point look like in the Internet, seemingly implying it was less so in real life which I didn’t meant to say but Freud already knows that there’s in everyone of us another self that would bound to get out once in a while and wreck havoc for being brutally honest. I almost kicked myself that time but I’m too tired. I tried to recover by saying that digital imaging does magic by making things look magical even when it were not so, to that effect. Not even close enough to covering up my faux pas.

“Mumbaki” sequel and the movie in my mind

From the Saddle Point we travelled downward on slippery steps and cemented pave way. My Merrell hiking shoes that have tractions fitted for mountain trail were almost totally useless on flat surface. The trek from the Saddle Point was seemingly more than an hour. Along the way there were souvenir stall installed to tempt you with both loots of crafts and cold drinks I imagined must cost a fortune.

We finally reached Batad view deck.  I felt like the handsome Hiram Bingham from Yale when he discovered in 1911 the Inca citadel known locally in Peru as Machu Picchu.  The amphitheater of rice terraces was strewn below from where I stood aghast was actually 3,700 feet above sea level. Right in its bosom or rather belly bottom was the village of Batad. It was a landscape of green for the rice stalk were just growing and were still quite fresh looking. The terraces were showing the stone wall support as against the Banaue Rice Terraces’s mud wall support. I immediately dropped my gears at the nearest structure which is the Heritage restaurant, set up my tripod and began snapping photographs like I was gulping water after walking long right in the middle of the desert.  I was told by my trusted guide that if we walk further down to the village, I might need to stay overnight.  I decided there will be a sequel. For now, I contended myself with the knowledge that I reached Batad. Soon after, other tourists began to trickle in. First a long haired Caucasian male with hardly a gear on him except for a manual camera. Then he was followed by some of those I came with from the Florida Bus. I learned that they were medical doctors who were doing volunteer work of helping set up health centers in Batad and following up their progress.  As well as conducting medical mission. I felt I was speaking with the real character that Raymart Santiago played a role of in the movie, “Mumbaki”. While we were hiking I was also contemplating on a possible movie about Ifuago. It would be based partly on F. Sionil Jose’s short story “The God Stealer”. I was thinking of throwing in AH1N1Flu virus infection of a village when a Caucasian financier infected of the virus illegally entered the country to force a U.S. based Filipino film maker to steal from his Ifugao Chief uncle (played by Kidlat Tahimik) an ancient Bulul.  The film maker was an eager beaver to be the next John Woo or Ang Lee but couldn’t get the backing needed for his ambitious film. On the other hand a financier who is also into collecting and trading “exotic” artifacts was urging the filmmaker to come up with a documentary film on “Head-hunters of the North of Philippines” which will perpetuate that noble savage view of the “cultural minorities“ of the Philippines.  The film maker was reluctant to go to Ifugao and do the film because he is ashamed of his part Ifugao heritage. His father a former US serviceman eloped with the daughter of the character played by Kidlat Tahimik against his wishes. However, the film and partly the financial support promised became the filmmaker’s motivation to go back to Ifugao.

I must have looked funny when I was dazed and was picturing the film in my mind. I realized I was supposed to order our lunch when I travelled to that imaginary film. A thunder clap punctured our lunch. It was time for us to hustle or risked getting caught in the rain in the middle of the trail. So, just as when we were beginning to digest the large viand of rice we ate along with chopsuey and noodle soup ala onion we packed out things up and departed Batad.

Once again we chance upon more foreigners going to Batad. Most of these tourists were without a local guide and heavy gears. I felt more like the foreigner one.  Rain began to pelt but by the time the rain started pestering us we were already a few yards to the Junction where our tricycle was waiting for us. It was already 2:00 p.m. I decided to call off going to Bangaan which is just beyond Junction. However, if we hike it, it will take us about half an hour going to the village and another half an hour to hike back. The rain might get stronger by then.  I told myself, of course discreetly only, have already seen it when I accompanied my former Interior Design students on their fieldtrip to Banaue and Sagada. It wouldn’t be that much loss on my part.  My determined guide was really trying to make my P2,000.00  worth parting away, he volunteered to continue with the Banaue Rice Terraces view decks and even offered to have me walk the terraces in one of the view deck that has access to the terraces.   By 4:00 p.m. the weather was getting really uncooperative. We were already in our last leg of the visit to Banaue Rice Terraces. I asked if we were to hike one of the terraces how long it will take us?  A good thirty minutes going to the edge of one of the terraces and another thirty going back.  Then in that case it will become part of my itinerary on my next trip. With that decided, we motored back to the town proper. Bought myself a ticket for the 7:00 a.m. trip to Manila via San Jose Nueva Vizcaya and finally to the Inn.

Brand New Day Brand New Adventure

The sun was just contemplating on getting up behind the terraced hill that served as a  commanding view of People’s Inn I was already devouring a Filipino breakfast with bacon this time. While having breakfast I can’t help looking at various photographs of Cordilleran landscape and people pasted at People’s Inn wall along with some other printed ads. One particular printed ad of a website ran a featured on “exotic tribe from north of Philippines”. Cordillera is still being promoted abroad as if time had stood still and everything else about the Cordillera’s “exotic” culture remain unspoiled.  What astounded me was that the way this stereotyping of Cordilleran people was being endorsed by no less than the owner of the Inn.  I understood this hard sell might encourage more tourists to come and therefore more business to the place. But then it struck me that tourism has only benefited fewer people actually, while encouraging the local people to play out their lives in accordance to the expectations and for the benefit of the tourists. The other thing that kind of ticked me off was that being a photographer myself seeing how photographs had contributed in perpetuating certain idea about certain people, I kind of asked myself the question, “what am I really photographing of when I’m photographing, let say Cordillera?” Why am I photographing it? Am I photographing it for something I am aware of that might not necessarily for the benefit of the subject and yet willingly does it just the same?

In a few while even though there was still enough time, I raced to the KMS bus terminal. As usual, I was the first to deposit my gears at seat number 9 of the bus. The sun finally roused itself and was shinning a warm shine on the window of the bus. The bus bedecked with posters of John Cena, Britney Speare and a White Castle Whiskey barely clad model was playing country music and Von Jovi intermittently. Passengers were beginning to arrive and occupied the seats. I thought the bus was air conditioned if it were plying the day trip.  Finally the bus roared into life and began to move. We slithered the road out of Ifugao passing by the fresh deposits of debris from last evening landslides.  The trip was actually uneventful and uninteresting. I imagine the route of Banaue-Bontoc-Benguet was the better route to take going to Baguio.

Upon arriving at Baguio, I noticed that the sky began to turn to dark. I can’t help conclude that the gloomy weather pursued us from Banaue.  As I alighted the bus rain began to pelt.  I did not have a chance to process what was going on. I got no bearing of my location nor decided where to go. In my haste to get out of the rain, I just ran like my head had been cut off until finally idea began forming in my mind as to what direction I should go – SM Baguio.  At the end of Governor Pack Road lies the old Victory Liner Bus terminal. There were inns lining up the terminal, I ended up renting one room in one of the motel there.  I dropped by gears at the rented room. After taking off my Merrell hiking shoes which had almost earlier cause me to slip while scampering for cover against the rain and wore instead a pair of slippers which has its right sole gaping as if it just got the punch line of a joke, I proceeded to the Victory Liner Bus, booked me a 4:00 p.m. trip to Manila for the following day.  Rain was unrelentless, my spirit felt withered and in need of comforting.  Since, I left Manila for Banaue on a Sunday I missed my Sunday spiritual obligation, so I decided to do it now. I hailed an FX and told the driver where my spirit and soul was aching to be, to SM.

I couldn’t believe it Star Trek was playing at the Cinema. Have I known it I could have decided to skip watching it in Manila and opted instead to watch it in Baguio. I had dinner at Bodhi’s at SM Food Court, I almost gone vegetarian the whole trip if it were not for the half sausage and bacon that came with my Filipino breakfast at People’s Inn so a little more vegetable meal wouldn’t hurt that much. Starbucks was filled with warm bodies, I ended up coffee-ing at Figaro at the third level.  Taking place was a breathtaking vista of the sun (yes it did manage to show itself behind the clouds and mist as the rain began to dissipate and mist marched in) sinking behind the houses decked hills that seem to resembled Max Ernst’s surreal landscapes frottage.  The sky around the sun and even after it sunk displayed a marvelous colors. Mist continued to flow covering and then uncovering and then covering again the hills.  Too bad I left my camera at my room collecting moist. Before nightcapping with the Sarah O’ Connor’s Chronicles series, I decided to take a walk some more this time along Session Road debating whether I should have a bottle or two of SMB lights in some folk house or have a pizza instead. The temperature was really turning low.  I suddenly find myself desperately in need to take a leak. As in very desperately.  I rushed back to my accommodation just in time before my bladder burst. Having relieved myself, I realized the feeling was close to what it might have felt like wanting nothing else in life or probably how I would have felt if I was just lounging around in a pool in some resort or bathing in the warm sun in a private island paradise.

After waiting for eternity for NBN TV network to report about the weather, which it didn’t even at the end of the news program, I decided to take a hot bath. It finally occurred to me why both the ceiling of my room and the rug beneath my feet were damp, the mist produced by my hot bath engulfed the room and some other sources of moistures were condensing inside the room with nowhere else to disappear to. I imagined that maybe later in the evening when the condensation became too heavy it will precipitate like rain inside my room. It might even produce thunderstorm and flooding. Flashes of images of my being stuck in Espaňa, played again in my mind. I went out of the bathroom naked to examine the ceiling further. The pattern formed made the hair in my skin stand up. I realized the window inside my room actually opened to the mezzanine were there might be people. Out of fear of becoming a spectacle myself, I dressed and turned in quickly forgetting about the despicable ceiling and threat of drowning from flood while sleeping. Instead I travelled to Batad again this time with the pretty lass I saw at SM who was hold hand with a local boy.

I still don’t get it. I mean, I just don’t know what to do in Baguio. I had a few hours to spend in Baguio before I return to Manila and all I can think of is SM. I don’t know where else to go. Not as in I don’t know my way around Baguio. Simply, I desired solace. Solace knows no place and being in Baguio to spend that moment of solace even while at SM Baguio’s Starbucks is already the trip worth taking.

It was already 10:00 a.m. sipping coffee at Starbucks while armed with pen and paper, I began planning again of my final acts in Baguio before I finally set of into the sunset and back to the arms of my sofa bed back home. A lunch down town or at Volante Pizza, SM if they have side entrance. I already checked out of the  motel so I am lugging along my back pack. If I decided to enter SM I will be subjected to bag inspection. Too inconvenient. Where should I go, the persistent theme? It was easier when I was trekking Batad, the bag was supposedly necessary to carry my things. Here in the urban setting, I am the one calling attention to myself. I am being “exotic” by advertising I’m a backpacker who currently have no home to leave my things behind so I can blend in with everyone else. I’m now the foreigner I was staring at people arriving from the Florida Bus terminal in Banaue just as we were leaving the place. The foreigners I kept on seeing in Ermita, Manila with backpacks. I thought SM was supposedly a great equalizer in Baguio or maybe everywhere there is one. A place where local and transients couldn’t be distinguished from each other because they all seem alike now. Everyone was even speaking the same tongue as if Filipino language has finally became the national language it was being propped up to be. Now I find myself starting to feel displaced and foreign as if I am backpacking in Singapore or somewhere else. It would even be funny or a bit overkill if I brought out my camera and began shooting. I will be further reinforcing the construct I am different.  To my mind I may think I am superior for knowing something most of the local don’t while in the mind of the local I seem to appear as odd. The local may ask in their mind the question, “Why this person shooting photograph? Was this the his first time here?” I will either look kawawa or mayabang or like a person wearing a ten gallon cowboy hat.

This is what I like about travelling. Too many thoughts comes out and gives you plenty of things to ponder about while sipping coffee. Slows down heart beat and get a chance to catch up with breath. Exercise the neurons. Being healthy is really expensive.


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