Follow the arroz

55 days in…

Leaving the relaxing town of Sagada and hopefully a mild case of travellers diarrhoea for Helen behind us we headed off to see the famous rice terraces of Ifugao, venturing further and deeper into the mountain province.

A study of the guide book and other travellers we had met so far told us we should make for the small village of Batad, rather than stay in Banaue for the best views. Two Jeepneys and a bus journey later we arrived and had our first view of the eighth wonder of the world, apparently, although I have a feeling lots of other places claim the same, but it is a UNESCO site.

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The views were truly amazing. A small village at the bottom of an amphitheatre of rice terraces, nestled amongst the formidable forested slopes. We walked through the terraces, carved into the hillsides thousands of years ago and looked on as the villagers worked their way through the fields harvesting the first crops of the year, passing by the waterfall to cool off on the way! We had a lovely couple of days, watching the afternoon rains arrive and chatting to other travellers and sharing stories of travels. If you’re on Instagram, I recommend taking a look at the account of the Belgian couple we met in Batad (@1dayonesoul), they’re taking a photo a day of the people they meet through southeast Asia and have some great shots.

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The approaching rains in Batad

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Harvest time

As well as the impressive rice terraces, we kept our little grey cells busy with museum visits learning about Ifugao life. You’ll all be pleased to hear they no longer practice head hunting (yep it is what you’re thinking, hunting human heads, for ‘fun’ and a trophy of the head to take home). And despite the hundreds of terraces on view it was astonishing to discover that they don’t produce enough rice to feed the community of 2000 villagers, and they still have to buy rice at the market! Anyway it was soon time to jump back on a bus, the final stop on our journey north through Luzon was Vigan, a historic city, full of old Spanish architecture and another UNESCO site. Well I say a bus, what it should actually say is, one bus, four mini vans and about 8 hours of travel, bearing in mind that most mini vans leave when they are full rather than having a set timetable!

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Every day is a school day

So Vigan, to be honest I found it a bit of a strange city. Coming from England, with plenty of sleepy villages and towns, full of old buildings and architecture all reasonably well preserved, it was weird to wander round this ‘old’ town. The old parts that were left were nice and you can clearly see the colonial Spanish influence in the architecture and still remaining in their culture with the calesa (horse drawn carriages) and empanadas to eat. However after 400 or so years, most of the buildings are crumbling and I didn’t quite see it as the ‘time – capsule ambience’ as the guide book describes, I did enjoy the Father José Burgos museum, a great introduction to local history for a non-native and the recent installation of air conditioning, was definitely appreciated!

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Going loco down in Christologo (street)

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Mike trying to be arty with the rustic charm

Hopping on a quick flight back to Manila, running on Filipino time of course (a two hour delay)! Our stay in the Philippines was nearly over but not before Mike ran in the Run Rio half marathon. Temperatures in Manila sit somewhere around 30°C, coupled with crazy traffic and drivers, meant the race started at 4 am! You may be wondering if the Filipinos are big on running, as I was, well turns out they are more ‘plodders’ and not so fond of the heat either, with water stations every 1 – 2 km, and aid stations to spray your calves?! Anyway Mike finished in an impressive 4th place from a field of 4369 and I managed to get some blurry shots of him crossing the line. We squished in a bit of sightseeing in Intramuros in Manila, the old Spanish capital, with more crumbling Spanish architecture and more crazy traffic. I completely understand why people fly into to Manila and then leave straight away! Although we did feel fairly safe wandering around, in spite of it’s reputation of a criminal underbelly. After our first experience of an Uber taxi and the nicest and easiest taxi ride we’ve take in Manila, it was time to rejoin the jet-setters and brave two flights with Malaysian airlines, destination Kota Kinabalu in the Bornean part of Malysia. Spoiler alert…us and our baggage arrived in one piece!

We had an great three weeks in the Philippines and we’ve barely scratched the surface of sights to visit. We completely missed any of the beaches, islands, diving and generally the typical parts that tourists go to see. If anyone if planning a trip to the Philippines, everyone we spoke to raved about Palawan, maybe next time for us…

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Pollution is good for one thing, great sunsets!

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