Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Happiness Is ...

A way of travel, eh? I thought this poster was kinda cute.

Other than travelling by airplane, buses, boats and trains, I'd like to experience a hot-air balloon ride one day, even if it's just a short distance away.

Maybe cycle to somewhere too; not too far though since I might end up cramping and fainting half-way. And how about on horseback, or on a camel? Or in an RV? We don't have them here though.

Anyway, Happy Weekend everyone, it's our 'last' holiday weekend till April; enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peso-less in Manila

My recent trip to the Philippines was not without its series of little unfortunate events.

My biggest mistake was that I failed to check that I brought my pesos with me. Duh duh duh, and I can kick myself for this! I confidently packed everything I needed (or so I thought) and even sorted out the currency the night before.

The thing is, for travelling I use a separate purse for the foreign currency as I prefer not to mess up my daily purse. I must have dropped the purse in my room in midst of packing my backpack *mental note to self : clear mess next time*

I only realised that I didn't have all my pesos when I arrived in Pureza station, en route to GV Florida bus terminal in Sampaloc. I wanted to kick myself : how could I not have realised this after buying the bus ticket from Clark, some things from Watson's and dinner as well?

I asked around and was told that the nearest money changer was at a mall 10-15 minutes away, SM something. Braved myself to hail a jeepney (fastest way apparently) only to reach there after it just closed at 8 pm. *gawd* ATM machines were aplenty but I've never used ATMs out of the country before and didn't think it was a good idea anyway. Went around asking some more, still futile.

I decided that I should just head on to the bus terminal and worry about it later. Maybe there are money changers in Banaue. Back in Pureza I asked the tricycle guy if he knows any money changer. In halting English he mentioned the name of a place (Sunshine something?) and said they might still be open till 9 pm or so. He offered to cycle me there and then onwards to the bus station for Php 100. I said I'll pay him that only if I get to change my money and reach the bus station on time (so mean, kan?)Italic So the guy cycled away real fast and within 15 minutes I got my pesos (yeay! not so great rate though, I didn't care much anymore) and another 15 minutes later I was at the bus terminal. Thanked the guy and gave him a tip for his A+ efforts.

Anyway, the moral of the story is, please learn from my mistake and double-check your purses before you leave, ya?

On a lighter note, how was your Valentine? I had this man wish me in Banaue :

No. Just kidding. But the poster banner is scary, no?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Banaue : In the Heart of Ifugao

This trip to the Philippines was intended solely to visit Banaue, in the Ifugao province.

So, what's in Banaue? It's what is regarded by Filipinos as the 8th Wonder of the World, and was named as a World Heritage Site in 1995. Read more here.

Arriving Clark on time, I took the bus to SM Megamall and armed with information from Andrea, I took the LRT and jeepney (and tricycle) and managed to reach GV Florida bus terminal in Sampaloc on time. I had an unfortunate series of little events, which I shall save for another story later :)
Cute colours, huh? Very cold, 8 hour long overnight bus ride. We stopped a few times I-don't- know-where because it was too dark. Last stop was at 3:30 am where I went down to stretch my legs.

Point of arrival in Banaue, at 0630 hrs. A shuttle jeepney took us into the town proper.

I guess this can be called the town square.

The school. Roads are narrow and winding and made of concrete.

Where I got a room that morning, and ended up not using eventually. Lots of tourists around, it gave the impression of a cowboy + hippie town.

First views of Banaue town, from the balcony of the People's Restaurant. Very bright, clear and fresh morning, and comfortably chilly.

The orange building is People's Lodge and Restaurant - view from across the river.

That's Blair (light blue tee) the driver for the day. I asked him to get me a helmet. He probably gave his so he wasn't wearing one. When I asked him he said, I am okay no helmet. After negotiating I agreed to go on to Batad, Tappiyah Waterfalls and the Banaue Terraces and Viewpoints.

The helmet had no cover so I was eating dust. Literally.

The better part of the dirt road to Batad. The worst stretches were so bad I think my kidneys re-arranged themselves, and twice I almost got thrown off the bike. Truly a bone-rattling experience. I was surprised I did not throw up.

Just like the mountain range en route to Kundasang. Elevation is about 1,500 asl.

We arrived at this place called Batad Saddle, where I had a local guide for the trek down to the village. Drinks and souvenirs on sale.

Never refuse a walking stick. 10 pesos rental.

This is Hubert the guide, a local Ifugao native from Batad. Speaks reasonable English and was continuously chewing his betel nut, same like our sirih + pinang. He offered it to me which I politely declined and was surprised when I told him we have the same in Malaysia. Except here every adult is chewing it, they look like they have red lipstick on :)

See, so easy they have concrete and stone steps. Some parts were quite steep.

And we trekked and trekked until we reached Batad viewpoint about 45 minutes later. The trek was downhill so it was quite fast. I didn't think about the return trek back to the Saddle, it took us close to 2 hours mostly because I was struggling with the uphill trek! Pengsan pengsan. Luckily we caught up with another group of trekkers, so there was some motivation. One girl was close to tears and wanted to give up just before the final stretch.

This is Batad village. For such a small village (1,700 pop.) there are 3 churches. The rice terraces here form an amphitheatre.

Unfortunately my little camera and my skills are not able to capture the landscape and views. The colours don't show too.

This is how deep the valley is, another 45 minutes down.

I wondered, what would happen if I lost my balance and stumbled?

The padi fields are not green as it is the dry season. The rain is expected in April so that's when they start planting. The terraces in Batad have stone walls. Some are more than 10 feet high. So for best views, come during the rainy season, which is also the low season so there's less tourists around.

The terraces look small from a distance but they're actually quite big. Imagine whole hillsides from top to bottom are hand-cut by manual labour into terraces with a proper irrigation system. 'Technology' from 2000 years ago.

View from one of the resting huts. I could hear the waterfall in the distance, and when I found out it takes 1 hour to get there and probably 2 hours to get back I backed out. Sorry my legs were already crying out for pity!

One of the greener fields. Each family owns one or two fields, some own more if they have rich ancestors. They work on the ricefields and harvest once a year for their own consumption.

My relief on reaching the village. I should've worn shorts cos it was hot.

A shy boy tending to the padi seedlings.

A native Ifugao hut, made of grass for the roof and local wood for the structure. Not even a piece of nail is used. It also has an attic for storing rice! The unit consists of a single room only, that's where the family cooks eats and sleeps. I was invited to look inside on, didn't take any pictures as I thought it would offend the man who was having his meal.

My legs were dead tired.

Yes indeed. This sounds like a title of a country song.

After resting and replenishing ourselves with Gatorade, we headed back towards Banaue. The locals don't seem to mind riding on top of the jeepneys, I don't know why. Maybe they are too shy to ride with tourists.

This is one of the villages along the way, I forgot the name. We also stopped at a privately owned natural pool.

For sale, rice wine and sirih set.

A commemorative plaque.

The Banaue rice terraces as depicted on the back of the 1000 pesos note.

This is viewed from the Aguian viewdeck.

At another viewpoint.

From the Main Viewpoint. Unlike in Batad, the terraces here have mudwalls.

Some interesting information.

From the viewpoint you can see tiny moving specks which turned out to be tourists trekking the whole stretch of the valley, which can take up to 2 days! Some tourists were really gung-ho and spend up to a week here. Hmm, I wouldn't. Only because I don't fancy trekking that much.

After a shower and an early dinner, I bid farewell to Banaue and boarded the 8 pm bus back to Manila.

The very last picture take before my camera went pffft. Battery depleted. By this time it was late late afternoon, I was tired, and covered with a film of dust.

At the end of the day I felt I had enough of rice terraces, and as much as the driver tried to convince me to stay on and visit Hapao or Sagada the next day, I decided to return to Manila. My leg muscles were sore, it felt like the time I climbed up to Laban Rata. The bruise on my right thigh was turning blue. Oh, I got the bruise as the motorbike accidentally toppled over on my leg and I didn't jump away on time. It was painful, and I realised I was lucky it didn't fall on my feet otherwise my toes would've been crushed.

So that's my quick fourteen hours in Banaue, and another 8 hours to kill on the bus back. I managed to sleep better this time (the aircon was freezing cold and we told the driver to switch it off every now and then) and arrived in Manila safely at 4 am.

Friday, February 12, 2010

RAWR-ing into the New Year

Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!

May the force of the Tiger be with you.

And whether you're celebrating it or not,
may I just wish a
Happy Valentine's Day.
Aud and Hobbes the Tiger.