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As a kid, feeling homesick was the worst. Missing your mom. Your pets. The comfort of your own bed. Your wide playground. But later on when you grow up, homesick will just be a myth, a history. A reminder of your childhood. And wherever you go, you will constantly want to go further – and sometimes, to feel like you never want to go back anymore. Our generation is the birthplace of spike in mechanization. It pushes us to go forward. Rarely looking back, greedy for success.
We just got off from work, the time to meet with our van was 9pm at Starbucks Trinoma . Before we met with the driver, we spent dinner and bought sandals at the mall. Anticipating the long walk of the days ahead. Some other group people appeared with big backpacks as well. Might be traveling north, too, we thought. The expected drive to Banaue was eight to twelve hours. Our group of six traveled with three more friendly companions. The first hour at the expressway was a smooth ride. It was perfect for an icebreaker challenge. So, everyone picked a card and answered the questions with honesty and humor. Silence came after the traffic became unsupportive. We closed the lights inside the car, and prepared for a long rest.
Seven hours later, we reached the zigzag roads. The cold of the north stirred within slowly as we opened the car doors and feel the breeze. After the short time-up, three hours followed and we reached Banaue. The morning sun were then excited to put the heat up. We spent a few minutes at the welcome to Banaue arch. Then moved on further. On the way, we stopped at an eatery of the famous dish pinikpikan, a native broth of chicken laded with natural spices. A little girl served us while her grandpa prepared the meal. It was a fully loaded breakfast that came with a very affordable cost. Behind the curtains of the eatery were small houses placed across the rice terraces. It was the first line of terraces we had seen so far from the start of the trip.
Our driver advised we take our breakfast in that area. I think it’s usually where they bring their clients. The town where the adventure finally began was an urban spot at the middle of the hills. Market area, transport terminals, and inns stood around the place. The dust of the earth travel up the ground for every passing vehicle. There we saw jeepneys with people on top of ’em. “Will this be our ride?”, I told our driver. Seemed so. It’s the way to go further across the mountain province. We were more than excited to climb up the roof of the jeepney. Like kids going for their first roller-coaster ride, we waited on top with the sun on hated strike. A few minutes later, yeys and wows followed as the jeepney started to move. The time for the real adventure sprung up.
Unbelievable sight, indescribable feeling. Our hearts sang these tunes out loud for every turn to pleasant views. The cold wind of the mountain took care of the heat. We grabbed the opportunity of taking good shots with YOLO poses. Just like standing up the topload while the jeep was on rush. Taking into caution the cliff beside the narrow road. Terraces started to appear as we were taken much deeper onto the mountainside. Much amazement fascinated our eyes. It’s a whole new world.
The breathtaking experience with the topload was done. We were instructed to follow our guide ate Jasmine across the Banaue outback forest. Carrying our heavy loads, we started walking. Thirty minutes later, we reached the sign of Batad. A stop-over. The bottled water costed a bit expensive, thrice the normal price. But it was fine. If anybody could do a price hike, it’s them. They directly carried their supplies from town to the far-reaching of the mountains. Hiking was not our strong suit. But our new companions seemed to have good stamina. They were so far ahead of us. Perhaps it was because there was a lot of talking going on with our side of the group. Thirty minutes and we felt like being punished by the treacherous mountain and the awful fiery aura. A sight of small houses appeared on our range of view. The sign of comfort lied ahead within a few steps down and finally we can rest. An astonishing view of the Banaue Rice Terraces interlined with the small village. A whole extraordinary irrigation set before our eyes on every angle. After the lovable sight-seeing, we ordered lunch by the inn’s small eatery. The break was also an opportunity of playing a round of Cards Against Humanity and Avalon.
We encountered some trouble while checking in. We were asked to choose from taking two separate huts, or a single one where we could all fit in. But, there was no electricity on the other one and it rested solo on the far side of the ridge. Nevertheless, we chose to take it. So we could all sleep together in one place. Yet to mind the issues of our hut, there was still another half of the day for the trek to Tappiyah Falls. Gathering back our strengths, we hiked through the spreading area of the farm land. Warning ‘APEC lane, give way’ was often called out for the slender trail was not made for converging hikers. More people were going back. Hiking to the falls was supposedly done in the morning rather than late afternoon.
An hour was gone to make the halfway. By then, each step became more and more treacherous. The steep trails were arrayed up and down. People coming through and through. Another hour and finally the sound of the water rushing came audibly satisfying. At last we arrived at the falls. It stood majestically on the mountainside. And looking up from where the water were coming from suggested a stupefying regard. The wall of giant stone bordering around the falls were completely covered with clean greens.
The water felt like a touch on dry ice. But its shiver showers did not keep us from enjoying a good swim. It looked odd that some tourists were actually taking a bath shampooing their hairs. But anyway, it was an incredible moment taking a chilled dip. Tappiyah falls was definitely worthy of its stamina-depleting trail. After almost five hours and as the forest welcomed the night, we had already regrouped back at our hut.
Their whole accommodation thing was not actually fine. We realized we have been taken advantage of with our room choice. We paid for two rooms. But when we chose to only have one room, there was no refund. And to know that the other room which was supposed to be ours was occupied by the time we got back was totally displeasing. There was no light on the way to our hut and the muddy rocks was only guided by our phones. Anyway, we then had our dinner. Repeatedly we were cautioned to keep our voices down when we played more Avalon. After refreshing our bodies with very cold showers, we were invited to gather with the locals to witness a cultural dance performance.
A round of Coup helped our way to sleep. The hut served as a great shelter for keeping the heat in. We told the staff to prepare our breakfast as early as 6 am on the next day. Unfortunately, we woke up earlier than them. Almost two hours passed before our breakfast was served. Time was not our friend at the moment. We still had to trek back once again across the mountain. It was definitely tiring. Our legs was as good as powerless by the minute we reached the end. Helpless, we climbed atop the jeepney for the last time.
But thinking about it, the people on the village had no electricity. No city noises to bother their nights. Supplies were delivered by foot from as far as the other side of a mountain. Spending a single day at the village was an utterly radical experience.
We met with our tour driver at the town. He was upset about the shenanigans we encountered back at the suburb. A reminder to take note upon our next travel plans. Sagada was our next destination. But along the way, we were able to stop at the Banaue viewpoint. It had the most amazing view of the terraces. We reached Sagada three hours later. Tummies hungry, we were taken at Salt and Pepper. They had plenty of mouthwatering dishes to choose from. We tried their chili chocolate shakes as well. The Sagada tour started at the local cemetery. One of us, who was afraid of these kind of things kept on insisting we hurry up. Towards the cemetery was the Echo Valley, which had numerous stairs going straight to the hanging coffins. Tourists spread in every direction. Some we heard screaming their hearts out, hearing back their echoes. November was indeed the season to travel to Sagada. Visiting the chapel last, we drove to Shamrock Inn to put down our things and prepare for the most yet exhilarating adventure.
Dusk creeped unhurriedly. The cave connections was our the most awaited on our to-do list. It was 5:30 P.M. when we entered the mouth of the first cave, Lumiang. The stimulating thrill of spelunking filled the atmosphere. This was different from our canyoneering at South Cebu a few months back. The only source of light only came from each of the lamps our two guides were carrying. We were warned to stay close, always follow, be cautious, and alert. The first 30 minutes was OK. Piece of cake. Then as we went deeper, the challenges became harder and harder. We had some fellow travelers with us, one guy which we could say was not the fitted type barely made it through one tiny hole. There was the time of choosing a path, one tunnel that will lead to another two hours of spelunking, or a path up the rocks going straight to the exit. Some of us were already tired. Our feet and hands started feeling numb. But, we still chose to move on the next challenge. It was a rare opportunity and we did not let go of the chance. YOLO!
Cramps everywhere. Bats hung up the ceilings of the cave. We had a quick rest from a dome-shaped part of the Sumaguing Cave. Our guide surprised us with chocolate bars which somehow helped with our starving guts. Later on, we went along a stream down to the famous curtain-like formation of rocks. Adrenaline once again filled inward our hands and feet. Shaking the numb off. A dead-end lie by a torrent of mad water. They said it led to a much deeper, abyssmal cave – its darkness, only filled with the sound of surge.
A series of staircases lied ahead after a climb up some large boulders. Slippery rocks threaten on the way out. But of course, we safely managed to beat all the obstacles and once again breathe fresh air. After almost five hours inside the cave, the stars welcomed our comeback to the surface. Superbly exhausted, thankfully our driver was there to fetch us. 2300 hours, Salt and Pepper allowed a reservation to serve us dinner. Unfortunately we did not have the chance to visit other famous restaurants. Time moved so fast. It was already 1 a.m. in the morning when we finally got to sleep. Which we only had three hours to do so. 4:30 was our wake-up call for the Kiltepan sunrise viewing.
People started appearing everywhere. The sun has not come up yet. The road crowded with tourists. All going in the same direction, towards Kiltepan view-point. The gathering was so much, no space held unoccupied. Even the sea of clouds decided not to come. People were disappointed to not witness the most awaited white horizon. The sunrise was coming and we managed to make the fun out of the bad luck. Poses here and there. Group shots. Cuddly hugs to warm each other. Ending with a yummy banana pancake for breakfast.
Bye-bye then, Sagada. The way to sidetrip Baguio was not for less than five hours. Everyone took their nap inside the van. Until we reached the highest peak of the Philippine Hi-way system and went out to enjoy the view. The terraces appeared to be decreasing by each kilometer. By noontime, we parked at Al’s Eatery and ordered a whole bunch of chicken meals.
Strawberry Farm was just an extra tour. Maximizing our limited time there was our goal. Which we sufficiently did. Although the strawberries were not ready to be picked just yet – only a month before our visit, La Trinidad was devastated by a bad typhoon. Tasting the ice cream, the wine, and the taho was a close enough strawberry-touching experience. We also had the time to take a stroll in the field and pick some flowers. After buying a dozen lot of souvenirs and native food packs, from shops which we carefully took good canvassing with, we moved on.
Around the clock eight times. The long journey back to Manila took us back to our days of cultural embrace. Indigenous delicacies. The chilling whiffs. The scent of morning grass. The solemn quiet nights. Without a doubt, Batad and Sagada can make a memory worth yearning for.