If only because of the combination of the wonders of natural creation and man’s ingenuity, I would say this place, the Banaue Rice Terraces, should have a very good chance in becoming the 7th wonder of the World.
As can be seen in the pictures, the Banaue Rice Terraces are rice paddies carved out of the mountain sides. They have their own irrigation system which do not use any form of modern technology. And they date back 6000 years ago.
Banaue (the town) is in the Province of Ifugao, some 350 kilometers North of Manila. It is accessible by bus or any land based vehicles except by train. It will take you about 8 to 9 hours to get there from Manila depending on which route you take.
You can travel via the Province of Nueva Ecija using the road leading to the Provinces of Isabela and Cagayan Valley, or you can go straight to Baguio (which is another tourist destination), take the Halsema Highway in the Province of Benguet and then on to Bontoc, Mountain Province.
If you have chosen to pass this way, don’t forget to remind yourself, or your driver, once in a while that there is a reason why they called it the “Mountain Province.” You may actually want to start vocalizing that reminder as soon as you reach the Province of Benguet as the whole place (including the Provinces of: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao and Mountain Province) are actually called the Mountain Provinces.
At times, visibility on the road leading to these areas goes all the way down to zero. It would best serve the traveler to remember not to be so careless as to accelerate too much in a concreted road when the other portion is not totally visible. This is not only because winding roads normally characterize the thoroughfares in mountainous areas.
It is more because the original Halsema Highway has given way to landslides and natural erosions – which plunged portions of the road several thousands feet below. There are very deep ravines here and (while repairs are continuous) there are still portions of the paved road that may lead you to an abyss.
The last time I went there, my local contact (in his own humorous, if unique, way of reminding me of the dangers) told me to bring lots of food and drinking water as he said he’d hate to hear that I starved on my down to the bottom of one of those gorges. That is, if ever I committed the mistake of hitting the gas when I should be frantically thumping on the brakes. “Might take you the best of the day before you hit anything below, ya know?” he said.
But if you have the resources and you prefer traveling in one of those winged machines, why experiment on “flying” the car into these narrow valleys? There’s an airstrip in the town of Bagabag near the junction of the National Highway that leads you to Isabela and what your Google Earth would tell you as “Mountain Polis Highway.” (I didn’t know it was named that way).
If you have an efficient assistant, he or she might be able to get you a landing right, and what would remain would be just an hour drive.
Of course, I realize that not many of us can charter a plane, or bring a small private jet, so let’s revert back to land based machines.
Following our earlier route from Nueva Ecija Province, you will only leave the national road when you reached that Bagabag Junction. From there, you’ll begin your ascend to Banaue. Again, please remember (especially if you have chosen to take a rented car) this place is part of the Mountain Provinces and no one has taken the task of flattening it. Which is just as well.
Banaue, the town where all these Rice Terraces are believed to have started, is the only place that I know of where wild boars freely roam the streets with the residents. No, they don’t attack humans. They have been tamed, domesticated, bred and their piglets are everywhere.
There’s a decent hotel and a number of scattered inns and the place is just… well, serene. You’ll hear the river flowing several hundred feet below at all times of the day (especially at night) and you’ll just love the smell of fresh air that gets thinner as the sunlight bids you goodbye.
Stores in this town are well stocked, but you may want to buy personal effects in the city before taking the trip.
They ferment their own fruit wine in these parts called “Lang-ay” (but you can find imported ones if you so desire) and they have their own version of rice wine too. The dried meat of wild boar gives me gastronomic delights when fried to perfection and the vegetables are all fresh from the farms. Please try their colored rice (it is with shades of red or violet) if you are into this stuff. The aroma alone is just so heavenly.
A fact that is not really very surprising, because up there in the mountains, it feels like it would only cost you just a few more cents to get to heaven.
If we have not yet confused the weather patterns so much (due to climate change) and you have decided to visit the Rice Terraces, make sure you go there during the summer months. You don’t want those landslides spoiling the fun.
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