Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Banaue

I'm writing this entry from Banaue, and I didn't mean to. But let me start from the beginning of the story.

Mario and I started out from his apartment at 7:00AM. We went to the Magsaysay Terminal to board a Bontoc-bound bus. For a brief moment, we considered going straight to Sagada, but we thought better of it.

The bus we took was rickety, old, and did not have airconditioning. Nonetheless, we were comfortable. It was a full trip, by the way.

Whatever thoughts of discomfort we may have entertained were quickly dispelled by the panoramic vista of the mountain roads. It was an explosion of mountainside greenery, carved into gigantic steps of fruit and vegetable farmland. As we ascended higher and higher, the air became cooler. The scent of pine wafted in the air.

It was a thrilling ride, to be sure. Many times, it felt like the bus was trailing too close to the precipice and at any moment we would fall into the beautiful but deadly ravines below. Marks of past landslides were testament to the real dangers we faced.

Fortunately, this was the dry season and the chances of mudslides were remote.

At 2:30PM, we reached Bontoc, a sleepy town whose main street was the main business district. Not a Jollibee in sight! There were several inns to stay in, but we had our minds set on Sagada.

We took a guick lunch, at which Mario proposed that we head over to Banaue instead. It was, he reasoned, only 46 km. away. I agreed.

We found an airconditioned bus heading to Manila by way of Banaue, but we would have to stand all the way. No big deal, as it was only two hours.

Whereas the Baguio-Bontoc road was well-paved in most sections, the Bontoc-Banaue route was just the opposite. Most of it was rough going, and for long sections it ran with only one lane so much so that we would have to stop to let vehicles going in the opposite direction through.

Among the interesting places on the route was a telecom station with a gigantic statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Finally, we hit Banaue at around 5:00PM. It was a fantastic view! The Banaue rice terraces were much more evenly spaced than the Baguio-Bontoc terraces, and they were far greener. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures from the bus as we were enclosed and standing in the aisles.

Sadly, the beauty of the rice terraces is marred by a hodge-podge of ugly construction. The residents seem to favor GI sheets for roofs and walls, giving it all a shantytown look.

The Banaue town proper is a small area relatively flat land that interrupts a cliff leading into a valley.

Daylight was fast fading, so Mario and I ran off to get a few good shots of the rice terraces from the viewing decks. We hailed a tricycle who agreed to take us to one spot for P35. Later, we asked him if he could take us round-trip, and he agreed for P50. I tipped him P20, anyway. A good thing we took the tricycle because the decks were a long way off.

Happily, we managed to catch just enough light to snap several good pics.

We got lodgings at Stairway Lodge. Facilities were very basic but quite cheap at P450.

We had dinner at the neighboring Las Vegas Restaurant. Though it sounds fancy, Banaue's digs are really quite basic and rustic.

That's part of the charm, I guess.