Batad : Maphod to Life!
I have never been a fan of wearing “I Survived” statement shirts simply because I do not see the point of bragging an adventure fulfillment. I just find it as tacky souvenir of surpassing an extreme physical challenge. No, I will never buy even one merchandise and wear it proud on my chest. No, I will never post that statement on my Facebook Timeline nor tweet about it.
Not until I SURVIVED Batad.
Batad is a small village east of Banaue in the Province of Ifugao belonging to the mountainous Cordillera Region. It is home to the cheerful Ifugaos who thrive on agriculture and eco-cultural tourism. The rice terraces in Batad is one of the 5 clusters of age-old terraces that has brought the Philippines a UNESCO distinction as a World Heritage Site.
I have been to Banaue a few times in the past but most travelers say that the most definitive place of this ancient engineering showcase is in Batad. But comes with the story is the ultimate requirement of physical fitness to endure the long trek and the strength to climb the steep mountain crags. Will an overweight eating machine, popping hypertensive and a serious diabetic continue to live after it? But this fear will forever haunt me if I will not dare to brave the unknown. So I made a decision to do it once and for all to go solo and on a Dora-ish backpack trip.
The best way to get to Batad from the town center in Banaue is to hire a single motorcycle. For a hefty price of P800 roundtrip, you get yourself the convenience of traveling at your own pace. The ride getting there on a narrow winding road was already half the fun, passing through wonderful mountainscapes and overlooking on rivers. From the Batad-Mayoyao junction, going up to the saddle was a dangerous maneuver, negotiating on rough, rutted and rocky terrain. That was a real, “pain in the ass” experience. But at least I saved myself about 8 kilometers of walking. The Saddle sits on the ridge between two mountains, is the jump-off point going down to the village called Babluy. From there, the view is already exhilarating but temper your excitement, as a long and arduous walk is yet to begin. You may wish to post your last Instragram photo here before your mobile phone completely becomes a toy onwards in the trek.
My 12-kilometer descent to the village took me about 1.5 hours of what is only 45 minutes to the locals. Clearing through thick bushes on off beaten trails, traversing on nippy brooks and tall leaning trees on braes, everything to me was just a huge maze. Along the way, tourists returning back up the saddle wished me good luck for the challenges ahead. True enough, still halfway through, my legs were almost giving up on me. But my Ifugao guide, Manong Norton, would always remind me that Batad is conquered gently and she is generous to those who persevere. Bushes after bushes, brooks after brooks, I finally arrived in Batad and nothing comes close to the word grand welcome than the expansive view of the Batad Rice Terraces.
I made the first leg and immediately celebrated it with nothing else but Pinikpikan or battered chicken stew. It was a serious solo feast and second helpings of rice came in a parade. JD, a young Ifugao and belonging to the respected Addug family who owns and runs Hillside Inn was warm enough to share the stories of the Payaw or terraces as the sun was striking an angular light on the balconies of green.
Our industrious Ifugao forefathers carved the Batad Rice Terraces by hand with the help of ancient construction tools. These antiquated vertical gardens have survived for more than 2,000 years amidst the changes in weather, time and culture. It is constructed like the Roman amphitheater but rises higher, bigger and older. Its breadth is beyond sight. Its height is beyond light. The morning mist gently cascading on the stone-walled paddies and the dewdrops from the golden grains of rice are further than imagination. This is the stairway to heaven! I am proud to have finally experienced this world heritage site, reserved only for those who dare to conquer its beauty.
Tourists come to Batad not only for the rice terraces but also for Tappiyah Waterfalls. But Manong Norton told me that it is hidden below Mt. Amuyao, the mountain that shields Batad and without pun he meant that mountain in the far horizon. I took this 2-hour trudge challenge without remorse. But I had to take a nap first to regain strength. Getting to the waterfalls meant balancing on the narrow rice paddies. From the pinnacle, the village and everything below already looked miniscule. Descending from the sharp, foot-wide paddy at the edge of an old-world structure was one of the scariest maneuvers. With barely your walking stick and screes to hold on to, this daredevil act was more breathtaking than riding a rollercoaster.
The thrill and exhaustion were all paid off when I saw Tappiyah. Powerfully cascading at 70 meters high, its grandeur was a sight to behold. Its crystal-like water drops to a clean and cold basin perfect for a relaxing afternoon dip before you take the route back up to the village. This was probably the hardest ascent I have ever done in my life. I was literally dragging my feet with a weight of 230 pounds. Out of exhaustion, I was crawling up on the precipitous pathway with my tongue left in the woods behind. Everything at that moment became unreasonable! I became my own waterfalls of sweat. As I lay half dead on the halfway pit stop, beads of tear started to roll. But I had to continue on the slowest pace, stone after stone, pile after pile, while Manong Norton singing Ifugao folksongs to keep me alive.
Returning back to the saddle the next day was the same story of struggling for endurance, strength and willpower. Along the way I met brothers Lester and Collin carrying loads of rice on their back, elderly foreigners, female porters and pregnant women moving on with the journey like it’s a walk in the park. Upon reaching the saddle after 2 hours, fellow tourists and guides gave me a euphoric welcome for surviving Batad.
Batad was a personal triumph, a conquest of strength beyond the physical body. I raise my glass of tapuy rice wine and as they say it in Ifugao, maphod or being good for everyone. Batad is my MOMENT.
HOW TO GET THERE
Driving From Manila (approximately 332kms / 8-9 hours)
- Take the North Luzon Expressway to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.
- Exit at La Paz Toll Gate.
- Follow road to Zaragoza (turn left to Aliaga).
- Proceed to the towns of Talavera, Munoz, San Jose in Nueva Ecija.
- Exit to San Jose-Digdig Junction.
- Proceed to Nueva Vizcaya passing through the towns of Sta. Fe, Aritao, Bambang, Bayombong, Solano, Bagabag.
- Move up to Lagawe then Banaue.
- From Banaue, hire a local transport to bring you to Batad.
- Ohayami Trans. Lacson St. Corner Fajardo St., Sampaloc, Manila (09276493055)
- Bus normally leaves at night from Manila.
- Public jeepneys are available but schedule of trips are limited and sometimes unpredictable. They ply straight on the Banaue-Batad Saddle route. Fare is around P50.
- Hiring a tricycle is also an alternative but this brings you only up to the Junction. Besides, the views along the way is obstructed by the trike’s canopy.
- The best way to get up to the Saddle (if you’re not driving a 4×4 SUV) is to hire a single motorcycle to send you up to the saddle. Learn to reserve energy.
- Porters are available to carry your things going down to the village and returning to the saddle. Price ranges from P100-200 depending on the volume and weight.
- Hire a guide in Batad Saddle. This way, you help the locals and you get to safely move around the area.
- Most of the women and children in Batad are not open to having them photographed without permission. Engagement is very important.
- Food is reasonably expensive. You may bring the necessities but also help the businesses around to continue.
- Catch the periodic Bachang or Bayanihan in helping restore the terraces.
- If you are driving to Banaue and plans to leave your car in town for your Batad expedition, DO NOT PARK at the common parking infront of the market place! My car’s quarter window was broken with malicious intent. You may want to pay for parking at Banaue Youth Hostel (if they allow).
WHERE TO STAY
- Hillside Inn +639177574411 (Maya is based in Manila but her mother is the one running the accommodations in Batad. Most recommended)
- Ramon’s Homestay (for a feel of sleeping in a traditional Ifugao home)
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