Banaue, terraces of the Ifugaos

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Banaue is in the Province of Ifugao, and the locals will always correct you when you mistakenly call them Igorots. The Igorots are from the Mountain Province. They call themselves Ifugaos.

The Banaue Rice Terraces  made it to  the Unesco World Heritage List in 1995. I remember that in grade school, we were told by our teachers that when placed end to end, the terraces could circle half of the globe.

Banaue on P1,000 Philippine peso bill

Locals derive income from farming, and from the tourism industry. Lately, the Department of Agriculture has taught some of the farmers to raise fish, instead of growing rice, on the terraces. We might soon have the Banaue Fish Terraces, and officially make it the 8th Wonder of the World.

How to get to Banaue

Banaue is 348 kms north of Manila. Travel to Banaue starts at the North Luzon Expressway. To skip the traffic in the Bulacan towns, take the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and take the farthest exit in Tarlac where you then turn to the direction of Nueva Ecija. You will pass the town of Zaragosa, and eventually hit Cabanatuan where you go north to Nueva Vizcaya, passing thru the mountainous but picturesque Dalton Pass in Sta Fe. There are restaurants on this mountain road, and you may want to try the local delicacy “tapa ng baboy ramo”. From Sta Fe, the next towns are Aritao, Bombong, Bayombong and Solano. Next is Bagabag from where you turn to Lamut, leading to Lagawe, the capital of the province of Ifugao. You will shortly be in Banaue on a trip that is approximately 8-9 hours.

Banaue Hotel

On a trip with my visiting brothers and only sister and their families, we proceeded immediately, tired from a long journey, to the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel, and got ourselves 3 rooms. The hotel is the best in town, and is operated by the Department of Tourism.

The restaurant has picture windows with a view of the edges of the terraces. A first-time visitor might even think that this view is THE view.. Far from it.

There is a bar adjoining the restaurant.

A souvenir shop can be found at the lobby, and at the second level. I bought a woodcarving of a stickman which I couldn’t find in the stores at the town center.

toilet roll holder

stick man, with a basket for flowers

cane, with detail of head/handle

hats from 2nd floor souvenir shop

Finds: I also bought an interesting woodcarving of a man where the toilet roll can be made to go out of its mouth. And a sturdy wooden cane with a “bulol” on its head. At the second level shop, I bought two pieces of hats, red and grey.  The canes can be handy in 20 years time, I guess. Meanwhile, they stand as accent pieces near my bar.

Accommodations

Rooms at the hotel go for P3,000 net for de luxe rooms which are all spacious and with balconies overlooking the edges of the terraces. There are cheaper rooms, and even cheaper accommodations for groups at the hostel, with boys separated from the girls’ dormitories. Bookings can be made thru the Philippine Tourism Authority offices in Manila, phone (+632) 524  7141. You can view the hotel and rooms thru their website http://www.philtourism.gov.ph/bhyh_desc.html

The Dayanara Viewpoint

There are several viewpoints offering different angles of the terraces rising nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. When the Miss Universe pageant was held in the Philippines and won by Dayanara Torres of Puerto Rico (she became the girlfriend of local actor Aga Muhlach), the Department of Tourism brought her up to Banaue and photographed  her with arms outstretched presenting the beauty of Banaue Rice Terraces in posters and other merchandising materials created to promote tourism in the country. These days, the locals have misspelled her name, and the signage in that spot now reads “Dianara Viewpoint”.

from the Dayanara viewpoint

On previous trips, when I was younger and more agile, I trekked to the Ifugao villages of Battad and Mayoyao. Battad is the easiest trek, and most accessible. My then girlfriend (now my wife) and I even donned Ifugao costumes for rent, and posed for photos, back when there were yet no digital cameras.

Banaue Town Center

There are several inns within the town center and this area is like backpackers’ haven. Cheap accommodations, lots of cheap souvenirs, cheap food. On a separate visit with travel buddies, I stayed at Sanafe Lodge. On my latest visit, I saw the lodge and I can say it is still the best within the town center. Sanafe Lodge has rooms that are rented out at P600 single, and P750 double or twin. They can be reached by phone (+6374) 3864085, mobile +63920 9504644. Good value, clean rooms with private toilets.

For other options, you may go to the website of the Banaue Tourism Council    http://www.visitbanaue.com

Medical Facilities

I write about this aspect in a travel blog to make sure you bring all of your medicines and other provisions with you. Medical services practically do not exist in Banaue. When my sister needed a doctor, she had to wait for the one and only doctor in town who was then attending to an emergency.

The nearest hospital is the Provincial Hospital in Lagawe, the capital town of the Province of Ifugao. You must scale down your expectations to the ground. Lagawe, the capital town, is classified as a mere 4th class municipality. As my sister was being attended to by the doctors, I went to the toilet but turned back because it was so dirty and had a pungent smell – – and probably the best comparison will be those of toilets in public markets. The skilled and very attentive doctor, who as it turns out was a very young Assistant Medical Director, made up for the very bad condition of this health facility. Bottomline, only the healthy should go to Banaue.

Banaue to Sagada via Bontoc?

You can go to Sagada via Bontoc on a highway with deep ravines. I took this road with some friends from Yahoo, riding a Nissan X-trail 4×4. A typhoon has just passed, damaging most of the road. Some portions were then even under water. I admit that the thought of whether or not we will actually get to Bontoc crossed my mind at least 10 times. I managed my nerves by just savoring the view. Long stretches of unpaved roads, interrupted by short stretches of concrete. I even laid down on my back, right in the middle of the road, because there were no other vehicles, no people, and no nothing that could soothe my then frayed nerves. I just had to make light of the “difficult situation”.

This road is mine !

more terraces, even on the road from Banaue to Bontoc and Sagada

However,  friends tell me that,  now, the roads are vastly improved. Hopefully, the government indeed worked fast enough from that visit I took 17 months ago.

(3 photos where shared for this blog entry by  one of my Yahoo travel buddies, Janna)

Laguna de Bay Loop, Part 1

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This loop can be an easy day tour, or can be a several days trip depending on one’s mood. I first did this on a day tour, eventually staying overnight in some of the towns. I am writing this as a 2-part blog, dividing the destinations between Laguna and Rizal. This part covers Laguna.

The trip around the bay can be a day tour, or a 4-day+ visit

As a Metro Manila resident, I always start this trip on the South Luzon Expressway, more commonly called SLEX, going all the way to the Calamba exit. Good thing I have an e-pass since the regular exit lanes are so clogged up with the weekend holiday crowd.

Mt Makiling, from SLEX

end of SLEX, start of Tour

Otherwise, I would have had to queue with the hundreds of cars and buses on the exit. Just as well that the view up ahead is fantastic – the mythical Mt. Makiling. I have spent quite a few nights up there. Either in jamborees when I was a boy scout, and then as a scoutmaster, and also with friends in resorts past UP Los Banos.

First Stop: Jose Rizal Shrine

The house is now painted mint green, and in fact was a the subject of several commentaries, calling the repainting a desecration. Looking at it now, it doesn’t look bad. I figure those who never saw the original grey paint would not even mind.  The Rizal shrine, viewed from the streetVisitors do not pay an entrance fee, but a donation box is prominent at the bottom of the grand staircase, as you sign the guest book. The old furniture in the largely cordoned-off sections of the house are essentially reproductions, if not really old ones donated to the museum to complete the feel of the era.

sala

cuarto, with arinola

There is a “bahay kubo” at the backyard, a replica of the playhouse enjoyed by the Rizal children when they were just growing up. Vistors can also use toilet facilities at the end of the compound, and buy Rizal memorabilia and other Laguna souvenirs at the shop near the entrance and exit gate.

Calamba – Los Banos

This road that stretches about 6 kilometers is dotted with hot spring resorts, with maybe hundreds of “agents” holding “private pool” signages on the roadside. Start early to avoid the very heavy traffic and not spoil your journey.

Private pool, anyone?

smaller resorts are clustered in some neighborhoods

Families who troop to the various resorts can buy just about everything on the road, including charcoal for their grill, and ice for their drinks. Also floaties for the kids.

Plastic floaties along the road

And a lot of food, especially Colette’s buco pie which seems to have mushroomed and can be seen within a few steps from each other. The best buco pie, however, is in Los Banos, on the left side of the road just before the turn off to UP Los Banos. The name of the store is “D’Original”, and should not be mistaken for all other “original” attached to the other brands, When I passed this morning, the queue to the counter actually snakes, while the nearby buco pie store had no customers at all.

the real, the one and only, the original "Original" buco pie

as a marker, "D' Original" is opposite from Heaven's Garden


Almost in front is “Heaven’s Garden’, just so you will know where this famous store is.

Gardens

From the end of Los Banos, all the way to the towns of Bay, Pila, and Victoria are gardens selling mostly colorful bougainvillas on both sides of the road. I have made several visits to these gardens in the past, buying a pick-up load of ornamental plants. they cost about half those of the gardens in Silang, Cavite.

one of hundreds of gardens, best buy : bougainvillas

the Bay branch of the famous Tayabas, Quezon restaurant

For a hearty lunch, there is Kamayan sa Palaisdaan sa Bay, a branch of the more famous restaurant in Tayabas, Quezon. The place is charming, with picnic huts on the water. native delicacies like ginataang suso, ginataang hipon. inihaw na talong, and giant pla plas that can be grilled, fried, or ginataan, too. You won’t miss the restaurant, the signboard is prominent on the road, to your right.

Next Stop: Pagsanjan

the old arko welcoming guests to Pagsanjan

This is a major stop that can stretch to an overnight trip. Pagsanjan is famous for the falls and the boatride upstream, “shooting the rapids”.To ride the boats, turn right at the road when you hit the Pagsanjan Church.

The resorts and loading areas are all there, in Barangay Pinagsanjan.

Alas, the 2 best hotels I used to go to are both closed – – – Rapids Hotel, and La Corona de Pagsanjan. In fact, both have been closed for a year now.

On this trip, I went to PK Paradise Resort, owned by Koreans, and with 98% of its clientele, naturally, Koreans. I had a Korean buffet lunch for P250, plus P50 for a bottle of soda.

I don't understand this Korean script, but buffet lunch was P250 per pax

Kimchi on the side comes with the buffet. Food was good, and was actually prepared as a fusion of Korean and Filipino cuisine. There was a Korean dish that to me seemed like adobo, and there was lumpiang shanghai, too. After lunch, I saw the Korean group off, ready to shoot the rapids.

taking the boats that will go upstream in a while

my shooting-the-rapids ride with 2 good friends, year ago

The fee is P1,000 per person, plus P250 for the ride on the raft at the end of the trip. The raft takes you directly to the area where the falls dumps gallons and gallons of water on all the visitors while on a raft. This is a very exciting experience, and must not be missed. make sure you have dry clothes to wear after the wet boat ride. And be sure to have plastic bags for your mobile phones and your wallet.

they have this notice all over Pagsanjan

I was attended to by Odie Pabilonia. You can contact PK Paradise Resort at (+6349) 5015493. Since PK does not have accommodations, I inquired about the best overnight accommodations.

The top destination in Pagsanjan today is Pagsanjan Falls Lodge.

When I visited, the place was jampacked, with 4 tourist buses and several cars outside of the compound. The resort has a spring water pool, water slides, and facilities for team building activities. They can accommodate guests in rooms that start at P1,500,  with the better rooms at P2,500. Phone (+6349) 5014251, 5014209                                                                            website     http://www.pagsanjanfallslodge.com.ph/index.html

The next best accommodation is Pagsanjan Palm Spring Resort. They are on facebook and can be viewed by anyone.

From Pagsanjan, visitors can stop in Lumban and check out the many shops offering intricate embroidery. Couturiers and fashionistas from Manila make trips to Lumban for handcrafted designs for barongs and wedding gowns.

Next stop: Lake Caliraya

one of the few things made by men that turned out to be very very beautiful

Lake Caliraya is a man-made lake built during President Quezon’s time, to dam the water from the river in order to harness hydro-electric power. Today, it is a major rest and recreation area, with numerous resorts offering various watersports activities like boating, jet skiing, windsurfing, and fishing. While I have seen all the resorts from the outside, i have only been to Lagos del Sol, acknowledged as the best accommodation facility in Caliraya, and referred to by others as 5-star. Even if it technically is not. I went to Lagos del Sol on a company outing and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. They have hotel rooms at P2,900 and beautiful lakeside cabanas for P4, 800. They have complete resort facilities – – – swimming pool facing the lake, tennis, billiards, darts, and water sports facilities. Phone (+632) 9104203 to inquire, or to reserve a room. In fact, I would rather stay in Lagos del Sol than in Pagsanjan if I am on this loop.

Don’t miss the Japanese Garden, built in cooperation with the Japanese government to honor the Filipinos and the Japanese who died in World War II. It is an 11 hectare park with huge trees, a pond with lilies and lotuses, and a Yamashita shrine. Picnic tables are available within the park. Entrance fee is P10.

Paete

Before crossing the mountains to the Rizal towns,  explore Paete. Paete is a must visit for the wood carving and the “taka”. In my previous trips to Paete, I have bought excellent work by the artist Baldemor, one depicting a boy in a siesta, and another depicting 2 men on a boat, fishing.

Fishing, by Baldemor

and another Baldemor

If you are not in the market for artwork, then Paete will still be an interesting stuff for knick knacks, and early shopping for Christmas presents will definitely cross your mind.

Mabitac is the last town of Laguna that extends up to the mountains, sharing boundaries with the town of Pililla  in Rizal.

Go up this mountain road from Mabitac, and then descend to Pililla and other Rizal towns on the East Road

Read about the Rizal towns within the Loop in Part 2 of this blog.