A Tale of Being Unprepared For a 20km+ Hike in The Philippines

I hopped off a 12 hour night bus from Manila to Banaue (pronounced Bah-now-way) — a city in the Northern mountainous region of the Philippines known for its acclaimed natural wonders — with no plans. It was the part of the trip I anticipated the most, next to the part where I got to meet distant relatives on my maternal grandma’s side. I only had a couple days to lay my eyes on these UNESCO World Heritage beauties and I was determined to not allow my lack of advance planning to get in the way.
After all, this was a country where the spirit of the people — laid back, airy, forgiving, reverent — can win over even the most tense over-planning and in-a-hurry urban dweller. If you plan to travel to the Philippines, be prepared to take on an infectious lack of urgency.
It is neither a nonchalance or a disregard for time; it is a way of moving through the world that emphasizes the conservation of energy, over a tunnel-vision driven hurriedness. I find this vibe common among islanders, no matter whether it’s the Caribbean or Zanzibar, it is tangible chillness. Here though, I found myself forgetting what day it was, losing track of time, disinterested in adhering to a hustle-bustle kind of tourist schedule. Being 12 hours ahead of east coast time was enough to completely ruin my internal clock. Before I knew it, in a matter of days I had succumb to the time-numbing aura of the Philippines and later I would pay extensively for it. I’ll get to this later.
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End of hike
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Now back to me getting off the bus with no plans. It’s important to say here that although I have traveled quite a bit, I take new risks with each trip. This would be my first time doing what most backpackers do in their sleep: showing up in a place with no reservation and no clear plans. I had my Lonely Planet guide in hand and knew I wanted to do a quick cute hike. I hadn’t researched myself silly much beyond that. Upon stepping off the night bus feeling slow to speak aloud (cuz hot bref), I noticed lots of sign-wielding drivers for my fellow night bus patrons who booked their plans in advance. I hadn’t booked anything, but was still tempted to scan for signs with my name. And then I spotted him: the driver who didn’t know my name, yet somehow he called me forward knowing precisely that I was a plan-less straggler. “You want to go into town? You have any plans set yet?” Me? No plans, but I will gladly hop in that jeepney with no further explanation of where you’re taking me.
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Jeepney

If you’re planning to visit The Philippines, don’t fear the Jeepney! I was lucky to google my way into figuring out how to navigate and what the prices were while scrambling to catch one. Click the pic to learn more about transportation in The Philippines.

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We arrive at the Banaue tourism outfit, which also doubles as a comfortable restaurant overlooking a mountain village nestled against a climbing wall of rice terraces. “Have some breakfast! Settle in! We can talk about options for tours in a bit.” Cool by me. I’ll leisurely take in this amazing view.
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Banaue restaurant terrace view*
Guy shows me a map. I tell him I need to be back on the night bus to Manila two nights from today. “You want to do the hike?” Sure, I want to hike. He traces his finger across the tourist map explaining something about hiking for X number of kilometers, sleeping for one night in a village, hiking a little more for X kilometers, and getting me back to the bus in time. I am slow to process these details because again, the Philippines. I say yes. I unpack half the things from my bag, but opt for taking the large pack for the back support. You know, so I can be a real backpacker and hike with my giant pack. After all, I’m gonna do it the way real backpackers do it! Hiking with my pack on me back. Umm hmm. The price is right. Hike + bus back to Manila Tuesday night = amazing experience and enough time to catch my midnight flight Wednesday. Sweet baby home run.
I inhale my breakfast, quickly brush my teeth, unpack half the stuff from my bag gleefully giddy that I’m going on a real hike with an actual backpack and next thing I know we’re off!

First stop: Banaue rice terraces.

Banaue shot
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The mountain tribe communities native to the Ifugao region built incredibly enduring and well-maintained agricultural farm wonders throughout the mountainous province. Constructed about 2,000 years ago, there are several villages that continue to cultivate rice on these ancient farmlands using rituals and tilling methods passed down for generations. Methods that are said to maintain harmony between nature and (wo)man.
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Along the short path to the viewpoint for the rice terraces.

Along the short path to the viewpoint for the rice terraces, a shopkeeper and weaver.

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I took in this picturesque moment. It was beautiful, but we were hurried. We had to get to the hike starting point. I imagined I was about to go on a hike and see a bunch of terraces that looked exactly the same. I wondered if the arduous journey would be worth it when it was so easy to ride up here in a motorized tricycle and snap a quick photo. Do you really need to go on a two day hike to see more of this? In retrospect, the answer is yes. Yes, always go on the hike because no matter what the destination is, it will likely be worth it.
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With the tricycle belting out an inordinate amount of fumes, I had to cover my nose and mouth.

With the tricycle belting out an inordinate amount of fumes, I had to cover my nose and mouth.

Tricycle cool. Pollution not cool. I wondered if anyone had developed any low-cost carbon filter attachment we could pop onto the exhaust pipes of these things as an interim solution to curb the negative effects of these omniscient smoke-belching machines. Add that to my list of questions.
A half-hour later, we’re at the drop off point. Literally, it was the end of the road. We arrived at the end of a new road being built. “We’re here.” A guy pointed us toward the path. Cesar would be our guide. Again, I had no idea what was going on or that we’d even have a guide. Another pair of plan-less souls had opted into taking the same hike, so the four of us set out together.
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And so it begins.

And so it begins. Cue Lord of The Rings music.

Cesar pointed far off in the distance and muttered something that sounded like ’20 kilometers.’ It registered to me, but not really. Kilometers are less than miles, but even 20 sounds like a whole lot of miles. Tiffany, don’t focus on that — focus on the hike. You’re a real backpacker now! You’ll have a great story to tell. Go forth fearless one. And so I did.
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People. This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Physically and mentally. I didn’t bring my hiking boots on this trip because I wanted to save the space for other things. Instead, I bought a brand new pair of amazing racquet court sneakers that were the best things ever for walking around a city all day — the absolute worst things anyone in the history of humanity could hike in.

The bottom of the shoes were slippery and flat. To add to the ridiculousness of not having the right shoes for a [insert any number] mile hike, eventually, my backpack began to feel like the heaviest thing in the world. And you know what else? The level of difficulty of the hike was diverse. It swung between two extremes: easy breezy beautiful to super Mario brothers extra hard AF level 100000. No one warned me!

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In many sections of the hike, the terrace path was this narrow.

In many sections of the hike, the terrace path was this narrow.

Because I asked no questions, (because the Philippines is so chill, remember?) I had no idea how difficult the hike would be. I’ve been on hikes before where they’re cute, you chat the whole time, and maybe there are a few steep inclines. I was NOT thinking ultimate fighter training, tight-rope-like balancing on wobbly stones, mini-rock climbing bouts, steep declines, followed by treacherous ascents, followed by steep declines, followed by more ascents.

A friend on the trail

Halfway through the trail, you realize, holy cheese-it, I’m actually hiking THROUGH the rice terraces. I’m surrounded by and am navigating through and under the very wonders I came to witness! Whoa. But be careful about trying to take it all in while you’re walking because you absolutely will misstep and potentially 1) fall off a cliff, 2) fall into a rice terrace (off a cliff), or 3) step off the path to your own peril (off a cliff, into a rice terrace, or into a bush). This was an ongoing point of stress for me.

Bag takes a break

I had a heavy bag and was constantly trying to mind my balance. I had to always remember I was carrying extra weight that was either pushing me forward when going down hills and steps or pulling me backward when going up hills and steps. The lesson here? Bring the right shoes. Take less stuff.

 

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Bridge

This is a bridge.

 It felt 1000x more treacherous than it otherwise should have felt because of the added weight and the insecurity I felt in the shoes. I felt incredibly unsafe most times I took a step. I slipped and fell several times and did more dirt surfing than I ever want to do ever again. (Dirt surfing is a term I made while typing this to describe all the times my shoes failed to get traction and I slid across the dirt trail!) How’s that for a leisurely 20km hike through some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen?
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Cambulo scare crow
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Almost at Cambulo

Six hours, 20km, and a downpour later we reach the village Cambulo, where we would be sleeping for the night.

Welcome to tourist lodge
Everything hurts so I have a beer, obviously. Someone in the village got married so the locals were turning up. Feverish dancing and drunk folks were abundant. This was apparently the reason we walked past so many groups of men marching along the terrace path with hog-tied pigs tied to sticks — a wedding feast was in order! I marvel at the fact that I am both halfway done, yet only halfway done. There’s more tomorrow.  My feet.
Feet after day 1I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that what my eyes had seen in those last six hours was beautiful. I felt blessed to have the mobility and physical stamina to march on and take it all in. This was history. This was a living cultural landscape imprinted on it two thousand years of human knowledge, agricultural magnificence, labor, and deep spiritual ties between earth, spirit, and man. Tomorrow, these ancestors would push me through. My new comrades, Julia and Ambra, wonderful Italians living in Paris, would keep my spirits high.
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Smiling but crying

Posing for a picture and hiding my misery.


We set off after a wonderful night of rest. I was ready.

It was hotter. No rain today, but way hotter. The sun was out and everything much greener. While today’s distance was a fraction of the previous day’s, the multiple stretches of inclines and declines was WILD. But when I tell you: the moment we reached the peak of this mountain and peered over to see that we arrived at our ultimate destination — Batad — the justification for all the arduous climbing and descending suddenly came into view.

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Batad first look
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Not sure I’ve ever seen anything this beautiful with my own eyes. It was marvelous. It was extraordinary. It was worth it. Honestly, I’m not sure it would have felt this beautiful had I not worked so hard to get here.
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Batad selfie*
This moment cemented my urge to hike more, despite how miserable it can get. I decided in that instant that for my next birthday — I wanted to do a section of the Appalachian Trail. It all made sense. You work hard for this moment. To set your eyes upon the very thing you earned your way to seeing.
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Batad break
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And I just can’t get enough of the view.
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Trio at Batad
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I could have sat here all day until sunset.
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Hands up
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Order hereBut onward we must go. I have a bus to catch. There was a waterfall somewhere and we were headed there. Of course, waterfalls are in valleys and to get there, we’d have to descend several hundred steps. Going down the steps in the sweltering heat was the ultimate test. I kept thinking to myself: this waterfall better be AMAZING. I still have my pack on of course. And while I haven’t mentioned it this entire post, my eczema at this point is so inflamed and out of control, my misery levels are on fleek. Medical conditions try their best to spoil travel, but I do my best to fight back the negativity.
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Walking on rocks

Let me get my footing before I turn around for the picture Mr. Stranger.

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Waterfall

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I dreaded our ascent up the steps the whole time I was down there, but amazingly and for some strange reason returning to a point is always mentally faster…I like to think that knowing what to expect makes the trip less long. Something like 200+ steps later and several pep talks to myself — we were back at the point we started our downward journey.

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The only thing between me and the end of this hike is the wall of green. Cesar promised me that once we got to the top, it would all be over!

The only thing between me and the end of this hike is the wall of green. Cesar promised me that once we got to the top, it would all be over!

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Welcome to Batad sign

 

Soon enough, in a couple more hours I would be completely out of this village, back on a night bus to Manila, and on a plane home.


Yay me. I dun’it.

End of hike

In disbelief that the damn ordeal is over. Sweaty, exhausted, hydrated, and proud. This was the moment I realized I was finished and waited for my tricycle back to Banaue.

Fast forward, I’m on the nightbus to Manila and finally coming to terms with the fact that I’m departing tonight at midnight, Wednesday. *Record scratch* Wait. I. Leave. At. Midnight. On Wednesday. Ok, so if it’s Tuesday night(?) And I leave on Wednesday(?) At Midnight. That means I’ll be on this night bus when Tuesday turns into Wednesday, at which point my flight will be departing from an airport I won’t be at until several hours from right now.

All that to say, at some point I convinced myself I had a whole’nother extra day. Yes, I paid for my brain fart. But honestly had I known I did not have that extra day, I would have never gone on that hike. An experience of a lifetime cost a few months of payments for an impromptu plane ticket purchase — totally worth it. I found a piece of myself on that trail. An adventurer, a girl with fears, a girl with incredible mental strength, and an optimist. I found that I could carry weight gracefully while struggling, I could go in and out of sarcastic complaining while appreciating the breath-taking beauty of spiritual lands, and that I could take in the fullness of an experience without regret even after accepting that my miscalculation left me with a huge charge on my credit card. Life is short.

25km is roughly about 15 miles. If anyone would have told a conscious me that I was going on a 15 mile hike with a heavy bag, slick shoes, and extra uncomfortable eczema, I would have kindly taken the first tricycle to Batad and skipped the hike completely.

What else did I learn about myself on that trail?

Hiking shoes are godly. Leg pain lasts forever. Hiking sticks become increasingly more effective as the day wears on and you wear out. Roosters don’t care that you need all the sleep you can get. Rain ponchos are game changers. The waterfall might not be worth it. Take a chance. Show up without a plan. Friends on the trail are friends forever. Pants, not shorts are best. Being disconnected from the world is priceless even if you completely lose yourself (and your schedule) in the moment. Go find yourself on a trail; trust me, there is a piece of you out there that you haven’t met yet.

#YOLO


[Inquire: Have you ever done something unexpectedly difficult on a trip? Perhaps you didn’t quite calculate your itinerary right? Or you embarked on something that turned out to be much more intense than you thought — but it was worth it? Tell me about it below.]

1 Comment

  • comment-avatar
    Jolla August 6, 2016 (10:52 pm)

    Simply amazing, fearless one.

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