A Tale of Being Unprepared For a 20km+ Hike in The Philippines
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.
First stop: Banaue rice terraces.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
Six hours, 20km, and a downpour later we reach the village Cambulo, where we would be sleeping for the night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A wanderlusting intellectual millennial on a journey to let my curiosity get the best of me everywhere I go. I enjoy traveling and being immersed in the unfamiliar. I love cultural anthropology, urban planning, and pretending to know other languages. A dancer by training and a social scientist by dreaming; born in Washington DC, raised in Maryland, eight years a New Yorker, and a serial hobbyist. My current obsession is hoola hooping. I even do gigs and take my hoop when I travel. Fo'reals.