I didn’t want to make the trip, almost succeeded in avoiding it, which I would have regretted! There were a lot of challenges coordinating the trip and I was milking all the reasons not to go. I mean who looks forward to business trips where you go to interesting places, don’t get to do anything but work all day long, and by the time you are ready to do a bit of exploring, you are either too tired or there is nothing left to see except the familiar night life, if you are lucky enough to be in a major city! Plus, I really hate traveling while nursing a hang over from the previous night’s partying. There just aren’t enough barf bags!
The main problem is the distance of the destination. Isabela is about 460 kilometer (285 miles) away from Manila and I have to go there by land since I also have a stop over in one of the provinces along the way. I really can’t stand long land trips, especially when I am not the one behind the wheel. But work pays the bills, and I have lots of bills, so I have to endure the uncomfortable ride to Isabela.
Isabela is primarily an agricultural province. Located in the Cagayan Valley, it is one of the richest provinces in the Philippines and dubbed as the rice and corn granary of the country. It’s fertile rolling hills and plains, bordered by the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, make it a vision out of a postcard!
But what excited me the most about the trip was the prospect of making a side trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces. I had a look at the map and found that it is only about two hours away from where I was staying. Quickly, I researched on how to get there using public transport just in case my companions didn’t buy the idea of a side trip.
Meanwhile, short of making a PowerPoint presentation to convince my companions to do the side trip, I planned in my tree house cottage of Villa Diana. Knowing that some of the people in the group were first-timers in the Philippines and had some sense of adventure gave me entry points to exploit.
Armed with my arguments, I came down to dinner with the group only to realize that the conversation was about how close we were to the famous landmark. Perfect! I didn’t even have to open my mouth because the decision to do the side trip on our way back to Manila the following day, was made quickly. My inner travel diva was jumping for joy and swinging from the branches of the tree house!
We left Villa Diana at eight in the morning and hit the road to Banaue. By about 10 AM our van started negotiating the zig-zagging road leading to the viewpoint. It took us another 30 minutes before the majestic structure came into view and directions pointed us to the best vantage point.
It was truly a majestic site! A living example of a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, the terraces were carved by ancestors of indigenous Filipino people dating more than 2000 years ago, using minimal equipment and harnessing the power of their natural environment. The terraces were built on the sides of the mountains for the indigenous people to plant crops and tap the water source from rain-forests on top of the mountains for irrigation. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity, architecture and engineering of the structure that resembles the pyramids of Machu Pichu.
We had lunch in one of the local hotels. Their restaurant was right in front of the rice terraces and I was told that their deluxe rooms also open to this majestic view. I could just imagine waking up in the morning to this glorious site and I was almost tempted not to leave.
The Banaue Rice Terraces have peaks reaching as high as 1500 meters above sea level and are considered as the 8th Wonder of the World. They have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995. There are several hiking sites, which can take you for a closer interaction with the structure and the community around it. Sadly, it is experiencing a major preservation challenge as the current generation have little interest in maintaining traditional, agricultural lifestyle. But in its present state, it still evokes so much emotion – a mixed feeling of achievement, pride, joy, anger, sorrow and triumph.
Too bad I only had an iPhone to capture the moment but I vowed to come back and explore the various hiking sites for closer interaction.