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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


From the 11:15pm bus trip (they really meant 11:15pm!), we reached Banaue, Ifugao at 8:30am on April 28, Saturday (fare costs P462, one way). A local lass got in the bus and welcomed us. She further explained that a reservation for a seat back to Manila is needed. We skipped that part and looked for Miss Doris Limangan (+63 910 4638647) instead. Miss Doris is the Autobus dispatcher in Banaue bus terminal. I got her number from Autobus – Manila when we considered the Baguio-Sagada-Banaue option. When we met her at last, she got a tricylcle for us that brought us to Halfway Lodge and Restaurant where we were billeted for one night in a small room with private bathroom. The place is very near Banaue Info Center and highly recommendable in terms of distance to the poblacion center.

The minute we arrived at the inn, we ordered for Halfway breakfast (omelette, toasts, strawberry jam, Star margarine, a piece of banana or a slice of pineapple and with either brewed coffee or orange juice). The staff brought the food to our room. Fifteen minutes later, two kettles of hot water for bathing were also delivered. By the way, they bill P15 for each kettle and another P15 for fully charging your celfone or camera battery. The room doesn’t have any electrical outlet other than those perhaps for the incandescent light in the ceiling.

At 10 in the morning, Rhenson (+63 916 7131679 / +63 916 8943194), our tricycle driver/guide, was already waiting for us at the inn’s restaurant area. We hired Rhenson to bring us to Hapao Hungduan Hot Springs, Hiwang Native Village and Brgy. Viewpoint. There’s a set price for every stop based on the official list distributed by the association of tourist guides in Banaue. For the three spots that we chose (Batad excluded since the famous rice terraces community requires at least one day to visit), we were charged P1,200.

First stop is the Hapao Hungduan Hot Springs. It’s situated in another town (or is it a barangay?) and took us roughly 30 minutes of rough (really, really rough) ride from Banaue Poblacion. There was a registration in their information center and that’s it. Rhenson brought us to the unofficial viewdeck (photo op is fine here) first before the actual viewdeck. Then off we went to an hour of guide-less rice terraces trek. Rhenson just pointed to us the “destination” and the “map” was on us. It was up to us which rice terraces “step” to take and that was the fun part of the whole trek. The other equally fun part was the actual trek since most of the “pilapil” are too steep. You could either fall in the muddy rice field part or choose the rocky edge which I think is not an option. Unfortunately, before we reached the hot spring, we realized that we took the wrong route and ended with a busy stream (too busy that we fell while stepping on a slippery rock and survived it). A local tourist from the hot spring saw us and lent a helping hand (literally).

The hot spring, which is immaculately fenced by rocks, is bigger than your standard bath tub. Its water is really hot (intensified by the summer heat, of course), as demonstrated by the tiny bubbles arising from the sand (as if it’s boiling!). Some stragglers who were having a picnic there offered us a hearty lunch but we refused because we were too overwhelmed or too tired to eat.

After more than three hours of trek, we went back to the viewdeck where Rhenson was waiting while playing tong-its with his ka-berks. Then off we went to the next spot, skipping lunch and accommodating ulcer.

Second stop is Hiwang Native Vilage. From Hapao Hungduan, we took the road heading back to Poblacion in roughly ten minutes and upon reaching an intersection, Rhenson turned left. The place is a small, hmm, village (or better yet, neighborhood with only two Ifugao houses which can be reached through uncemented steps). There’s a conservation/entrance fee of P20 per person. If you’re familiar with the Piolo – Juday film “Don’t Give Up on Us”, that’s the place where the two lead characters stay over night. The next scene has Juday admiring the rice terraces early in the morning.

Our pit stop is at Brgy. Viewpoint. As the name of the place implies, it has a makeshift viewdeck overlooking another set of rice terraces. The area is very accessible to Poblacion and I saw a lot of souvenir shops in the area. I bought my Banaue shirt there (cotton, P150 each) because Rhenson told us that items there are cheaper compared to the stalls in Poblacion. At 4pm, we, including Rhenson, were having “lunch” at Mexicali (no, it’s the same franchise that you can see in Glorietta). We had two servings of tinolang manok (yummy!), adobong manok and pansit bihon (all for P350+).

We reached Halfway Inn at 6pm and decided to sleep until 9pm and probably wake up for a nice beer or coffee. I woke up at 8:30pm only to realize that inns in Banaue close at nine in the evening. I hurriedly ask for the inn keeper to keep the “gate” open for me until I come back from dinner shopping.

On my way to hunt food, I noticed that the souvenir stalls, inns and sari-sari stores were already light’s out. Except for one big grocery store which was waiting for the locals to finish the free Christian movie being shown in the center/main square (I realized later that this is a part of a week-long cultural festival being held in Banaue). I bought our dinner from a carinderia (my one and only choice) near the center. I paid for roughly P180 for a serving of liempo, menudo, tortang talong and bangus plus the staple C2 and fruit juice in can (from the grocery, I got two SMB Lights and a bag of classic Chippy). Before I walked back to Halfway, I paused for a minute while absorbing the image of a public watching a film on a giant open-air screen. What a sight! This reminds me of my hometown when life was still simple and fathers bring their kids to watch a Charlie Chaplin film in the town plaza. How come they are not doing it again?

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