Oh, my aching buns. On the “tail” of the night bus and Batad jeepney ride, I decided to explore a bit more around Banaue. Without much of a plan for the day, I let myself be upsold from a tricycle ride going to the 3 Banaue viewpoints to a much longer tricycle ride & guided hike out to a hot springs, through some other rice terraces near Hapao.
After the jeepney ride, I really should have known to ask about the quality of the roads involved in this 3 hour tricycle ride, but it didn’t cross my mind. About 5 minutes in, we hit gravel, and not long after that the road deteriorated into a rutted muddy mess I wouldn’t take my car through. Apparently one advantage to the tricycle design (motorcycle with semi-enclosed sidecar) is that it has pretty decent clearance under the sidecar. Despite the discomfort of the barely-padded bench seat, it was worth it. I got to see a bit more of the rural areas — roads with sleeping dogs on the (rare) paved sections, chickens constantly crossing the road (no-one knows why), and (sometimes very young) children walking along unaccompanied by adults.
My guide was a local from Banaue. He had long hair “but only in the back” (think “rat tail” style, not mullet), and chewed betel nut, so his mouth was very red. It was too noisy during the ride to talk, but during the hike and at lunch he filled in some of the (many) gaps in my knowledge of rice. Each family owns specific terraces that are passed down from generation to generation. Rich families might own 17-18. In this area, they plant once a year. Specific sections of paddies are built up and rice seedlings are planted there. The drier soil keeps the snails away, and plastic tape “fencing” or upside down suspended broken umbrellas flap around in the wind and scare off chickens — both threats to the seedlings, otherwise. The paddies are sometimes tilled with help from a water buffalo. Once the seedlings grow to be a few inches tall (maybe a foot?) they’re transferred to the main rice paddies to finish their growth. Harvest time is a full-family affair, with extended family helping out to get it all done. My guide, Noli, was from a family of 13 brothers and sisters, but only 5 or 6 are still in Banaue.
At harvest, rice is cut off at the top of the plant. Here’s where I get a bit fuzzy, but at some point the rice is gathered into fist-sized bunches, at some point it’s dried, and at some point the grains are removed from the stalks. To remove the husks, they grind the rice with a big wooden mortar and pestle. Somewhere in there is also a step involving some sort of sifting in a big flat basket, and a step of laying a bunch of rice out on a flat tarp. I know this because I saw it beside (or on) the road.
The families don’t typically sell their rice — it sounds like there’s really not a market for it (too expensive compared to other rice available, I guess?). Families occasionally sell some to one another, but mostly they eat their own rice throughout the year. The rice served in Batad and Banaue restaurants is local rice.
Walking to the hot springs, we saw seedlings, a water buffalo, and bundles of rice grain-less stalks (in bunches) that had been tossed back into the paddies. After the hot springs and beautiful river, we jostled our way back to Banaue, had lunch, and checked out the viewpoints (among them one that has the view depicted on the 1000 peso note). There was also a famous actor visiting, so there was going to be a downhill race on wooden scooters. Several ambulances were on hand, but the race hadn’t started by the time we had to go.
I checked out the Banaue museum which had some historic artifacts from the natives of the region, and then headed into town for some awesome strawberry cookies and “perly shell” from a local bakery before my night bus back to Manila. This bus was significantly colder than the first, and despite the more comfortable seating situation, I didn’t get much sleep. 7pm-4am vs 10pm-8am might have something to do with it, too. When I got to Manila, I took a minute to use the bus company’s wifi to look up which terminal my flight was leaving from, then got a cab from a driver who agreed to use the meter. Even at 4am there was significant traffic, but not as bad as during the day.
After being sent back and forth between 3 different ticket windows, I managed to get an earlier flight to Kalibo for about a $12.50 change fee. Landing at KLO with no plan to get to Boracay, I went with a van + ferry service for a little over $5. On the (90 minute) twisty turny van ride, I saw a tricycle with a pig in its sidecar, along with some nice island scenery. At the ferry station, I still had to go to 2 ticket windows to pay various environmental fees. Why they couldn’t just include those in the ticket price I don’t understand (there were also different people to check each one, so I kept handing a fistful of tickets at people, never knowing which they’d need).
On the ferry, a girl was going around signing people up for an open air shuttle van ride to various hotels. I was tired and at $2.50, it looked easier than hiring a tricycle for me and my bags. Despite her assurance that I’d be dropped off first (based on my hotel’s location) I instead got a free tour around the island, as i was the last off.
When I got to my hotel around 10am, my room wasn’t yet ready. Tired and wanting a shower, I decided to splurge on a fancy spa massage. Mmm, 90 minute massage, showers before and after, and a sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi! By the time I was done getting pampered, not only did I feel much better, but my room was ready. Can’t justify that kind of thing often, but man was it nice!
After unpacking, I wandered along the beach a bit, wound up at a German bar eating Filipino food and talking to 2 guys from San Francisco (who’d asked if I was German and then were surprised to meet another American here). I wandered back to my hotel, caught the sunset from a beach chair, and wound up fast asleep in my room by 7pm.
Today, after a good long night’s sleep, I did a little shopping, hung out on the beach, read a bit, went kayaking (and snorkeling!), and found some good food along the way.