Norther Luzon, Philippines – The next stop on our itinerary was the Ifugao Rice Terraces in and around the town of Banaue. We were indecisive about going because the area is frequently fogged in and rainy – hiding the terraces from view – and with the luck we were having with weather, we weren’t sure it was worth the trip. But this is one of the highlights of the Philippines and a Unesco World Heritage Site so we decided to take our chances.
We arrived in Banaue in the early afternoon to a surprisingly sunny day with the people in town saying it was raining the day before and sun this soon was unusual. Knowing that it probably wouldn’t last, we quickly hopped in a tricycle (a motorbike with a sidecar that seats two) and headed up to the view points just outside of town. The tricycle broke down about a kilometer away from the first vista point and we decided to hoof it rather than wait for the driver to fix it. We knew that he would come find us eventually – we hadn’t paid him yet.
There are even more terraces in the nearby village of Batad which we hoped to visit the next day on an overnight trip. Unfortunately, the only way to get there from Banaue by public transportation was to wait until 3pm next next day for the only public Jeepney that went near the village, and then catch a 7am Jeepney the next morning. So if you include the hour hike up over a ridge down in the Batad, we would have much time to sight see – meaning we would have to spend two extra days here nless we paid for an more expensive private transport. It seemed that the transportation was set up to get tourists to do it the expensive way – we were incredulous and we spent a lot of time discussing what to do.
Turned out that it was all for nothing because when we woke up the next morning it was raining and foggy – making it pointless to visit Batad. Oh, well. We threw our things in our bags and rushed to catch the early morning bus out of town.
The good thing about bus travel is that you can change your mind. We had initially decided that we would go to Vigan next, but decide that we wanted to go surfing surfing again so when our bus arrived in Baguio we caught an onward bus to the coastal town of San Fernando.
On the bus to San Fernando, the conductor told me the fair was 80 pesos each. A couple passangers noticed the exchange and told me that the actual fare was 60 pesos so Stuart went to ask why he charged us more. I was thankful for the helpful passengers and once again debated the ethics of the bus conductor’s actions. On one hand it is common in SE Asia for those with more to pay more – that’s just how it is, on the other hand, is this conductor just looking to make a couple bucks for himself by cheating unknowing tourists?
In this case – the other passengers thought what he was doing was wrong, but sometimes this is seen by the locals as perfectly acceptable. It is so hard to figure out when we should squawk at paying more and when we should just let it go. Just part of the experience, I suppose.
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The surf was up in San Juan – sort of. We decided not to take lessons – we had both been surfing a couple times (“surfing” may be a stretch fore me; I had been on a surf board but never actually managed to surf) and we understood the basics. The waves were smaller and great for beginners. I managed to catch a couple waves, but never stood up – I think my problem is that by the time I realized I had caught the wave it was too late to try and stand.
Stuart did a bit better and stood up a few times. After a couple hours we were tired of fighting the other surfers for the two feet of water where the waves were actually breaking, so we turned in the boards and just chilled for the rest of the day.
The next day we were sore. Really sore. Like Slip ‘N Slide sore. We rented boards again and hit the waves. I was determined to stand up but only lasted about 20 minutes – I did catch one wave, but they were much bigger and more frequent so I just kept getting pummeled. Stuart lasted about 45 minutes. No Mavericks for us anytime soon.
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We fell in love with Vigan, which was quite appropriate considering we arrived a couple days before Valentine’s Day. The city was full of paper hearts, romantic dinner specials and even a two day festival. Vigan was the kind of city we were had been hoping to find: something small, quiet, relaxing with not a lot to “see”, but a good change to “be”. Spanish colonial buildings, cobblestone streets free of traffic, outdoor dining, horse carts, and delicious food (more on that later). The town was so charming that we felt happy just to just roam the streets and hang out in the local coffee shops and enjoy the atmosphere.
We spent a lot of time in Vigan eating. We snacked on popcorn and hot roasted nuts; Stuart tried Balut (hard boiled egg with a partially developed chicken fetus – gross!); and we discovered the best dish we’ve had in the Philippines: pork, egg and cabbage empanadas served with a chili and sugar cane vinegar dip – we ended up eating a couple every day. One place even had pretty decent pizza.
The two-day Illoco (a region in Norther Luzon) festival featured local bands and a comedic duo from Manila. The bands were alright and the comedy act was in Taglolg – of course – but we understood two jokes: one he made fun of a mentally handicapped food vendor in the audience, and the other one (the only one he told completely in English) was about abortion – neither of them were funny to us but the crowd thought differently. The act also featured a fair amount of karaoke (what act in Asia doesn’t) and a sidekick that was either a transvestite or a really, really big woman.
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Unfortunately, Our last night in the Philippines ended on a low note: the night bus to Manila. Night buses might be the worse thing about traveling in Asia. As if trying to sleep sitting up isn’t hard enough, there are bright lights, loud music, freezing cold A/C, frequent stops and constant horn blowing – all conspiring against you getting a wink of sleep. Earplugs only help bring the noise level down from unbearable to simply loud.
If you know me well, you know how grumpy I get when I can’t sleep. Usually I end up in tears, blasting my iPod with my “noise-canceling headphones” and cursing the country, the people, and the bus driver – praying for just one hour of sleep. These are the times when I start comparing Asia with Western society. I thought about how wonderful it is that people appreciate quiet, that there are whole train cars designated as “quiet cars”, and people would curse at the bus driver if he honked the horn all night.
As much as I am trying to go-with-the-flow and take things as they are on this trip (and I think I have been pretty good at it so far) I will never, ever understand why sleeping is the last thing you’re supposed to do on a night bus.