Layover Banaue: The Road Home and the People I Met Along the Way

As I look back on that part of my trip, I have a vague picture of what the Banaue Rice Terraces looked like. I can’t quite remember if I was awestruck seeing the UNESCO World Heritage site. Perhaps. Ask me about the people, though, and that’s a different story.

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My day started with a road trip from Tinglayan to Bontoc

I must admit I wasn’t planning on going to Banaue at all. Not during this trip anyway. The original plan was to take the same path that I took to Kalinga, via Tabuk, but a friend, who I had originally invited to join me on the trip, suggested a side trip to see the Banaue Rice Terraces. I adjusted the itinerary so that we could see it. That friend ended up not going on the trip with me to Kalinga, but there I was arriving in Bontoc, from Kalinga, sitting behind the driver’s seat in a jeepney, and asking the driver to drop me off at the stop where I can catch a ride to Banaue.

The bus driver dropped me off at the side of a busy road in Bontoc and pointed to some vans parked at a side street. After confirming that these were indeed the vans that ply the Bontoc-Banaue route, I made myself comfortable at the front seat of the van, beside the driver. Banaue is about two hours away.

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The Banaue Rice Terraces

To say that the van ride from Bontoc to Banaue is scenic is an understatement. I guess the views around this whole mountainous region of the Philippines are similar in this respect. It winded through roads built at the sides of the mountains. The Cordilleras flanked us passengers on all sides. As we got closer to Banaue, we saw more and more rice terraces that were carved out of the mountains.

It was in this van ride that I met two fellow travelers that would be my companions for the rest of the way—the other more so. The two travelers were coming from Sagada. They were traveling separately, but met while riding top-load on a jeep from Sagada to Bontoc. They were interesting characters, these two.

We saw a lot of kids coming home from school as we made our way downhill from the viewpoint to the bus station. There were these two girls that I loved, carrying their backpacks on a stick between them. This particular one caught my eye because of her big, beautiful and very genuine smile.

We saw a lot of kids coming home from school as we made our way downhill from the viewpoint to the bus station. There were these two girls that I loved, carrying their backpacks on a stick between them. This particular one caught my eye because of her big, beautiful and very genuine smile.

One was Filipina. Carlota. Her name sounds beautiful to me—almost classical. Like me, she was traveling by herself, but her story is one for the books. You see, before going to Sagada, Carlota was misdiagnosed with cancer. She’s thirty three.  It was her wake up call. She had been helping her family her whole life, started working at a young age, eventually paying her way through college and supporting her family. While that’s not exactly a bad thing, she realized she hasn’t really done anything for herself. So she talked to her mom, said that she is going to take a year off, liquidated her assets and decided to travel. First the Philippines, then maybe the world. We separated when the bus bound for Baguio arrived. I wonder if I’ll ever meet her on the road again one day.

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A cowboy in Banaue. Definitely one of my favorite shots from the trip.

The other was from New Zealand. Let’s call him Ham. It was his last day in the Philippines when we met, but was then not so keen to leave. Sagada was his last stop, or I suppose Banaue. He relished the sun as we walked around Banaue. He told us how much he loved our country and the people. And about his bad experiences, which were overshadowed by the good ones that seemed to always come immediately after. He felt a little sad to leave and hoped he had extended the standard 21-day visa he got when he arrived. I spent the rest of the day with him. The night, too. We rode the same overnight bus back to Manila and shared a cab. I was dropped off at our corner. He made his way to the airport. While we were together, we talked about everything and didn’t seem to run out of topics to discuss. I can honestly say that I have made a friend, not just an acquaintance. I will end up meeting with him again later, while traveling Vietnam, but that is a story for another time.

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This post is part of a series I wrote about a recent trip to Kalinga– to the village of Buscalan to meet the famed Kalinga Tattooist, Fang-Od. Check out the other posts by clicking on the links below:

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3 responses to “Layover Banaue: The Road Home and the People I Met Along the Way

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