Days 4 & 5 (15th – 16th November 2010) – BATAD to CAMBULO to PULA to BANAUE
Before I go any further with this report, I would state that we did this trip without a guide. However, please DO NOT think that the following is intended as any sort of map to follow. We had read that some people had managed this route without a guide and we managed to do it also. But if you are in any doubt – please use a guide, as it is quite easy to get lost.
Also walking poles are very much recommended.
Another point is that most (sensible) people attempt this trek in the opposite direction i.e. start from Banaue and trek via Pula to Cambulo, where they overnight and the following day head to Batad. It is the easier option, as it is mainly all downhill to Cambulo. The only major uphill is then to Batad and from there up to the saddle.
If this option is chosen, then I would strongly recommend hiring a guide from Banaue.
DAY 4 (Mon 15th November)
After a leisurely breakfast we went back to our room and packed up ready for our expedition. At 9:30 am, with two, 75 peso, litres of water between us, we collected our walking poles and turned left out of the Hillside Inn. Up to, and passing the school, we immediately took the wrong track and got lost. This was not a good sign as we had only been walking for 5 minutes and had been this way the day before!!
Luckily a local man pointed us to the correct path and we walked along the rice terraces, just below the tree line. We were heading over to the concrete steps on the far left of the terraces, which head up, all the way from the valley floor. We were fortunate that we had learned this cross terrace route the previous day; otherwise we would have headed all the way down to pick up the steps and then have to head all the way back up.
Anyhow after thirty minutes we had reached the steps and had our last look back at Batad. It was then up and over the ridge and onto pastures new.
Not long after we commenced heading downhill, it started to rain. But being British we of course had our waterproof coats with us, so not a problem. We had also packed our clothes and cameras into plastic bags, inside our day sacks, so they would keep dry. Also we had brought some large orange plastic bin (refuse) bags courtesy of Bolton Council, which we used to cover our days sacks. The problem was that wearing our coats made us really hot, and even though they were Gortex, they couldn’t cope with the humidity.
A tourist, who had overnighted in Cambulo and was heading to Banaue, passed by with his guide, who asked, “Where is your guide?” We told him we didn’t have one and he looked at us like we weren’t normal. Which, I suppose was true.
Anyhow, onwards we walked, with coats on and off as we had intermittent showers. The scenery was really pretty and the rain didn’t bother us really, as it was only light.
At 12:00 noon, two and a half hours after leaving Banaue, we arrived into the village of Cambulo, just as it started to rain heavily. Fortunately, there was an Inn just on the outskirts of town and we took shelter. We knew we could grab a meal here, but were still full after our substantial breakfast. So we just sat under the eaves, watching the rain cascade off the roof and chatted to the lady owner. She asked the usual questions of where we were heading and where was our guide, and as usual, was surprised that we didn’t have one. There was one piece of useful information that she did give us, and that was that in Pula there wasn’t anywhere to buy water. So we purchased two more litres from her at the bargain price of 65 pesos each.
After thirty minutes, the deluge had passed over and we thought about setting off for Pula. However we weren’t sure of the way through the village. Thankfully the lady asked her young daughter to show us the way out through the houses. Once clear of the village the young girl pointed out the track we should take and off we went.
Now we had been told that it was going to be all up hill to Pula (oh joy). So when we reached an up hill track off to the left, we took it. This turned out to be a bad choice, as we ended up in a small hamlet which was virtually a dead end. Again two small children came out and we followed them along a very narrow stony path, which led us back to the correct route. The trick is to stay down by the river and not head up hill too soon. We had planned on simply asking the locals if we were heading in the right direction. But apart from a few brief encounters, we hadn’t really seen anybody to ask. One thing we did do was to become part Indian tracker, as we kept looking for signs of walking boot prints or the small holes left by walking poles. We knew that no locals used boots or poles, so if we spotted any we were on the right route.
The scenery and terraces outside of Cambulo was stunning and it felt like being in a hidden valley. It made the trek seem all that more special.
After walking for an hour, at 1:30 pm, we came to a slender suspension or hanging bridge that crossed the river. On the other side, we could see a cluster of houses. Was this Pula? If so we had done really well. Of course it wasn’t and we still had a long way to go. Crossing the open grid floored bridge, as it swayed back and forth, was a challenge in itself, but we made it and then it was up hill – big time. The steps led us past some of the houses and the children came out to have a look at us. But instead of wanting their photos taken, they appeared shy and hid from us. Maybe it was something to do with us needing a shower!! Anyhow I took a photo of the Poinsettia shrubs, which here in the UK are mainly a small pot plant seen at Christmas.
Once near the top of this hill, the track turned left and swept right around the crest. This route provided us with some magnificent views across the surrounding countryside and rice terraces. However we did get some strange looks and comments as we passed by a small cluster of men who seemed the worse for wear after drinking what looked like quite a few bottles of the local firewater.
Next we came to a junction in the track (when I say track I really mean an extremely narrow path across the top of some terraces). Here we struck lucky as two boys were heading towards us. We asked them which way to Pula and they pointed left across a small bridge. I say we were lucky, as my guess had been to go straight on and uphill some more.
So around to the left and across the tops of the terraces we plodded. It was now about 2:30 pm and we had no idea where we were or how far we still had to go, but were enjoying ourselves immensely.
Rounding a ridge, we saw, far off in the distance and high above us, a large group of houses, which we determined must be Pula. We still had some distance to cover. Things were going quite well until we reached a small water fall which we had to cross. There was only a narrow ledge and the stone was very slippery and down below was a long drop. I just about managed it but my wife decided that it was far too dangerous. She managed to find an alternative route by climbing up a rice terrace wall, wading through the rice terrace, then scrambling down a small land slide on her bottom. She said this was the better route, but ended up covered in mud.
After that it was uphill all the way. We kept thinking it couldn’t be much further, then we’d catch sight of the village and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Luckily we had stockpiled Bingo biscuits before we left Banaue, as they were now proving their usefulness. We hadn’t found anywhere since Cambulo to eat and our rations were just about giving us the sugar rush we required.
Finally we reached some proper steps heading towards the clouds and we knew we must be getting closer to our goal. At 4:45 pm – seven and a quarter hours after leaving Banaue - and looking somewhat bedraggled, we dragged our aching limbs into the extremely tiny village of Pula, and set about finding somewhere to stay. We had been told that there was a guesthouse near to the school, but everywhere seemed deserted. There were a couple of children in the school courtyard and we asked them. They pointed to a bright blue building just above the school and up we went to investigate. But it was all locked up and there wasn’t anybody about and no sign saying it was a guesthouse. So we again went back down to the school, fortunately some people in a nearby house spotted us and shouted to the children, who ran off and came back with a man. He took us back up to the blue house and unlocked one of the ground floor rooms. Then he came out with a couple of plastic chairs for us to sit on, whilst he lit a fire and put a kettle on – this was a good sign. It was obvious that they hadn’t been expecting anybody, but as long as we could get a bed for the night and some food – we’d be happy.
Once the fire was going, the man said for us to sit outside and he would go and fetch his mother who was working out in the fields, as she had the keys. No sooner had he left than the clouds moved in and it started to rain. This time it meant business and it became a downpour. Luckily we had some shelter, but it started to get a bit chilly and as our clothing was nicely drenched in sweat, we started to shiver and had to put our coats on to try and keep warm. We congratulated ourselves, that for the second time that day, we had just found refuge in time to avoid the heavy rain.
Soon it became torrential, and as it poured off the roof, it started to flood the area where we were sat. There was no option but for us to climb the steps which led to the bedrooms and join the chickens who were also taking refuge.
That was where the lady found us, when she turned up at 5:10 pm. All she had was a sheet of plastic draped over her head and shoulders, to try and keep dry. She didn’t speak very much English, but we asked how much the room cost and it was the same as in Batad – 200 pesos per person per night.
She unlocked the bedroom and turned on the light – yes it had a solar powered light! It was only a basic plywood room with two beds and another room with beds leading off it. But to us it was just what we needed. It was warm and clean and had plenty of blankets, so we would be nice and cosy. We asked if there was any chance of some food and she said she would make us something. Now we knew it would only be basic, but didn’t really care, as we were starving and food is food.
The bathroom was on the top of the landing, just outside the room and was even more basic. It had a toilet, with no seat and a multi purpose bucket of cold water with a scoop for flushing and showering. No electric in here, so I had to get the old lady to find some matches to light the two candles for me. We knew it was going to be a punishing experience getting washed that night, but we had an aroma that only pigs would appreciate! So we just had to grin and bear it. These are the sort of experiences we quite enjoy in some sort of perverse way. As we get older, we seem to be getting worse. Our friends are now at the stage where they look for 5 star luxury hotels, whereas we are going the opposite way!
At 7:00 pm, after resting our weary bodies, we went down to see how dinner was going. It was good timing as everything was laid out in the dining room ready for us. She had cooked a large bowl of boiled rice and opened a tin of corned beef for me. As my wife is vegetarian, she had to make do with rice and noodles (pancit). But it was just what we needed and it plugged a big hole. We also had been provided with a flask of boiled water (which when cooled we used to fill our water bottles) and some Liptons tea bags, very British. One thing that was useful is that we had brought torches, as there wasn’t a light in here and the candles did very little to illuminate our feast. But they did provide a romantic atmosphere of sorts, which was only interspersed by the grunting of pigs, outside!
DAY 5 (Tue 16th November)
After a surprisingly good nights sleep, despite the torrential rain hammering on the roof, we awoke early and drew back the curtain. We were greeted with a stunning view across the mountains and broken clouds. Possibly we were in luck and the rain had passed over.
Washed and dressed in some clean clothes we had saved, we ventured down at 8:00am to see what breakfast would be. Again it was ready and waiting for us, along with the flask and tea bags. For our banquet this morning, the lady had cooked us two pancakes each. Now these weren’t any ordinary pancakes, they were 2 inch (50mm) thick, heavy and reinforce the table creations. No matter how much we chewed and tea we drank, we found it impossible to eat more than one each. So we wrapped the remaining ones in a plastic bag, as they would do for rations later in the day. Again, we used the boiled water to top up our water bottles, signed the guestbook and went to pack. Hearing a bell, we looked out the window and the school children were all lined up in the square and just before they went into class they began singing, possibly the national anthem?
At 8:45 am we paid our bill and asked the lady if she could point out which path we should take to get back to Banaue. Instead, she took us down to the school courtyard and had a chat with two old men and told us that one of them was heading to Banaue and that we should follow him. So that’s what we did. Well, when I say we did, I really mean we tried to! Going from the village was fine, as it was downhill for about 15 minutes, but then the track started to climb. This is where the old guy left us for dead. He was only going at a slow methodical pace, but there was no way we could keep up with him (we put it down to the pancakes!!)
From there on, the track was easy to follow, but it was constantly uphill. The old guy kept waiting for us, but after a couple of hours he must have realised we were slowing him down and we never saw him again. Still it was very good of him to be as patient as he had been.
As we climbed the views got more and more spectacular, but we couldn’t believe just how steep this climb was. It seemed never ending. Just as you thought you must be at the summit, you’d round a ridge and find another hill.
As we went higher the track presented us with some tough challenges, as it had been wiped out by numerous landslides, thanks to the super typhoon Megi (or Juan), which, as previously mentioned, had struck only 3 weeks earlier. The walking poles proved invaluable as we traversed up and across the loose rubble and rocks that had once been the hillside. At some points there were some treacherous drops to navigate and we were glad that we weren’t the first people to have crossed the slides, as at least the soil had become slightly compacted. Also on some of the landslides there were handy tree roots to cling on to. This was not one of the easiest walks we have ever done! It was handy though, being muddy, as it allowed us to keep an eye out for the boot prints, just so we knew we were on the right track.
Finally the path levelled out as it passed through some beautiful forest/ jungle and we realised we must be getting nearer to the summit, which we eventually reached. Then it was downhill, which in parts proved even more difficult as it was muddy and slippery due to the rains. All of a sudden we heard voices up ahead and then a string of about 30 porters hove into view. They all had some really big heavy boxes on their shoulders and they said they were heading to Pula. We then met two American guys, who had organised and funded the whole expedition. They explained they were providing solar power to all the villagers of Pula, so by the time you read this; hopefully the whole village may have lighting.
Not long after leaving them, at just before 1:00 pm, we abruptly came to a halt, as the track had disappeared. Or I should say, it had been washed away. Ahead of us was a river that we obviously had to traverse. So there was nothing for it, but to remove our boots and wade across. Fortunately it wasn’t too deep and it only came to just below my knees. On the other bank we set off again, only to encounter yet another river to cross. Again it wasn’t too deep and in fact it was quite refreshing. Here we stopped and tried to eat our pancakes, but despite our best efforts it wasn’t possible and we had to admit defeat!
Up hill again, but this time on quite a broad track and after another thirty minutes we emerged onto the main road back to Banaue. We’d made it. Even with numerous rest halts and the landslides, it had taken us 4hours and 45 minutes from Pula.
It was all down hill to Banaue, so we set off walking. Then we came across a sign saying it was (I think) 9kms to town. We had no option, so kept walking, hoping a jeepney would pass soon, as we were quite tired. After 2kms one did stop and we asked how much and he asked for 50 pesos. We were tired but not stupid and laughed, OK he said 20 then. Deal done we climbed on board and were glad to be chauffeured, as I doubt very much if we’d have had the energy to walk all the way back.
Arriving into Banaue at 2:00 pm, we retrieved our main packs from the storage room at the Peoples Lodge and humped them back upstairs to the 700 peso room. Then we went down to the Halfway Lodge to grab some food. Back to our room and it was time for a treat and we had long hot showers. That was after my wife had taken our boots out and tried her best to clean them up a bit, using an old toothbrush! They were simply too dirty to be allowed into the room.
Refreshed and somewhat cleaner, we then set about unpacking and repacking our bags ready for the following day.
That evening we sat on the balcony outside our room and congratulated ourselves on our achievement. We’d taken on the terraces and they hadn’t defeated us.
For dinner, we crossed the road and tried the Las Vegas restaurant, where we had the best food in Banaue. Why hadn’t we tried here earlier? We chatted with the owner who was great and had some good stories to tell. But we were shattered and were in bed early, in preparation for moving on.
So that was almost it for Banaue and the world famous rice terraces and the next day we were heading off to Sagada.
PREVIOUS LONG TRIP REPORTS
Part 1: Cauayan to Banaue
Part 2: Batad