Bontoc was a bustling mountain town, bigger than Sagada. My aim was to go to Maligcong, a nearby village, famous for its extensive and beautiful rice terraces. When I got there by jeepney, I rushed out to view the rice terraces and forgot to pay my fare. Normally a ‘conductor’ collects the fares or you hand them up to the driver as you ride. In this (unusual) case, the passenger needed to walk around to the driver’s window and pay as he got off. After a few minutes of taking pictures, I returned to the bus stand where one of the women passengers reminded me I had forgotten to pay my fare. By this time the driver had left although the jeepney was still there.
The jeepney did not stop at the village . To get to the village the people indicated that one had to walk on the cement borders of the rice terraces to an unseen destination. The rice paddys were several feet below with water flooding them. For a wus like me, this looked scary, especially anticipating what might lie ahead, now unseen. I did view some of the terraces but no doubt missed some of the main event.
This was partially compensated for by being able to interact with and photograph a beautiful old, but bent over, woman in the jeepney who was wearing a ‘necklace’ on her head that was made of snake vertebrae. I had seen them in museums and was told that they were worn to protect against lightening.
At 2:00 another jeepney appeared which was going back to Bontoc. I approached the young driver and explained that I had forgotten to pay my fare earlier. He said he knew that, as he had been the driver—yet he hadn’t approached me about the fare! Anyway, it was solved and soon I was back in Bontoc.
The Bontoc Museum was one of the best I’ve seen. The displays (all labeled in only English) of Ifugao cultural objects including head-hunter equipment was awesome. There were many photographs from 1909 and some as late as 1950 showing their activities, including the taking of heads of rival tribes. Apparently this was done as ‘sport’ to much admiration. They buried the heads for three years, then dug them up, using the jawbone to bang on a gong. If a person lost his head, he was buried without ceremony as a looser. Tribal music played as one viewed the museum. There was also an outdoor reconstructed village.
I went to Besao on Saturday morning as I had been told by the Sagada Tourist Information Bureau that there would be traditional dancing in costume. I left Sagada at 6:30 and discovered when I got there that the traditional dancing had taken place the day before! (This kind of thing happens at least once on every trip!) Just then a bus appeared headed toward Sagada so I jumped aboard and was back there by 8:00 AM. I checked out of my hotel and grabbed another jeepney to Bontoc where I changed again and got another to Banaue. Wow! This ride was the granddaddy of all mountain rides! Lots of road construction and road repair with only one lane open at times, and sometimes that was closed and we had to wait.
Banaue was my last stop before going back to Manila and then home. It had gorgeous rice terraces going all the way up the mountains. My guidebook said they were built 2,000 years ago, but a man at the Tourist Bureau said they were 4,000 years old! They are UNESCO heritage listed as well they should be.
There was lots of wood carving and I finally found the figures that I was looking for. I bought five-foot-high male and female figures (only eight inches wide) which the lady wrapped and brought to my hotel.
The next morning I hired a tricycle and driver to take me to Hapao to see MORE rice terraces. It was only 17 km (10 miles) but it took a good hour each way over the rough road. The day was sparkling and these rice terraces had recently been planted so they gleamed that beautiful green in the sunlight. Midway the driver stopped to talk to a 50-ish man. They exchanged comments and then the man asked me in very good English if I would mind if he rode along behind the driver on the motorbike. I agreed and so we went. We stopped a number of times for me to take photos and also to pay the 10 peso ‘environmental fee’ (21 cents).
When I got back I visited the Banaue Museum, a small but good collection of, by now, familiar Ifugao objects. These were collected by William Beyer, the son, by an Ifugao woman, of Otley Beyer, an anthopologist from Iowa who spent his whole adult life here from the early 1900’s.
At lunchtime I had a different brand of beer from the ubiquitous San Miguel (they seem to have a monopoly) which was “Colt 45” brewed by? the Heilimann Brewing Company, an American company!
After lunch I tried to visit the other museum in Banaue (populaton under 3,000 and TWO museums!) but it had moved. So I checked with the Tourist Bureau, and found its new digs out in the country a few km. Their new building wasn’t open yet but I was invited in anyway and was toured through this extensive collection by the owner, George, from Seattle. He has lived off and on in the Philippines for 30 years. This collection was far larger than any I had seen. George had bought or commissioned each piece. He said that the head-hunting was pretty much over by 1914, but it revived some during World War II when they took some Japanese heads. (I’m sure that seemed very logical to them)
Tuesday was a rigorous day. A man from the hotel helped me carry my woodcarving bundle up a long flight of stairs leading to the upper road where I could get the bus. It left at 6:35 AM just at sunup with beautiful orange haze covering the many layers of mountains all around. The plan was to take this Uyami bus to San Jose, arriving at noon; then transfer to a Baliweg bus to Manila, another four hours. At 10:30 when we (finally!) made a rest stop there was a Florida bus there also. My bus conductor suggested taking that bus as it was going directly to Manila, which I did. My woodcarvings bundle was transferred to the new bus, this time deposited in the aisle of the bus, necessitating all the passengers having to step over and around it, but they were uncomplaining. There were other bundles as well.
We arrived Manila during rush hour so all was in slow motion. It took me a half-hour to get a taxi, who good-naturedly loaded my 5 1/2 foot bundle into his cab. I finally arrived at Elana’s house at 7:15 PM—a long day!
Elana and Didi had cooked a wonderful gourmet meal of Sinagang, a soup made with broth, guava, and greens; talapia fish, milkfish, roasted Japanese eggplant with shrimp paste, rice and wine. We had shredded cantaloupe for dessert—they do that to bring the juice. Ah, my wonderful ‘Manila home’ away from home!
During my last day in Manila I had a manicure, pedicure and haircut followed by the three of us having lunch at a very good Japanese restaurant. For our last evening meal, Elana had made Pork Dinuguan, a wonderful dish made with pork and pork blood, served over rice cakes. No question, these people are foodies and excellant cooks.
The next morning at 5:30 AM they took me to the airport with my bundle, as I had decided to take it on board the airplane because of the high cost of shipping. Since it was oversized, I had to pay $300—this for a $25 souvenir.
I’m home now, and thinking back, the Philippines were kind of a surprise to me as a destination. I was expecting pretty much plain vanilla as one doesn’t hear much about the Philippines as a tourism country. The rice terraces and the Ifugao culture artifacts were superlative; the islands were very nice and hard-core snorkelers and divers told me that they are the best in the world. Some of the food was a treat, especially as cooked by my friends—who, of course, were another highlight for me. The Philippines? Try it, you’ll like it!