Typed up: on bus to Busan, on ship to Long Beach
Posted from: Andy and Juliette's house in Newbury Park
As we got off the bus in Banaue, a friendly local wanted to know where we were going. She took us to our hotel, the Banaue View Inn, in a tricycle. We checked in. She wanted to talk tours but we just wanted to sleep for a few hours, which we did. Banaue is built on a valley with a steep side and a steeper side. The steep side was terraced so people could grow rice. Our hotel was halfway up the steeper side, which gave us a great view of rice terraces all around.
It turned out the guide's name was Lolita, and in the afternoon we took a tricycle up to the viewpoint and walked back to the village with her and her husband. It was a great walk, although at times steep and slippery. We went up a muddy slope that I would not have considered going up without a guide, and most of the time we walked on the edge of one irrigation channel or another. Sometimes we just walked on the wall of a rice terrace. The weather was cool, the scenery beautiful, and our guides helpful.
Afterward we had a local lunch with the worst tasting vegetables I've ever eaten (with the possible exception of Brussels' sprouts, as a kid). On top of that Danielle had gotten some blisters. But we took it easy all afternoon and that was nice. The next day it rained. Between the rain and Danielle's blisters we decided to do nothing. The day after that it also rained. But rain or not, we were going to see a sight.
Our goal was to see the rice terraces at Batad, which have stone walls instead of mud ones. Lolita was our guide again, and we set out early on a tricycle. We'd heard that there was a mudslide on the road, but it had grown enough over night that there was no way for the tricycle to make it past. So we started walking on the mostly dirt road. The walk was pleasant enough, crossing the occasional stream and enjoying glimpses of rice terraces through the fog. And it rained.
About an hour on we had arrived to where the tricycle would have dropped us off. It was time to leave the main road and hike up a side road for another hour. We crossed another mudslide but made it to the pass without any real problem. Going down from the pass we were on a narrow trail, with quite a few creek crossings. The trail was on a steep mountain side so more often than not the creek would flow across the trail and then drop down a few meters in a nice waterfall. And it rained.
The fun of walking on a little trail, wading through creeks, in the rain, was starting to wear off for me. Danielle was getting tired also, and we were aware that here blisters could come back any minute. So when we reached the village of Batad and Lolita brought us to one of the many tourist restaurants there we were grateful to sit down for a while. The restaurant had a brilliant view of the fog, which was occasionally replaced by mountains covered in rice terraces. And it rained.
Having rested a bit and placed our lunch orders we hiked a bit further down to get under the fog and really got a good view of the rice terraces here. They looked remarkably like the mud-walled once, except that the were in fact stone-walled. Lolita told us that people are still building new rice terraces because the people here cannot grow enough rice to live on. And it rained.
After a good lunch we started our walk back. The first mudslide we hit had gotten quite a lot bigger. As we watched, more mud flowed down the hill accompanied by the occasional melon-sized rock bouncing down. The workers who had been working on the road helped us cross safely. I did not realize quite how deep and sticky the mud was. When I didn't step exactly where I was told to step my leg disappeared up to my knee. When I pulled it up my sandal stayed behind and I had to stick my arm down there to grab it. And it rained.
We made it down to the main road with no further incident, but the poor road workers apparently lived at their work site. We watched them move their camp a bit downhill, away from where the mudslide was. By the looks of it everything was wet and they were in for a miserable night. We, on the other hand, got in our tricycle. The mudslide that had blocked it earlier had been cleared so we had to walk an hour less than we feared we might have to. On the way back we passed several new, small mudslides but none too big to pose a problem. And it rained.
At night the power went out. First in our hotel, and then a bit later we saw the street lights in the village disappear as well. We had a candle-lit dinner at a newly opened fast-food franchise in town. The next day the power was still out and we decided to leave because relaxing with no power (meaning no laptop) is no fun. Unfortunately word was that there were 21 mudslides between us and the main road to Manila which were not passable by vehicles. Some people had tried to leave early in the morning and had turned back. It did not rain all day, though. It only poured at night.
We awoke to another day without power and decided to try to leave and see how far we'd get. We rode a jeepney following a "bulldozer" which cleaned up small mud slides as it got to them. It was slow going, and after a few hours we got to a mudslide that was too big to be quickly cleared. We all got out and walked across where more transportation was available. That was the pattern until about 2pm when we arrived in Solano. Altogether we did jeepney, slide, tricycle, slide, tricycle, jeepney, slide, jeepney, slide, jeepney.
Some of the mudslides were huge. The deepest was in a village where a church and a few other buildings were completely destroyed. The mud must have been at least 2 meters deep. Next to the road, where heavy equipment was moving a lot of mud, people were digging out their home with shovels. There were also some long slides, where there must have been a river of mud on the road for several hundred meters. Large trees were downed, which people attacked with chainsaws. A few limbs had already been cut down into firewood by the time that we passed by. Lucky for us, it only drizzled in the early morning and the rest of the day the weather was fine to be slogging through the mud.
While our mudslides experience was adventurous, not everybody was so lucky. About 40 people died in mudslides in the area where we were, including almost 10 who were in the church we passed. This is not even that uncommon. It happens every few years.
I should also mention that whenever it was raining we wore emergency ponchos that Jessica gave us as part of her wedding gift. We'd mostly tossed them into our bags when packing because we had them. They took up almost no space and weighed very little. Most importantly they did a pretty good job keeping us dry when we needed them. Thanks!