Barefoot Chronicles: Batad, Banaue

As someone who grew up in a tourist town that boasts of stately natural landscapes, I have this rather obnoxious instinct to compare places of similar appeal. Such was the mindset I had when we set off to see the prominent Batad rice terraces and the Tappiyah Falls that was the highlight of the village attractions. But I ended up being tremendously awed. It was an entirely different experience.

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A “Bulol” (rice god) overlooking the grandiose rice terraces.

Batad is a village in Banaue, Ifugao. It’s a two-hour drive from my hometown, Sagada. Yes, we have several impressive waterfalls and the underrated yet majestic¬†rice terraces (Kanip-aw, Kiltepan, Aguid) but I went there with the expectation that Batad would offer something equally grand, if not more rewarding. And I was not disappointed.

We met Ervin, our very friendly and knowledgeable local guide who was first in line in the queue of accredited guides enlisted for that day. Although my sister was positive that we could find the waterfalls ourselves so long as we follow the trails through the paddies, we understood the town regulations regarding acquiring local tour guides. And we come from a town that thrives on tourism too, we should know better despite overestimating our sense of direction. ūüėČ

A short canopied walk to the village of Batad warmed up our already conditioned legs (or so I’d like to believe as we’ve done a couple of hikes back in Sagada prior to this). We were advised that we should pre-order lunch in one of the restaurants that had stunning views ¬†that overlooked the rice terraces. They estimated that we’d do a 3-4 hour back and forth trek hence we’re looking at a late lunch.

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A narrow concrete path has been constructed all the way down to the falls.

The trek going to Tappiya Falls was a delight in itself. Although I have to be honest that the views were no longer new to a village girl like myself, but what made the experience different was all those village folks who we met along the way. Everyone was genuinely friendly and welcoming. They are like us, Sagadians, who wisely took advantage of the livelihood that tourism entails. The village people have strategically set-up small convenience stores and souvenir shops for the trekkers. And every stop was a welcome respite. We stopped for ice cold water, bananas, a souvenir or two, the occasional breeze or simply for the shade and the pleasant conversations that every villager eagerly engaged with.

I could rate the downward trek as easy but the heat was the main challenge. With no trees to serve as shade, it was no wonder our tour guide had thoughtfully brought his umbrella with him. Guess who used it? Haha!

92128260_524191381832795_1377643994648936448_nI’ve seen a number of waterfalls in this lifetime but I was not prepared by the beauty that awaited us. This hidden gem just behind a ridge of rice terraces artfully designed like an amphitheater made me feel like I was seeing one for the first time. It was magnificent. It’s imposing beauty towered over us as we waded barefoot towards its inviting pool. We basked in its beauty and its chilly waters before we halfheartedly got back to the same route towards the paddies.

The hike back was expectedly more arduous. The sun was already higher and those giant steps were a pain to the gluts! We were definitely not prepared for that! Whoever came up with the souvenir t-shirt design that read “I Love Tappiyah Falls, I Hate the Giant Steps” was on point.

We got back to enjoy the most fulfilling meal of chicken stew, chopsuey and pancit canton. Although our bold estimate to make the round trip within two hours time was off by a good half an ¬†hour, our legs didn’t fail us against those treacherous meter-long stairs.

We did a couple of side trips in the beautiful town of Banaue before heading back home to Sagada. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening trip to a neighboring town that offered similar sights to what we have back home. But now I can say you can’t really compare. Each place has its own unique and identifying charm. The people’s warmth made the experience more gratifying.

A beginner could easily do the trek to Batad’s pride. Doing the trail back is a different story though. ūüėČ Lots of water, sunscreen, hardboiled eggs and bananas would be a good starter pack for this must-do trip up north.

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Kokujin Conquers Some Trails

The pack decided to revisit some trails down Lower Seymour a couple of weeks ago before summer totally ended. We love the numerous trails offered by the vicinity because they’re a combination of easy to intermediate in terms of difficulty. We do have to take into consideration that as much as our sturdy dachshund proves to be the leader of the pack, he has the shortest, stubbiest legs that render it impossible for him to go through some obstacles along the way without assistance.

I personally recommend this area for hikers with smaller dogs. It’s pet-friendly, terrain-wise as well. Next time we might bring some bikes as they do have some challenging and challenge-free bike trails that I’ve been wishing to try.

Sharing some clips of our gang’s little adventure in one of the many hiking trails of this beautiful city.

 

#HelloKelowna

At the Philippine Consulate a year ago, a kindly gentleman was awed when he read that my hometown is Sagada. He was so impressed with the place that he enthusiastically described the sites he has seen there when he went to visit. He went on to say I was lucky to live in a place away from the city’s daily hustle. Sagada, he says, is Vancouver’s Kelowna–that drive away from the urban where you could just enjoy the serene beauty of a quiescent place. Such was his description hence I was doubly excited when the opportunity came to have a day trip to the gateway of Okanagan Valley.

This sunny city boasts of pine forests, provincial parks, expansive vineyards and orchards, and a lakeside cultural district. Truly a day was not enough to explore most of the place’s highlights but we made the most of it. Sharing some snippets from this marvelous trip with equally awesome ladies.

We went home spent and full, not just with the beauteous sights but with the first pickings of Fall apples, peaches, plums and grapes. You are indeed a  nice respite Kelowna.

Barefoot Chronicles: Third Time’s a Charm

 

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Without hesitation, I claim that the mountains of BC are love at first sight and experience for me.¬†Simply because¬†I am reminded of home with the painfully familiar coniferous bounty that British Columbia’s forests boast of.

I lived below the century-old pine trees of Tangeb back in Sagada¬†so I got to¬†smell the pungent sweetness of sap and pine needles¬†that¬†waft¬†through the breeze all day long. I¬†yearn for that most times¬†hence every chance I get, I indulge in getting lost amongst the pines, oaks and redwoods¬†of this province’s¬†bounteous forests.

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Like¬†a runner’s high, I¬†experience that euphoria once I¬†succumb to getting¬†lost in a mossy paradise. I feel most tranquil as I slowly start to lose my grip of time, gawking at the overgrowth of life around me while swatting away mosquitoes or wasps.

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Elk Mountain has entranced me the first time Dalifer and I climbed it back in 2015.¬†Almost¬†fifteen hundred meters¬†¬†(1,432 m) high and a medium-difficulty hike I believe for non-hard core hikers like me, it is a haven¬†frequented by paragliders and occasional hikers who’d do the connection trail from Elk to Thurston to Cheam. I love it for the fact that not a lot of people come here. Unlike other highly-advertised trails in BC where most times you have to pace yourself with the person before or after¬†you, you only get to meet a¬†lone¬†climber every 30 minutes or so. In a way, you own the trail.IMG_2973

Which is why we’ve made our Elk Mountain¬†trek a yearly must. And each time, I would keep on thinking how a lot more awesome it would be if I was hitting this trail with a dog.

 

 

This year would be our third¬†trip to Elk’s peak. It is very special since my wishful thinking of having a dog to egg me on towards the top came to fruition. Not only do I have a scout, I also have a sweeper. And so like a little pack, we trudged onwards on a drizzly weekday.

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We make an interesting team. We have this dude who kept on complaining about his Vibrams that were apparently killing his feet and who was panting more than my double-coated boy. Tireless Kaidu who whines with impatience everytime we do a water break. And Kokujin, staunch and indefatigable Kojin who personifies will and determination even with his short, stubby legs.

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Back when it was just a duo between Dalifer and me, hiking in bear territory was not such a big deal as the unspoken truce was¬†that we push¬†each other as the token¬†quarry if a black bear comes traipsing through. This time though, besides doubling the water bottles and carrying a dozen poop bags, we seriously considered getting a fog horn as we considered the wiener dog an effortless prey for a hungry carnivore. But of course that’s overdoing it. We settled for a whistle.

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To the untrained eye, the topography and flora may¬†appear repetitive. But if you love¬†forests as much as I do, you’d see how interestingly diverse the forest life is although it would seem to be just thick, lush green all over.

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I can keep coming back to this place as its magic will never dull. A couple of years ago, I wished for dogs to hike with. It happened.¬†Is it pushing it when I’ll endeavor for little tots to run ahead of me in these same trails in the next year or so? I whispered to the forest gods and demi-gods. ūüėČ

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Photo Credits: DBG

Barefoot Chronicles; Those That Beckon

It was Pacquiao’s much-anticipated fight with Mayweather then so the otherwise busy Manila streets were all ours. Save a few cars here and there, we had the roads to ourselves and had the luxury to cruise at 120mph while intently straining our ears for the blow-by-blow account of the commentator on the supposed fight of the century. I winced every time our Manny got a hard one, felt riotous when they announced Floyd as the winner, but I knew that the awful feeling which was gnawing at my insides was largely due to the fact that¬†I was getting scared the more distance we covered away from those familiar mountains back home.

I was due to fly with my husband that day. There was of course excitement. I’ve never been one to say no to any prospect of exploring a new place. But we both knew this was different. The moment I bade goodbye to my family, the reality I’ve been trying to ignore months¬†prior was hitting me full on, and harshly at that. I could still feel my sister’s tight grip as she was trying hard to put up a brave front, always the¬†stouthearted one¬†that she is. Mama’s sobs still resonated clearly as for the first time, I had to be the stronger one between the two of us, reassuring her that I’d be back the soonest I can.¬†That was the first time I’ve seen her let down her defenses as she unabashedly cried for her youngest daughter’s departure. My dogs’ fluffy¬†tails still seemingly¬†tickle my nostrils¬†as I try to shake off their questioning doe-eyes from my mind. It was not a pretty scene.

I’ve said¬†tons of farewells¬†to my family before but nothing as sentimental because we always knew I would be back, maybe the next weekend, the next month, or¬†even the next year. No matter how long I’d be gone, what I’d do, and where I’d go, there was comfort in those¬†goodbyes as they knew I’ll come back soon enough and still be solely theirs. But this time was undeniably different. A man, my husband, was whisking me off to start a new life with him. And it was not just to the other side of the mountain.

It was a myriad of emotions. Excitement, dread, anticipation, despondency, happiness–all for their respective reasons. For the first time in a lot of years, I felt like a little girl, my mother’s little girl. But that constant squeeze¬†of my hands made me a bit brave. That reassuring smile from the man beside me made me feel that everything will be okay.

After two glasses of wine, two unfinished movies, and disturbed dreamless half-naps, my husband excitedly woke me up for my first view of Canada. I feigned pleasure. But the bigger part of my being was wanting to board the next plane back to the Philippines. I felt defiant and only comforted myself with the thought that I was here on a two-week vacation. That was how much in a state of denial I was.

I had the warmest of welcome from my in-laws, friends and relatives when I got here. That helped a lot. But as the days dragged on and I fell into an obsessive routine of scouring job sites and ads so the soonest I could find something to occupy my days with, there was that unavoidable void. Days were longer (and they literally were) as I pined for the familiar comforts of home. I grew spiteful towards my husband (which was totally unreasonable given that I should have braced myself for this big leap) as I felt like I threw a huge chunk of who I was and what I do for something so uncertain. But I knew I was being utterly irrational. I was simply homesick.

He was very patient throughout the ordeal. He showed more understanding than I deserved. And he did his best to introduce me to the mountains here. He knew what to do.

We started out with simple walks in parks and reservoirs. Then that escalated to hikes and¬†reaching several summits.¬† I began appreciating what was here on his other end of the world. And I concede, the views here are¬†fascinating. What used to be just postcard images or wallpaper screens can now be actually seen with the naked eye. There’s an added magic to that.¬†¬†Every moment I get myself engulfed in the magic of greenery and foliage, I was transported back home.¬† I loved every trek and hike that I always looked forward to the next. Gradually, I succumbed. More than the physical pleasure of getting mesmerized by picturesque scenes, each trip meant reconnecting to that part of home.

Without realizing it, a full year has passed. I’ve experienced the full cycle of the seasons. One year gone means one year closer to being back home.

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It’s been a struggle making a new place¬†my second home. It will still be for the next few years or so. The¬†homesickness will not be¬†snuffed out lest I make that first trip back to Sagada.¬†The mountains there will always beckon me but for now, I have to view horizons from other peaks.

Barefoot Chronicles: Panabungen, Besao  

A two-hour, bumpy ride through verdant mountains brought us from Kin-iway, Besao to Panabungen. Panabungen is a sitio of Brgy. Laylaya which is host to some of the Episcopal Diocese of the Philippines’ livelihood support programs. The Episcopal Church’s foundation has been spearheading programs that benefit residents in chosen areas of various provinces around the archipelago.

I‚Äôve been lucky to have a friend (thanks Arianne! ūüôā ) who‚Äôs an active advocate of programs that are being implemented in the place. Today, they‚Äôre dynamically promoting the organic growing and cultivation of mango trees and hog-raising thru organic feeding and methods as well. I had the opportunity to meet several beneficiaries of these programs and witness the educational immersion of the foundation‚Äôs staff with the community members.

It was a very fulfilling experience. I had the pleasure of being with a jolly company and the opportunity of setting foot on another part of our province. This is when we say we become tourists in our own place. One of the secret wonders of our mountain ranges is that there’s always someplace new to set foot on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there sprawl thousands of rambling acres that are yet to be explored and enjoyed. I could brave hours and hours of a bumpy ride if it means looking at the endless lush and greens of our mountains.

I look forward to going back to the place and this time around, it’s to help pick the mangoes come summertime. (Arianne, *wink*)