So overnight buses are fun…..said no person ever!! After turning up at a very questionable bus station in Manila at 9pm, we boarded our bus headed for Banaue, about 215 miles north of Manila. 215 miles doesn’t sound like that much, right? Wrong. 9 hours of unpaved roads, mountain switchbacks, bone chilling air-con and a bus so full that people were sitting down the aisle on little stools they had brought with them just so they had a seat! Despite my best efforts, I didn’t manage so much as a wink of sleep but did headbut the window about 10 times! 😑 At around 6:30am we were turfed off the bus into another queue to register our presence in the town because it is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces – known in the Philippines as the 8th Wonder of the World. We waited and watched the sun rise before heading off to our hostel, the brand new and very beautiful Pink Banaue Hostel.
We had about an hour to kill at the hostel but no real time for sleep, so dosed up on a couple of coffees, we jumped in a mini bus to head up to Sagada for the day – home to the unique yet world famous “Hanging Coffins.” The drive was a relatively easy 40 miles compared to last night and we made a few stops along the way to take in some incredible views! Also met this absolute legend on the way – who, when we arrived, insisted on a selfie. He then proceeded to pull a digital camera from his loin cloth and take photos of himself with everyone. He absolutely loved it!! He made me hold the spear – I swear! 🙄
When we arrived in Sagada, we commandeered two locals at the tourist office and shared the cost of a guide between us! We hopped in their car and drove up to the Sumaging Caves for our first adventure. What I though was going to be a quick tour of the start of the cave turned into a 2 hour full on caving expedition, down the natural pools at the very bottom the cave! Getting out was somewhat more of a challenge and I had to use the guide as a ladder because I’m short! My first proper caving experience which was ace until I got outside and realised I was covered in bat poo! Bad times!After having a bit of a wash (as best I could in a tiny sink) we got back on the road to head to another cave – but this time is was a local burial cave called Lumiang Burial Cave. A really beautiful place where the locals believed that by leaving the coffins at the entrance to the cave, the light would protect the deceased from bad spirits. There was over 100 coffins stacked at the entrance, some of which are thought to be about 500 years old! They look alarmingly small – one could be forgiven for thinking there was a lot of children buried there but this is not the case. The coffins are so small because they bury their loved ones in the foetal position. It is believed that one should exit this life in the same way in which you entered it. For this same reason, you see chairs nearby which were used, after death, to help shape the body into the right position for burial. It all sounds pretty awful but it was in fact a really beautiful and peaceful place. The hanging coffins in the Echo Valley had a similar peace about them. A bit of a trek to get there but once you arrive there is something pretty amazing about seeing coffins literally hanging on the cliff side. The belief here is that the higher up your are “buried” the closer you are to God. It also helps stop wild animals from eating you but we’ll stick with the first reason for now!
At the end of the day we headed back to our lovely hostel and lovely hostess, had my first hot shower since I left home which was nice because it was actually pretty chilly in the mountains. The following day was another long one as we were headed out to the Batad Rice Terraces and Tappia Falls. Our jeepney picked us up at 9 and on a lovely sunny day, where else would you sit but on the roof – obviously. Safety first as always! 🙄
We wound our way through the mountains again up to Batad, past more villages, rice terraces and a frightening number of landslides. I saw my life flash before my eyes when we nearly had a head on collision on a blind bend with another jeepney and immediately regretted my selection of roof seating! But hey – ‘YOLO’ and all that! When we arrived (in one piece) at Batad, a short-ish walk down through the forest and I was met with this:
Such an incredible view – I could literally have sat there for hours but there was walking to do and waterfalls to swim in! So we walked. Along and down. Along and down. To the tiny hut you can just about see at the bottom of the rockslide. Along the way I found myself humming a particular country song, unsure of why that one had sprung to mind given my surroundings. Then, I snapped out of my daze and realised that the reason I was humming it was in fact because some local villager was literally blaring it out on loud speaker from one of their huts, right across the whole valley! 🤷🏼♀️ Once we reached the hut we were only half way. We then disappeared down the back of the mountain even further to get to the Tappia Waterfall. An absolute treat after about 2 hours of walking in 30 degree heat! The waterfall was stunning, if not a little treacherous. Super slippery rocks, really fast strong currents and the thousands of litres of water crashing down the 21 metre drop! That said, nothing in the world would have kept me out of that water. Just a shame the lovely refreshing dip was someone ruined by the horrific walk all the way back to the top of the mountain again! Met some really lovely people on this part of the trip so it was a shame to have to head back to Manila on another night bus after just 2 short days. I could have spent ages in the mountains but for now, the beaches are calling me! 🌴 Coron – I’m coming for you!!