Rice Rice Baby.. The Ancient Rice Terraces of the Philippines
The 2000 year old rice terraces located in the north of Luzon, Philippines, in Ifugao, perched at an altitude of 1500m, are an ancient agricultural technique passed down over the generations and still practiced today. Irrigation is fed from the rainforests above and it is said that if the steps were positioned side by side they would encircle half the earth! Absolutely breathtaking.
I stayed in an amazing little home found on air bnb called “Brookeside Inn” perched on the rice terrace hillside. A cute two-story wooden house with only 4 bedrooms, where you can wake up to the sounds of river running, roosters crowing, and picturesque hillside views.. all with the homely feeling of being off the beaten-tourist-track. The Inn is run by Randy, 52 who grew up in the region, his parents originally owning the Inn for Filipino travellers. He married and worked in government but with not much pay and a family to feed they decided to move to Manilla. After 15 years of working long hours, under corrupt conditions, with not much time for family, Randy made a decision to go back and reopen the Inn in 2013. He is an incredible host that welcomes you into his house as a family guest, not a customer. He cooks breakfast at his kitchen table, and sits and chats arranging personalised day trips using local trike drivers at a fair price for them and you, to take you to the terraces then free reign to walk it alone or source a guide. At not point did I feel ripped off or treated as a cash machine, If anything, through discussions, that whole tourist money grabbing philosophy is something Randy despises.
The first day, upon Randy’s recommendation, I hiked to the local Banaue terraces which few tourists walk through. It started off well, setting off from the Inn through the village and up the mountains we past scenic views and local children playing basketball on the hillside (the national sport of the Phillippines).
After about 20 minutes we arrived at the terraces, impressed by the views and the beautiful elders dressed in their traditional outfits singing songs as they looked out over the fields.
The uplifting experience filled us with confidence to take on the terraces even though it was uncommon to walk through these particular fields (most tourists just taking in the view and saving the walk for Batan). Thinking we could do it without a guide we ended up lost in local property on the hillside, met with a child playing in the yard of his terrace house his father came outside and offered to guide us out, along the slippery slopes and muddy cliff drops for a small fee. Completely out of our zone, we kindly accepted.
He saw me struggling through the slopes and broke off a tree branch for me to use as a hiking stick, alleviating my struggle immensely. Speaking broken English he pointed out elements of the trail as we past. We reached a slippery pathway only 15cm wide with a cliff drop on one side and a 30cm water canal on the other. I hesitated. He pointed at the step in front of me and then down the slope. I struggled to understand what he was saying. He repeated himself “local man fall here and die one night.. Drinking… Family not find him”. “err, gees. thanks for telling me this about the next step I am about to take when I am already freaking out..” I took a breath and took 3 quick, balanced, steps… “the sooner I get out of here the better” I thought as rain clouds started to gather. Half and hour later we had made it back into the town, and beat the storm clouds. Thank god.
I went back to the Inn and had a “hot” shower and put on some warm clothes before heading out for a delicious warm meal, of fish and delicious Banaue green beans, served in the town by a young lady who was a fantastic chef, putting a lot of time and love into personally preparing a generous meal for us, not use to having many tourists around she took great delight in the praise we gave her for her fine cooking.
The second day was a BIG hike through Batan. Firstly we had to get there. Two tall people squashed into a rattly trike, (home made passenger cart attached to the side of a motor bike) built for tiny people. This thing chugged up steep mountains littered with pot holes and mud slides, sunken stretched of concrete roads two meters wise at some points, to eventually arrive at Batan. A rice terrace much broader than the one visited previously with wider steps and sturdier well trodden and maintained paths that were easy to navigate through independently. The steps wound through the terraces and down a path that lead to Tappia waterfall. A 55m waterfall that didn’t look too harmless from the distance but with clothes off and swimmers on, after jumping in to refresh it was impossible to get close enough to the point the water thundered down on the speed and pressure of the water cascading into the lake created ripples and swells and sprayed water outwards, that even me being an experienced swimming, trained lifeguard and triathlete I couldn’t make it to the point beneath it. But it was fun trying.. and slightly exhausting.
Upon return up the mountains we stopped for lunch at a local spot on the terraces with a view. A local girl home from school on her lunch break helping her family business took our order practicing english. The meal was nice after a big hike, the paths were better, and there were more tourists than the previous day.. though not swarms of them.
The third day was my favourite, after a terrifying drive through the mountains we made our way to a quiet terrace with a relaxing hike through picturesque terraces in authentic operation, past locals cloaked in head scarfs and working, walking barefoot through the puddles of water contained by the terrace walls , tending to the rice. Birds flew overhead, the air was fresh, the flowers sprung out between the hill slopes, and no tourists were to be seen. These terraces were flatter and smaller but held a peaceful and serene beauty. They were fun as you could walk through them unguided and explore pathways, winding there way round like mazes, reaching dead ends and back tracking until finding our way to a small hot spring, free, and tended to by a local family. There was a small entrance with a small trickling waterfall beside it and a small spring enclosed in boulders. After relaxing in the warm water for a few minutes we jumped out and climbed over some small rocks to a fast flowing river bed with a small 2m high water fall. Taking a deep breath I made my way into the ice water and on the count of three leant back into the flowing fall screaming then rushing back to the hot spring to warm up then making my way back through the terrace tracks to the trikes waiting to take me home.
The rice terraces are a marvel. Tourism is minimal, the views are spectacular, the villages are homely and authentic. Despite considering myself a beach girl, (and Filipino beaches being some of the best I’ve seen), the rice terraces were my favourite, an incredible destination and a must-see if heading to the Philippines.