Bangaan rice terraces is the most accessible among the five Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras UNESCO World Heritage Site. But in the 80’s, Bangaan was only accessible from Banaue via a tricycle through single lane of mud and rock road which had more holes than a Swiss cheese. There were a a few jeepneys that ply the Mayoyao route but overloaded with baggage, livestock and people. It puts a Chinese bicycle circus act to shame. It was fun to watch Caucasian travelers enjoying the top load ride. That road is now a wide multi-lane cemented highway going north to Mayoyao.
Like all the other Ifugao Rice Terraces Villages, Bangaan is a small and charming farming community below the junction to Batad. There’s a longer but more scenic route to Batad across the the path down to the village. Bangaan is less than an hour away from Banaue. But then, it took between more than an hour to uncertainty depending on road conditions. The village is less than an hour walk down from the highway. As you pass the last group of houses below the highway to the open fields, you’re treated to an unobstructed view of the wonder and the village at the basin. But at the curve towards the long paddy trail entrance to the village, there’s a metal railing that’s been there forever. Helpful but you wish it’s not there to ruin the view. At the center of the village is the quaint St Anthony’s Church surrounded by less than three dozen houses, mostly native huts with a few houses that flags someone worked abroad in the house hold. As most Cordilleran villages, Bangaan indigenous people merges Christian beliefs with traditional rituals. Farm cycle dictates the seasonal pattern of village life and it’s native rituals.
Cottages are available for rent if you want to immerse yourself in the village and not just pass for a selfie with the scenic place. There are kitchenettes to order food from, but it’s advisable to order ahead specially if you’re staying for more than just one meal. There are also souvenir shops which are usually just displayed handcrafted native apparel, accessories, basketry, woodcarvings, and silversmith products handmade by local craftsmen. Observe how the villagers live, the dynamics of the elders with tourism as contrasted with how the younger generations embrace tourism.
Until recently when the road to Batad was widened and cemented down to less than a kilometer to the village, ruining some rice terraces along the way, going there was long and difficult and treacherous on rainy season. In the 80’s, the trek starts at the junction near Bangaan for half a day muddy, slippery walk up Saddle Point then more slippery, precarious trek down the village. Length of trek was according to one’s level of fitness. But back then, if you’re not fit enough, forget Batad. Those who have fear of heights would take the extra kilometer trail down to avoid the long, mossy, almost vertical stairs down behind the Saddle Point sari-sari store. Saddle Point is now dead but it was the hub then when the road from the junction was widened and paved in the late 90’s up to the Saddle Point shed. This was where adventure stories, cultural experiences and contacts were exchanged as travelers, mostly Caucasian foreigners, wait for their ride back to Banaue or gathering every ounce of energy for the last half trek down the village. But no matter how hard to get into Batad then, landing on the view point was always magical, ethereal. With unbelievable view and amiable indigenous people, you keep going back no matter how hard…
Halfway down from Saddle Point, there used to be an unmanned hut with drinks, crackers and fruits for those who needed energy and hydration for the last leg to the village. There was just a jar where to put the payment. Trust system. It changed when some foreigners, dodging military service in their country according to locals, started going to the village. They ate and drunk without paying, so the store owner started manning the hut and started selling souvenirs and carved wooden pipes for some popular leaves in the area as well. These foreigners also made their presence even long after they’re gone via the menu of the few inns in the village. Even when they stopped going there, the menu stuck. Visitors up until mid 2000’s wondered why there were such unlikely food choices in the menu of Batad.
The Batad rice terraces is distinct among the five Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan and Kiangan. It’s an amphitheater rice terraces complex that wrap and cradle the main village at the basin. Looking at the rice terraces from afar, without people as size reference, the paddy walls seem low. But each is at least two-story high neatly piled slabs of stone. Those who have acrophobia would have to crawl. But at the end of crawling from wall to wall across and back on foot-wide trails, it’s always worth it. These days though, that would mean great acting for awesome, as if no fears selfies. Going to the Tapia Falls through the amphitheater rice terraces is another crawling adventure even for those who have no fear of heights. The falls always have abundant chilly water to be misted with on approach and refreshing reward upon dipping on the pool below. It’s amazing how our Cordilleran ancestors even imagined transforming the topography into this Cordi engineering wonder.
Spending a night in Batad when there was no electricity yet was transcendental. Pitch dark with just an amber for light, you’re forced to go beyond the physical and towards internal to assess the day that just passed, which is sometimes scarier than the dark cover of the night and it’s imagined ghosts and demons. Sometimes, there’s nothing more frightening than you alone with your truth in a remote pitch-black village. Some visitors in those days spent sleepless nights watching orange dots of torch lights of villagers moving along the rice terraces going home in darkness. It’s in the hope that the next line of lights would be the bluish white lights moving from the water source down to the hut smack right at the center of the amphitheater rice terraces. Those would be the paddy fairies. Another myth, a children’s story, was that before, children of the village would start running towards the water source when they sense the arrival of some visitors: very very tall, thin, long limbed and fingered, big round eyed, pale visitors. One would be so lucky to be a guest of a local, housed in his century old ancestral native hut, marveling at his stories over tapuy illuminated by a gas lamp about Batad traditions and daily life. There was zero crime in Batad ‘til that fateful dusk in 2007 involving a Peace Corps volunteer. Well, there were pig and chicken thieves which were the gravest offenses then. Despite that, Batad remains peaceful. But much have changed since the village got electricity back in 2007. The village’s lifestyle have been altered forever. First, by TV and later, by mobile devices. And now commerce and the complexities that tourism influx bring, due to an acquired accessibility, to a relatively unspoiled indigenous village.