Hiking to an Old Village in Bangaan Rice Terraces

Years ago I remember dropping my jaw in wonder when I saw the rice terraces of Banaue for the first time. A seemingly endless expanse of rice paddies formed like stairways lay out before me. Since then, I've seen similar ones like in Sapa in Northern Vietnam and smaller farm terraces in other provinces. Each opportunity, I find myself achieving a feeling of calm while engrossing the entire visual banquet it brings. Last February, a wonderful opportunity presented itself when I was invited to be a part of the launch of PHILTOA's (Philippine Tour Operator's Association) new travel program called Cordillera Heritage Caravan. In a span of five days, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Banaue, Kiangan, Mayoyao and Bangaan clusters of rice terraces. 

PHILTOA's Cordillera’s Heritage Caravan

This program is part of the Philippines Department of Tourism Visit Philippines 2015 campaign and participated by tour companies belonging in the PHILTOA organization. PHILTOA President Cesar Cruz shares. 
"The Cordillera Heritage Caravan will accommodate both foreign and local markets where they can choose to bring their own vehicles or avail of the caravan vehicle. The caravan is designed to provide flexibility in choices of activities and accommodations. The trip promises that each traveller will be able to choose according to comfort as they will be given options like a campsite, star-rated properties, lodge houses, and even hostels."

A tiny settlement, just a few hundred feet below the main highway, was nestled within the breathtaking Bangaan scenery. The expansive view of the rice terraces immediately announced its presence as we approached in a mountain jeep seated from a top-load position. 

From the roadway, you can make out the grouped roofs of residences in the valley, which stand for its diminutive position in comparison to the surrounding mountains. Coming from the congested major metropolis, I quickly appreciated the kind of environment that the little town offered, as the immense open space suddenly became apparent. 

For the descent to the settlement, our party split into smaller groups. I was on my own at the trailhead, pausing only to take in my surroundings in awe of the natural beauty. At a fork in the road, I went left and eventually came to a little school where I overheard some children playing hop-a-garter-rope.

I reached the village after thirty minutes and watched as the others played with the children. After that, a local guide took us on a tour of some of the last remaining traditional Ifugao houses, pointing out important features and explaining their significance. The Oliang component, which is a wooden disc fastened to the four pillars that keep rodents outside the house, really stood out to me. The use of cogon for the roof is similarly remarkable for its significance; this humble material can insulate the entire house from intense heat and rain, and it also absorbs any odors that may be released by indoor cooking. 

The house itself can be easily dismantled and transferred to another place - making the concept of Bayanihan real in this part of the country. The most memorable part of our journey around the village was getting a closer look at and understanding more about the traditional Ifugao house. As an example of brilliant ethnic architecture, the Ifugao home employs an ancient technique of house construction that serves more purposes than its simple appearance would indicate. 

With the daylight slowly drifting away from the sky's horizon and the wind starting to howl stronger, I feel the cold engulfing my body. But new information about the humble lifestyle in these small communities dotting the expansive Bangaan rice terraces flooded my thoughts. In the same way that the Ifugaos' forefathers labored the land by hand, the ipugo built practical traditional dwellings and created breathtaking rice terraces. After this short hike, I realized that people and environment can get along just fine without technology.