skull Beautiful on so many levels skull
skull Banaue, Batad and Baguio, Philippines skull


December 4

We were literally running out our guesthouse door when we heard the bus horn meaning it was ready to leave. We waved at the bus helper guy and managed to get on in time. It was really a local jeepney; we had to drive 2 hours to catch the bus to our next town – Banaue. The jeepney was half tourists and half locals, one of which decided to chat James up. He said “Hello, are you rich?” James blushed a little and mumbled no. It wasn’t a question we usually get and James was unsure how to answer. I was tempted to explain that if we were we wouldn’t be in a dirty jeepney before 7 am…we’d be in a private car, with air-con at a more reasonable time. But I wasn’t sure if that would insult the entire bus load.

We got dropped off in Bontoc and a man met us on the side walk. He said the “bus” to Banaue was about a block away and to follow him. The six of us (all tourists) followed him. He was really just trying to trick us into hiring him and his van and had taken us off the main road so we didn’t see the local bus go by. He was about the same price but said he would wait for about an hour, which I took to meaning he’d leave when full. So we all went looking for the bus. It was only a few minutes on the main street before it came along and we all jumped on board. It drove a few blocks and stopped. It was supposed to be an 8:30 am bus but didn’t actually leave until 9:30 am…the van guy may have been a better deal after all.

The bus finally left and the next few hours were again amazing. The scenery in northern Philippines just seems to get better and better the further north you go. Sometimes I wonder if after 9, 10, 11…months of beautiful bus rides they will stop amazing me but nope, especially not here. Everything is just big and green and endless. Other than the few small villages we drove through it was all mountains, and terraces and jungle – as far as the eye could see.

Putting up a sign seems like enough to take care of a washed out road. Still okay to drive buses over it.

It was raining and overcast when we got to Banaue and pessimist James quoted the guide book which said during the rainy season it can be weeks without being able to see the famous rice terraces. I on the other hand knew we had great luck and wasn’t worried at all; the clouds would lift, the sun would come out and we’d see the view. But for now we needed to find a dry place to sleep. We checked out a few places and again went with the cheapest and busiest. The room was a bit mouldy but up in the mountains with all this jungle and rain everything was a bit mouldy. I felt sorry for anyone living up here because nothing seemed to ever dry.

In the lobby a few tricycle guys were talking about tours to Batad and we signed up for one and booked a ride to the lookout points which were back up the mountain we’d just come down. It was raining but we were hoping it would clear up. We squeezed into a tricycle and puttered up the mountain. At the very last lookout point, on the top of the mountain, we got out and ran to take a look. It had quit raining, the clouds had lifted and the sun was shining on the amazing rice terraces. It was stunning and impressive since it was all done by hand with no big machinery. We walked down the mountain road stopping at gift shops and a few more lookout points. At one point we came to a scary barking dog on the road. Yikes! We stopped and gave it a bit of space as we tried to figure out what to do. The only way home was past the mean dog. We thought we could kick it, everyone else seem to do it, but what if it didn’t work; we would be letting it get awfully close. James decided to throw a few big rocks at it and it backed up a little but kept barking. Hmmmmm…. James, braver than me, decided to try to walk past – with rocks in his hands. I stayed put to see if he made it, then he could come back for me. Luckily a man came up the road just then and yelled and threw rocks at it. This technique worked for him and the dog ran off. We started walking again and within a few minutes we saw a couple of young girls. We were both relieved. I figured they would have helped us get past; James was happy they didn’t catch him being a scaredy cat.

It eventually started to rain again so we went back to the guesthouse for dinner and a few beers. With my mould allergy I couldn’t spend any more time than I had to in our room but our guest house had an amazing view from the restaurant. I spent most of the afternoon/evening watching the clouds roll in then over the terraces. It was spooky and romantic at the same time. The guesthouse, like all the buildings in the area, clung precariously to the side of a cliff over a roaring river. It was so loud we could hear it in our room and we fell asleep to the sound of rushing water crashing over the falls below. It was like one of those sleep machines but better; it was the real thing.


Views on the scary drive.

December 5

We woke up to pouring rain and grey skies. We lingered over breakfast hoping it would let up. Our tricycle guy, Justin, assured us that the weather was different in Batad (an hour and a half ride up the mountain from here) and we should get going to beat the afternoon rain. So we climbed into our tiny tin side car and took off. Now I’m pretty good with scary oh my god the bus is going to crash/fall off a cliff/crash through a bridge/hit a cow/goat/horse/kid….type of rides, I mean I’ve had my fair share and am getting use to them. But today, this tricycle tin side car death trap rain in the face ride was beyond scary. Most of the road was dirt or large stones with puddles so deep my knees would have been covered. We bounced and splashed and weaved from one side of the road to the other. Justin gunned it through mud ruts and over fallen dirt and trees. At times I thought we were going to fly off the edge of the road crashing hundreds of feet down to our squishy death. Other times I was sure we would tip over in the puddles and I’d drown face down in brown muck. I couldn’t decide if I should close my eyes or keep them open so I was prepared to hold my breath or try to fly. And that was only in the first 15 minutes. UGH!

James Note: This was by far the scariest ride I have ever had in a side car, and ranks fifth in my all time scariest rides. Numbers two through four were bus rides in Uganda (had to get out and walk a short distance as the driver crossed what appeared to be a mountainous bus graveyard on his own), Myanmar (woken up at 3 am to the screams of other passengers to find we are doing about 80 km/h sideways due to a blown tire) and Guatemala (going down a muddy mountain road at night in a torrential downpour in a bus with no lights or wipers). Number 1 on the list is a 243 way tie between every time I have been a passenger in a car with Chris driving.

Digging through the landslide

After the first death defying 15 minutes we came to a land slide. It covered all but a few feet of the road. I have to admit I was a bit happy; did this mean we could end this tin can from hell death ride? Oh no, a Williams give up? After a few minutes of looking at it, all the guys (a few others were also wanting to get past) grabbed sticks (there was one shovel) and started to dig. A few just moved big rocks and cut the long trees out of the way. Of course James had to pitch in, getting covered in mud as he helped. As they dug in, the mud, small rocks and plants continued to rain down from the land slide and I was sure James was going to get flattened. Eventually they got enough cleared for the tricycles to get through and Justin was the first. He revved up and took a running start…I held my breath as he bounced over the mound. He somehow made it and others followed. Booo! We climbed back in and continued our crazy ride.

Finally we came to the road to Batad. We had opted to take a tricycle this far and walk the rest but you can also take a private van or jeepneey right to the top. It was fairly steep and a bit slippery but on a road which made it an easy hike. We got lucky and the rain stopped and the sun was out. It took us about an hour to walk up to the top where there was a look out and a few snack shops. Then we headed down the backside toward Batad.

More terraces

It was a nice hike down through green jungle, past small waterfalls and tiny streams. I was happy we were there in off season because it was pretty quiet and we didn’t see many other hikers. We finally came to Batad and were rewarded with an amazing view. Wow! Wow! Wow! Huge terraces could be seen in every direction. Huge! James decided to walk down for some pictures and I decided to have a snack and soak up the view. A couple sat down beside me and told me they’d spent the night. When they woke up the whole place was covered in clouds and they watched as the sun came out and the clouds lifted. Amazing. They were shocked we weren’t spending the night (I think we’d originally wanted to but wasn’t sure about time) and told me they were extending their time here they love it so much. I think if we had more time we might have but to be honest we’d seen days and days of the terraces and as beautiful as Batad is it’s hard to say it is more beautiful than the rest. So far the whole area has amazed me.


James came back and had a quick snack before we left to go back; Justin had asked us to be back by 2 pm to beat the afternoon rains which might cause more mud slides and make it dangerous (like it wasn’t already). The walk back was just as amazing. I’ve decided I like hikes that go up a bit, then down a bit, then up a bit, then down. None of that all up for hours then all down for hours. This way my poor old out of shape muscles get a break. We arrived at the junction at 1:58 pm and Justin was not there. Hmmmm… Another tricycle guy asked us who we were looking for and said that Justin had left with another customer about 30 minutes ago. Meaning he wouldn’t be back for about an hour and a half. We didn’t know whether to trust this new guy so gave Justin a few minutes. Eventually we bartered the guy down to a decent price (half what we would have paid Justin so we could pay him for half the trip later) and left. The ride down seemed a bit better and went faster. We met Justin on the road and figured we would have waited the estimated hour and a half. We decided to stay in our new tricycle and Justin followed us home. At home we paid Justin for half and explained why. He had clearly lied to us about the afternoon rains at 2 pm and it getting dangerous. He had left us waiting after he gave us a time. And he tried to say it was because he had to go back and fix his bike – if it wasn’t safe for us why did he take another customer? He was not happy but neither were we. It didn’t at all ruin the amazing day though.

After our day on the mountain we were sweaty and muddy. In our room price we only got cold water showers but could pay $1 CAD for a hot shower. I splurged and was so thankful. It was cold in the mountains and the hot water thawed my fingers and toes, not to mention it got all the mud off. Best dollar I’ve spent in a very long time.

At dinner we ended up sharing a big table with a family from Manila. They had spent years living in Australia and the one daughter had just finished college and was starting her first job. She was in marketing and was having a hard time giving her client what he wanted. He was a government official wanting a new tourism flyer but had no issues photo shopping the pictures to make the town look better. We told her we’d seen all kinds of postcards, flyers, and adverts obviously photo shopped and they usually just made us laugh. Her dad told her to do it but not sign her name. It was too bad we weren’t spending any amount of time in Manila because they gave us their phone number and told us to call if our plans changed.

December 6

After an early breakfast we went looking for our bus, literally looking for it. We were backtracking to Baguio today and the bus was supposed to leave at 7 am. When we got to the bus station some guy told us it wasn’t going and another told us a van was going. Yeah, right we’d heard that before. It turns out it was the truth. There weren’t enough people (low season) to fill a bus so the bus company was using a van. We weren’t the only ones surprised or unhappy. We made a few stops to pick people up and the van ended up having four extra people in it. After we were good and full the driver asked everyone to lie if we got pulled over by the police. I guess it’s illegal to be a van bus and the luggage piled on top of our van was hard to hide. The driver told us to say we were a group that had “rented” a van. I crossed my fingers we didn’t get stopped; what a weird thing to go to jail for.


We didn’t get stopped and arrived in Baguio in the late afternoon. We walked to our old hotel and they gave us the same deal as before. We checked in and took off for the tourist information centre. The last time we were here we’d stopped by and they had been very helpful. We hoped they would be able to help us get to the mummies and back – the reason for the backtracking. They were fantastic again and sure enough we could do the hike from Baguio in a day. We spent the rest of the day looking in shops, getting a bite to eat and enjoying Baguio.

Mummy Cave

December 7

After our yummy free breakfast we caught a local bus to the mummies. We had to take a north bound bus and get off about 2 hours into the ride at a dirt road that led up to them. About 6 minutes from our stop the bus stopped for a meal break – for 30 freaking minutes. We weren’t sure exactly how much longer we had so just waited. We did get lucky and found a candy store beside the restaurant everyone was eating in. The candy store had pretty much every kind of candy we loved from back home. We bought a small stash and then pigged out.

We finally got dropped at our stop and started the hike up, up, up into the mountains. It was very steep, wet and slippery. It rained off and on and the clouds would roll in and along the valley we overlooked and out the other side. When the clouds were gone my favorite most amazing scenery so far could be seen. It was just more terraces but I could see farther (when the clouds were gone) and more terraces than I’d ever seen. They were so high up the mountains that some were in the clouds permanently. I know you must be thinking I’m crazy and I can’t believe I’m saying this but, this is by far my favorite area so far. I’d suggest anyone tight on time just get as far as Baguio and do this hike. I kept stopping, staring and repeating amazing, stunning, beautiful… A truck pulled up behind us and the guy offered a ride that I gladly took. We jumped in the back and bounced up then over the side of the mountain. At one point he stopped and asked us where we were going. He had thought we were going to a village in the valley so when we told him we just wanted to see the mummies he said we’d already passed it…back at the top of the mountain. Oh no! We’d taken a ride down – only to have to walk back up again. I hate up.

On the way up two ladies were behind us and when we were at the path to the mummies they found the lady with the key for us. They are locked up to protect them from vandals. The very old lady practically skipped down the old moss covered steps and made me look and feel really bad! She unlocked an iron gate into a small cave and smiled at us. to be honest I was a bit surprised. James mumbled something about seeing the mummies and she said to go ahead and open the coffins up. Huh? James crawled into the tiny cave and did just that; opened the coffins. It seemed a bit creepy to me so I offered to take pictures. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the cave so I just hung around outside while James rooted inside the coffins. Gross! In about 5 minutes he was done and we were on our way back up the mossy steps. The walk here has been stunning but the mummies a bit anticlimactic.

Scary Goat

A good hour into our hike back to the main road we came across a cute little goat. Well, once I figured out he wasn’t a male with horns I thought he was cute. He was tied to a tree beside the road and blocked it as we walked up. I wasn’t sure if he would be territorial and ram us so sent James ahead, with a rock. The cutie was friendly and just wanted to check us out. I felt bad so gave him the banana from my lunch. James was upset I gave him the peels but they eat stuff like that, they are walking compost piles. Just one of the many reasons I am getting one as soon as I get home.

We made it back to the main road before it really started to rain and were quickly picked up by a passing bus. A bus that did the same meal break as our morning bus. Six minutes into the ride home the bus pulled in so we headed to the candy store to stock up again.

We were back in Baguio earlier than we thought so I grabbed the computer and went to a busy café and spent the rest of the day blogging. Just as Happy Hour started (the pm one) James showed up and we had a few beers and snacks. After Happy Hour ended we decided that Baguio had too many good restaurants to stay in one place so went for a pizza..then for more beers and dessert. And I wonder why I’m not losing weight.

Sketchy rest stop

December 8

We were going back to Manila today but weren’t in a rush so after breakfast I went to the cute café and James went to pick up our laundry. Getting your laundry done seems like luxury, and for the most part it’s pretty nice but…it took us hours to find one in Baguio and had to pay extra for rush because normally they take four days. Other places have lost our stuff, stained our stuff, written on our stuff and then there was the dog pee incident. I will be so happy to have my own machine again. We finally had to make our way to the bus station and board our deluxe bus. We paid $5 more per person and got a cute stewardess, huge lazy boy style seats, water and a snack and WIFI! Yes, wifi. It was a bit flakey in the mountains but it worked really well. I’d say it’s likely better than the connection they have at the cottage.

The five hours ended up being 7.5 and it was dark and pouring rain when we got back to Manila. At the bus station two young guys were trying to help us get a cab but they were making it so much worse. It’s hard to get a cab on a sunny day in Manila but when it rains it’s impossible. The guys kept calling cabs in and telling the driver we were going to the airport. Once we got face to face with the driver and corrected the destination he’s say no thanks and drive away. UGH! James finally yelled at the two guys and we tried on our own. It took us a while and some bartering but we finally got a cab. Traffic is also so much worse in the rain and it took over an hour to get to our hostel. We checked in, I showered and went to bed in record time.

December 9

Manila – again – and raining, really, really, really hard. We were booked on a midnight ferry, had to check out of our room by 11 am (but thankfully we could hang around the common areas) and find something to do inside. So we went to the mall. We had lunch and planned on seeing a movie but when we got to the theatre they said it was out of order. So…we went to another mall. Sad, I know, but it was still pouring rain and as much as we like dour hostel it was busting at the seams with people who’d been stuck inside for almost two whole days. In the cab line (which took almost an hour) we met an Australian flight attendant who was going to the same place as us so we decided to share a cab. It meant we spent the next two hours together (the traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it) and had a great chat.

The Mall of Asia is impressive even if it’s just a mall. It’s Philippines’ largest and the world’s third largest mall at 407,000 square-meters. It has almost four hectares of floor space and 8000 parking spots. It even had an ice-rink with real snow falling over it. We took a look around and headed to the movie theatre, we’d spent so much time in Manila already. James picked and it was so bad I’m too embarrassed to even say what it was. After the movie we joined the taxi line once again and spent almost another hour in a cab. Malls & Cabs of Manila will the title of this stop!

At the hostel we cleaned up, had a bite to eat and went looking for yet another cab. We were off to catch our first overnight ferry. The rain had let up and for once we actually drove in the cab instead of sitting in it. When we pulled up to the guard gate he told the driver to take us to the ticket booth, we tried to explain we already had tickets but they both ignored us. So we got out at the ticket booth. A few minutes later we knew why we were here. The ferry had been cancelled – something about an investigation after a couple of them ran aground. Crap! We asked why they didn’t contact us and were told they called everyone but we had an international number so didn’t bother. Grrrrrrrr. We had booked it online and received our confirmation through email and asked why they didn’t email us. He just shrugged and started to process our refund. I went to look for a cab…

We knew our hostel was full but headed there anyways. We hoped they might be able to help us find a spot at midnight. They were surprised to see us but not that the ferry was cancelled, I guess there have been some issues with it lately and with the storms they’ve been cancelling a lot. We asked out a place to stay and they offered us the room they’d just finished painting; but only after we smelled it to make sure we were okay with the paint fumes. It also didn’t have curtains yet and the morning sun would likely wake us early. We took it, and then spent the next hour or so trying to find a flight to Coron the next day. We had reservations and other flights booked and were not happy to be stuck in wet Manila. But on the bright side this is the first flight/bus/boat that has been cancelled since we left last March, not bad really.

Side Note: When you enter any mall in the Philippines you have to go through a security check. They have male and female lines, check your bags and give you a good pat down.

December 10

We got lucky and found a cheap flight to Coron for today. After checking out, again, we climbed back into a cab, again, and headed to the airport. We figured it’d been too easy so told the driver the wrong terminal, got out, went into the building and walked around confused for a few minutes before finding an information desk. Then we were back into another cab. OMFG! Just get me out of here! This time we went to the right terminal and with only a few minutes to spare got checked in. We were finally on our way to Coron.

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