Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Journey to the North - Part 2

The rice terraces of Banaue and Batad were on our list of “Philippine sights to see.” Although we had regular rain and clouds they still did not disappoint.

The history of the rice terraces is more than 2000 years old. They were built to allow people to cultivate on steep hill slopes. They level off a small area of the hill and build a stone or earth wall. Depending on how steep the slopes are, the walls can be over 4m high to allow farming on relatively small plots of land. The terraces are family owned and passed on from generation to generation.

Batad is where some of the most spectacular rice terraces have been built – the terraced hills in this area form an amphitheatre. We read they have been built over a period of 2,000 years and we never could get a good answer of how old they are. I think partly because they are constantly in repair so they are always new. To get to Batad we had to charter a Jeepney from Banaue for an hour and half drive about 10km up and down a very scary road. We saw some people hiking this road in the rain and there were times we thought we’d get out of the Jeepney and do the same.

From the end of the road we had an hour and half trek down to our inn. On the hike we could see some slopes covered with terraces but this paled in comparison to the actual village. We arrived in Batad just before dusk and had half an hour to begin to appreciate the scale of the terraces. Our inn was located above the village and the view was stunning. The terraces completely cover one mountain and cover a great part of a valley around the village.

The next morning we hiked down among the terraces , through the village and then half way up the mountain. To get from one terrace to another you walk up stairs that are often made of rocks sticking out of the side of the walls. The rocks are not well spaced and there were many times we had to push and pull Danielle up the side. This gave us a good sense of the work required to work your plot of land high up the mountain.

Another way we could learn about life on the rice terraces was by spending some time with an elderly man and woman. They were preparing rice seed to plant while we asked directions and this turned into a half hour conversation. They told us about how the terraces are passed down to their children, how they use the rice and a few other facts of life in Batad.

The next day we hiked back up to the Jeepney and to our adrenaline-pumping ride back to Banaue. These two rides are interesting bookends to a very peaceful time in a marvel of engineering, agriculture and effort.

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