Back on the go after a three weeks stopover. The journey continues, a rather special one. There is history and green sceneries. And jeepneys, loads of them.
A mirror to the past
Getting to Vigan is no easy feat. In our case it took roughly a full day of non-stop travelling by sea, air and land, including a never ending night bus from Manila. It is one of the few Hispanic towns left in the Philippines, with many of its buildings and streets having miraculously survived the pass of time.
The city has recently been named one of the “new 7 wonder cities” of the world. Calle Crisologo, with its ancestral buildings and its cobble-stone road is as charming as it gets, but it lacks soul, probably a direct consequence of receiving such award.
It reminded us of what we felt in Pingyao, China. And as it happened there, it was only when we left Calle Crisologo that we started to find the character we were looking for.
Outside the souvenir shops and the calesas (a horse-drawn buggy), each corner speaks a different story. There were kids playing on the street, jeepneys being repaired and a simple restaurant on the backyard of a house serving empanadas (deep fried tacos filled with anything and everything). Yes, this is more like it.
A pleasant stay
A combination of 4 minivans and jeepneys took us from Vigan to Sagada. A total of 175 km in just nine hours. That must be a record of some sort.
Here, the ancient funeral ritual of hanging coffins from mountain cliffs is still practised by some local tribes. The main purpose of this tradition is to bring the deceased closer to heaven.
The best thing about Sagada is that most sights are within walking distance from each other. Our next stop, Sumaging Cave, took us underground for about three hours as we made our way through tunnels, tiny crevices and super cold lakes. “Health and Safety” are left outside the cave by the way.
Once above ground, there are plenty of walks between rice terraces and small streams.
And for the first time in six months, it was time to do other travellers do: chill, hang around, have a beer or three, read a good book and enjoy some simple, tasty and above all, healthy meals.
There is a place called Batad
So far the trip up north had been very good, with nice food, interesting history and plenty of sights. But there was something else missing, something that would make us say “oh yes, what a view”.
Yes, Batad was that place. It is remote, there are no cars in this village as there are no roads leading to it. And despite what you may think, it is not just rice terraces that makes this place so special, there are waterfalls too.
It lives up to the expectations like few other places do. The amphitheater-like terraces are like nothing we had seen before, beating – in our humble opinion – those in Sapa or Yunnan.
So, one could say that, despite all the effort required to travel in the Philippines, it is well worth it. And it is. But there is more, it turns out that all those hours spent riding jeepneys and minivans are actually a destination in itself.
The journey as a destination
Traveling by plane in the Philippines means delays and cancellations, not very encouraging considering the country is made out of more than seven thousand islands. Jeepneys, on the other hand, are never late nor are they early – mainly because they have no schedules – they depart precisely when they are full. Which means that sometimes you just have to wait for a little while.
The system, however, seems to work and it does not leave a man behind (or a rooster or a surf board or a flat TV or whatever it is that you may happen to be carrying). There is more seating upstair mister – said the driver with a smile on his face.
Travelling on the roof has its perks. A conversation with the locals will spark within a few minutes and the views from up there are as good as any.
It may not be the most comfortable way to get from A to B and it can be slow sometimes, but it makes for a bloody good journey. It is fun, authentic and cheap (even though I am pretty sure foreigners pay a tourist fee in some cases).
The longest commute is yet to come: another night bus followed by a 20 hour long ferry journey (including delays that is) to get to Palawan. Worth it? Find out in our next post!