An Unexpected Trek in the Philippines
I landed in the Philippines on a Tuesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, I was deep in a multi-day hike through the rice terraces of the north equipped with nothing more than a banana, a backpack, one shirt and my go pro, not quite sure where my next meal was coming from or even where the hell I was going.
My overnight bus arrived in Banaue, a town on the Cordillera mountain range, just as the sun rose over the mountain. Still dazed from my inability to sleep while on moving vehicles or aircrafts, I was herded into a homestay that provided a gift to my empty stomach and aching head. Within about five minutes of my guide explaining the trek, I realised I was in way over my head, but paid the fee regardless. Running on less than two hours of combined sleep over the last 48 hours, I headed out the door.
Minutes later, we were in a tuk-tuk headed toward the mouth of the trail. Almost immediately, my worries were relinquished by the pure beauty of the land, the company of my guide and my hiking partner, who was also from the States. The weather changed back and forth from sunny to rainy as we exchanged questions and stories. One minute we were admiring a mountain top that looked like it was 10 miles away, the next we were walking amongst the clouds that were sitting quietly on the trail. Sometimes we felt all alone, and other times we were trotting through the stilts that held up a local farmer’s rice house as he took a break on the cement ledge between terraces.
About five hours into the walk, exhaustion swept through my body. The bottoms of my feet were beginning to scrape the ground more frequently and my enthusiasm was less pronounced. As we came to a narrow set of stairs, I wondered who in the world built something so far away from civilisation.
Like someone could hear my inner monologue, a group of four children came walking up the stairs with bags of rocks slung over their shoulder. We made way for them, because we were heading downhill and totally not carrying bags of rocks. The stones from the river would eventually be used in their cement mix for more structures. I realised these kids were doing the jobs of men where I come from, and the reality of my situation sank in like a pebble in water.
Shortly after this exchange, I got a second wind (and perhaps a third and fourth). We traipsed across a narrow bridge made of rope and metal plates that looked questionable – but what was I going to do, turn around? After crossing easily, we were just a few minutes away from our home for the night, a small village named Cambulo with a population of around 200.
A group of small children singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ greeted us, along with women hanging laundry outside of their homes. We were ushered to our beds, which were in a small hut only accessible by ladder. I decided to throw my bags down, but not sit, because if I did, I wouldn’t have gotten back up, and my goal was to get as much out of the experience as possible.
I was offered a shower and a beer, but declined both. Nearby, kids were playing basketball on a court fixed with an overhang so they could still play if it was raining. If there are two things you should know about Filipino people, it’s that they are super welcoming and they love basketball. After getting beaten by a group of teenagers with no shoes, it was time to hang it up.
Back at our hut, some of the villagers and a few other tourists were sitting in chairs surrounding a fire. For the next hour or so, we listened to young children sing Filipino nursery rhymes and giggle at our attempts to join in. A young woman played covers of old American songs including one of the best renditions of ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ I’ve ever heard.
During the impromptu concert, we were fed a delicious meal to eliminate our hunger. Full, I thought about how less than 96 hours ago, I was at home in America packing for my trip, and now I was looking up at a sky that I had never seen before with people I had never met.
I was satiated, but exhausted, so found our guide and asked for that shower and beer.
Cover by Sebastian Herrmann; inset by the author