To set the scene, we had previously been informed by some of the most authoritative parties in Vigan – a young boy at the Vigan Tourist Information Centre and the Partas Bus Terminal clerk – that the dreaded journey from Vigan to the Banaue Rice Terraces could not under any circumstances be undertaken in a single day. Bearing in mind that this knowledge was imparted to us in the same kind of hushed tones they probably reserved to discuss Jason and the Argonauts’ missions or perhaps even Hercules’ labours, it seemed by any standards a most impossible task and, by the uninitiated, should not even be considered.
However, being somewhat British and having a somewhat stubborn ‘stiff upper lip’, we got up early but with a little apprehension and readied ourselves for the mammoth task that lay ahead. After we broke our fast – argh, this included yet more white rice – and checked out, off we went to attempt phase one – getting to Vigan’s (Partas) bus terminal. This was rendered slightly more difficult by us being somewhat attached to our heavy backpacks but with the help of one of the young ladies at the hotel, a ride was soon flagged down and we soon sped off towards the terminal.
We did not have too long to wait for our Vigan to Tagudin bus but it was a local one and this means that seats may not only be full but sometimes people also have to sit in the isles, luggage racks etc. I ended being perched on a stool type of seat by the driver which was quite uncomfortable but compared to some I was lucky! I even got talking to a Filipino who was now residing in America and had popped back to see the old place, a real nice old guy. Now after all the previous build up we hoped that this part at least should be relatively easy and lo and behold it was! That aside, we were still somewhat late compared to the Partas bus schedule so had no idea how this would affect the next part of our trip.
At this point the Filipino system of drivers waiting around until the bus is full actually came to our rescue and we managed to get two seats on the minibus from Tagudin to Cervantes the next leg of our trip. We were perched at the front of the bus and our luggage was roped to the roof but we were on it. This was a most interesting and scenic drive over the hills and into the valleys of the region. Along the way there were often signs that not all the rock work on the hillside of the road was staying where it should and some of the rockfalls looked quite heavy or involved large looking boulders but the day was a fine one and even the music choices of our driver did the minimum to offend.
If all the buses had the same attitude of waiting for us this would be a doddle! Our luck was in as at Cervantes as this happened yet again, the locals seemed somewhat surprised at seeing European travellers making the journey that time forgot but it was great. This next minibus took us from Cervantes to Bontoc and time was ticking. If we were lucky at Bontoc we would be able to get the last bus to Banaue and complete our objective.
It was bit of an ask but even if we missed our ride at Bontoc we could at least stay there. The lonely planet thought Bontoc to be a bit rough but there was accommodation so this was our somewhat flimsy backup plan. However, we need not have been worried as the bus was there and the driver on our bus flagged it down so we could make the transfer. This last bit of the journey was by far the most scenic as now we were actually travelling through some of the rice terraces but the weather was not the greatest and we actually had to don our jumpers as the chill was beginning to get to us a bit especially after the much hotter lowlands.
We reached Banaue and this I imagine was bit like entering Dodge City (complete with cowboy music) back in the day. It was quite a rough town and the local tourist information place looked a bit more like the scene from Macbeth with the three witches but we were pointed in the direction of an hotel and this is where we stayed, the room was not the greatest but we had made it. Along the way with our final driver he discussed the chance of him taking us to the rice fields on a guided tour, we said we would look into it but even giving this small amount of encouragement was a bad move as you shall see tomorrow. Later on we picked out a much better deal for an overnight stay at Batad with our hotel and our hotel manager said he knew our earlier driver and would contact him on our behalf first thing in the morning to iron out any problems – did he do this?
To cap it all the weather took a turn for the worse with a bout of torrential rain so all round we would have to wait to see what tomorrow would bring.