02 Oct Batad: The Toughest Trek
Ever heard the saying: Nothing worth doing is ever easy? Well, we’ve certainly learnt the truth of this sentiment since we’ve been travelling. As I noted in our six-month travel update, none of the most memorable experiences I’ve had so far on this trip have been easy; they’ve all been physically, mentally or logistically tough and have pushed me well out of my comfort zone. Our trip to Batad in the Philippines was another travel experience that drove me to my absolute limits but in doing so, I achieved a kind of strength I never knew I possessed.
The Rocky, Rainy Road to Batad
Completing the journey from Banaue to Batad itself was no easy feat. As we awoke in Banaue I noticed the fog of illness I’d been struggling under for the last few days had receded somewhat and although I was still feeling weak, I was more hopeful about surviving the tough journey ahead of me. So, shouldering our backpacks we hired a trike to take us to the Batad Junction. From there the road spirals up into the mountains, becoming rockier and more uneven by the minute; it’s possible to get a jeepney the whole way, but that was way too pricey for us. Instead, we disembarked at the junction just as the first ominous drops of rain began to fall from the smoky-grey sky.
The uphill, hour-long climb was slow going in my weakened state and I struggled with the weight of my backpack; things got steadily worse as the rain began to fall heavily and the path got steeper and less stable. Within no time we were soaked to the skin with no shelter in sight; the road was abandoned save for the occasional construction worker tasked with improving road access to Batad. Soaking and miserable we had no choice but to continue though; there were no taxis to hail or cafes to stop off in, only the long road stretching ahead and our own two feet. There was literally no way to give up.
“Welcome to the Saddle,” a voice called as we rounded a final curve in the road, red-faced and dripping water. The smiling twenty-something Batad local, who introduced himself as Adi, urged us to take a break. As we sipped cups of hot, sugary three-in-one coffee, he pointed out the tiny shop window to where you could just make out, beyond a steep flight of steps and a winding path, the tiny village of Batad.
“Maybe,” Adi ventured with a furtive grin, “I can be the one to assist you with you trek tomorrow in Batad?” We nodded our agreement and set off on the final 45-minute leg of the journey. Despite leaving a good twenty minutes beforehand, we were surprised to find Adi effortlessly catch up with us as we neared the village; he led us all the way to the registration hut where his sister collected our tourism fee and offered us massages – pretty savvy, Adi’s family.
It was then that we got our first glimpse of the incredible rice terraces spread beneath us, like a huge grassy amphitheatre nestled in between dark-green mountains. The terraces stretched, like a giant staircase, up towards the misty sky.
“Tomorrow,” said Adi, “I will take you over the terraces to the waterfall.”
Hiking the Batad Rice Terraces
The next day dawned clear and bright, the sun already pounding down on us as we headed off with Adi for our Batad rice terraces tour. Even with regular stops to take photos and rest, my leg muscles began to screech in complaint as I struggled to pull myself up the tall steps, sweating under the yolk-yellow sun. I couldn’t believe it when Adi led us up the uneven, stone path to the top-most tier of the terrace; the view below us was dizzying and I fought to keep my concentration as we picked our way along in single file – one step out of line could send you plummeting off the edge.
Nothing, however, could detract from the incredible views we witnessed. As we towered, tiny and insignificant, above the basin of the terraces I cycled back through some of the other amazing views I’ve seen on our travels so far; nothing could beat this. Awed into silence I was astounded at how this kind of beauty could exist – the world, I’m realising, is a far more incredible place then I ever could have imagined.
We then began the long descent down the terraces, at times clinging to the sides of rocks and using each other for balance as Adi strode ahead, sure-footed and nimble, a brightly-coloured umbrella spread above him to fend off the sun. Eventually we reached a long flight of steps leading down into a lush valley; as we trekked deeper a distant roar rose up to greet us and the air cooled as we caught our first glimpse of the mighty Tappia Falls.
“Be careful, do not go too close to the waterfall, people have died here,” Adi warned as Andrew and I headed eagerly towards the base of the waterfall, cool spray covering us as we approached. Close up we felt the awesome power of the falls; water crashing in a never-ending white pillar into a bubbling, swirling pool beneath. We waded into the water as far as we dared, letting the icy currents swirl around our swollen, aching feet and I sat on a rock to rest, gazing up at the huge and dreadful – but undeniably beautiful – sight before me.
Dread settled in my stomach like a heavy stone as I faced the journey back. While Adi flew ahead without even breaking a sweat, for me, ascending stairs is the toughest type of trekking; my legs burn and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t catch my breath. I was reduced to climbing just a couple of steps at a time, sometimes on my hands and knees before stopping to rest while Andrew urged me on. The only upside was that the sun had retreated and the air had cooled considerably; in fact, the sky was turning a familiar shade of charcoal, threatening rain. Eventually I simply disappeared into myself, a ball of sweating, fiery pain, my eyes focused only on each step until we emerged, panting, onto the terraces again.
As promised, the skies opened as we headed downwards across the terraces, taking shelter in the village before beginning the final, painful ascent up the terraces to our lodge. I was moving incredibly slowly now, each step a monumental battle, my mind and body protesting every shuffling footstep. The stone ledges were crumbling and unsteady and we were often forced to balance on one foot while clinging to the rocks above and hoisting ourselves onto the next tier. I was almost physically sick as we neared the top, my pace crawling almost to a stand-still.
I’ve never been so thankful to finally sit down as I was when we got back to our lodge. Strangely though, as physically exhausted as I was, my mind now felt pin-point sharp and clear, an extreme lightness filled my insides and I wrote the following words in my journal:
“I couldn’t have imagined such places existed before we came here. Everything back home feels so far away and I know, deep down, that this is where I’m meant to be right now. I don’t want to go back yet or give up this freedom. This view; this place high in the mountains, this steep uphill struggle, one painful step at a time is just what I need. I finally feel that this life really belongs to me.”
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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 07:00h, 03 October
Love your reflection that you wrote in your journal at the end of this post! There have been a few places on our own journey where I have felt something similar, that I am EXACTLY where I am meant to be right now. It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?
I’ve heard from several other lucky travelers to the Philippines that nowhere else do the rice terraces compare to those of Batad. Definitely one of those “no pain, no gain” situations, I guess!
AmyPosted at 08:00h, 03 October
It is a wonderful feeling Steph. Sitting here now and thinking back on it though, I’m still amazed that I managed to complete our Batad trek – it was definitely a case of ‘no pain, no gain’!
PattiPosted at 05:39h, 05 October
Very moving post Amy! I felt your pain as you described your ascent and descent. The photos are beautiful. Kudos to you for such an amazing accomplishment and for challenging yourself to take it on! I’m not sure 412 is much of a short cut though!
AmyPosted at 05:42h, 05 October
Thanks for the kind words Patti. I’m so glad I pushed myself to do this but yes, 412 steps definitely didn’t feel like much of a short cut!
RenukaPosted at 16:39h, 06 October
Nice pictures of rice paddies and hills! I also love trekking!
AmyPosted at 04:09h, 07 October
Thanks Renuka, if you love trekking definitely get yourself over to Batad, you’ll have a great time!
KenithPosted at 08:32h, 24 April
wow that was awesome..next time visit my province, ill bring you to a place the beautiful spots and remote areas of Palawan
AndrewPosted at 12:17h, 24 April
Hi Kenneth, we have heard many great things about Palawan, perhaps we will visit next time… You have a beautiful home in The Philippines! 🙂
Marco ForondaPosted at 08:50h, 24 April
I’m glad that you survived Batad. It IS a beautiful place which you cannot say no. At first, I thought I couldn’t make it but because I really want to see the magnificent of rice terraces, I was able to endure the uneven steps to the highest viewpoint of Batad and the Tappiya Falls.
Cheers to us! Cheers to the beauty of nature! 🙂
AndrewPosted at 12:15h, 24 April
Hi Marco, thanks for your kind words! Yes, the tough trek is certainly worth it in the end.
Cheers to all of us! 🙂
KarenPosted at 04:13h, 27 April
Congratulations on surviving Batad! You went to one of the best places the Philippines has to offer. I’m happy to hear a very positive feedback about my country. Thank you! =)
AmyPosted at 05:26h, 27 April
Hi Karen, thanks for commenting – we love your country 🙂
Jon EspinaPosted at 03:23h, 09 July
Wow. I almost cried upon reading the end of this post. I remember the time when I traveled to Batad and Tappiyah Falls. I was there during a time when I badly needed some clarity in my life hehe Batad gave that to me. This place is so special to me that I felt every word you wrote. It was a painful struggle, hike for me too considering that I am overweight haha! And I am not that athletic but I kept going and I survived Batad.
And just like you in the end, I also realized that I have this kind of strength I never knew I possessed.
AmyPosted at 08:11h, 09 July
Hi Jon, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad that Batad was therapeutic for you, it really is a special place and one that I dream of going back to one day. It’s rare to be totally in the moment in life but Batad was one of those places where I felt totally at peace and in the present.
Adrenaline RomancePosted at 04:15h, 09 July
What an amazing entry! You really wrote from the heart, and we can feel your pain and sense of wonder. We have been to Banaue Rice Terraces, and the vista was indeed mesmerizing. Sometime this year, we want to visit Batad for a week-long cultural immersion adventure.
AmyPosted at 08:12h, 09 July
Hi, thanks for reading and commenting, we loved Banaue too, it was so beautiful. I hope you have an amazing time in Batad, it is such a special place.