Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rediscovering the North - Part 3- BANAWE - Answering the call of the gods

( " Welcome to BANAWE ! " )

( this is the map of Banawe -- it shows you where you can go while you are there..feel free to download it... )

The Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines have been said to be like the 8th wonder of the world. They were carved from the hillside by the tribes of Ifugao about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. These people did this using their bare hands and crude implements, without using any machinery to level the steps where they plant their rice, which is what makes this wonder so attractive, aside from the fact that these rice terraces are still used today.

In 1995 the Banawe Rice Terraces were  declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

It is a breathtaking world of high mountain ranges with several peaks reaching heights of 2,000 meters. Waterfalls and valleys so deep that the ravines enchant and petrify all at once. It gives you the feeling like you are on top of the world!!  According to Jovita Luglug, co-owner of the Banawe Museum, the waterfalls in Banawe have dried up due to the dry spell Banawe is experiencing at the moment. I remembered when I was here in 1999, I was able to trek to the waterfalls with the help of a little boy as my guide....... and it was AWESOME!! She said if the rains come ( around June ) -- hopefully there will be water coming down from the falls once more.

The colors of the rice fields change with the seasons. Green rice shoots dot the drenched brown earth at the onset of the planting season then turn into the golden hues of the harvest.

I found out that Ifugaos have started to plant Tinawon  ( meaning " yearly or annually " ) rice instead of the regular rice. In the poorer villages the farmers would plant Tinawon rice but end up selling their harvest and eat the commercial rice called NFA rice to augment their day to day living expenses. Majority of rice planted in the terraces are the Tinawon variety.  Tinawon is also known as " 8 Wonder Rice " in the United States. Tinawon has become the cash crop of the Ifugaos. This crop is only raised once a year. There are 2 varieties of Tinawon rice -- red and white. At the moment, the Tinawon rice is in danger of being destroyed by the current dry spell. The Banawe Rice Terraces has been placed under state of calamity due to the drought brought by the El Nino phenomenon.

Iggy and I together with his assistant videographers drove to the Banawe View Point # 1.... to do an occular for our sunrise and sunset shots the following day. It is 4 kms away from the town proper. This viewpoint is on the road from Banawe to Bontoc. The view is superb, the rice fields occupying a narrow high spur in the mountain on a steep incline. Another interesting point about this Banawe View Point is that it boasts of a panoramic view of the terraces used in our 1,000 peso bill.

When we got to the viewpoint---- we came upon the Ifugao rice women with an old man who plays the flute. They wore colorful Ifugao ethnic clothes complete with head dress. They sang for us while the gentleman played his piece. It was very heartwarming!!!  After giving them a few pesos they gamely posed for us.

I also found out ... we can only take sunrise shots. If we wanted to take sunset shots we would have to travel another hour and a half to the other side of the mountain. But we decided to take sunset photos from the view point.

The rice terraces are like stepping stones stretching towards the sky, where some of them reach almost 5,000 feet. But today they are now beginning to show signs that they are eroding, and most of them need maintenance.

The dry spell has affected thousands of hectares of agricultural crops nationwide, and the drought now threatens  Banawe's world famous rice terraces, leaving the paddies parched and highly vulnerable to erosion.  Most of the terraces have practically dried up to the extent that even a slight rain could cause landslides. Because of this drought , large earthworms have penetrated the paddies and endangered the terraces, which is a World Heritage Site and one of the country's top tourist attractions.

We decided to wait for sunset.....and this is what I was able to see! If this is sunset in Banawe-- I wonder how my sunrise photos will look like!

here is a view of the town plaza from the balcony of the inn..

Even though it is about 8 hours from Manila by car, the Banawe Rice Terraces are known to be one of the most spectacular places to see in the Philippines. You can explore the rice fields during any season and since the road to Manila to Banawe is paved, the town is accessible throughout the year. During the rainy season (  May through August ) some parts may become impassable. The best time of the year is from December to March. It gets chilly in Banawe during these months so I would advise you to bring a jacket.


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