Can you imagine waking up in the morning and looking out your window surrounded by steps that lead up to the sky full of clouds? There are even days when you’d look out your window and see blankets of clouds surrounding you. This is how it feels like when you’re up in Banaue in the province of Ifugao, the gateway to the Ifugao Rice Terrraces, dubbed as the 8th Wonder of the World for its sheer beauty and ancient wonder, treasured by its people and adored by visitors from all over the world.
Located in the heart of the Ifugao province, the Ifugao Rice Terraces is an engineering marvel built by the Ifugaos more than 2,000 years ago to plant rice on the steep slope of the Ifugaomountains. Two clusters of these terraces, Bangaan and Batad, are part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites since 1995, a recognition given to sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.
The rice terraces and rice planting have helped shape the culture of the Ifugaos starting from preparing the land, to rice planting, harvesting and rice consumption. These events revolving around rice farming are usually imbued with festivities, rituals and the drinking of bayah (rice beer), eating rice cakes and chewing betel nuts all contribute to the festivities.
Banaue usually serves as the jumping-off point for travelers who wish to see the Ifugao Rice terraces which includes several clusters such as the Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Hapao terraces. The tourism center in Banaue can help you plan out your stay in the region and get excellent guides who can join you trekking on the stairs that lead to the skies.
Aside from the rice terraces, there are so many places to visit around Banauewhich showcase the rich culture and traditions of the Ifugaos. One can visit the Banaue Museum and the Cordillera Sculpture Museum or even visit the Tam-an village which is reflective of the traditional community life of the Ifugaos and their traditional houses built without the use of nails or bolts. There are various souvenir shops and places that showcase the craftsmanship of the Ifugaos around Banaue which include the Bulul or rice guardian and various necklaces, furnitures, wood carvings, and amulets. Other natural places to visit include the Tappiyah falls and the Guihob natural pool where one can take a dip in the ice cold water.
Despite its beauty, which has been preserved for thousands of years, Banaue is not without its problems. The terraces need constant tending to ensure they are well irrigated and repairs are needed periodically. The changing times have made rice farming less lucrative for the younger generation of Ifugaos, while climate change and the onslaught of El Niño dried up some areas of the terraces which led to erosion caused by giant earthworms. In early 2012, Bachang was launched by the Ifugaos as a means to help restore the rice terraces through a concerted effort involving all sectors. This also helped in getting support for the various programs and activities that are needed to promote the continued preservation of this national and global treasure.
Words and photos by Danny Ocampo