Road trip! What’s life on the road like?

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Ahh. Road trip.. life on the road, filled with new experiences, spontaneity, getting lost, and finding your way back, its very exciting! The romantic feeling of rolling down your window, one hand on the wheel, the other holding the hand of your amazing partner (if available), or if not, a can of Coke  (bullshit let’s admit it, its beer!). Wind and dust blowing while you cruise along a road framed by mountains, fields of corn, the occasional adobe farm house, it stretches until the very end of the horizon.

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On the road, when the journey is just as fun as the destination, it does feel nice to just sit and watch the world go by as if it were some silent movie directed by God. 

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Road trip! It’s the epitome of adventure and discovery. We’ve all had this. When you went for camping, after prom, towards the end of your senior high school year, cutting afternoon classes in college, or just time off work. Regardless of time and age, on the road, you are young and free!

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Recently catching up with a couple of lifelong friends sealed by road trips, we relive exactly what elements make life on the road unforgettable and legendary.

The classic road trip characters

The designated official driver, the music director, the accountant, and the sleeping beauty.

Road trips are volatile

It can easily go wrong from the smallest of mistakes, such as missing the last gas station, dropping a nuclear fart, or breakdowns of either car or people. It is important to establish rules. Who gets to ride shotgun, how much toilet stops, or the right to vote to leave someone behind.

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The soundtrack

I read somewhere that the only fault in the creation is that someone forgot to add background music to fit special moments in life. You can easily mend this tragic flaw by making a trip defning playlist for every beautiful moment you will have on the road. Trust me, you will have many. Moments looking out the window, moving your head about to the rhythm of music, as if you were part of a B roll of some catchy One Direction music video.

Road trips give a really strong bond to a group

Its spending hours talking, laughing, and singing in chorus to the Beatles and Bob Marley, or simply looking out into the clouds while finding comfort in everyone’s silence. But more than those moments of wonderful shared sunsets or the unnerving sight of hundred foot drops, its about having someone to reminisce and relive that bygone era of excitement. When no one was having a better time than we did, because during those rare moments, we were truly part of something greater than ourselves. 

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Road trips can be memorable for all the good things, but the bad things make it more interesting.

You will get lost, figure out how to ask directions in different dialects, or that world-falling-apart moment of being left behind when you took so long to pee. It could also be that life threatening moment when you turned on the ignition and the engine took a longer time to start, or when someone opened the window that doesn’t close, they all make the best stories years after, or at least once you’ve forgiven each other. 

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Road trip as summed up by Tiffanie DeBartolo from How to Kill a Rock Star,

“The concept of time, as it’s commonly understood by normal people with normal jobs and normal goddamn lives, doesn’t exist on the road. The nights spread out like the dark, godforsaken highways that distinguish them, and the days run together like Thanksgiving dinner smothered in gravy. You never really know where you are or what time it is, and the outside world starts to fade away. Its cool.”

So find the perfect destination, take the funniest combination of characters, play all the right music, buckle up and drive slow homie!

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How to travel the world without seeing the rest of the world.

Beyond time and money, it takes an obsessive level of interest in the world to want to see all of it. Sure, there’s Maldives, Paris, Sydney, Napa, etc. But the world is not exclusively Mai Tais in beaches, or cigarettes and a magazine in a cafe. There are places such as Bolivia, India, Somalia, and the rest of those countries which to describe as severe is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I have a very poor imagination for a person who loves and enjoys reading and writing as much as I enjoy wine, food, music and sex, not necessarily in any particular order. 

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In order to complete the equation of fully getting lost in the orgasmic pleasure I get from reading and writing, it becomes an imperative for me to experience and collect stimulus from different landscapes and people.

Take sentences such as;

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”  from the The Prince by A. de Saint-Exupery

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“Anyone who is observant, who discovers the person they have always dreamed of, knows that sexual energy comes into play before sex even takes place. The greatest pleasure isn’t sex, but the passion with which it is practiced. When the passion is intense, then sex joins in to complete the dance, but it is never the principal aim.” from P. Coelho.

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For me, lines like those are as usefully descriptive as a limbless person playing charades, or a mute explaining the beauty of poetry.

In short, it becomes necessary for me to see and experience the world, which isn’t always a bad thing if you only read about wineries and brothels, but I’m also interested in Hinduism, the Bolivian alitplano, German Christmas, touring endless Moroccan highways and bullfighting.

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So in order to have more time for books and notebooks, I made a list of guidelines that will give me a general idea of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

1. My best tip is to divide the world in terms of religion. 

Religion has the biggest influence and impact on culture and lifestyle. And why not, after the crusades, burnings at the stake, warring prophets with their delivering words.

It may not always be the same for each country. For Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur in particular has Islam-lite compared to Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern nations. But monks are never balder than the next Buddhist nation.

Religion may not have dibs on food selection, but next to terroir, they have the biggest say on it.

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2. Visiting neighboring countries tend to look similar, be it in people, architecture and culture. 

Because most borders are relatively new compared to human civilizations, we don’t always have to see the world through countries, instead, divide the world in parts. While some countries are sandwiched, like the Basque country between France and Spain, most tend to be drawn from the same pepperoni pizza. Take for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, they are like different versions of a curry that is India. Hong Kong and Macau, tearing themselves from China, for better or worse. Or Yugoslavia, broken down into a couple of super nationalistic eastern European countries, but visit each one and you’ll probably see more castles than you ought too. As much as the Germans and Austrians like to differentiate themselves from each other, they speak the same language for chrissake. And don’t even get me started between Spain and Portugal.

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Although sometimes, similar neighboring countries are on your side too. I wanted to see Tibet, but for now, Nepal will do because the Chinese government took over and imposed ridiculous rules for visiting.

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My tip is to visit those old superpowers where civilizations centered themselves during the time when they used animals, precious metals and stones to trade for commodities. They would usually be a few countries per continent. They would tend to be where architecture and culture are grand, such as Rome, Peru, India, China, Russia etc.

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Or if you want to have a view of Mediterranean life and architecture, skip between 3 countries, they are not exclusively Spain, France and Italy. Check out Slovenia, Bosnia or Croatia too and you would be surprised to see that its not always comfortable and sexy. And still, there’s Greece and Turkey (again, choose one) for Europe meets Asia. Also Tunisia, Libya or Algeria for the African continent. Israel, Lebanon, etc. for the Asian side. They mostly form the Mediterranean sea and you wonder why they sell kebabs in different names from all those countries.

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3. Nature will always be nature. 

If I dropped you in the middle of a tropical forest, would you be able to tell if you were in Brazil or South East Asia? Or if, like Leonardo Di Caprio from Inception, you wake up/arrive from/in a dream/real life (only Christopher Nolan knows) and find yourself randomly beached, could you even tell which continent you are in? The Philippines have 7107 islands, sounds intimidating. But visit a a really nice beach, maybe two, same for mountains, do it good and you’re done.

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When I was seriously contemplating about taking a $400 90 minute mountain flight over the Himalayas, some European guy from trip advisor wrote “If you’ve flown over the Alps on a nothing special commercial flight, its not gonna be very different.” That was a really lame thing to say but I realized after that he wasn’t completely wrong and $400 poorer.

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Between deserts and snow, they’re always hot and cold, sandy and wet. The Sahara transcends from a lot of African nations, some are at war with each other. Choose one and save yourself from the risk of being caught in the crossfire. 

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4. Food

When it comes to food just as in wine, “terroir”, or land, is king. Before immigration, refrigeration and shipping, if a couple of countries reside on the same valley, coast or mountain, don’t expect the vegetation and animal protein to be different. Don’t believe what the Portuguese say that they have completely different cuisine from the Spanish, you are probably talking to a person named Ego. Or land locked nations, again, like Germany and Austria, sausage anyone?

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5. Colonies

When it comes to colonization, I have a very mixed feelings about it. Its a two faced coin. Producing mixed cuisines and beautiful people (mestizas, creole, etc), but it made the world so much smaller by erasing cultures and wiping out the indigenous people. I have a big reservation when it comes to visiting South Africa for the people because I find it decidedly English in so many ways. Even parts of Australia. Maybe because they mostly came from England anyway.

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Borders give us a challenge but we don’t always have to see the world through countries. The idea is to spread up that map, take a ruler and lay it on the map, stick pins between countries maintaining 2-3 inches of space in between. Divide the world in maybe 8-10 trips, do it well by completely immersing yourself in each one and you will get a sense of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

Why is traveling good for you?

DSC_1993They were looking at the Taj Mahal during sunset.

Every time I leave our front door, airport bound, giddy with excitement for all the new places, people, and food I will get to see, meet, and eat (not always in that order), I take a good look at our home, and imagine how different I will be next time I enter this door. In so many ways that you can educate yourself, to improve ones personality, gain confidence, and learn to love, I find traveling to be the best way to get it. 

From my first bus tour, more like a blitzkrieg around Europe, I learned how to trust myself to be able to organize my own trips next time because depending on others to arrange your trip is why most people come back home completely disappointed in Paris, or swearing that pasta at home tastes better than in Italy. With confidence in the bag, there seemed to have been infinite possibilities for improvement. I learned to cook, hand wash, be organized, converse, say hello, sorry, and thank you in a dozen different languages, etc. I developed patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation with fervent passion. From interminable waiting for connections, the haunting punctuality of German trains, from the omnipresent crying infant in economy, the ill fated ordering for a cup of espresso against all these hand waving Romans, are just some of the moments that caused such personal developments.

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My favorite app that tells the schedules of most trains in Europe!

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The horror of taking your first intercity train ride.

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You hear them in movies in every scene from economy.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you rich.” Obviously, after plane tickets, daily food consumption and museum tickets, this is not true in the most literal sense of the phrase. Traveling is not like buying stocks at their IPO, its not a financial investment. It is though, an investment for your self, in the most philosophically existential way which is what I want to share with you here.

1. To find courage

People who never believed in themselves, who shied away from the world, intimidated to take risks and opportunities, will discover the strength and courage they never knew existed within them. Leaving the comforts of home, the familiarity of your city, and your wolf pack friends is not easy. To find yourself in a strange city with not so much an understanding of their inaccessible language, and suddenly you’re hungry as you try to choose which food to order from the indecipherable hieroglyphic menu (yes I am afraid of hunger), pressured by the impatient underpaid waiter, you will take a leap of faith. To expose yourself, to get out of your daily state of normality, to me is what real courage is. To put yourself out there to the unfamiliar, not between your group induced testosterone, is what real courage is. 

IMG_1344Awhile back, I showed some friends this photo and they were mortified. Its ridiculous!

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Stuck in the middle of an Indian crowd, alone, and blending in!

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Got a tattoo from Amsterdam, not exactly sober, not that courageous then yet.

2. Learning acceptance and forgiveness.

When you lose your passport, pocket money stolen, memory card crashed, misread the 20:30 train departure, and a whole lot of other regretful events, at the moment, anger fills you up. Its so predictable, “Why me, of all people?” as if it would have been less worse ethically if it happened to the person next to you. Or “How could I have let that happen?” as if you had control of all the things that could go wrong in your life. Travel often and you’ll experience enough of this to get over that initial anger and regret. 

What better way to learn how to forgive people than by starting with yourself? Serious travelers know that there is nothing else to do in life’s irreversible lapses but to accept them, and as time heals all wounds, make a good story out of it. 

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I’m so sorry Brix, my man! First time to admit that Cherry and I instigated this. Time heals all wounds! 

3. To appreciate beauty.

No, I’m not talking about you, Angela, back from kindergarden! I’m talking about breaking our preconditioned idea of beauty, dictated by media, ethnicity and society’s bigotries. For example, Asians mostly dream of having fairer skin, while Caucasians take so much time getting a tan. People grow up basically dictated which details to admire. But after seeing some parts of the world, I learned to appreciate everything I encounter. The painfully pallid details of a Japanese bamboo forest, women of North India, Moroccan Kasbahs, German Christkindlesmarkt, and maybe hopefully someday, Italian wines. 

Beauty is everywhere. Everywhere you go, at home, a block away, halfway around the world, queuing at the bank, in your office, always find something beautiful to look at and devote your attention there. There are endless bad things to complain about, but you could be spending equal amount of time talking about things you appreciate. 

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Slender and graceful North Indian woman.

 

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Irresistibly cute Christmas market in Nuremberg. 

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Majestic Sahara sunset.

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A Russian roulette of a ferris wheel ride in my town of Balayan. 

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Picture perfect postcard shot of Hallstatt in winter.

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Japanese bamboo forest.

4. You’ll become an anthropologist.

Okay, maybe traveling doesn’t come with a degree, but you’ll build up enough curiosity that different people and cultures seem to be like a writing assignment. You will learn that douche people come from a certain background that when understood, they’re really not as douche as you have originally thought. It must be the circumstances of the lives they live in. People from Batangas speak loud, oft mistaken for having a verbal argument until they smile and wrap arms around each other’s shoulders. New Yorkers are always mad at tourists but try to imagine having leisurely walking people encroach on your office’s sidewalk when you’re running to make it on time for that life changing presentation. Hell the French eat everything, from tail, entrails, to head that will make the lousy American run for, wait for it, Golden “Mcdonald’s” Arches. You can easily be the second-rate tourist and simply just pass judgement, or you can be a sponge and learn why people are like that in those parts of the world. Perhaps when you get home, you’ll understand why your neighbor has the money to drink alcohol and rent karaoke but never pays the money he owes you.

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NY protesters screaming “Get out of our sidewalks!.” I kid!

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A sinister looking sausage, bland pretzel and a liter of beer for breakfast in Munich.

5. Learn to love.

You’ll meet a lot of things and see a lot of people (there is a joke somewhere inside). You’ll find a certain set of people that you had so much fun with but only have 3 hours before you have to part ways. Love at first sight, but never meant to last. The beautiful lady in La Maja Des Nuda, or the gothic church in Prague, you’ll understand that you can fall in love with these people and things, but ownership unnecessary, if not impossible. Suddenly, loving becomes easier, simpler. Understand that goodbyes and farewells are the norm but although some may stay, time is relevant, eventually, everything goes. Instead on focusing on how to prolong relationships and precious time with desired things, it’ll be about how can you make every moment special. Remember John Green? “Some infinities are just bigger than other infinities?” When you look at it this way, every moment becomes precious and spent with more quality.

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Jesse and Celine, total strangers, had to part ways before sunrise, ended up together 10 years after.

Haven’t found what you really want yet? Having trouble with your identity? Travel my friend. Explore your local neighborhood, allocate budget for a plane ticket, do whatever it takes to travel. Hustle, fight, take! Make it a priority, no one ever said on their dying moments that I wish I traveled less. 

5 Life And Mountaineering Lessons

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1. Pack light, you don’t want to carry too much weight.

They tell this to you in pre-climb, but nobody tells you this in college. Night before departure, you wonder if it would hurt to add that facial wash, special lotion, maybe an extra shirt and some more canned goods for your climb. When you’re exhausted and moody, trust me, it will. If you doubt you’ll use something, the fact that you have to think about it means its almost unnecessary. You can only need so much in mountaineering and in life. So what if you lose your comfort zone for a day or more. Do not let what you own start owning you. Things accumulated are things you have to take good care of, or else you run the risk of losing them. Learn what’s important. More things, more worries and responsibilities. Less of them, more time and energy for fun and appreciation.

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2. Budget your consumption of resources.

Learn how to allocate and budget your consumption properly. Food and water, have never been so scarce than when in hiking. Like all resources in general, they’re limited, regardless if you’re an oil sheik or a silicon valley billionaire. Finish your 2 litter water mid way and you’ve just formulated the perfect disaster for the second half of your climb, or in real life language, do not spend beyond your means.

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3. Its not a race

Save for marathons and hiking races, casual mountaineering is not a race unless you impose it on yourself. There will always be someone who is impeccably faster, or impossibly slower than your pace. In the end, we all reach the same “summit”. Life and mountaineering is about appreciating moments, flora and fauna. Consider it a race and you just ended up rushing yourself to the “summit” without having experienced the beauty of those accumulated moments we call life.

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4. Going up is hard, but going down is harder

Leaving the jump off point for base camp/summit, filled with excitement, it fuels your drive to make it to the top. With wobbly legs and and self gratifying ego, somehow you’re able to strut to the top, breathlessly basking in some breath-taking view and the majestic color combination of dark blue, purple, pink and orange of sunset or sunrise only a mountain summit can provide. Bad news, nobody stays at the summit forever. At some point, in relative time, all of us comes back down to sea level. Climbing down is harder because your knees take more impact, and your brain needs to decide quickly on which stone is most likely not to move when you step on it. Excitement long gone, fatigue sets in, much like in life, when life goes downhill, your character is tested and eventually revealed.

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5. You will not run out of summits to climb.

There are more summits to climb in par with our human lifetime. If you devote your attention to climbing every summit than appreciating each one, then the battle is lost. Each summit you achieve exposes you to another one that is even more tougher. Although it is in our nature to always go for more, to evolve and to best our previous states, never over look achievements in life and mountaineering. Celebrate every each one, every resting hut and shelter, those are what make reaching the goal more rewarding.

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DSC_0340“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vantage point” – H. Melchert

The rice terraces of Ifugao

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I have always had an interest in quaint villages perched on high lands. Regardless of border, they all seem to share an identity of mysticism and spirituality. People who live in such communities seem to have a better understanding of the nature that surrounds them, like a secret has been passed on from past generations that they can easily trace. The simplicity of their cold bitten faces, their skin, tanned, wrinkled and hard from agricultural labor, in contrast with their enigmatic animist beliefs . What lies underneath that simplicity, there seem to be mystery. Like that universal image of a wrinkled old woman, sitting by the window overlooking the street, staring blankly ahead while smoking a tobacco as her lips move as if in chant or giving a curse.

So when I was bound for the mystical rice terraces of Ifugao, I was determined to ride on my idea of simplicity while giving respect to the spirit of nature that surrounded us. We all know what it looks like, we grew up with that image from our history books, always from that angle which is even printed in our recently replaced 1000 peso bill. So upon ascending the road to Ifugao province, every turn is a hope that the outing would be those green auditorium like rice terraces. And every time it isn’t, disappointment is instantly replaced by awe for those valleys between mountains, the steep drop it would make for a small miscalculation. Driving here, you know you do not get the slightest margin for error.

The road to Banaue

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Roadside view

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A miserable attempt at trying to piece them together

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After a few small villages and many blind corners later, we arrived at Banaue, a thriving town funded by tourism from its world famous two thousand year old rice terraces. Albeit a little commercialized for mountain standards, it still gives a quaint feeling, with a few homestays, some restaurants catering for tourists from most parts of the world, and a very helpful tourist information center from which all travelers must register upon arrival. Its the sort of town where you pick up most of what you need, from food and water, to hiking shoes and transportation, before you delve deeper into the region. Staying in Banaue View Inn for a night, nobly located at the top of the town, we had an overlooking view of the happenings down below. The unofficial bus station occupying half of the street, blocking the occasional flow of traffic, while their waiting passengers have only road railings to lean on for comfort, and those last minute shoppers from the busy town square, with everyone seem to be moving about in all directions, we watched over them until everything slowed down as the sun set, giving way to the slowly glowing moon. At night, the town gives a totally different atmosphere. With hushed conversations from obscure faces overcast by dim light, tracing distant foot steps, the feral barking of a dog, it feels like something straight from a Scorsese movie.

The town of Banaue from our balcony
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Lording over Banaue from Banaue View Inn

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An hour drive deeper into the province is Batad saddle, the end of one of the toughest roads ever. The strenuous incline to this point is still under construction, but its muddy and rocky tracks are open for vehicles who dare. While other travelers have no choice but to rent a jeep with fortified suspension, luckily, our vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser from the 1990’s, with its tall vertical clearance and armed to the teeth, is hungry for such a terrain. My driving partner offered to take the wheel, while my girlfriend and I dared to top load. White knuckled from our industrial grade grip on the railings, we were definitely rewarded with spectacular views that will haunt our memories for a lifetime. Upon arrival to the saddle, we gladly parked our tank and refused every offer of a guide for the single track human pathway down to the terraces.

Meet Elsie, our tank

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The road going up to Batad saddle

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Top loading going up to the saddle

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Risking it for views like these

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View of a lifetime

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Single track from the saddle all the way to Batad

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Unlike Banaue, Batad rice terraces is smaller in scale but offers more interaction by being able to hike around its amphitheater like terraces that is individually riprapped with rocks and cement. You can circumnavigate as you watch the locals tilling parches of land. We were advised to hire a guide to take us around the area. He was a short, thin and single middle aged man who lived in one of the few houses that stand on the terraces itself. Needless to say, he outpaced us in our desk job trained mid 20s bodies. Much to our desire to do this on our own, the guide proved to be very essential. With every information he disposed, we gained a better appreciation of the land. He told us that the communal process of planting starts by everyone working on the chief’s land, afterwards, they proceed to the second biggest owner of land and so on until everyone’s land is tilled and planted. It is then time for an end of plantation festival which includes a flooding of rice wine and ill fated live stock. Against common belief, whatever rice that is harvested here almost never gets out, its made for local consumption, and some that do are for souvenir material only. For entertainment, he explained to us that his reason for being a bachelor at his 50s is because in a small community such as this, the slightest imbalance of men to women ratio is a real problem.

Hiking Batad rice terraces

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Interaction with the village

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Smiles of achievement

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After a short swim on the extremely cold water around the mighty waterfalls, we headed back to our home stay. To say that our room in Batad Homestay is simple is definitely an overstatement. There is nothing in that spartan room that you do not need. There’s the luxury of a ceiling lamp, two beds, 4 pillows and a cozy Ifugao made blanket. There are no 20th century power outlets. You stay in Batad for a couple of nights, and it is impossible not to find yourself regardless if you are lost or not.

Ice cold gush of water

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That humbling feeling

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Spartan room from Batad Homestay

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Do you really need anything more than this?

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Waking up to a morning covered with fog offering zero visibility, we opted to let it clear out by having breakfast on the restaurant balcony that should be over looking the terraces on a clear day. After all,  our jelly legs were not in a hurry knowing that the 30 minute strut going down here converts to a 90 minute tongue-sticking-out trudge going up. After filling up our tanks with our hefty breakfast, we packed our bags and bid farewell to our reserved but generous host, and to those foreigners who we shared this home with. As hard as we tried to speak French, German and Spanish, a wave of hand was all we could muster. Laughing in our doomed attempt, it was the last thing we had to smile about as we made our ascend, barely making it to the top.