It’s such a sheer delight to open our doors and be greeted by the morning scenery of Batad Rice Terraces and the surrounding mountains. Waking up was effortless, but seeing the warm-lit clouds like a painted sky above the mountain skyline put each of our initial plans to wash up when we got out of bed to a halt and quickly grab our cameras instead to capture what’s left of this sweeping light. Having woken up several times in this place, it’s a rare moment for me to see the sky lit up like this.
Having spent much of the participant’s energy on almost a whole day hike to Batad and Tappia Falls on day 1, we decided to just take the easy route to Bangaan instead of the longer more challenging back roads as previously planned. Bidding goodbye to our host at Hillside Inn, we started our trek back to the saddle and this time its going to be an ascending hike.
We thank our porters for making this a lot easier for the participants. I know they are always on the lookout for tourist arrivals as “porting” is one their means of livelihood. When I did my ocular weeks before I already chatted with a few of them so they were ready when we arrived. Our main guide Precy is a young lady but already has a family so I decided to make her to be our point person in Batad. She was helpful during the trek at the terraces and the falls. It’s also amazing that she had to go back to the saddle to check up on their store and her family. She and the porter/guides make hiking to the saddle seems easy as saying point A to point B
Ifugaos are really interesting people. I remember chatting with Jimmy, one of the porters that they are sometimes dismayed when they are mistaken as headhunters like the tribes from the mountain province. “We are a peaceful people who enjoys crafts, culture and cultivating rice and headhunting was not a part of our culture” said Jimmy while chewing on some Nga Nga or Moma or betel nut concoction.
One Ifugao trait is that they occasionally chew on this betel nuts which we popularly call Nga nga or Moma. I recently had this tricycle driver who took me to the Batad Junction when I had my ocular. He originally hailed from Pangasinan but got married to an Ifugao and has been living here for 10 years. He chewed up some moma when we stopped on the road. He told me when he started chewing moma, he stopped smoking and he felt a lot better unlike when he smoked. “Isa ka ng tunay na Ifugao! (You’re now a true Ifugao!)” I told him and he laughed.
Moma chewing usually have a mixture of 3 items, the Moma or betel nut, the betel leaf, Hapid and the lime powder Apog. First they chew the meat of the nut for a few minutes to moisten and soften it up to a wad, then they add the leaf with lime powder and bite it into the wad which would induce a chemical reaction that makes the moma red. Moma is a mild stimulant and according to them it warms them up, stimulates their awareness and lessens their craving for food. Some even add tobacco in the mix for that momentary euphoric dizziness. Some studies link moma chewing to oral cancer and cardiovascular sickness, however this doesn’t stop Ifugaos from chewing on them up to 10 times a day with a stained smile on their faces.
We met, Lola Anna during our hike back to the saddle. She’s an aged Ifugao who speaks fluent English and has beautiful facial feature despite her age. She showed her Moma set without tobacco since her lungs could not take it. But Moma aside, she was a very interesting character because she doesn’t know her age since she doesn’t know her birthday nor her parents. Yet she seem to live happily in Batad sometimes guiding tourist and also a performer on cultural dances.
We took a jeep to Bangaan from the saddle and stayed at Bangaan Family Inn. I can still recall finding this charming inn by the roadside for the first time in November 2002 where I stayed in one of their Ifugao house overlooking the terraces before. Nothing much has changed except there were a few people now staying in. “Since jeeps can now reach the saddle, less people stay here anymore. Before, they stay overnight here and go by the shortcut at the back of the house the next day” said Mang Florencio, the owner of the Inn. But despite less people staying, there were more people dining in. “See those people over there” his lips pointing to a table full of Koreans “They’ve been driving here everyday for a week already from Banaue Hotel to have lunch” I wouldn’t be surprised since personally I found the food in this Inn to be spectacular.
It was an afternoon of chilling. We originally decided to have a free time for participants to do what they liked to do in the afternoon after the arduous hiking we did the day before. And it is so fitting for a quaint little place as Bangaan where spending time is getting lost staring at their magnificent rice terraces down below until the sun settles behind the mountains.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.