Monday, December 05, 2016

Terraces and Tarsiers

Greetings Everyone,
We're traveling in the Philippines with KE Adventure Travel.  We're on the second half of our tour heading north from Sagada toward Banaue on the island of Luzon.  The main draw here is to see the rice terraces and we stopped at several viewpoints.  The Banaue Rice Terraces have been dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World".  The terraces were once thought to be 2000 years old but recent data suggests that they are less than 1000 years old.  They are very impressive nonetheless having been carved largely by hand into the mountainsides by the ancestors of the Ifugao people.  Today rice is still planted in these terraces but at this elevation we were in between growing seasons and the paddies contained only water which reflected the sun hence the name the "Mirror Season". 

Banaue Rice Terraces

Some old Ifuago woman wearing traditional dress were hanging out at one viewpoint to collect money from tourists who take their photo.

Ifuago Women

The following morning we visited the Banaue city market before heading out by Jeepney to the start of our 2-day trek.  Jeepneys are the most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines and are often heavily decorated and loaded.  We had ample room to spread out in our Jeepney and Marc and sat in "Business Class" behind the driver.

Inside a Jeepney

The weather looked ominous at the start of our hike but at least it wasn't raining.  The trail to Cambulo Village was now being built into a road so the going was easy until we reached the construction zone.  We had to dodge heavy equipment while picking our way through thick mud!

Muddy Road

It started to rain and we sought shelter in a road construction camp where lunch was being prepared.  Since chicken feet were being served we didn't stick around.  We reached the end of the road overlooking Cambulo and took a slick trail down to our guesthouse.

Trail's End

We peeled out of our wet rain jackets and muddy boots and settled into our dry, cozy room.

Our Room at Cambulo Guest House

Bryan, our trip leader, and Johnson, our local guide, decided that we would return the way we had come and not attempt to hike to Batad tomorrow.  With all the recent rain they were concerned that the trail would be impassable.  Bummer!  Once the rain let up we set off to explore Cambulo.  People pretty much live the same way they have for hundreds of years.  They grow rice and other vegetables and raise chickens.

Cambulo Village Life

A family had just returned from a shopping trip to Banaue and crossed a suspension bridge over the river carrying supplies on their heads.  The new road will definitely make this trip much easier.

Villagers on the Bridge

When it was our turn to cross the bridge we were much more tenuous.

Trekkers on the Bridge

The following morning we awoke to clearing skies.  Brian and Johnson agreed that it would be Ok to trek to Batad, yippee!  The trail was in pretty good shape as we left Cambulo and unlike yesterday we had good views of the village.

Last View of Cambulo

We stopped to wait for a local man to fix a washout on the trail above.  It was only a very short section but one slip would mean a fall of hundreds of feet to the river below.  We crossed this section very carefully.


It took us about 2 hours to reach a viewpoint overlooking Batad.  The rice terraces formed an amphitheater surrounding the village far below.

Batad Rice Terraces

It was a very steep climb down on cement steps reminiscent of climbing down Mayan pyramids in Mexico and Central America but much longer.

Steep Descent

We finally reached the bottom where we sat in the churchyard listening to the sermon while some in our group visited a waterfall.  We then had to climb back up to the Pension Restaurant where we had lunch and a great view of the village.

Restaurant View of Batad

After lunch we climbed back to the road where our Jeepney was waiting to take us to Bangaan, a village with many traditional houses.  The rice terraces here and the ones we visited in Batad are part of "The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera", inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, the first-ever property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List.

Descent into Bangaan

We returned to Banaue for the night before our long drive back to Manila.  The following morning we wound our way down from the mountains to the lowlands where rice was being planted.  This is back-breaking work as you have to bend over to plant each rice seedlings by hand!  We were a welcome diversion when to stopped to photograph the rice planters and asked them many questions.

Planting Rice Seedlings

We arrived back in Manila in time for the sunset from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel.

Manila Skyline at Sunset

The next morning we flew to Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol, the final stop on our Philippine tour.  We stayed at the Alona Beach Resort right on the beach and were treated to a glorious sunset over the South China Sea.

Bohol Sunset

The next day we set off to visit Bohol's many attractions starting with the Baclayon Church.  Built in 1727 it is the oldest coral stone church in Bohol.

Inside Baclayon Church

The highlight for me and one of the main reasons for visiting the Philippines was a visit to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary.  These tiny primates, quite possibly the inspiration for the Star Wars character Yoda, have enormous eyes, each as large as its brain!  They have the largest eye-to-body size ratio of all mammals.  The eyes are fixed to the skull so they can't rotate but a special adaption in the neck allows the tarsier to turn its head 180 degrees.  At the sanctuary the tarsiers are housed in a semi-wild enclosure where they are easily seen.  Being nocturnal, they were sleeping during our visit or at least they were trying to.

Philippine Tarsier

We were told that it is almost impossible to keep tarsiers in captivity as they commit suicide by holding their breath.  Sadly people still try to keep them as pets.  Besides seeing the tarsiers we got to meet the man responsible for founding the sanctuary,  Carlito Pizaras, also known as the "Tarsier Man".  In fact, the Philippine Tarsier has been broken out into its own genus, Carlito, named after him.  How cool is that to have an entire genus named after you!  It was a privilege to meet him and thank him for all his hard work over the past 30 years to protect the Philippine Tarsier.

Carlito and Peggy

To read more about The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary and how you can help, go to:

The next stop was the Chocolate Hills, a famous landmark in Bohol.   In the dry season they resemble Hershey's Kisses hence the name.  However at this time of year they are not brown but green.  They are part of an unusual geological formation called conical karst topography.  These conical limestone hills were formed by erosion and have been uplifted from sea level and fractured by tectonic forces.  The Chocolate Hills are covered with grasses because the soil is too thin to support the growth of trees.

Chocolate Hills

We visited the Bohol Habitat Conservation Center where we got to see many of the Philippines' beautiful butterflies including this Birdwing.

Birdwing Butterfly

While at the Center I noticed that they offered a night safari.  We discussed with Bryan about returning tomorrow night to do the tour.  We stopped at Loboc where we boarded a floating restaurant for lunch.  We cruised down the Loboc River enjoying a Philippine buffet and stopped to watch some local women perform the tinikling dance.  The dancers required a lot of coordination to blindly hop over moving poles.

Tinikling Dance

Marc checked the weather and discovered that it was going to rain tomorrow so Bryan arranged for us to do the night safari tonight.  We broke from the group and were driven back to the Habitat Conservation Center where we waited until 5:30.  Our local guide showed up to take us to Magsaysay Park on his motorcycle.  He couldn't speak good English but we indicated that all 3 of us would not fit on his motorcycle so we asked our car driver to take us.  He was dubious but agreed.  We headed out on a dark, narrow side road into the forest.  Our guide said it was only 4 km away but it was more like 10 km.  Our driver was hesitant to wait for us on the edge of the dark forest but we convinced him to do so.  We were joined by 2 other local guides from the park.  They seemed excited to be taking foreign tourists into the forest at night.  Right off the bat our guides spotted a Flying Lemur in a tree.  I had never heard of a Flying Lemur which by the way doesn't fly and isn't a Lemur.  There are only 2 species of Flying Lemur in the world.  

Philippine Flying Lemur

We saw only one other animal, a Common Palm Civet, on our walk but plenty of creepy-crawlies like spiders, millipedes and insects.  It was a long, dark drive back to our resort but we made it in time for a late dinner.  The next day was free for more exploration of Bohol.  We were thinking about snorkeling but an approaching cyclone kept all the dive boats from going out.  We'll have to return to explore the Philippines' underwater realm.  It turned out that the cyclone brought some rain but no high winds.  We flew back to Manila for our last night in the Philippines.  Thank you Bryan for sharing your wonderfully diverse country with us!  Having visited only 2 of the Philippines' 7000+ islands we know there are many more to explore.  Thanks to our fellow KE Adventure travelers for a fun trip.  May our paths will cross again.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

       Mammal List
 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
 1 Philippine Tarsier Carlito syrichta Bohol
 2 Philippine Flying Lemur Cynocephalus volans Bohol
 3 Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus Bohol

Our route map on Luzon:

Our route map on Bohol:

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