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Terrace Trek (Ifugao Province, Philippines)

Author: Louie
Date of Trip: January 2007

If you find your mind wandering aimlessly and your body restless with stress, try Kiangan, Ifugao in northern Philippines for a break.

Go trekking along the Ifugao Rice Terrace, a World Heritage Site, and marvel at the engineering ingenuity of an ancient people. This terrace system was carved off the mountains by hands and primitive stone tools about the time when religious groups called Christians were springing up in Asia-Minor and across the Mediterranean.

Our trek started from the top of the terrace system, then down and up again, into a forested area and out on the other side of the town. It took us about three hours to finish the trek. The cold air wafted away our sweat, but the physical challenge was far from easy.

We treaded narrow strips, compacted soil that could have given way to our weight. We walked along the paddies, and often stopped to behold the flowing creeks as they nourish the rice saplings.

We climbed a series of unending steps, only to descend another series of unending steps on the other side.

Along the trek, the green patches of rice and cloud formation smacking the mountain slopes were pictures waiting to be taken.

The end trail led us into a thick forest, where a few coffee trees reminded me of the local favorite, Cordillera coffee. Ah, but I learned Cordillera coffee is available in nearby towns of Benguet and Baguio, but not here.

When it rained, we made a pit stop at a farmer’s house, a typical Ifugao hut made of hardwood and raised off the ground by stilts. The wife graciously offered a rice pudding to re-energize our tired bodies. Never mind that she did not know us.

Kiangan’s terraces are smaller than in postcard Banaue, but they cast their brand of inspiration. Not the least, the town is a heritage jewel, spared from commercialism. Expect to see turn-of-the-century American neo-classic schoolhouses, old inns, older churches and locals who seem to know each other wherever, and strangers offering a rice pudding, instead of selling it.

Postscript. You an American? When the United States invaded the Philippines in 1896 (yes dude, it happened), Kiangan was left to a small band of gringos to civilize the then headhunting tribes of Ifugao. The gringos were so effective in putting order and, eventually, they earned the loyalty of the natives. If you go to Kiangan today, old folks speak good English and admire Uncle Sam with nostalgia.

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