It seems foolhardy to go somewhere very cold when I was having a full-blown case of cough and colds. But the opportunity to smell the fresh mountain air and the compulsion to go out of town even for just a few days were simply overwhelming. So despite my feverish state, I found myself on an Autobus trip to Banaue with friends one Friday evening. I've been here before when I was so much younger so it would be nice to see how much has changed.
EARLY START. We left not-so-promptly after the declared departure time of 10pm but arrived earlier than our projected time of 7am so we had a bit of luxury of walking around the poblacion and finding a nice place to have a hot cup of coffee and some breakfast to warm not just our tummies but our hearts. We asked around and found out that the jeep going to Batad isn't due until 3 in the afternoon. Not wanting to waste our morning away, we asked around for alternative transport. Hmmm, there were wide-ranging offers to choose from -- all of them bloated beyond belief. One tricycle driver even had the gall to quote us an unbelievable price of P2,000 (roughly US$45) for the ride going to the junction of Batad and Bangaan. For the return trip, he would charge an additional P1,000. Hmmm, we decided to pass it up since we found the rates atrociously high and we were traveling on a budget.
LUCK SMILES. Serendipity (that and the friendly Ferdie of Greenview Lodge) found us a Korean group of five going on the same route and looking for people to share the cost of hiring a van (P2,500/one way) going all the way to the Saddle of Batad. Not only were we spared from having to hike the distance from the Junction to Saddle (a steep, muddy hike of around 1 to 1 1/2 hours), we also had the van at our disposal so we can make a stop whenever we liked. It was good to be able to pause and admire the view every so often, and more important of all, chat with the locals we meet along the way. While there were indiscriminate people (like those tricycle drivers at the poblacion) who would pounce on tourists, there are a lot more out there who'd offer help along with a warm smile.
Advisory: To avoid getting overcharged or get guides for hikes around Banaue, make a stopover at the Banaue Tourist Information Center or call Jane Buyao, Chairman of the Banaue Tourism Council, 01919.6142266 or Juliet Mateo, Information Officer, (074) 386.4010. Info on going to Banaue: Autobus makes a single direct trip (during off-peak days/seasons) from Manila to Banaue, 10pm, from its station in Cayco St., Sampaloc (near UST). Fare is P425, one way. Travel time: 9 hours. For inquiries, call 4334111, 7407559 or 09164904328 • Florida Transit, with a terminal on the street next to the Autobus station, also plies the same route at P450/pax onboard a bus with its own rest room.