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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Batad and Beyond

It was a stupid thing that I did the other night...staying on the computer for 4 hours that when I was ready to go home, it was pitch black. I almost never go out at night (although I must admit I walked about 2KM on a dark road in Rishikesh, India...twice) alone. I just don't think it's being smart. This time I got carried away with making up for lost time being disconnected from 'the world' for a week. After a certain hour the town dies down and becomes peacefully quiet.  This was the case at 10:00PM. Without no other option except to walk, I equipped myself with all three flashlights that I had: 1) finger flashlight (purchased from McCully Bicycle for a $1.00 and is the most convenient flashlight you will ever find! 2) night book reader given as a gift to me by my good friend Samarha in honor of my extended travels and 3) a small GE keychain flashlight given to me by my friend Deedee.  My dad had bought me my favorite travel flashlight over 10 years ago but I also left this behind (by accident of course!) in India.

I'm playing down the seriousness of the matter but yes it was not smart of me to do. In 2007, in Batad, a Peace Corp Volunteer, Julia Campbell, was murdered at the hands of a local so really, I shouldn't have done that.  Here's a clip of my mad dash home...passing some drunkards along the way.  I took a quick video so you can see how dark it was and the fear RUNNING through me.

To make matters worst, when I finally got back to my place, 5 minutes later, I found that they had closed and LOCKED the gate. I didn't know how I would get in...and where would I sleep? I didn't know anyone here. I decided to pound on the gate and hopefully someone would answer. Lucky for me, it didn't take too long for me to get someone's attention and let me in.  I thank my luck stars that I got home safely that night.

Day 19: Batad, Ifugao. Turned out my last full day in the Philippines was GORGEOUS. I was really hoping that I didn't go all the way to Banaue to only see fog. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and you could see the blue skies! Got up at 6:15AM and messaged a guy who had offered to drive me there the day before. He came to fetch me at 7:00AM.

The drive out to Batad was about 25-40 minutes away since we were traveling on a tricycle (moped with the side seat attachment). It is approximately 12 KM away, or 7.5 miles on rocky and muddy roads (because of the last few days of rain).  My driver offered to take me out there for P700 ($15.35) which he claimed was the cheapest price I could get but he wasn't going to serve as my guide. I was a little concerned and he said that there would be many people there and I could just follow them.  WRONG. I was the only person there when we arrived.  Basically the tricycle can only go up to a certain point, called the junction. From there, it is a 4KM uphill battle to the top. Alternatively you can ride a jeepney but it charges about P2000 ($43.86USD) so unless you have at least 3 others to split the cost with you, you better start walking.

Fortunately, when we got there, an older man was hanging out and started following me asking if I needed a guide. His price: P500. Since I really had NO CLUE where I was going and there was no one around, I thought I should hire him. We just walked in silence. A few minutes after I started walking, another tricycle arrived, this time carrying a Canadian female.  She also had her guide with her whom I had met the day before.  Eventually they caught up with me and we began to walk together (if only they had been there earlier, I wouldn't have needed to hire my own guide who hardly spoke English and took terrible photos!).  The four of us made the 4KM journey up.  After a grueling uphill walk, we got to the Saddle. From the Saddle, it would be another 5KM to get down to the waterfalls.  It was a hard hike that really tested my legs! Especially since I had walked over 5 miles the day before.  It was good to have the others there to shoot the breeze with.

We got down to the waterfall an hour later. It was bigger than the other waterfall I had seen in Sagada only a few days earlier.  It was too cold for a dip and besides, I didn't come prepared. My clothes were still wet from the days before; not being able to dry because of the rain and lack of air circulation in my room.  We had lunch on our way back.  I settled for the adobo while my Canadian friend and her guide ordered the pizza...I am not sure if their pizzas were any good but it looked like it was made with ketchup rather than pizza sauce! My adobo was very salty with more soy sauce and lots of peppers than anything else.

We made our way back up by 3:00PM and then walked the 4KM back down the hill. Along the way up, we had met a young German couple who offered us a ride back down to the junction but we wanted to say that we did the whole entire 18KM hike. At 3:30PM were able to say that we did it!

I needed to rush back to my place, take a shower and have dinner and start making my way to the bus stop. I would be traveling back to Manila that night so that I could catch my flight out to Taiwan.  Eventually I ended up being able to take a 'hot shower' only after I figured that I had to turn on the lower faucet which released cold water to get my shower to give me hot water. The shower came with a P50 pricetag.

Based on a write-up in the Lonely Planet, I ended up having dinner at Las Vegas I was the only one there and was greeted by the family workers.  The display case as you entered the door quickly caught my eye as all of pastries being showcased were Western style desserts.  A few minutes later, a young girl brought out what she told me was Chiffon cake. I learned that she had read about baking and found it to be her new hobby.  I ordered the 'peanut crunch' which turned out to be very good for the P20 I paid that I ended up getting 1 for dine-in and 3 for the road.  On the menu that night for me was fried pork and garlic rice.  The garlic rice was the best that I ever had in the Philippines. It was actually made with the red local rice but the garlic flavor was delish!

I ended up talking with the 'baker' and learned that their business was also a family business started by the girl's father.  They owned both a hotel and a restaurant although they were not situated in the same locale.  The only daughter of 9 children, she enjoyed helping with the family business. I quickly connected with her because of my own personal family restaurant business background.  After chatting and photo taking, I was on my way to the bus stop.

The Bustmante Family (father, daughter and granddaughter) of Las Vegas Lodging and Restaurant

The drive back to Manila was approximately 9 hours. I actually tried my very best to avoid going all the way back to Manila since the place that I needed to go - Clark Airport was actually 2 hours closer than Manila. I tried to weigh each option that I had but ironically, the one that I was trying to avoid (Manila) was the cheapest and safest option for me.  Had I tried to go to Clark directly, I would have had to get off in an unknown town (not listed in my guidebook), dropped off sometime after midnight (there were only two night buses that went in that direction), find a place to stay and then continue traveling in the morning. I was told by a couple of people that it probably wasn't safe.  Jeremy who had tipped me off on my Taiwan ticket to begin with had mentioned that the airlines actually offered a free shuttle from Manila to Clark so I decided I would take it.

The only uncertainty was getting off the bus and making it to the Spirit of Manila Ticketing Office to catch the shuttle.  A guy named Rod, that we had seen earlier that day on the hike had the seat behind me on the bus and turned out to be a Manila native. He offered to take me to the shuttle stop since he didn't have to report to work until 10:00AM. I suggested that maybe we could also eat breakfast if we had time. He politely smiled and said 'thank you' and thought to myself, I need to stop suggesting things because it would be considered an 'invite' and I will need to pay! ha ha.

The bus was cold but I managed to get some zzzs in probably because of all the walking I had done the past two days.  At about 5:10AM Rod woke me up. I didn't understand what he said and said 'what?' but he didn't answer me. I was still half sleeping and tried my best to stay up when about 5 minutes later, he said 'okay, let's go!' WHAT?! I'm not even ready is what I was thinking! I guess he was trying to let me know that our stop would be coming up soon. I quickly gathered my things and got off the bus. Rod led me to another bus where we literally rode for about :40 seconds.  Then, we got to the MRT station and rode the entire line.  After getting off, we hopped in a cab to the Heritage Hotel which I was told by the customer service agent the day before that it was very close.  When we were getting in the cab, there was a guy that opened my door for me and seemed to be 'working' us into the taxi. Rod gave him P10. Clearly, he was just some guy standing on the street, so I asked why he gave the guy money. Rod's answer was: 'this is how we do. Only in the Philippines.' I think Rod is just a very generous person. He paid for my entire transportation so far and refused my money; from the bus to the MRT to the taxi.

When we arrived at the Heritage Hotel, I suggested that we just stop and eat. It was almost 6:00AM and since he had paid my way down there, the least I could do was treat him to breakfast and figured that the hotel would most likely accept credit cards so I would be able to pay for it.  And it was breakfast so how much could they really charge? It was a buffet though so I thought maybe it would be about $15 per person.  I didn't ask the price and we just headed straight for the restaurant.  Thinking that they would probably have a wi-fi connection, I tried to get the password from the waitress.  She informed me that there was a P1000 per hour.  That comes out to over $20 an hour! That is unheard of! I still don't know if she meant to say P100 which would have sounded more reasonable or if it was really P1000. After she gave me that outrageous price, I thought OMG, I wonder how much the breakfast buffet is?! Please God, don't let it be like 'Orchids' at the Halekulani where I also offered to pay for the bill of 4 not knowing that it was $55.00 a person!

Later, our bill was dropped which came in the form of two receipts. I quickly glanced at the first receipt and it said P1746. Not wanting to make Rod feel uncomfortable (that I treated him but couldn't pay for it), I just whipped out my credit card and ignored him asking me what the price was. I reassured him that I had this one.  Did I really just pay $38 x 2 = $76 for our breakfast just now? HOLY SH**!  Later, after my credit card was swiped and I was asked to sign, I realized that they had given me 2 copies but it was P875 per person x 2. PHEW! So not bad, $19 per person for a breakfast buffet; that's probably how much you'd pay in the states. I also wanted Rod to be able to enjoy this as I assumed that he probably didn't get to eat like this often. Hope he enjoyed it...I sent him on his way since had to work in 3 hours and wanted to try and go home to rest before going to work.

As I was sitting there alone, two gentlemen had caught my eye earlier...they were screaming HAWAII but I have been wrong before so I didn't want to assume but was dying to know.  I was trying to discreetly eavesdrop on them to see if I could pick up Hawaii lingo. Finally, when one left the table, I caught the attention of the other and asked 'where you from?' He was taken aback by my talking to him that he told me he couldn't hear me. I asked again to find that my suspicions were in fact right and that they were from Hawaii! Long story short, they were customers of Highway Inn (YAY!) and one of the men actually said he knew my aunty Shirley! Everyone seems to know my aunty Shirley! I took a photo with them and was on my way. I didn't want to miss my $30 flight to Taiwan!

No one at the hotel seemed to know where I needed to go but the girl who had given me the information the day before was very good and had given me a very good description of the surrounding area. It was only a 3 minute walk away from the Heritage Hotel so I arrived on time!  Met the girl who actually took my call the day before in person! What a small company!

I still don't understand how the Spirit of Manila Airlines can remain profitable.  For only $30, they can take you to Taiwan, 2 hours away? They even offer you drinks and a full size snack! Not those snack size ones but a proper snack. If only their American counterparts could do the same! I suppose if their flight was full then yeah, they could make money but I think were only about 20 people on that 150+ seater plane. Everyone was so extremely nice though and they even offered the free shuttle that despite the fact that I was nervous whether or not I'd make it safely back to Taiwan, I was extremely satisfied with the fabulous service I had received from beginning to end.

It was just a matter of whether or not we would make it safely. I swear that had to be on everyone's mind!  Thankfully, we did arrive safely in Taipei on Friday, January 22, 2009!

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