#055: The Path to Batad, PhilippinesTak's dispatch released on 22 December 2015

Batad Rice Terraces in Batad, Philippines from Window

“Yeah, yeah, the Batad Junction, let’s go.”

You don’t like his over eager approach, but you can’t argue with the price or logistics, so you hop in, confirming the price and details once again to be sure.

It’s a long way to Batad on a trike, but, due to the vehicle’s small size, it navigates nimbly, skipping large potholes and weaving through road construction sites with ease. The distance seems far greater than the price. And sure enough, as promised, he takes the left hand turn at the Junction up the spur road which climbs higher and higher.

At the top of the road, there is a store or restaurant of sorts. The road continues down the hill and winds around. “Now you can get out here, and walk the rest of the way, or for a little extra I can take you there,” he explains, the motor humming its song.

“How far is it,” you ask, realizing he isn’t going to make it sound convenient. You now realize his marketing technique, one often employed in the developed world, the upsell. Having gotten you this far on the “can’t refuse” offer, he now has you in an unknown situation. You think about it. You realize that the offer to this point has been great and at the very least, you are buying time if you have him take you the distance.

“Okay, let’s keep going,” you reply. Out of 100 times, you would probably turn this offer down 95, but it seems like a good dice roll to make. The stakes aren’t so high anyways, and you already have gotten a great deal from him anyways. He deserves a bit more.

He smiles, yells something in one of the Filipino languages to the kid outside the store sitting atop the Batad saddle, and continues on. You realize they are excited because the ploy worked.

New Road Construction to Batad, Philippines

Just a short way down the cleared road, the trike driver pulls to a halt. “Here,” he says, “this is the end.” The extra bit of distance you paid for was not at all necessary—a couple minutes by foot would have been just as well. You grab your bag and head past the heavy construction equipment: dump trucks, backhoes and bulldozers.

Batad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the Cordillera Mountain range. With a population approximated around 1,000, Batad is known for its rice terraces. Uniquely, Batad, as of May 2015, was only accessible on foot, with only a small path through the vegetation from one direction and footpaths through terraces and forest from the other.

Footpath to Batad, Philippines

The green grasses kiss your shins as you decline past small rocks and washed out holes on the dirt path. You pass some rudimentary rest shacks and the occasional villager making the climb the other way. A gaggle of camera-laden tourists—heaving and sweating from the daytrip excursion—follow, piercing the atmosphere with high decibel rancor. You are glad they are heading in the opposite direction.

At some point, the walk starts to ascend a bit, passing some habitations. At the top of this, on a ridge of sorts, sits a hut that collects a negligible fee to help the Batad villagers pay for the damage outsiders make while wandering about. As you reach the hut, your eyes start to spasm; it can’t be described in a way that makes sense. Perhaps it is like being deaf and then hearing a performance in IMAX surround sound or perhaps it was the feeling that the first person thought when coming across the Grand Canyon, far before it entered a point of saturation in print and digital. The walk didn’t fully take your breath away, but the colourful rice-laden amphitheater before you has you overloaded.

The steps are all built into the mountainside with natural materials; each one being a muscle-boosting exercise which makes you wonder how they feel on the way back up. You stop at a few hostels, looking for a good place to lay your head and, more importantly, vacancy, having gotten to Batad without any reservations.

The key jiggles in the lock and she opens the door. The room is just large enough for a single bed and a small table at the end of the narrow space. The two windows open to the fresh mountain air with no screen to be found. The window next to the bed looks out on the neighbor’s roof. A clothesline dangles within arm’s reach, close enough to be useful.

A notched out rectangle is cut from the thin wooden wall just above the table, an Alice in Wonderland-styled escape vehicle, except, instead of empty jars of orange marmalade and white rabbits, it consists of colourfully geometric rooftops, flowing ovals of green and yellow grasses swaying in the breeze, perfectly cut stonework, pools of mountain water and, at the bottom, the quaint, rustic village at the very center of it all.

“This’ll do,” you exclaim, trying to sound reserved despite the large smile that you find washing over your face. The innkeeper, who was probably born with the view and would be much more excited by the site of a skyscraper, nods expectantly and walks down the stairs to return to the duties below. You are dazed, in a state of joyful paralysis, looking out the window. The entire world has melted away. There is no New York, no Paris, no Tokyo, no Caribbean beach; they’ve all disappeared from reality. There are no cars, no buses, no motorcycles and not even a road. The whole world, notched between these mountain walls, fills your vision, and nothing more seems necessary.

Time is frozen, until you realize that the sun, having made yet another sinister deal with darkness, is indeed gliding towards the horizon. You divorce yourself from the window through sheer force, promising yourself it will be there when you return. Grabbing your camera and little else, you head down the stairs and start to navigate the maze of Batad below.

Batad Rice Terraces in Batad, Philippines
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Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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