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Full Circle

Day 89: Manila to Banaue

Banaue rice terraces, Philippines 
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The cloud clears. Mesmerizing glimpse of the two-thousand-year-old Banaue rice terraces.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe driver, Rodolfo, stocky, with Burmese-Indian looks, cannot believe this sudden bounty from the sky. He packs us all in the back of his pillar-box red vehicle, with bald tyres and a 'Thank God' window sticker, and screams off up the hill, round the hairpins and into the clouds. The road gets worse. There has been heavy rain here and it has loosened great chunks of the hillside and scattered them across the road. Rodolfo scorches onwards and upwards, dodging goats, little black long-haired pigs and landslides. When the road surface turns to a sea of treacherous, slippery mud there are various attempts to restrain him, but he doesn't stop until he can proudly deposit us at the point from which the very best views of the Banaue rice-terraces can be obtained. There is only one snag. We cannot see a thing. The cloud is so thick that the most ancient rice-terraces in the world might as well be Leyton Orient Football Ground.

A group of Ifugao tribespeople, descendants of those responsible for the feat of agricultural engineering that we can't actually see, clearly think we're mad to be up here on a day like this, but drift towards us anyway and begin what is obviously their tourist routine. A thin, stick-legged old man in an embroidered red tunic, holding a spear and smoking a pipe, and a lady in a feather head-dress, wait to be photographed in front of the cloud. Somewhere a flute starts playing. A shopkeeper pulls the covers off rows of carved wooden bowls, statues of the Virgin Mary, animals and rosaries. Then, for a brief and tantalizing moment, the mist breaks to reveal a breathtaking amphitheatre of tiered embankments. Fields cultivated since the time of the Romans rise a thousand feet up the mountainside supported by a system of walls and terraces which channel rainwater through a series of thirty or forty controlled falls before allowing it to join the churning caramel coloured flow of the river far below. Nigel barely has time to press the camera button before the great white wave obscures the Eighth, and Most Elusive, Wonder of the World once again.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 89
  • Country/sea: Philippines
  • Place: Banaue rice terraces
  • Book page no: 132

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