There’s not a whole lot of information out there on this trek, so we’ll provide some!
We took a morning jeepney down from Sagada, but were delayed in Bontoc and didn’t arrive in Banaue until 11a or so. We had planned to take the hour-long jeepney route to Batad Junction and begin the loop in that direction, which seemed to be more popular, but apparently the public jeepney runs only once per day, in the morning. We instead hopped a traysikel back up the hill to the Awan-Igid trail to hike in the opposite direction, which turned out to be a great idea, and I highly recommend it. If we had known we would be hiking in this direction, we could have hopped off the jeepney at the trail head when we passed it on our way into Banaue.
At the trail head, we met a chatty woman from Pula who sized us up and told us it was a four hour walk. She did this walk every time she left Pula, often returning from Banaue heavily laden with any provisions not produced in the village itself. The only other person we met on the trail was a teenage boy balancing a log on one shoulder who passed us at a slow run. The trail went steadily uphill(sometimes very steeply) for about an hour, then was mostly flat with some rise and fall for about 2 hours, then downhill (sometimes very steeply) into the valley for the last hour. It was a beautiful hike and the trail was easy to follow the whole way.
Campaign posters decorating a rest hut along the trail. There are several of these. Also, lots of extremely large planks of wood, just hanging out by themselves in the forest, two hours of hiking from anything. There are also fairly frequent pipes sticking out along this section of trail which spew “usually potable” water.
The village of Pula was visible as we descended into the valley, but we unfortunately had to climb a never-ending, steep stone staircase to get to it. Also, Pula is the second, larger settlement, not the first small collection of houses you pass through, where we were briefly very confused, and then very disappointed that we had not, in fact, arrived at our destination, but instead had yet another long, steep staircase to climb.
Here’s where it’s useful to have a guide: they arrange with the village guesthouse for you to stay there. As it turns out, the guesthouse is a family home whose family happened to be away, so no one really knew what to do with us. Luckily, we had our own tent, which they found very funny and told us to pitch it on the basketball court in front of the school. If the inn is open, it’s fairly easy to sleep and eat there, but I’d recommend bringing all your own food, just in case. We were a source of endless entertainment for the local kids, who spent a lot of time gawking at us and giggling.
We chatted extensively that evening with a young guy who was a university student in Baguio, but was home visiting his family for summer break. He spoke impeccable English and gave us interesting insight into Filipino culture, politics, and mindsets. After watching about 9 kids of varying ages play a form of baseball with no bat and stones for bases in which everyone wins, we bought some delicious locally-grown rice to eat with our canned adobo for dinner and went to sleep.
The next morning, we packed up and headed out for Cambulo. We were warned several times that this trail was more difficult to follow than the previous day, but we also saw many more people. We frequently asked the way, but always seemed to be on course simply by following the largest, most used-looking trail option. The trail winds in and around beautiful rice paddies. After about 2 1/2 hours, we arrived in Cambulo and were accosted by local kids asking for candy or money (generally, don’t give them any. If you’d like to support the village, employ guides or buy food or wares. Giving money to the kids enforces the Westerners-as-walking-ATMs mentality). Pleased with our progress, we descended to a rickety suspension bridge across the river, where we stopped for a snack and J washed her hair, much to the amusement of some local kids. Another hour or so later we actually arrived in Cambulo. Whoops.
The trail passes through many small villages or collections of houses, which is the only place it’s confusing to follow. “Which way to Cambulo?” Generally means, “Through whose backyard/front terrace/living room do I pass in order to follow the trail to the main town of Cambulo, although this town is also technically Cambulo as well.” Generally, people were helpful and kids especially pointed the way without even being asked. We also passed many people working in the fields and kids playing in the streams or mud. Be warned that you should fill water in the villages or carry a lot with you, unless you have iodine or water treatment tablets, as we didn’t see a single spigot until after Batad.
This is what staircases look like.
After Cambulo, another 3 hours or so passed before we finally arrived in Batad, and boy was it an impressive sight. The rice terraces are stone-walled and up to two thousand years old, and they line the entire valley like an amphitheater. It’s another UNESCO world heritage site, and also lauded as the 8th wonder of the world. There is also a side track down to a waterfall, which we skipped since we had a bus to catch. Apparently it’s a steep hour down and a steep hour back up, but a very nice falls.
After wandering through the paddies a bit and fending off day-tripping tourists with our large packs and un-kempt appearance, we began the hike out – an hour of hiking, all uphill. In Batad, you may get stopped and asked for an “Environmental Fee” of P50 per person. If it actually goes to a fund which helps the environment, I’d be surprised, but so be it. From the trail head, it’s another hour walk on the road to Batad Junction, but it’s preferable (and fairly easy) to befriend a day group and catch a ride in their jeepney right from the trail head all the way back to Banaue.
We had an amazing time despite not knowing at all what we were in for – hope this is google-searchable for others looking to do the same track!