Friends visiting the Philippines often ask me for advice regarding where to go and what to see when visiting the country. As much as we all love pristine beaches and turquoise water, those can be found in so many places on earth, being equally beautiful if you wander the coast of Thailand, the Caribbean or the Mediterranean sea. To my humble opinion though, what is truly one of a kind in this beautiful country, are the rice terraces found in the Ifugao Province, north of Luzon, especially in the little village of Batad. I had the chance to see several rice terraces around Asia, mainly in Vietnam and Indonesia, I must admit none had made such a majestic impression on me as the ones seen in Batad and Banaue. As much as you may ultimately forget beautiful beaches, the sight of Batad will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Batad Village from view point
The journey going there will also, stay with you, unfortunately not for the same reason. A 10 hours bus ride where the notion of comfort is non-existent, and lucky you are if you don't find yourself freezing to death because of a powerful air con. But the complicated journey to get there is also part of the adventure, and probably part of the magic of discovering Batad.
It was the 3rd time I took the decision to visit the Ifugao province, the 1st time with the idea of capturing its beauty on tape. My approach this time was different because of my goal. I did not plan to see as much as I could by trekking for hours around the several gorgeous villages of the region. I aimed at capturing the light of Batad, which proved to be more challenging than I initially thought after reallizing that the rainy season had already started there.
Monsoon in Batad
It made for great green scenery, but we knew that in the afternoon the monsoon was taking over and the window to shoot was closed. I focused on capturing the golden hour of the mornings, experiencing beautiful sunrises, leaving the chance to witness equally beautiful sunsets to the locals staying all year round. I guess I will have to come back another day another time.
After a full afternoon of rain I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about the weather condition, wondering if I would be able to capture anything meaningful if the rain did not stop. Looking out the window of my room at 4 am, I delightfully laid my eyes on Batad still wrapped in darkness, cloudy less, rainy less, with only stars and the milky way to light the terraces. I wished I had been able to capture more of that moment, but at least I knew what the next night would be dedicated to, if the weather was kind enough to let me enjoy this moment one more time (spoiler: the weather decided not to be "kind enough").
The milky way shot above Batad
The goal of the first morning, beside capturing various moments of life happening at dawn, was to reach the waterfall located at the back of the village. An impressive sight, powerful and dangerous at time (several people already lost their lives playing too close from it, be careful). I planned to capture this moment with the drone, which I ultimately did from afar and high in the sky, as seen in the video, but my initial vision was to fly it much closer.
Technology didnt allow me to fully implement my plan, as the GPS captors of the drone could not properly function that deep inside the canyon, making flying extremely dangerous for the safety of Kayser (the name we gave to our drone, yes, we are like that). I didnt want to take the chance to lose it so I decided not to push further, accepting to live with it. But what a sight, maybe one of the most beautiful waterfall I had the chance to see so far, especially when you add to it the terraces surrounding the area.
A visit to Batad would not be complete without having the chance to see the Ifugao people wearing their cultural outfit, being given the chance to admire the wrinkles drawn on the faces of the elderly, like lines in an open book written in a language you are trying to decrypt. Discovering also the everyday life of its inhabitants, with farming, crafting, playing, chewing betel nut and drinking!
I wish the last night spent in Batad had given me the opportunity to capture what my mind so vividly imagined after seeing the milky way the night before and the waterfall earlier in the day, combining two beautiful sights our planet has to offer in order to create a unique image to bring back with me and share with you. I believe the sentiment of unfinished business will drive me to come back once again in a near future, with the thrive to capture this perfect sight.