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mountain biking

MTB on G-stringApril 29, 2005 Friday

The Cordillera on a Mountain Bike - Day 1: Banaue

Back in the Day
It's been awhile since I last travelled up north in the Cordilleras alone on a backpack. Back then, only foreigners and the most intrepid Pinoys were doing that. The trip took forever. The mountain roads were rough, narrow, winding and downright scary specially looking down on 50-meter free-falls along the un-railed ravine-side. There were no SUVs then or 4X4s so bringing a car was completely out of the question. Mainstream Pinoys stopped at Baguio while the foreigners used Baguio as a gateway to the north...Sagada, Bontoc and Banaue.

Given the free time I have before school starts, I thought a nostalgic trip was in order. Alone on a backpack, I went to the Autobus station for Banaue. This time however, I brought my mountain bike - dismantled and tightly packed to fit in the underbelly of the bus.

A friend advised me before departure to go to Banga-an (a short ride from Banaue) and look for the Family Inn and Restaurant and make arrangements with the owner, Mr. Laroco. She lived there for nearly 3 months and strongly suggested staying there.

After nearly an 8-hour trip of mostly paved road, I reached Banaue. Nothing looked familiar. Too many houses, too many jeeps and tricycles. It was a bustling city. Fortunately, the IMBAYAH Festival was getting started. It only happens once every 3 years to celebrate and reinforce the diminishing tradition and customs of the Ifugao people. As tempting as it is to watch the ongoing parade of the tribal people in full traditional clothing, complete with pigs and chickens hung over their shoulders, I was overwhelmed by the load I was carrying - a backpack, a duffel bag and components of a dismantled bike. I decided to assemble my bike and ride it to Banga-an to check-in first and return for the parade. En route, I stumbled on Lester, a lone mountain biker who had no specific destination. Shortly after talking to him, we were on our way to what I thought was a 10 minute bike ride to Banga-an. It wasn't until over an hour of dirt biking that we reached the Family Inn. Given the load I was carrying, I was beat. I looked for Mr. Laroco and introduced myself. Being a friend of a common friend, he gave me a deal on a lovely Ifugao hut perched right on the edge of an abandoned rice terrace. Although not one of the 5 rice terraces recognized as Unesco World Heritage Sites (Banaue, Kiangan, Hapao, Batad and Mayoyao), its grandeur was no less. I couldn't ask for more.

Not having slept in the bus and biking to Banga-an with a heavy load, I needed sleep. Lester was about to head out to Batad to continue his ride. I decided to ride with him anyway. Having a riding buddy in this unfamiliar neck of the woods was a treat. The ride back to Banaue for the IMBAYAH will have to wait for the following day. Besides, it was to last for 3 days anyway. Batad was spectacular. It boasts of its amphitheater-like contour. Next to it is another landmark: the Tappia Waterfalls.

The Ride
The bike ride to Batad was another thing all its own. From the Batad junction, it was a steep 1 hour uphill climb to the Saddle. The rough road was riddled with big sharp rocks...finding a line was a must. The sun was unrelenting and I was sweating like crazy. A few pit stops were most welcome. From the Saddle, it was a steep single-track downhill run to the Batad viewpoint. That was scary. Some narrow sections had ravines on its side. Steering off course would have meant a free-fall until you hit the rocks below...ouch! Other sections were lined with barbed wires. Going fast over rocks, roots and ruts and having only inches from the barbed wire fence was adrenaline at its scariest. I would not have been crazy enough to do it on my own, but Lester was just hammering down. Hmmm...if he can do it, then it's humanly possible. I swallowed big and cranked it down as I followed him.

The uphill climb back to the Saddle provided its own unique challenge. I was already wiped-out...totally bonked. It felt like forever to reach the Saddle, mostly by portaging the bike. Not without its reward, from the Saddle back to Banga-an was perhaps 15 solid minutes of pure downhill riding. I white-knuckled the ride, pushing my full suspension to the edge...whoa!!! This has been the longest sustained downhill run I've done. Unbeknownst to me, this was only the start of longer downhill hammer-downs to come.

A Bike Issue
There was one problem though. And it proved to be a recurring problem for the remainder of my travels. Some trails are simply not rideable. I could no longer proceed on my bike. The rest of the way was a hike on the edge of the rice terraces. It would mean portaging the bike for the next hour or so. It wasn't viable...specially not with spud shoes. I could take a chance and lock it or turn back. The spectre of not finding my bike there when I get back was too much to bear. I chose the latter.

Pinikpikan Chicken Dinner
Every time I go to a new place, I make it a point to try the regional specialty. Food is an adventure and good food is its own reward. In the Cordilleras, Pinikpikan chicken rules. It's a ceremonial meal where the chicken is patted until the blood clots. The feathers are then burned off. Etag (salted pork) is added with water to make for a nourishing soup. I've had this dish before at Café by the Ruins. I wasn't impressed.

Mr. Laroco personally prepared the dish. What can I say? This is by far the best-tasting Pinikpikan I've none. If you're in this neck of the woods, try it out for size. Just make sure it's piping hot when served.

--- TheLoneRider

    Travel Info
  • Lodging: Family Inn and Restaurant (in Banga-an) P450/night on an Ifugao hut, with own washroom
  • Transportation: AutoBus (along Espana beside UST) P462 one way to Banaue, advance booking suggested. 2 night rides available. P100 bike charge levied.
  • Eats: try Pinikpikan Chicken cooked by Mr. Laroco (the best!!!)
  • Must Do: see Batad, ride on top of the jeep, order Mr. Laroco's Pinikpikan and take time to actually look and appreciate the scene (spread a blanket, chill, write or draw - others seem too rushed to see all the sites in a short time)

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Baguio | MTB Race

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Reader Comments:

(17 Jul 2005) hey! this is Lester from banaue, do you still remember me?
Sumali nga pala ako sa "Racing th Wind" sa Bangui last june 10. we went there with kuya Aris Matibag. i was hoping to see you there, kasi andaming teams from Manila. 2nd place pala kami sa fun category. Sumali rin pala kami sa just concluded na Enduro, baguio leg. sinubukan namin sa elite category, sad to say we only finished sixth. well..., we did our best.
Hindi nga pala ako yung nakita mo dun sa MTB race sa baguio. si Winston yun. nagpanggap lang si mokong, kasi naikuwento kita sa kanya. salmat pala at pinost mo pics natin sa Banaue.
ganda ng website mo... astig.
pag may ride ka uli dito sa Baguio, sama mo ko ha. keep on riding...

Tim Donne
(Sun, 5 Jun 2005) thanks for the link. great stuff and brought back good memories of the few weeks I had up north. am still in the philippines, doing my divemaster on malapacao which is fantastic. I love this country! I also checked out your stuff about Burning Man. Really makes me want to go - I'm not scared to dress in drag! Fantastic writing, you really brought it alive. anyway, happy cycling and maybe we'll bump into each other again

Ike Cuyegkeng
(Sun, 29 May 2005) Good to see TheLoneRider back on the saddle again, exploring and sharing all that this existence has offer, albeit half a world away.

Christine Schmal
(Sun, 29 May 2005) for 1 week I'm back now in germany and i have many problems to get adapted to my work in the hospital. i really enjoyed meeting you on my trip at luzon. After the phillipines i had a very great time in laos and ko tao, were I got my open water licence. I think that i will never forget my time on the phillipines. hope to hear from you.

Bruce and Helen Glick
(Sun, 29 May 2005) Namaste, Thanks so much. The trip was great - we have yet to write up more than a short summary for our kids, and an official trip report for our NGO.

(Sun, May 29, 2005) I saw your website pare, ayos. still here in batanes. heaven dito para sa bike mo. hills, lots. boulder strewn roots. ganito sa lahat ng islands.

Nathan Santesso
(Sat, 28 May 2005) I checked out the site and it's interesting. I'm in Seoul, Korea and I'll probably stay here for about 6 months. I've got an easy teaching job and a nice apartment. I need to take some time off from backpacking. I might return to the Philippines for a short visit this summer. So, email when you get a chance and update me on what you're up to.

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