The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to have experiences. Call it a midlife crisis, but I have this urge to do something different all the time now. Whether it be tasting some exotic dish, visting a remote island, or jumping out of a plane, it’s important for me to step out of my comfort zone and experience something new.
I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this lately, but when I die, I don’t think I’ll be measuring my life with how much money I’ve made or how high up the corporate ladder I’ve climbed. Instead, I’ll be quantifying my life with how much of the world I’ve seen, how much of it I’ve experienced.
If a doctor diagnosed me with terminal cancer tomorrow and gave me one year to live, I’m not going to think: “Oh no, I haven’t made a bajillion dollars!” or “I’m not a CEO yet!” No, my first thoughts will surely be: “I haven’t seen Machu Picchu. I haven’t eaten a Cuban sandwich in Havana. I haven’t proposed to my wife in Santorini. It’s time to go.” I have a feeling that most people will probably feel that way.
It doesn’t even have to be a grand experience like climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest or something. It can be as simple an act as experiencing Fall in New England or eating sannakji in Seoul. Because a life filled with experiences, no matter how big or small, is a life well-lived in my book.
This native Ifugao hut, devoid of electricity and set deep within the terraced mountains of Banaue, is one such experience.
The Ifugao Huts
Known locally as a fale, the traditional Ifugao hut looks like it’s all roof on stilts, kinda like a bobblehead house. It has three functional levels — the ground floor work area which is actually the space beneath the house, the second floor which is the living quarters and social area, and the third level which is used as a granary.
Ramon’s Native Homestay has a few of these huts available for around USD 20 a night, each with a maximum capacity of 3-4. You can book these huts through Agoda.
L: Here’s my friend Pat entering the hut using the removable ladder. Do you see those wooden discs close to the top of each stilt? Called oliang, they keep rats from entering the house.
R: The inside of the hut. It’s much bigger than it looks from the outside right? That area in the center of the picture is an open fire pit for cooking. Pretty cool how they can cook in these huts. You can also see the granary up top.
Pat and I stayed in their biggest hut. It can sleep five – three on beds and two on floor mattresses. As mentioned above, there’s no electricity in these huts. They do provide you with candles but it’s still very dark inside, so I suggest bringing flashlights if you intend to stay here. Another thing, they don’t give you blankets at first so be sure to ask for them. It can be freezing in Batad at night.
L: A better shot of the granary
R: The huts don’t have indoor plumbing so you’ll have to use these common bathrooms. Obviously not the most glamorous or hygienic, management does try its best to keep them clean. This is pretty much the plumbing situation in all of Batad.
Both freaky and cool, the underside of the roof is often embellished with animal skulls. Ifugaos are animists so they offer animals to the gods during their annual rituals.
Apparently, these animal skulls are a source of pride to the hut owner.
What’s cool about Ramon’s native huts is that they weren’t built just for tourists. These are actual functioning huts which they still use to store and prepare rice. If I’m not mistaken, those baskets on the right are used to make local bugnay (berry) wine.
Working beneath our hut, here you can see a local separating the grains from the stalks.
Once separated, he transfers the grains into this giant mortar and starts pounding away. Watching him do this made me realize how easy many of us have it. Life may be simple here in Batad, but it isn’t easy.
There are no standalone restaurants in Batad so wherever you’re staying is pretty much where you’ll be eating all your meals. As expected from a place this remote, choices are basic and a little pricey for what you get, but the view more than makes up for it. Killer eh?
The kitchen. Because Batad is so remote, all supplies are shuttled in by foot and marked up higher as a result. 8 oz bottles of soda cost PHP 50 while beer goes for PHP 70 a pop. Pricey for a place like this yes, but understandable considering how difficult it is to bring them in. We watched our guide Job carry two unopened cases of San Miguel beer on his head from the Saddle to the village, a trip that he makes up to three times a day. Still want to complain about the price? 😆
Tastes like chicken — fried chicken, asado chicken, and chicken curry for lunch. Each of these rice plate meals goes for PHP 140. Pretty tasty.
L: Vegetable, tuna, and cheese pizza for PHP 120. I hate to say this, but the pizzas are gross. They use banana ketchup for the sauce and the crust was raw. Steer clear.
R: Breakfast was much better. Pictured here is an odd omelette/sandwich mashup (PHP 155) and a pancake (PHP 85). Both were decent.
When in Rome
Talking about experiences, what sets Ramon’s Homestay apart aside from their Ifugao huts are these native costumes. Made available to guests for free, they dress you up in full Ifugao attire complete with wanno (male g-string), tapis (female body wrap), wraparound skirts, weapons, necklaces, and headdresses. Could you ask for a better Batad souvenir than this? 😆
On the left of this picture is my buddy Pat who’ll be going back to New Zealand in May. In the middle are my newly married Japanese friends Tom and Kai who visited the Philippines for their honeymoon. I wanted to give them all a Philippine experience they won’t soon forget, which is why I chose Ramon’s Homestay and their Ifugao huts. As you can tell from the priceless picture below, it was the perfect choice.
It’s important to note that Ramon’s Homestay also has regular rooms that can fit up to two people. I believe these go for PHP 250 a person per night. As highly recommended as the huts are, I understand they may not be practical for solo travelers so these regular rooms are a good alternative. They don’t seem to be listed on Agoda so you can inquire about them through Ramon’s Facebook page.
As much as I enjoyed our stay at Ramon’s, I have to admit that I was disappointed by a couple of things. One, we chatted with the owner Mang Ramon who’s a very nice man, but it did feel like he was trying to sell us something at every turn. Whether it be the staging of a “cultural performance”, a gathering around a bonfire, or the hiring of a guide, it felt like he was constantly trying to peddle these unsolicted “add-ons”. I do understand that he was being hospitable, perhaps just eager to chat it up with his guests, but I’m the type of traveler who likes to be left alone so I didn’t much care for the sales talk. I could be wrong but that’s exactly what it felt like at the time — sales talk.
Another thing, they charge you for food and drinks only at the very end, right before you check out. This was making me nervous a bit as I was constantly worrying about our total. I much prefer settling immediately each time, just to make sure that my expenses and budget are in order. Thankfully, there were no surprises in our bill but I do hope they allow guests the option of paying after every meal.
With that said, these are minor infractions that may or may not bother other travelers. We were all 100% satisfied with our stay at Ramon’s and would recommend it highly to anyone looking to spend a night or two in Batad. It’s definitely an experience.
Ramon’s Native Homestay, Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue, Ifugao
APPROXIMATE ROOM RATES: (as of Sept 2017)
Native Ifugao Hut – Around USD 20 per Ifugao hut (good for 3-4 pax)
Room – Around PHP 250 per person
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Batad Saddle, trek downhill towards the village. It’ll take you around 40 minutes to get there. Once there, follow the signs to Ramon’s Homestay. It’s a pretty small village but if you get lost, just ask someone and they’ll point you in the right direction.
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