Banaue is a community nestled on foots and edges of several hills where the rice terraces that vary in color depending on the season are carved. It’s a municipality of 12,000 composed predominantly of farmers, though it also heavily relies from revenues brought in by tourists.
The people are generally welcoming, especially the younger generations of Ifugao, having gotten used to the onslaught of tourists that are mostly Europeans. Older inhabitants, on the other hand, those who have seen far too many, those who have had their fill of more than a reasonable number of Caucasians that look ridiculously comic in the traditional Ifugao g-string, have gone jaded and would make an indifferent Parisian in Paris blush. Their ‘you’re-invisible’ attitude toward anyone who is obviously not from the place is several notches above that of an arrogant Frenchman in his native France.
This old weaver refused to have her picture taken; she was aghast when she realized I took her picture as the flash from camera must have startled her. I tried my best to befriend her, but my insolence has created an unbridgeable rift between us.
Right after I found a house to stay in the next two days and introduced to a knowledgeable guide recommended by the caretaker of the house, I asked for a slack time of two hours before we began the trek which the eager guide named Michael happily agreed.
I thought I did not need to begin the trek very early as the sky appeared relatively cloudy and the sun did not give any hint that it’d make its fierceness felt any time. It has been raining in Banaue for weeks before I arrived, according to Joker, the caretaker, while he’s making funny faces to the glee of his three-year old daughter, Gem.
I was lucky, he added, that there was no sign it was going to rain that day as there were some small punctured parts of the sky where the sun’s intense rays cut through.
I spent the two hours walking around the community center and the narrow streets in the fringes. It was barely thirty minutes past seven in the morning. Most people were still in their beds enjoying the cool morning, but few individuals were already on the streets, including these two kids who were playing when I passed by in front their house,
…these two young men who happened to come from nowhere while I was taking the picture of the two boys above,
…and this dog that was scavenging for food beside the street.
As in many small communities all over the Philippines, Banaue not exempt, shame or the fear of losing face is still an important deterrent against deviance. Here is Banaue’s version of a public pillory: a list of names of people who have outstanding debts.
From the public market, I crossed this rusty hanging bridge painted reddish orange as if to mock the corrosion that is slowly eating the metal up. The joints that flimsily hold the bridge together sang a requiem every time I made a step. Two men who were coming toward my direction traipsed fearlessly, furthering the shaking; I feigned a smile and greeted them good morning.
Below the bridge is a small terrace where I caught this farmer plowing the soil. He’s wearing a shirt that made quite a statement:
And on the edge of the paddy, sitting pensively, was a boy, probably the farmer’s son, who gave me a stare after he saw me taking the picture of the man wearing that intelligent shirt.
Tall houses line the street and their architecture is as haphazard and random as the general plan of the community is random.
Expression of love, I am starting to think, is one of man’s few universal yearnings.
Despite the relative remoteness of Banaue, the community has kept itself abreast with technology. A number of houses have satellite dishes that look exactly as sad as this.
Even though they have cable subscription and an equally lonely-looking satellite dish attached to the east side wall of their house, I was thankful that Joker and his family are of the opinion that television is repulsive, so it remained shut during my stay.
Whenever I go to a new place, as I am wont to do, I would examine its public elementary school. This bleak welcome sign to Banaue Central School did not look very promising.
But there is something this place has that should keep it optimistic despite grinding poverty and government neglect: the smile of a boy playing with his friends outside the gates of the school was the most hopeful I’ve seen for a long while.
This short trip taught me a very important lesson: that I need not much to be happy.