It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Banaue/Batad

The best decision of my trip to the Philippines was to go to Banaue/Batad. It was seriously the highlight of my trip, and quite easily in my top 3 favorite places in the world.

Researching how to get to Banaue was daunting, but thankfully I had the help from Valerie, my cousin’s lovely partner. She set me up with an amazing guide, Alvin Gabriel, who met me at the bus station in Banaue and stayed with me the 36ish hours I was there.

Since I was only staying one night, we were very busy. When my bus rolled in at 10AM (after being 2-hours delayed after a break-down at 3AM… it’s always something when I travel!) Alvin took me to get breakfast at a cafe with a GORGEOUS view of Banaue. I drank water, ate a sandwich, and kept marveling how I actually made it to such a beautiful place.

After breakfast, Alvin took me to the trail to Batad via tricycle, with intermediary stops along the way for great photo opportunities. I kept saying “WOW,” because it seemed to be the only word I could remember. I said, “It’s so GREEN!” and Alvin told me “Wait until we get to Batad.”

Now, Banaue is beautiful, but oh my goodness, if you make the trip there I HIGHLY recommend hiking to Batad, because it is even better than Banaue. It’s very remote, I had no phone service and the homestays do not have wifi, but seriously, GO. If you don’t go, you are seriously missing out.

It was raining off and on that afternoon, so our hike was broken up between waiting under awnings and hiking the rice terraces. The weather was so beautiful, a mix of clarity and atmospheric clouds. Seriously amazing weather for photo-taking.

Another lovely thing about the rain was I was able to talk to other travelers while we waited for the weather to break. I met two Columbia University students and an older gentleman from Pennsylvania, and a couple from Melbourne. I’m normally a shy person, so meeting others and actually having fun conversations with them was a highlight to my day.

Alvin took me up to the viewing point, which over-looked the entire valley. It was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave.

After going to the top of the terraces, we went down, down, down into the village to get to the Batad Village Homestay. It was there I met Rona, the wonderful owner of the homestay, and she showed me her traditional house. The traditional house looks like a hut on stilts, and she told me how she was born in that house and she lives there to this day. She explained she didn’t like “modern houses” because the rooms are all separate and inconvenient, unlike her single room home.

She showed me some old statues, which belonged to her parents, which were of rice guardians. Rona said she didn’t believe in the old religion, that she was a Christian, and we talked about our love of God for about an hour before I went to dinner.

The power had gone out, so I ate via candlelight and read a book while Alvin and some of the other guides played guitar. I definitely sang along to “Country Road”. No shame.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and looked out my window, and once again was awestruck at how amazing my life is.

Alvin and I saddled up and hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. There were lots of stairs to go down… So many stairs… But the falls were breathtaking. People were swimming in the river but I decided nah, and drew a crummy picture instead (no, you can’t see.) I had a lot of fun relaxing in the sun, listening to the roar of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

Then we hiked all the way back up the stairs, and I cursed myself for spending the past two years of grad school sitting on my butt behind a computer screen, and promised to get myself to a gym or something because dang, that was difficult. Shout out to Alvin for being patient!

After the falls I was actually kinda sad, because that meant we were going to hike out of Batad and back to Banaue. I didn’t want to leave Batad at all; it was so beautiful and peaceful. The hike back wasn’t without it’s nice views, though, and I snapped some pics of interesting things along the way back.

I left for Manila that evening, already planning to come back in the near future.

So, Banaue/Batad? Definitely go, get Alvin as your guide, and you won’t regret it.

Happy Shooting!


Embarrassing America, Pt. 2: Pacific Coastal Highway and Yosemite National Park

Part One of my road trip was getting from Chicago to LA, which was an adventure. The next part of my trip was even more adventurous, which I didn’t think was possible. Man, I was wrong.

We drove up to northern California via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was GORGEOUS. I thought we were going to die a couple of times (man, those road were narrow, winding, and didn’t have guard rails sometimes,) but we made it. It was breathtaking, seeing the biggest ocean stretching out past the horizon. I felt so small, but that feeling was welcome. I loved every moment.

I also fell asleep after a while. Because it is me, and that’s what I do for some reason?

The PCH was really, really, long. I thought it would never end, but we did get to our goal, which was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to see it, which may be a little silly because it’s a bridge, but still. It was really awesome, and I’m glad the evening was clear and not ruined by the infamous smog.

We were such tourists. It was great.

I think one of the most special things about the PCH was what was waiting at the end of it. After years and years I finally got to see my friend Amanda, who lives in northern California in the middle of nowhere. However, the middle of nowhere still had a Denny’s, and after being in the car for over 15 hours, it was much needed.

Nothing says “desperate road-trippers” quite like a Denny’s. I feel like Denny’s isn’t a place you choose to go. You just kind of end up there with everyone else who is questioning their life choices.

We stayed the night at Amanda’s place, and before we left in the morning I took Amanda’s portrait for a project. We set up a VERY impromptu studio in her bedroom, and while she was getting ready for her close up, I was testing the lights on Sean and Dana. We had a little bit of fun, shenanigans happened, and even though it isn’t the most professional or well done studio portraiture, my heart is warm looking at these goofy picture.

Especially Sean and his coffee mug.

After a heartfelt goodbye and hugs, we set off to Yosemite National Park. I actually stayed awake for this portion of the trip– I really did– and it was worth it. I have hardly seen a place so gorgeous. We got there before dusk and stopped along the road to take photos, because like I mentioned before, we were SUCH tourists, and we got to the camp ground we were planning on staying at, only to find it was full.

Whoopsie daisy.

If there is anything I have learned on my travels, it is to go with the flow. So, even though we couldn’t set up camp, I figured out what we needed to do, which was show up at the campground at 4AM the next day to wait in line for a spot. After we figured that much info out, we needed a place to stay for the night. I figured worse case scenario we’d sleep in the car at some random gas station, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. We camped in an RV park and ate PB&J sandwiches for dinner. We’re the real winners.

We got our camp ground (which was Camp 4, if you’re wondering– one of the few campground in Yosemite where you don’t need to make a reservation like 6 months in advance,) and we did a short, easy hike to Mirror Lake. It was a pretty little hike, and it was nice being under El Capitan. It was a good start to our time, even if I did find a pair of underwear in the middle of the road.

Since we were only there for a couple days, we did two larger hikes. The first one was to Upper Yosemite Falls, and the next day we hiked up to Glacier Point.

Confession: I am grossly out of shape and I am still wondering how on earth I made it up either of those mountains.

Hiking up Upper Yosemite made me hate these words: dozens of switchbacks. I thought my thighs were going to detach themselves from my body and jump off a cliff. I have no idea how we made it up, but I’m glad we did because the views were breathtaking. It was easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my entire life.

I even had a moment to sit alone and take it all in. I may have sang a little hymn. It is those moments that I live for.

When we woke up the next morning to hike up to Glacier Point, I didn’t think I was going to make it. My body hurt so bad. I could almost hear my knees whispering “go to hell.” But, through sheer willpower, stubbornness, and lots of breaks, Sean, Dana, and I made it up that damn mountain.

Shout out to Dana for demanding breaks I was being too stubborn to ask for. And shout out to Sean for taking those breaks, even though he was fine.

So Yosemite was the bomb diggity and all that jazz. 10/10 highly recommend. I wanna go back and hike up Half Dome– and next time I go, I will be in much better shape so I can accomplish that.

I think one of the best parts of Yosemite was channeling my inner Ansel Adams and Sierra Club. Shout out to my home boy Ansel.

Then, we went off to Glacier National Park, and man, that was an adventure…

An adventure I’ll write about next time. Until then, safe travels and happy shooting!