I felt rather than saw Rimas stopping behind me. I sensed him smile, following my stare up those several flight of stairs spaced one and a half feet apart each other.
“It’s as if you’re the guide,” he complimented. It was one of his statements prodding me on, approving and comparing me to previous visitors he once toured around.
We were on our way back to the Junction Point at 7:30 in the morning. I was in a hurry to catch the 9 a.m. ride, the only jeepney to transport both tourists and locals to the town center of Banaue. Rimas said there was no need to hurry. At the rate I was going, I could cut off the regular trekking time by half.
Not again! My weary part disgustedly echoed. I do love trekking, but the thought of departing made the task ahead of raising wobbling legs one after another on slippery and narrow steps a hundredth times grueling. I had to push myself to keep on moving upward and set aside rest as the final prize.
I was leaving Batad, home to the UNESCO World Heritage amphitheater-like rice terraces, home to the longing of a searching, clueless heart. As I struggled to move up the only-one-person-at-a-time trail under the early morning drizzle, panting, half-listening to Rimas’ anecdotes, I recalled how I dreamt of this trip for months.
I longed to witness the tribal Ifugao’s ingenuity and confirm my amazement of their skillful hands able to build unequaled structures like these rice terraces thousands of years ago.
I invited friends to backpack with me to this off-beaten path. But the prospect of an hour-plane ride from Cebu to Manila, 12 hours overnight bus ride to Banaue, Ifugao, an hour-plus bumpy tricycle ride to the drop off point, more than an hour uphill trek to Batad Junction and an hour-plus downhill trek to the zero-communication signal village proper, definitely put them off.
A few steps before the Junction Point, I turned and faced one more time towards the direction of the village peeking between windows of leaves silhouetted by fog and soft rays of the early sunshine.
I remembered the contentment felt from waking up to the chirping sound of birds outside my window. I savored those moments perching by the window sill, mesmerized a thousand times by the stupendous presence of the terraces. Then I looked beyond the mountains and felt the trickling down of cold waters from the Tappiya Falls onto my body.
I arrived in Batad eager but restless, in search of something. I departed from it still eager but now able to name and give meaning to that restiveness.
I arrived to that point of knowing more of myself, when I choose to depart and embark on this trip alone, among strangers who came to regard me as their own.
“When are you coming back?” Rimas’ voice cut me off from my reverie.
“Soon…” We both grinned.
I was raring once more for another departure.