The Philippines is synonymous with beaches and diving; neither were the focus of my most recent trip. I went instead for the nature onshore. Most people found this an odd choice. In hindsight maybe it was……
So what did I see and do? Well not as much as I’d hoped – I visited in December as it coincided with our office shut down, unfortunately it also coincided with incredibly wet weather. Not to be deterred I still managed an extraordinary amount of rice terrace trekking.
The Philippines rice terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sheer volume, scale and height of these terraces is really breathtaking. These ancient narrow manmade vertiginous plots of land are designed for communal living with an elaborate watering system. Trekking them calls for thighs of steel especially in the wet and muddy conditions. I became somewhat of a mountain goat trip trapping up and down the steep slippery terraces with the locals.
Definitely the most interesting aspect of my trip was the Filipino attitude to death. In one area of Northern Luzon traditional beliefs and Christianity merge; with an ongoing practice of hanging coffins on the side of rock faces. Strict rules determine who is eligible to be “buried” in such a manner. These include being of Igorot heritage, reaching an old age, and having grandchildren. The deceased’s religion is reflected by their coffin shape and size. Christians are interred flat on their backs, whereas non-Christians are placed in their coffins in a foetal position.
Now for the really unusual part…… The deceased partakes in the funeral ceremony, by witnessing proceedings whilst tied upright in a chair. Yes, that’s right – the deceased individual is sat watching their funeral. This concept is rather ghoulish. As were the photographs I saw!
With the coffin already in situ suspended on a rock face the next step is to get the body there. The deceased is wrapped in a blanket and carried aloft by local villagers to a place called Echo Valley. Individuals tussle over who will carry the body, as it is considered good luck and a passing on of wisdom if any of the decaying body fluid drips on you. Once at the site the body is winched into place up the rock face to join other revered members of the community.
Lastly I want to give a shout out for the unusual natural phenomenon known as the Chocolate Hills. In central Bohol 1,268 perfectly formed rounded hills nestle together resembling goosebumps on the landscape. Albeit rather large goosebumps, but the hills are of uniform shape and size. Apparently they were formed by an uplift of coral deposits and then shaped by a combination of rainfall and erosion. However they were formed they have a certain charm about them and are worth a visit.
So would I have preferred beaches and relaxing? No. I think I saw some pretty amazing things away from the mainstream island hoppers.