Friday, July 17, 2009

Photographing the Rice Terraces of Banaue

I just returned from shooting the rice terraces in Banaue here in the Philippines, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. It was a great trip. I got lucky with the weather but did miss my family.

Most of the photos were done with a Canon 24-70m lens on a 5D Mark II.

I spent the first day by myself going back and forth to the 3 viewpoints for the terraces in Banaue watching light and shooting as different time of the day and the movement of clouds would change things. At one point I was stopped on the side of the road waiting for the sun, about 45 minutes, and a woman walked up and asked what I was looking for. I told her I was waiting on the sun and she told me she thought I was looking for gold. There are rumors that the Japanese general from WWII buried gold there during the war and still Japanese comes to look apparently.

The next day I hired a guide, Robert Immotna to go to Hapao, mainly because of the road conditions to get there and the van I had would not have made it. We took a trike and then the guide and I hiked for two hours down into the valley through the terraces (on the terrace walls). After that we went back to the viewpoints where with the help of my Robert to translate I shot portraits of 5 very old Infugao Indians.

Day three I used Robert again to go up to Batad. This trip required a can't make it nor can a trike. We actually got stuck in the jeepney trying to get over a landslide because we didn't have enough weight with only three of us. Two more jeepneys came along with groups and we all joined up in one and finally after several attempts made it across the landslide. It is a two-hour very bumpy ride to the "saddle" or drop point to begin the hike down to Batad.

From there we hiked down to the terraces or rather the view from the top of the "amphitheater", a two-hour hike on a slippery, wet narrow trail. I got my shot I wanted and considered going down into the terraces. It takes about an hour to get down into them, an hour to cross them and then two hours back before starting the 2-hour trip back UP to the saddle. By the time we had finished lunch it looked like rain coming (it had rained every after noon around 5:30) and I decided better to start back with the cameras. It turned out to be a good decision for two reasons. First our jeepney was still down at the junction haveing not been able to get over the landslide so that added two hours to the hike and just as we got there it started to rain.

My guide as are all the guides there is from one of the local tribes. They are still raised to be warriors although mostly in spirit today as opposed to headhunters like in the past. Robert was a talker as I am so not only did we get along great but also I learned a tremendous amount about the culture of the tribes, the beliefs, the problems they face today and life in general there.

Many of the children walk 2 hours or more one way up and down the mountain roads and paths to go to school. Living is very communal. The town of Banaue itself consists of 28,000 people and it is only people native to that region. Everyone I met knew everyone else I met.

And that led to me telling Robert about my two guides I used 9 years ago and of course he knew them, Dereck and Jhun. We actually met up with Dereck with a group at Batad and that night Robert, Juhn, Dereck and I met up for beers at a little cafe. It was really fun. You know I only knew Dereck and Juhn for three days and had only known Robert two but felt as if I had some really good friendships.

Robert, Juhn, and Dereck are trained and accredited tour guides and members of the Banaue Tourist Organization. I have suggested I donate some of my photos to them for use as postcards and posters that will help raise money for the guides and the organization in general. There is so much they need it is amazing.

On the side of the mountain where Batad is there is no bulldozer so landslides have to be repaired by hand and since there is no funding it is left to the jeepney and trike drivers. Fortunately the one for all and all for one work for the group thought process is still very much alive (it is one of the main belief systems of the Indians) and it is not a problem to get the men to do this but it can take 2-3 months sometimes to repair. For the most part is an on going repair.

Farmers that work the terraces make 150 pesos a day or about 3 US dollars. This is problematic because as children are now growing up with an education they don't want to work the rice preferring to go elsewhere to work. The maintenance and care of these terraces is a never-ending process. Planting is in Dec/Jan, Feb is transplanting, March/ April care and repair, June/July harvest and then it starts again all the while requiring constant repair and monitoring. Older people mostly do the work.

So there is a very real danger of loosing the terraces altogether in the future, which would be horrible to loose something that took literally thousands of years to build. Fortunately UNESCO is now involved and the terraces are listed as a World Heritage Sight but this requires the people to continue to meet certain requirements, which are difficult because of their overall budget.

I feel very fortunate to have seen them.

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