BEAUTY, the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal wrote, has another side to it, and a beautiful place, “like a round loaf of bread,” offers the question whether one could love even what is imperfect, unpleasant, neglected.
The Cebu-Sagada-Cebu road trip, foremost, was about seeing all these beautiful places, those that we only saw in postcards and had dreamed of visiting ever since. And then there’s the entire process of getting to these places and going back. In both cases – the seeing and searching – were marked by extremes.
During our long drives, the scenery shifted from breathtaking to dismal, from dramatic to depressing, all without warning. At several points, one could no longer distinguish the urban from the rural, the sprawl of progress from decay. But travelers in a hurry have no time to mull over these sad realities, whether there is something to love in spite of these imperfections, unpleasantness and neglect. All there was to do was to get away as fast as we could to reach the next picture-perfect destination.
That was the story so far on the road – leaving the environmental sob story that was Baguio to get to Sagada, and now two days later, leaving Sagada via a different route to avoid Baguio. This meant passing the road that cuts through Bontoc, then down to Banaue, in search of a famed man-made wonder. And along the way, the unexpected began to unfold.
The good thing about not having done much research for this road trip was that we were always in for a surprise, bad or good. But along the last remaining stretch of the Halsema Highway in the soft Cordillera daylight, it was all good – smooth roads, stunning scenery, landslides that procrastinated. Then slowly from down below, rice terraces carved on the edge of the river banks appeared. The Kadchog Rice Terraces, we’d later learn. And farther down we’d find the Bayyo Rice Terraces. We were all bent on seeing the “world’s eighth wonder” some 60 kilometers from Sagada, that we didn’t expect to see these other earthen monuments to Ifugao expertise.