The first time I flew into this city it was like entering a place straight out of the Middle Ages. On my flight from Karachi to Peshawar I rode a Russian-made and crewed airliner along with many Pashtuns in their native shalwar kameez, some of them carrying bundles of clothes on sticks in lieu of a suitcase. Upon landing, I took a brief tour of the city past narrow streets, centuries-old bazaars, walled forts and old architectural designs on wood and brick houses – all of which evoked memories of a distant past.
Our trip to Cagbalete Island cut short by a family emergency, we drove straight for home once we disembarked from our boat at Mauban port past 1PM. It was not yet dark when we reached San Pablo City and were contemplating having dinner at one of the gas stations along the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). However, Nina’s aunt and uncle suggested we take early dinner instead at the Sulyap Gallery Café inside San Pablo City proper. They assured us the stopover would be worth it.
Despite its proximity to Tagaytay City the town of Amadeo in Cavite has pretty much remained under the tourism radar. A small town of less than 40,000 people, Amadeo is nonetheless known as the “Coffee Capital of the Philippines,” acting as a major supplier of coffee beans to Metro Manila’s numerous cafes. Looking for a waterfall in the Cavite-Batangas area to practice our photography four years ago, we were delighted to know about Balite Falls in Amadeo, only a 15-minute or so drive from Tagaytay.
We drove for what seemed like an eternity along a winding road past mud brick houses on a bleak landscape, British Indian Army regimental insignias on roadside cliffs, hillside forts and dusty Pakistani Army outposts. At many a hairpin turn, Khyber levies with their ominous Kalashnikovs stood watch. Positioned there to provide security for travelers on the pass, they evoked a completely opposite feeling among our group of mixed nationalities. Finally we were there – at the highest point of the Khyber Pass on the edge of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province overlooking the descent to Afghanistan and the first villages past the border of that country.
August and January are not your normal island-hopping, beach-combing months in the Philippines. Typhoons are the norm in August and January lies smack in the middle of the northeast monsoon season that can make for scary inter-island boat trips due to the strong waves. For some strange reason we ended up visiting Cagbalete, a scenic island in the Pacific Ocean lying off the town of Mauban in Quezon province, during those very same months.
It was a perfect morning when our boat left the beach in front of Dona Choleng Resort at Cagbalete Island, Quezon. Overhead was a partly cloudy sky with the sun peeking through blue gaps in the tangle of white and gray clouds. The waves were calm and our boat easily made its way to our morning destination: the Yang-In Sandbar.
Still feeling a bit tired from the nine-hour bus trip from Manila plus another hour by jeepney from Banaue town proper we trekked the remaining 3 kilometers to our destination on foot. It was already late in the morning when we arrived at the village entrance, accompanied by Manong Jun, our wiry local guide. A few meters past the entrance, a sight until now hidden from our view emerged: amphitheater-like terraced rice fields carved from the mountainside now almost golden yellow in color from ripening rice stalks..