19.11.2011 – 20.11.2011 Sunny 32 °C
We packed up and left Pagudpud looking forward to our next destination even if just for a decent meal. We were surviving on crackers during the day and after having no dinner the night before we were in need of a feed. We grabbed a tricycle down to the national highway where the bus stop was for all buses heading east. I was apprehensive about how successful we would be though. Last time I was in Pagudpud I had to stay five days after missing the one bus a day to Tuguegarao. I checked out and back in again twice and on the third day gave up and went back to Vigan. Fortunately, and surprisingly we were only waiting twenty-minutes and up pulled a bus straight there. Result. They must be running more than one a day now or we were even luckier than we thought. The bus was rough though. It was a big old boy painted orange but had been well used and was probably the most uncomfortable ride I’d had in the Philippines so far. Five bum numbing hours later we arrived in Tuguegarao knowing that our next place, Tabuk, was only an hour and a half away. We didn’t know whether to spend the night or go straight to Tabuk. With it getting late we decided to stay after stumbling across a hotel, The Delfino, at 800P (£11) for the night, we were tired and hungry anyway and it was a welcome break. The guy gave us our key and we headed up to the room. B unlocked the door and walked in halting in the hallway. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I asked as I was carrying both our heavy bags and needed to put them down. ‘Look’ she said. An open suitcase lay on the side, used towel on the bed and clothes were hanging up. We’d walked into a room already booked out. We span on the spot and headed out and I went to tell the bloke on reception. He seemed puzzled like he didn’t expect anyone to be in there but just gave us another key. We could have robbed all the guys stuff, not that there was anything nice anyway. They don’t ask for any ID when you book into a room anywhere in the Philippines, well, in Manila I have been asked before but it’s not common practice. I said to B ‘tonight we take the key out with us’.
We headed out looking for grub, most of the Filipino street kitchens/restaurants look a bit manky to be honest. It’s not like Thailand or Vietnam where the food is cooked quickly there and then for you. Food is just sitting in pots scattered around a dodgy looking table with ants running about and the Filipinos just warm it up. You don’t know what most of it is either and although they tend to speak good English or there is someone around that does, you can’t be arsed to ask. We carried on walking and what do we find? A McDonalds, a Jollibee and a Greenwich. Brilliant. I always feel bad walking into a fast food joint as you know the locals are thinking ‘look at the fat Americans’ but we were starving. We chose Greenwich as we’d never been to one (we try to mix it up a little) and were pleasantly surprised. It was bloody lovely and a bargain. 99P (£1.40) for a Meaty Spaghetti dish, a small Hawaiian pizza and a small soft drink and the food was great. Back at the hotel I found a live premier league game on so watched that and went to bed for a well needed rest.
Again, if you are on the northern trail it is a decent place to stop in civilisation. Like Dagupan City in many ways, it has places to eat and sleep and isn’t expensive but you wouldn’t come here for a special visit.
20.11.2011 – 21.11.2011 Sunny/Rainy 31 °C
We left Tuguegarao in a minivan along the long snakey road through the mountains headed for Tabuk for 85P each (£1.20). The view was nice. If you are doing this trip sit next to the window and get your camera out. Arriving an hour and a half later we were planning to jump straight onto another bus to Bontoc where we were going to stay and just Jeepney the two hours to Banaue to see the rice terraces. That plan went straight out the window. We were told there’s only one bus a day to Bontoc and it’s at 8am, no wait, 7:30, nope, 6am – depending on which tricycle driver you listen to. Fantastic. It’s only 70kms so I asked a tricycle driver how much to take us there. One massive difference between the Philippines and Thailand to Vietnam and all places in between; they don’t tend to rip you off. I opened myself up for him to say anything, we were in Tabuk, there was nothing there and nothing to do and it was only 2pm, if he’d have said 1000P or even 2000P we’d have paid it. Instead, after consulting in Tagalog with his co tricycle drivers he told me he thought I should get the bus, it’s a lot cheaper he said. His mates were all listening so it wasn’t that he just didnt fancy the drive either because one of them would have jumped in, none of them wanted to rip us off. Instead he said ‘jump on I’ll take you to some hotels and you can grab the bus tomorrow’. I didn’t ask how much this time, having confidence he wouldn’t con me. The first hotel we went to was, remarkably, fully booked. I don’t know who with. The place was a ghost town. The second, The Davidson Hotel, had 1 room left they said for 1500P (£21) which I knocked down to 1350P (£19). Always ask for a discount, most drop ten percent without even blinking. We booked in and I asked the Trike guy how much? 50P (70p). Splendid. Whata chap. Big tip for him.
Although there was nothing to do in Tabuk apart from Rafting and we were too late for that, the stay was actually a nice one. The room was decent, our evening meal was good, spicy garlic chicken followed by real carrot cake and a coffee and the staff all went well beyond the call of duty. We asked them about the bus to Bontoc and we were told to be in reception at 5:45 because it came between 6am and 7am according to the kind lady. We were in for a long wait. 5:45, we were there. A security guard grabbed an umbrella as it was pissing down and went to wait to flag down the bus for us from the other side of the road. 6am no bus. 6:30, no bus. 7am, no bus. The security guard was replaced by the receptionist. I felt guilty making them wait so went to try and replace her but she insisted I just wait with her. 7:30, no bus. It was still pissing down. By this time we were already discussing tactics to take another route (Tabuk – Roxas – Lamut – Banaue – Bontoc). This would take all day she said but little did I know so would our bus to Bontoc. A few minutes later it turned up. Fantastic. We jumped on and proceeded to spend the next forty-minutes waiting around for more passengers, having two snotty nosed kids kicking the back of our seats, we moved to the back. 8:10 we finally embarked on our six-hour journey. The lady in reception was the fourth person to tell me it takes six hours +, although I was struggling to believe it. It’s 70kms. If you power it at 10mph thats 16kms an hour. 4 and a half hours and you are there – walking it. How can a bus possibly take six hours + ? Six hours later we arrived in Bontoc. Just. The road is perilous and just how the guy driving this huge bus made it in one piece I’m still contemplating. This was easily the scariest journey I have ever faced spending at least a quarter of the time looking out the far window only to see a sheer drop with no barriers. I can imagine we were so close to the edge we must have been the cause of rocks falling from the road down the cliff edge. It didn’t help that it had been raining and I lost count of how many landslides we passed, with rocks and dirt covering one and a bit lanes of the road. The hills were the worst part though. Most of the road was paved which despite having residule water laying over it or running down it, was mostly OK. But every now and again you got 100m or so which is dirt track and for some reason there are bumps the size of cars to negotiate. Imagine going over a huge hump, on a dirt track, in the pissing rain, 1-2 feet from a cliff with a drop of hundreds of feet, in a rickety old bus. This is the closest I’ve come to crapping myself without actually doing it. Twice, on the way down from one of these bumps we turned and the back end flew out and the bus tipped towards the cliff. It was terrifying. Maybe it was worse because I was sitting in the back, I don’t know? The Filipinos weren’t in the slightest bothered, all laughing and joking and there were 10+ guys on the roof too (we could have easily arrived with just 5), it couldn’t have bothered them being up there. Who knows. So, having taken the 6 hours I was told it would they were broken up thus: an hour stopping for snacks, an extra hour because of the road condition – we were going slow, 30mins picking people up and 30mins because we had a blow out on one of the back tyres and had to replace it. The tyre that went on was so smooth through previous wear, it would give silk a run for it’s money. By those calculations it is really a 3 hour journey max if you went by car.
There is nothing in Tabuk apart from the option of rafting down the Chico River. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy there is nothing there for you. The Davidson Hotel is a great place for a nights stop-over if you do find yourself in Tabuk but the journey south to Bontoc isn’t for the faint hearted.