21-Jan-2004 -- I was only in the Philippines for 10 days on a brief holiday from my job as an English teacher in South Korea. My main goal for my vacation was to get to this confluence. During my research I realized that it was likely the confluence would be near to the famed Ifugao rice terraces. The 2000 year old terraces are an engineering marvel and are part of the UNESCO world heritage list. The ancient Ifugao people sculpted them out of the mountainsides and their ancestors continue to work the land, repair the walls and harvest the rice. It turns out that the confluence lies within the terraces, across a steep valley and rushing river from the village of Barrangay Bayyo.
I spent a couple days in the nearby chilled out mountain town of Sagada where the townspeople have the morbid custom of hanging the wooden coffins of their dead on the sharp limestone cliffs of their village. From Sagada I took a crowded Jeepney (old American WW2 jeeps converted to hold upwards of 50 people) to Bontoc and en route I met a Peace Corps worker named Jon. Jon showed me around Bontoc and over a coffee in a small empty cafe I told him of my adventure. He was busy that day helping a youth group set up a mushroom farm but he gave me some advice and told me where to catch the right Jeepney. He also owns a GPS and swore he and another Peace Corp friend, Nate, would get the confluence if I failed.
I rode on the top of the Jeepney over bumpy, dusty dirt roads that straddled ridges and cliffs and groaned up the steep mountains. I watched the GPS and as it got close I banged on the roof and the Jeepney stopped. All the other passengers were very confused as to why I wanted off on the edge of the road but I assured them it was okay and off trundled my ride. I hitched my pack on my back and started walking towards a little town called Bayyo. It was a 10 minute walk during which I descended down the mountainside and eventually entered the village. A few people saw me coming and soon I had a crowd of boys around me staring inquisitively. I surveyed my location and realized that I would have to descend further down the mountainside, cross the river and then climb the opposite slope. I finally found a small boy that understood where I was trying to go, and he agreed to show me. We started off down the hillside in a line. The leader wearing a leather jacket, army pants and flip flops, me carrying my large pack, camera, gps, etc. and then a line of 8 boys chattering and skipping along behind.
I left the boys at the river and started up the opposite slope. The slope turned out to be a tangle of vines, brambles, razor-sharp grasses, and thorns. I ditched my backpack (noting its location on my GPS) and continued along the mountain. The slope became too steep to stand on, so I was forced to grab handfuls of grass to keep from skittering down the dry slope like the scree from my feet. I was bleeding from my shins, arms, face and hands. One time I accidentally grabbed a large plant that was covered in microscopic hairs that imbedded themselves in my already lacerated skin and caused me further discomfort. The grasses were over my head, the vines tangled around my feet, blood was all over my clothes and GPS and to add further insult to injury I realized that I was still a kilometer from the point. Cursing to myself, I emerged from the grasses onto a big rock and sat down. It was at this point that I glanced across the valley for the first time. There, on the opposite side, stood 50 or so villagers. They smiled at me and waved. I realized that during my entire ordeal, I had been entirely visible to the villagers and they were having a great time watching me.
I finally aborted my mission and scrambled down to the river. As I was washing off all the blood and sweat a group of about 20 boys stood on a nearby bridge and stared at me. I smiled and pantomimed that I was crazy, and showed them my scratches and they started to laugh. I talked with them for a while and then snapped a few photographs. Luckily I was able to follow the river a little closer to my goal and in the end I could see that I was a mere 500 meters away. That 500 meters, though, was up the hillside. I could have headed up a well used path through a pleasant-looking forest and likely found the spot but I was losing my light, and there was no wear to sleep in Bayyo. I reluctantly turned back and headed up the hillside along ancient stone walls passing rice plants and farmers with their giant caribows (water buffalo) wallowing in the muck. I finally emerged at the schoolyard to an awaiting crowd of villagers.
In the village I was surrounded by at least 80 people and we all had a good time laughing at my expense while I tried to explain my mission. I bought a bunch of sweets for all the children and a couple bottles of coke for the mothers at a tiny little shop and we all had a fun time chatting. I met a really nice woman named Marina who understood about satellites and explained to the others. After retrieving my pack I said farewell to the villagers. Marina looked at my red bloody hands and arms and legs and laughingly said "You will have long memories of Bayyo".