The romantic destination of a trekking enthusiast is often so far into the backcountry that all evidence of human establishment has faded from view: pristine natural beauty.
However if beauty and awe are one’s end goals, the pride earned through isolation in the wilderness may overlook an entire category of human-built beauty.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often considered the 8th World Wonder, the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Philippines will take your breath away. This spectacle, located in the northern mountain province regions, includes thousands of miles of rice terraces, carved into the steep mountainside. Members of the Ifugao indigenous tribe built the rice terraces roughly 2,000 years ago. These terraces hold floodwaters in small ponds to produce rice, the main dietary component for all local residents.
Strap on your daypack or load up your camping pack for a multi-day trek through this human-made marvel. (And if you have always struggled to read a topographic map, this is your chance to seen contour lines carved out on the actual mountain.)
A 2-hour day hike through Banaue rice terraces (Banaue is one of 5 sites included in the UNESCO designation) starts at “Viewpoint,” a well-visited lookout point along the national highway. From there you can see steep, narrow stairs that descend quickly to the valley below, wind across a river, and begin their ascent on the opposite side to the very top of the terraced mountain. At some points, the trail is nothing more than a 4in wide cement wall you must balance upon or risk falling into a flooded rice pond. Other sections show signs of past landslides, a common threat to local communities and local roads. You will occasionally pass through native houses, catching a glimpse of life in this remote area.
The Ifugao still farm the rice terraces today. However, as members of younger generations opts to move to urban areas like Manila population loss threatens the future existence.
Balancing old and new, wilderness and society is a fine line to tread. But those rare instances where human society coexists with nature and enhances beauty rather than destroys it are worth appreciating. How did the Ifugao possibly construct something so vast on such a steep mountainous cliffside?! The bright green shoots of rice crop share no secrets about the labors involved in their construction.