Jun 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

A skull-capped Ifugao villager.

Slightly bigger than Kentucky, Luzon is the largest island in the Philippine archipelago and home to more than 30 million people, a third of whom live in metro Manila. Ditch the city and you'll find an abundance of mountains, limestone cliffs, active volcanoes, whitewater rivers, and tranquil bays, which make Luzon a no-brainer for adrenaline-starved travelers.
The current pulse of the country's climbing community beats around Montalban, a dirty but friendly little mining town two hours by jeepney northeast of Manila. Here you'll find bolo-sharp 300-foot limestone walls and the frothy Wawa River. Most of the 50 or so routes are bolted and range from 5.1 to the upper 5.12 region. Test your balance and pocket pulling up the classic Redemption (5.10), the first sport route established in the country. The best guides are Jong Narciso and his pals from Estor Pang Outdoor (011-63-2-438-4059; [email protected]), a gear shop in northeast Manila. They're happy to show experienced climbers the local scene for free (or sell their new guidebook for $4), but be sure to donate some climbing gear, a commodity far more valuable than cash.

Ten hours by bus southeast of Manila, you'll find a half-dozen islands in the Albay Gulf, where, with a month's notice and about $600 per person, Gulf Marine kayaking guides Bem Redito and George Cordovilla will put together a custom sea-kayaking adventure to the islands of Cagraray, Batan, and Rapu-Rapu. The price includes five days of paddling, food, guides, transportation, and—get this—a kayak that's yours to keep. Bem designs his own molds and can whip out a fiberglass boat in a matter of days. If you don't want the hassle and expense of toting the boat home, use one from Bem's modest collection, which reduces the five-day total to $100 per person. Either way, you'll paddle under the smoking, 8,000-foot Mayon volcano, glide over coral banks, spot kingfishers and dolphins, and camp near nipa hut settlements. Gulf Marine can arrange for you to spend your first night at the Villa Amada Hotel (011-63-52-245-5121) in Legazpi, where rooms with air-conditioning and lukewarm showers go for $12 a night. Bring your own camp stove, tent, spray skirt, and paddle, as these items are scarce (George Cordovilla: 011-63-919-862-6543, [email protected]; Bem Redito: 011-63-919-752-8359, [email protected]).
The 2,000-year-old rice terraces of the Ifugao people, in the region of Banaue in northern Luzon, are billed as the eighth wonder of the world—especially since, unlike their seven counterparts, they were built without slave power. Trek from one village to the next atop these thin, curvy terrace walls—fall uphill and you'll land in the mud, fall downhill and you're in for a long tumble. Start in the village of Banaue, where you'll find guide Peter Gatik, a local legend, who can arrange a multiday trek from Banaue to any number of villages beyond. Be prepared for warm beer as your sole amenity in some of the smaller villages ($50 per night, food and gear included, except sleeping bags; contact AsiaVenture Services, 011-63-2-526-6929;

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