Mayoyao Unexplored: Embracing the Charms of Community-Based Tourism in Banhal

February 22, 2024 Travel

Travel takes on a new dimension when you step away from the usual routes. If you want your experience to be more than just about sightseeing, this is the way to go.

Community-Based Tourism (CBT) offers an opportunity to connect with Indigenous and rural communities in ways that traditional tourism often overlooks. Imagine traveling not just to destinations but to the heart of local life, guided by community members who share their stories and open doors to places less explored.

And our exploration becomes a way to support local economies and preserve authentic experiences.

I recently participated in a Community-Based Tourism (CBT) program organized by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) in Mayoyao, Ifugao. Our diverse group included skilled trainers providing the CBT Marketing Enhancement Program. This program offered intensive workshops and learning sessions covering crucial skills such as customer service, business strategies, and digital marketing for CBT stakeholders.

I joined a group of travel bloggers and content creators on a tour around Mayoyao. Accompanying us were expert tour guides conducting site validations, ensuring the quality and authenticity of the tourism experience.

Banhal Tourism Village: A Glimpse into Heritage

A key highlight of the trip was our interaction with the Banhal community.

The women of Banhal, along with tourism stakeholders from Mayoyao, Aguinaldo, and Alfonso Lista, took part in hands-on learning. This comprehensive CBT initiative included a guided tour of their village.

Banhal is a charming village celebrated for its scenic Banhal Rice Terraces. It was one of the finalists in the 2023 Best Tourism Village—Cordillera.

These payew ('rice terraces' in the language of the Mayoyao people) are also part of the Mayoyao cluster, along with Bongan, Chumang, Chaya, Magulon, and other minor terraces. This cluster was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, alongside those in Batad and Bangaan in Banaue, Hungduan, and Nagacadan in Kiangan, all located in the province of Ifugao.

From afar, it is a breathtaking site, but venturing into its heart, we learned more about its landscapes, traditions, and hospitality.

Mayoyao is known for its stone-walled terraces carved into the mountain slopes. Our tour guides emphasized that these terraces were built not for slavery but for survival.

During our visit, local communities were preparing their rice fields for the planting season, set to begin around March. Despite the bare terraces, they captivate with a mirror-like appearance, resembling broken mirrors from afar, as they are filled with water.

Our first stop during our trek of the rice terraces was the modern version of the traditional native houses of Mayoyao. These tetrahedron-shaped dwellings, perched on four wooden posts without the use of nails, revealed the ingenious architecture of the Ifugao people. The ground level was dedicated to weaving and livelihood activities, the second for sleeping, cooking, and dining, and the top level for storage.

After that, we trekked to the middle of the village to meet the women of Banhal, who showcased their crafts in one of the oldest traditional Mayoyao houses.

They greeted us warmly and offered us a delightful snack of boiled root crops. As we enjoyed the treat, they showcased their vibrant traditional attire, including the striking royal blue version of the wrap-around skirt worn by Ifugao women. They also skillfully demonstrated their weaving and handicraft-making talents.

During that day, there were not many products on display due to the busy period in the rice fields. Nevertheless, we are grateful for their generosity in taking time away from their primary livelihood to spend with us.

Culinary Traditions: Maor’fong and Community Bonding

On our final night in Mayoyao, we reconnected with the women of Banhal.

After exploring Mayoyao for two days and visiting attractions such as Tenogtog Falls, The Mayoyao Central Rice Terraces, Khohang Garden View Deck, O'Phaw Mahencha Waterfalls, and Nagchajan Viewdeck, we gathered once again with the rest of the group, including the trainers and the training participants, at Mayoyao Hostel, where the training was being conducted.

Together, we took part in a tradition known as Maor’fong.

Maor’fong is a communal custom where a meal is shared, typically meant for four people squatting on the floor. Our hosts served us plates of rice with chicken on top and vegetables on the side. These native chickens were prepared using traditional methods, burning the feathers before boiling. Although it might not be the most delicious meal I've ever had, its cultural significance made it one of the most memorable experiences.

Empowering the Community: Tourism Promotion Board’s Impact

The CBT program culminated with the turnover of a Kabuhayan Package for the women of Banhal, which included materials they could use for their weaving.

The Mayoyao Chief Executive, Hon. Mayor Jimmy Padchanan Jr., and Department of Tourism – Cordillera Regional Director, Ms. Jovi Ganongan, led the event, expressing their high hopes for the community of Banhal.

I'm sincerely grateful to TPB for arranging the CBT program in Mayoyao and for inviting me to participate in it. The experience allowed me to explore the vibrant culture of Banhal and witness the positive impact of sustainable tourism. TPB's thoughtful planning shows its dedication to authentic and meaningful travel experiences. It is wonderful to see an organization actively supporting local communities and promoting responsible tourism. Thank you, TPB!

Looking Ahead: A Call to Experience Mayoyao

If you're intrigued by the idea of exploring this part of the Cordilleras and discovering yourself in its cultural embrace, let me know. Mayoyao awaits, ready to unveil its wonders and stories to those willing to listen.


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