Sunday, November 20, 2005

North Phils., Feb. 2002 (part 1)

These are my accounts of our simple adventure in 2002.
I posted these in pilipinasforum and other egroups, 3rd week of February 2002:

In February 2002, a 6-days travel dubbed "North Philippines Expedition" was organized by the North Phils. Tourism Council, Presidential Assistant for North Luzon, Ford, Castrol, Pagcor, PAF, among others. About 150 cars, vans, pick-ups, SUVs, and scooters participated. One AirForce chopper is on standby for the caravan for emergency airlifts. The night before the caravan, Feb. 9, I went to Clark, Pampanga, for the final registration, vehicle check-up, get documents, etc. Three female friends -- Llana Domingo, her AIM batchmate ('91-93) Elma Laguinia, and Elma's friend Joy Caccam -- would join me the following day in my 5+ years old Mitsubishi L-200 pick-up, definitely among the "oldest" cars in the caravan.

Day 1, Feb. 10, Sunday: Clark-Nueva Ecija-Nueva Vizcaya-Kiangan, Ifugao, 308 kms.

Assembly time was 6am. Llana, Elma and Joy came from Manila around that time too. It was fascinating to see a long line of numbered vehicles and motorbikes; drivers and passengers were excited to see new places, meet new friends. After a short program and final instructions to drivers, we left Clark around 7am. You can see and feel the amazement in the eyes of the people in the towns of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija provinces as they watch and wave to our very long line of cars and motorbikes.

Pit stop in San Jose City; this place is quite big and expansive, the last one city/municipality of Nueva Ecija bordering Nueva Vizcaya. We refueled, treated to a short program, drum & bugle corps number. We can see the lower portion of the bald Caraballo Mountains that separates the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. Soon enuogh, we started climbing Dalton Pass' mountainous & zig-zag road. This road is not as high and winding as the roads going up to Baguio (Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, and Naguilian Road), but some corners can be as tricky and narrow.

Lunch in Bayombong, N.Vizcaya's capital. A short program, an ethnic dance number from students of a local university, speeches by some LGU leaders, was held. Nearby is a photo-exhibit of major tourist attractions of the province. N. Vizcaya police were very efficient in stopping traffic from all directions that might block the caravan path. There were policemen even in small, barangay roads that connect to the highway where we pass by. Hats off to N.Vizcaya PNP!

Then off to Kiangan, Ifugao, about 32 kms. before Banawe. Ifugao is not as high as its neighboring provinces in the Cordilleras like Benguet and Mountain Province. Nevertheless, the road up is winding and some corners are pretty tight and narrow. Dinner was a bland lechon baboy & manok. Grabe, hanap ako ng asin para magkalasa! The province being mountainous and land-locked, people are not used to using salt when they cook. After dinner, an Ifugao Cultural night - colorful Ifugao wedding dance, festival dance, group dancing, speeches by the town mayor and Ifugao provincial Governor.

Ifugao's police and military were also as efficient and visible in greeting us from the boundary of N.Vizcaya up to Kiangan. Some good views of rice terraces in the municipality, though not as splended as Banawe's. The Kiangan campsite was well-secured by the PNP. Plenty of souvenir items to choose as plenty of stalls were set up at the camp site. Cold weather and tired, zzzz...ngorrrkkkkk early.

Day 2, Feb. 11, Monday: Kiangan-N.Vizcaya-Isabela-PeƱablanca, Cagayan, 290 kms.

This is where I have experienced for the 1st time, descending at 50-60 kph on zig-zags (Ifugao), because the Ford expeditions, Explorers & new cars were in the front. Also my first time to drive at 110-120 kph on a 2-way flat highway (Isabela) with lots of on-coming tricycles and other vehicles because our group was trailing the main pack, a bit scary. Plenty of people converged and watched the 100+ vehicles in Santiago, a big municipality inIsabela, on our way to Magat Dam. The dam is simply big and fanta-bulous! Lunch at Camp Vizcarra, a riverside resort; good view of clear, strong water current that comes from the dam; there's a hanging bridge too. Two drums and bugle corps serenaded us as we walk down the resort. Buffet lunch with lechon baboy again (not bland this time).

Schoolchildren - ahh, hundreds of them accompanied by their teachers, in each public elementary and high schools that we passed in Isabela and Cagayan provinces, were waving and shouting happily on the roads, as if there was a fiesta! I slowed down, despite obvious signals by the cars behind me (they can't overtake me, my number's ahead of them, hehehe), to greet and wave back at the screaming schoolchildren. Tuguegarao City, Cagayan's capital, seemed to have a sudden and impromptu fiesta. Elementary scholl children were led out of their classrooms by their teachers, waving flaglets, designed either the Phil. flag or triangular flaglets with hearts on them (happy valentines kasi), also screaming and waving happily. Actually, of the 14 provinces that we passed by, Cagayanon children were the warmest. This one will make you proud you're a Filipino - the friendliness of our countrymen.

From Tuguegarao City, we went to PeƱablanca, famous for its Callao caves and Pinacanauan river. What used to be rocky riversides were covered with soil and gravel so the hundreds of vehicles could park right beside the river. The locals are of course very happy because hundreds of visitors will be staying in their lodging houses, buying food, drinks & souvenir items, riding their bancas, etc. We rented a banca to mountainside where we could watch tens (or hundreds?) of thousands of bats going out of their caves, at exactly 6pm. For about 3-5 minutes, the bats slightly covered and darkened the sky!

Another buffet dinner, may lechon baboy na naman. Evening cultural show was splendid, courtesy of the Cagayan State University's dance troupe, where a friend, Vic Balatico (my classmate in PDE, UPSE) teaches Pol. Science and Economics. Again, speeches by the municipal mayor andCagayan Governor Lara. Security was overwhelming, combined PNP and Army forces secured us the whole night.

Day 3, Feb. 12, Tuesday: Callao Caves-Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, 290 kms.

Early splash at the Pinacanauan river (think I was the only one who plunged into the waters that morning), then drove back to Tuguegarao, refueled. The public school children in other municipalities were again waiting for us on the roads - waving and cheering; some schools even brought their drum & bugle corps to play while we pass. Caravan speed was a manageable 80 kph; when we pass by public schools with children cheering, the caravan would slow down to 40-60 kph. But I would slow even further, 20 to 40 kph so I and my 3 fellow travellers in the car could wave backto the children and the local folks, and the latter appreciated a lot by cheering and waving even more wildly! The rest of the vehicles behind me have to slowdown too; perhaps I compelled those in cars behind me to open their windows to wave back at the children as the kids kept on yelling. Ha ha ha, sorry na lang sila, pala-kaway kami sa mga tao eh. But then by doing so, I have temporarily cut the rest from the caravan, so I have to speed off again to chase the mainpack. Brooommm, back to 90-100 kph till I reached the next vehicle.

At the last 4 towns of Cagayan bordering Ilocos Norte - Pamplona, SanchezMira, Claveria & Sta. Praxedes - I made this conclusion: the more isolated the place, the friendlier the people. Here, not only school children, but also adults - farmers, vendors, house keepers, etc. - would go out to smile and wave us. Some have plackards, "Mabuhay turistang Pinoy!", "Thank you forvisiting us", "Come, visit us again", etc. These towns are relatively isolated as there are only very few buses plying the Laoag-Tuguegarao route. I remember Ozone Azanza's story when they came here a few years before, the bus they were riding would stop and wait for a passenger (possibly known to the driver) who at the time was still taking a bath!

Crossing the boundary of Ilocos Norte, the scenery changed from rice fields and trees to a wide, clear, blue ocean beyond a cliff... breath-taking, fantabu-lous, majes-tacular, and wonder-zing (he he he) view of South China Sea and northern-most part of Luzon mainland. We're in Pagudpud territory! Descending further, we reached the famous Patapat Cliff, among the country's longest bridges with breath-taking view of the ocean. Not in the plan to have a stop-over, but all vehicles stopped, passengers got out to take pictures. I had one photo where I looked like jumping off the several hundred meters deep cliff, arghh!!

The resorts of Pagudpud, all boasting of about 5 kms. of white sand beach. Pagudpud is also called as the "Boracay of the North". Buffet lunch again. This time, no more lechon baboy, because we had lechon baka na! Rest, swimming in the afternoon, then another buffet dinner. Magsawa ka sa bagnet at iba pang Ilocano delicacies. Beach party with a band, Ilocos Norte Gov. BongbongMarcos gave a short speech. While people were a-dancing and a-singing, our group chose to stay out of the noise and lied down on the beach, watching the stars and exchanging stories and some jokes. When they noticed I was already ngork-ngorrkkking-zzzzzzng, they pulled me up, led me to my room in the hotel.