“The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.” – William Least Heat Moon
I never thought I would be traveling far north anytime soon.
A last minute invitation turned not-so-sure if-it-will-be-pursued-vacation (due to work related issues) turned c’mon-let’s go-escape-the city was worth all the frustrations and uncertainties of this superb and momentous escapade to Apayao.
Located in the northernmost part of Luzon in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Apayao is a 13 to 15-hour drive away from the Metro where one can enjoy countless picturesque scenery which are totally stunning and interesting.
And so last April 27, friday night, my pal and I decided to join his grandmother and cousins, along with his sister to visit their province, which is of course, Apayao. They usually visits their province every year for summer vacation, but it is only this year that I was able to join them. I remember how my pal keeps on asking me to go with them whenever they go home but due to personal matters I always keep on declining. But this year, yeah, I made it so.
By 5:30 in the afternoon, we headed on to RCG Bus terminal going to Junction Luna in Abulug, Cagayan which is located in Sampaloc, Manila to make it to the scheduled departure of 6 p.m. I don’t know why, but it took 7 p.m. before the bus was able to depart. The fare costs us P700 per person, one way ticket only.
I can say that the long drive going to Apayao is tiring but it’s worth it. Good thing that we chose the last scheduled trip just so we can enjoy the night without getting uncomfortable over the heat of the daylight. It’s just that it is hard to find a comfortable spot to sleep except to sit uneasily for long hours, and I am just so blessed that I have beside me, my pal, who serves as my pillow. Lol! I also want to remind others to bring along with you a jacket and pillow because it’s really cold inside the bus especially if you’ll be traveling the same hour as we did.
From time to time, we were awakened to attend to our personal needs during stopovers. But then I realized that the reason why it took us 14 long hours before we arrive to our destination is probably because of these stopovers. But of course, I’ll put it aside because I know, just as how exhausted we are, how much more is the person driving, right? And to make the bus story short, we arrived at Junction Luna in Cagayan, with the sun at its peak, by 9:30 in the morning.
After we brought down our luggages, Nanay (my pal’s grandma) rented a tricycle that will take us to their home. As I’ve heard, the tricycle trip costs P200-250. And another hour and so was spent on the road before we arrive in our sure destination – the fishery farm of Nanay’s family in Brgy. Imelda, Pudtol.
And so, this is what life in the province truly is – smell of green grasses, the relaxing sound of overflowing water, and breathe of fresh air. I grew up not having a province to visit to. This is why I am excited to know what it feels like living far away from the noisy and busy metro. And Apayao didn’t fail me. I love it here.
The first thing that struck me as we alighted from the tricycle is that the place is full of fish ponds with varieties of tilapia in it.
We were also asked to catch tilapia for our lunch and I find it amusing, as a first timer, to have caught a fish in a pond, and it was an achievement for me.
And what I loved the most was the sight of what they called Vietnamese Roses in blooming colors of white and pink alongside the pond. It is really beautiful. And from that moment, I knew this will be a great adventure.
We then rested for a while and then decided to pay a visit to their respective relatives nearby via walking. Yes, walking. Though I’m not really a fan of walking especially if it will costs me over 10 minutes of using my feet, I’ve enjoyed the walk, honestly. Why? Because I was able to walk with green grasses everywhere, the bluest sky I can see up above and the peak of mountains standing proud. Amazing, isn’t it! What a beautiful sight!
We were able to go to Brgy. Alem, where their aunt and uncle resides. And there, I have seen another sight of fish ponds. And without hesitations, I was able to take a nap in their made-up kubo because the cool air makes me do it so. After some time, we asked their uncle to tour us around the province in the afternoon and we then bid our goodbyes. (What I realized as I go around the area is that various flowers bloom here and there, that’s why I asked aunt if she can give me some flowering plants as a take home.)
In that same afternoon, just as decided, their Uncle toured us around the province using his tricycle. (Another realization: Going to and fro other places here takes 30 minutes to an hour. It’s best that you have your own vehicle while traveling here because the only mode of transportation here, as far as I know, is a tricycle.) Our first stop: Lusok Cave and Underground River.
This multi-chambered cave is one the most sought-after destinations in Luna, Apayao and it can be reached by riding a banca for P120.
We were accompanied by a tourist guide who pinpointed to us, using her flashlight, the decade-old stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave and of which features different imagery.
I was amazed by the beauty of the cave and river.
But unfortunately, we were not able to go spelunking because we did not make it to their cutoff time which is 4:00 p.m. and so we just resort to picture taking.
We also had the chance to walk in their makeup bridge, the access to our way out.
From above, you can see the stunning green river flowing with the magnificent view of the cave.
After which, we headed to the Apayao Ecotourism and Sports Complex located in Payanan, Luna Apayao. This (more than) four-hectare sports complex features an Olympic-sized pool, a 400-meter track oval, club houses and a gallery, to name a few. This venue was developed in 2012 for the 2013 Cordillera Administrative Region Athletic Association (CARAA) meet.
But actually, I was saddened by the fact that this tourist spot is not properly maintained. But then, I was still happy to see blooming yellow daisies in the area.
We were also able to see the center of progress in the province: the Apayao Capitol and City hall.
Our tour ended with the sun already set and so before we go home, we decided to try Apayao’s specialty: Mami. This soup made up of homemade noodles with beef and egg, simmered with delicious vegetables is really one of a kind. It was indeed delicious. And up ‘til now, I can’t forget the taste of it.
We got home with the moon peeking on the sky. And because I’m still too full to eat dinner, I decided to just lay in bed, ready for another adventure the next day.
I was awakened by the sound of a pig being killed. Apparently, here in the province, when someone from faraway destination came to visit, they make it a point to prepare specialty foods. Moreover, I was also blessed to see the sun shining so bright outside, telling me it will be another good day ahead.
We, then, decided to take a morning walk. And even just for a brief time, and in his best capacity, my pal taught me how to ride a bicycle. But of course, with my weak balancing, the lessons prove to be futile.
And so we came back to the house to have our breakfast. Lolo also picked us fresh buko and we drank it savory.
After which, we were told to feed the fishes. Yes, I have the opportunity to see school of fishes eagerly wanting more foods.
From time to time, they will come in numbers with their mouth sprouting in the water. It was an undeniable sight.
Then, my pal’s sister invited us to go with them in the river they used to take a bath every time they come here. We spent more than 30 minutes walking with the sun at its finest just to go see it. We’ve walked in lands surrounded with fields.
And from time to time, I chose to walk barefoot because my slippers make it uneasy for me to walk in the muddy land.
And at last, we came to the beautiful spot they’re talking to.
From there, I saw vast of green fields in addition to the beautiful morning sky. I’m at peace, literally and emotionally. We then soaked readily in the overflowing river because we were told that we are going to go swimming in a beach. And so hurriedly, we rushed back home.
As expected, we spent our day at a beach in Ballesteros. It was fun. The waves are so inviting and so I played with it. Big waves came rushing and it is what makes it exciting. Though the place was a bit crowded, I was able to enjoy spending time here. My sunburned body is the living proof of how I am pleased to be here, being one with the scorching sun and the cool breeze of the sea.
And just before the sun sets on the horizon, we travelled back home. I lay in bed still feeling the waves pulling me deep. It was the smell of sea salt in my hair and my body that yanked me to sleep.
Our third day was another set of hellos but more of goodbyes. It was our last day in the province and we only have half of it to spend because we’re travelling back to Manila in the afternoon.
For our last tour, uncle decided to let us see the Apayao dam. We were able to see splash of water in it though it’s hard to see the whole place because of the brightness of the sun.
After which, he drove us in a river where we took our last swimming opportunity. The river is an extension of Karayan Malunod or most popularly known as Cagayan River.
Here, we were able to plunge in the clear water where locals also use to do their laundries.
The water is cold and underneath are different stones of sizes.
It took us some time before we decided to head home.
Back home, we visited another relative of my pal and then I picked up some Vietnamese roses along with its root just so my mom can plant it when I got home.
And then we took our last lunch overseeing the fishpond. I ate fresh tilapia and it’s truly delicious compared to tilapia being sold in metro’s market. Then, my pal’s family decided to swim in the made up bathtub in the fishpond, but I decided to just rest before we go home.
We traveled back to Manila at two in the afternoon.
I never expected that traveling to Apayao will be an unforgettable experience. I was amazed by the hospitality of the residents here and how gifted this place is with all its rich biodiversity, natural wonders and cultural aspects. Long hours of going here will be worth it. It’s easy to fall in love with such a lovely place like Apayao.
And I admit it — one summer of 2018, with the sun shining so bright above, with the sound of birds chirping, and the symphony of clouds marching in the sky, I have given my heart to Apayao. ###