THE LANDLOCKED province of Apayao, ancestral home of the indigenous Isnegs, had been on my mind for sometime, mainly because it was the only Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) province that I had not visited as of early December. (I have been to Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province.)
Apayao lies way up in the north, bracketed by Ilocos Norte and Cagayan, with Abra and Kalinga bringing up the rear. In the mountains, the way of life remains unchanged. The Isnegs are skilled hunters and fishermen who keep their catch in wooden baskets, and are fond of tattooing, like the Kalingas. They live in traditional houses with long floors and triangular roofs, with granaries in between.
There are other tribes in the upland areas apart from the Isnegs, like the Ibalois. And tribal wars break out from time to time, resulting in killings that are largely unreported in the press.
The capital of the province in Kabugao, scene of recent landslides that claimed lives. Another key town, farther north, is Luna, where several government offices are located and where a new Provincial Capitol is being constructed, leading to speculation Luna may replace Kabugao as the capital.
I had first attempted to visit Apayao during a tour of Cagayan and Kalinga early in 1999, but had to cut short my trip. Last November, a planned visit to the province had to be postponed because of a bout with flu (and to think a Pajero was waiting for me at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office in Tuguegarao City).
Could it be that the Lord didn’t want me to go to Apayao? Now, that was silly of me, of course.
Finally, early in December, with new arrangements having been made, I was off, undertaking the long trip (12 hours) by bus (Baliwag or Victory) to Tuguegarao, capital of Cagayan and entry point to Kalinga and Apayao, which became separate provinces in 1995.
The bus passed through the McArthur Highway and Cagayan Valley Road, covering four big provinces: Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, with its perennial traffic; Nueva Vizcaya, and Isabela.
The following day in Tuguegarao, after a rest at an inexpensive hotel (Crown), I paid a courtesy call on DENR Regional Executive Director Alfredo Pascual and then we – Region 2 Public Affairs Officer Dante Ancheta, an occasional contributor to the Inquirer, and Jimmy Juliana, driver of the AUV – were off.
It is three hours by vehicle from Tuguegarao to Luan, Apayao, passing through Cagayan’s smooth northern highway. Along the way, Alcala’s all-brick church caught my attention (it is one of many interesting churches in Cagayan), along with a DENR-reforested area, the trees and dense foliage bracketing the Maharlika Highway, a unique sight in that part of the province.
In Lal-lo is the Magapit Suspension Bridge, said to be the first of its kind in Asia. It links the first two districts of Cagayan, and leads to Ilocos Norte.
The entrance to Luna, backdropped by the sculptural Welcome Arch made of wood, was dramatic. Hiding behind a mass of dark clouds, the sun shone, its Marian-like rays cascading upon the fields and hills.
There were irrigated fields, trees and plants, low-lying hills, a few houses and , in the distance, misty mountains with different contours and peaks. One flora-covered mound reminded me of the caves in Quirino.
The visit to Apayao, however, turned out to be an exercise in frustration, to no one’s fault perhaps. Read on.
At the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro), only one staffer was manning the fort and he wasn’t expecting us. It turned out that the office did not receive the radio message from CAR Center in Baguio City, announcing our arrival, because of the poor communication in the province or perhaps the radio was switched off.
The Penr officer was attending a training program, and the officer-in-charge was out on official business. So I decided to interview the community environment and natural resources officer instead. But that office was even more out of the way, with bad roads that were partly flooded; so we called it off.
An interview with the governor, perhaps? Two policemen directed us to the adjoining town, Pudtol, which was 12 kms away, with portions of the dirt road under construction. Soon the AUV was splattered with mud, and a-rocking’ and a-rollin’.
I could only marvel at the stamina of driver Jimmy as he negotiated the terrain, for only a few hours ago he had arrived from a trip to Metro Manila (a round trip, at that).
We then undertook a fruitless search for the governor. He was not at home, we were told, he was at the ``office,’’ meaning in this case the Municipal Hall. But he was not there either. He was going back to his house, we were in formed, for there were visitors. (Could those visitors be us?) We waited some more outside his home, were offered coffee, but Gov. was a no-show.
Maybe I could interview the mayor, the vice-mayor, the municipal tourism officer? But the mayor, a friendly finance staffer at the Municipal Hall, a woman, informed us, had declared a holiday because it was the town’s Foundation Day.
At this point I gave up, and we drove back to Tuguegarao. Guilt-stricken over the inconvenience I had caused Dante and Jimmy, not to mention the gasoline consumed at the expense f Region 2, I treated them to a Chinese dinner in the city.
Now, dear readers, don’t let my sad experience in Apayao discourage you from visiting the province which, I understand, is an exciting destination for adventure tourism, like Kalinga.
Apayao is a province of large tracts of flat lands, mountains, valleys, foothills, rain forests, hardwood, and savanna grass. It bills itself as ``the Cordillera’s Last Frontier for Natural Richness.’’
``Apart from the two ancient Spanish churches at Pudtol, the attractions are purely natural,’’ says this glossy publication of the Department of Tourism. These include the Apayao River and its waterfalls, the viewing points at Pudtol and Luna, the Agora and Anag-Sicapo Wildlife Sanctuaries, Mt. Cataluan, and the ecotourism zone at Calanasan.
There, that’s an armchair tour of Apayao. Sorry the last part of the article is based on secondary sources, like Philippine Travel Atlas and Fast Facts About Philippine Provinces.
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