The landlocked province of Apayao is located at the far northern edge of Luzon Island. Exploring this province means a long road trip, traversing either the Cagayan or Ilocos route would cost more than 12 hours if you are originating from NCR or Central Luzon. Despite its sheer distance, the vast plains and towering mountain ranges will be the next rising destinations in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Virtually untouched by commercial tourism in many areas, visitors will be truly mesmerized with the experience that Apayao province can offer.
THE LONG TRANSIT AND TRANSFERS
It was past 9:00 PM when I arrived in the busy terminal in Dau, heaving my heavy backpack. I sat on an empty cold gang chair seat, deep breathed the cool December air while looking around for bus signage bound to any Cagayan Valley destinations. Our goal is to take a Tuguegarao bound bus. However, the weekend keeps the arriving buses full. We are left to take the last Santiago City-bound bus. We are now on our way to a 10-hour long bus ride, traversing provinces of Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, and ultimately in Isabela province. Inside the bus, I struggled to find a comfortable position while standing at the center aisle. When we reached the Carranglan area, I have to balance myself to avoid hitting seated passengers as we passed the winding mountain road. It was agonizing, however, I forced myself to drift in dreamland.
I felt the bus slowing down, and I peeled my eyes, someone is alighting, and many of them. We are able to secure seats and now to relax my tired back. Before going back to sleep, I was able to see town centers heavily decorated with Christmas lights.
The bus conductor then shouted “Santiago”. I checked my mobile map application and sure we are now within the borders of Santiago City. We alighted past dawn while the city is starting to wake up. We had a quick breakfast near the terminal before taking our next transit to Tuguegarao City. We are lucky to be able to secure front seats in a public utility van. I am able to catch up on my sleep hours and awakened by the van’s stop. Another passenger lights and as I opened again my eyes, the long cantilevered bridge is in front of us. Excitement filled me since we are already in Tuguegarao City. We alighted on a busy terminal and we hurried to a panciteria. Their local staple, Pancit Batil Patong is my goal for early lunch. After a hearty meal, we hurried to a van terminal and got another front seat PUV reservation. In less than half an hour, the vehicle left for Luna Junction and we are expected to reach the destination in less than 3 hours. This is how the Cagayan province is massive in terms of land area. Most of the national road snakes beside the Cagayan River, an important body of water in the Cagayan Valley region.
Ultimately, we are able to reach the terminal in Abulug town. With an already sore back, I heaved my backpack and sauntered around this far north town. Since it is my first time, I scanned my eyes to see what they have. Rural banks, busy wet and dry markets, pharmacies, individual ATMs, food stalls – all of this that I needed for an emergency. It was past noon when we are able to charter a tricycle to whisk us to our reserved accommodation – Borromeo Tourist Inn. In less than twenty minutes, we are able to cross the border. At last, the Welcome Signage for Apayao. It was surreal. The long land transit was worth it. At the tricycle, cool and refreshing Northeastern monsoon winds continue to dance around us, while the vast Apayao plains behind us transition to hilly landscape. A few minutes past, we arrived in front of our accommodation. We are ushered to our room on the third floor. The room is already cool and using the AC unit is not needed. I jumped at my bed, resting my tired body.
After securing our tour guide and driver, we prepared for the day tour scheduled the next day. We are to explore that afternoon the Marag Valley, however, the road leading to the spot is still inundated due to incessant rains days before our arrival. Supporting his statement is an overcast sky above us until sunset. We just spent the rest of the day recovering from an exhausting journey. We pre-ordered our dinner and breakfast from their in-house cafeteria. Night fell, and momentarily, we called the night early.
The alarm rang and we woke up with better weather. The sun has risen up and patches of blue skies are now above us, contrary of yesterday’s. We had our breakfast near the third floor’s balcony, a good view of the vast plains of Apayao. We got dressed and shortly, our driver arrived with his adjusted motorcycle.
THE SURPRISINGLY AWESOME LUSSOK CAVE
Photographs do not give justice to Lussok Cave. Going to the jump-off point is already an adventure. We passed through fields of golden yellow and green, bordered by many streams and tributaries. I usually see brown or dark-colored rivers in Central Luzon, but the ones in Apayao are clear to blue-green to turquoise. The concrete road is still under construction and we have to alight from the motorcycle should we pass newly paved segments.
We arrived at the entrance – marked by decorated wood panels spelling the name of the province and a registration area. The Lussok Cave is one of the tourism icons of the Apayao province. The natural park truly is a wonder. The thick forest canopy covering the clean pristine river and the cave’s mouth and including a suspension bridge connecting different trails through the beautiful cave.
Going to the mouth’s cave would require a canoe ride, paddling above placid waters of the river surrounded by tall canyon walls. We were the only visitors that morning who will enter the cave. The established cave trails feature easy and moderate level of difficulty. The easy trail would feature scrambling through centuries-old cave rocks, and passing through tight tunnel openings and emerging to different chambers of Lussok Cave. At the time of our spelunking, the trail is filled with slippery brown mud making the cave exploration a bit challenging and risky – one wrong step could lead you sliding to sharp jagged rocks below.
After paying our registration fees, our assigned cave guide gave us a brief discussion about the cave. The name is hailed from a local term that means “to come into”. Since the spelunking adventure involves passing through a tight opening fitting one person only. The park features an established footpath leading to the river where you would board your assigned raft or canoe. It was a peaceful paddling above the tranquil blue-green waters, the river seems to be void of any movements or current. The tall canyon walls seem to shunt the northeasterly monsoon winds above us. Paddling in this area is peaceful. Distant coos and squawks of the natural fauna would just fill your ears. alternated by the sounds of the paddles hitting the water. The trees above us feature long vines that can reach the water level below or could hit your helmet. The picturesque cave opening then emerged in view. The unique rock formations are magically decorated with the creeping vines and other greeneries attached to its walls.
THE CAVE SPELUNKING
Exploring the cave on foot is my favorite part. We docked on a rocky side and carefully transferred my weight onto solid cave rock. From there, the Lussok Cave is already strikingly awesome and impressive. Our guide instructed us to take the trail upwards to see a better angle of the cave. It was about above two-storeys high and we reached the spot. Seeing the clear river exiting the huge cave mouth and the naturally occurring drippings from the cave ceiling are already ecstatic for me. For leisure tourists, this spot can be their end destination and return back.
We are about to enter the deeper caverns and daylight starts to dim. Passing through the tight passage is challenging since our pair of footwear were already smeared with slippery mud. I hoisted myself up and emerge to a huge chamber. From there, our guide pointed through beam of light the interesting rock formations. There is one that depicts the Virgin Mary. He also showed us the difficult trails we can view. Imagine an approximately 40 feet high smooth cave wall with a nothing a but rope and attached tires as your steps. I think I might try this when I return. After an hour of spelunking, daylight now looms in front of us. The ascending slippery trail proves to be daunting, thanks to the jagged rocks nearby. Finally, I was able to surface back on a higher forest ground. We are now above the canyon walls we paddled through earlier.
Another feature of the cave is the suspension bridge. In less than half an hour of trek, we are able to reach the registration counter. I decided to explore more the area and visited the other side of the river banks.
After resting a bit, we mounted to our motorcycle and sped off to visit other spots nearby.
The Lussok Cave is indeed a tourism potential of Apayao province. They have developed the area that different tourists would be able to enjoy and experience its beauty.
OTHER DESTINATIONS IN APAYAO PROVINCE
The Maton River meanders from the highlands of Apayao to the plains -an important water system for agriculture. In Apayao, they have built a spot where tourists can enjoy the scenic view. After less than an hour’s drive from Lussok Cave, we reached one of the banks of Maton River – located near the provincial road. There are huts you can use should you wish to lounge or stay longer. I rushed to the banks and dipped my tired feet on to its cool waters. The area I am stepping on features brown sandy riverbank and interesting rock formations. The current is also strong in this part and safety is paramount. I just enjoyed the view and did not attempt to bathe there.
We drove deeper into Apayao and reached the town of Pudtol. We visited the Mataguisi Chapel Ruins or Pudtol Ruins, a Spanish-inspired structure that features thick stone walls. Within the walled structure is a makeshift church were local parishioners celebrate mass where you will find long wooden benches and an altar. Surely, this history behind this structure is fascinating.
The Apayao Eco-Tourism and Sports Complex Grounds features the public facilities such as swimming pool, playing courts, and the pyramid-shaped pavilion in there.
It was already mid-afternoon and rain clouds start to form above us. We have to return to Luna town proper since it would be risky to drive on a winding road. We are able to reach Luna town proper before the rain began to fall. We enjoyed our late lunch in a local eatery with another round of Pancit Batil Patong. After the hearty meal, our driver safely brought us back to our accommodation. Our tired feet were still able to bring us to the third floor. We bathed and prepared our backpacks for the long journey back to Pampanga. It is encouraged to explore Apayao at least 3-4 days to make your long travel worth it.
Other destinations we are not able to explore:
- Manacota Underground River
- Dupag Rock Formation
TRAVEL GUIDE TO APAYAO
Land: You can drive to Apayao via Luna either Cagayan or Ilocos Norte route. There are buses from Manila to Abulug Junction. Alternatively, you can take any Cagayan Valley bound bus, and you can transit via Tuguegarao. There are also public buses in Laoag and Pagudpug that pass to Abulug Junction. Also, there are vans in Tuguegarao that plies the winding road of Conner to Kabugao. Apayao is also connected to Baguio City via Conner route.
Fly: You can fly direct to Tuguegarao or Laoag. From there you can take buses or vans that pass by Abulug Junction.
Apayao Provincial Tourism Office:
- Ms. Rebecca Mamba
- Mobile” +63 927 241 7343
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Borromeo Tourist Inn: +63 905 759 3779
Room Rates: (Prices may change without prior notice)
- Php600 Single Bed AC Room Twin Sharing Private CR
- Php500 Single Bed AC Room Twin Sharing Common CR
- Php100 Extra Foam Bed
- Edgar: +63 905 896 2922
- Elizer: +63 975 954 9296
- Reymar: +63 926 834 8923
Photos of our way back via Ilocos Route:
I am thankful to Teacher Mik, who accompanied me in this long journey. The Apayao province is truly farfetched from Pampanga, however, I still dream to take that long ride and explore more of its unexplored destinations.