It was a sudden plan to visit the landlocked province of Abra. Taking advantage of the long December holidays, we embarked on a cutting trip from Pampanga to Abra. I was to meet in Calasiao my travel buddy Ella where we will both take the bus to Vigan, eventually to Bangued, Abra.
THE CUTTING TRIP
It was a jam-packed bus terminal in Mabalacat City, as many passengers are rushing to their respective hometowns to celebrate the New Year. Having the youthful agility (that time), I was able to squeeze myself in the midst of sea of passengers and able to secure a seat at the rear portion of the bus, saving me from another standing commute. Few hours passed, we arrived in Dagupan and took a jeep transfer to Calasiao. In less than an hour, I saw the Calasiao spelling on many establishments, signalling our arrival. We had a quick lunch in a fast food chain before hailing a ride to Vigan. Even buses at this spot are full of passengers already. We are able to board a bus and take seats just beside the driver. It was one of the rare moments to stand behind the huge windshield.
THE VIGAN SIDETRIP
We intend to spend a night in Vigan before visiting Bangued. Taking advantage of the yuletide season, we strolled around the heavily decorated main streets of the touristy side of Vigan. Stalls brimming with tourists, the streets are breathing alive even at nightfall. Children running around with their apparent christmas garbs and presents and the clippity clops of tourist calesas are the usual busy attractions in Calle Crisologo.
After calling it a night on the quieter side of Vigan, we planned to leave as early as possible to see the Calle Crisologo complete and utter void of tourists. We left at 4:00 AM and hurried to the very spot – we practically owned Calle Crisologo. We left soon as the skies turn from starry black to deep blue and few tourists starting to tread the renowned street.
Arriving at the then dimly lit Vigan Bus Terminal, the first leaving bus of the day bound to Bangued seats composedly in its slot waiting for the first passenger to board. With lengthy time for waiting, we decided to have our breakfast in the terminal-located eateries and tried on the local dishes they serve – Sinanglaw (warm sour- bitter profiled soup with beef innards) and Dinakdakan (Chopped grilled pork parts with onions and chilli peppers). Soon as our tummies are filled, we decided to board the bus and catch some quick snooze. The mini bus interiors looks like an oversized traditional pinoy jeepney with 3 by 2 seat configuration. As first passengers, we took the front seats.
One must not miss passing through the Tangadan Tunnel located in San Quintin municipality. Construction of the tunnel commenced last 1934 as many workers pummeled through sheer hard rock just to connect the new road sections, shifting the new path to Abra to a safer and easier to navigate terrain. The tunnel became the main gateway to access the hidden wonders of the Abra province. Years after its completion, the tunnel marks as one of the destinations in the province. Tourists on private vehicles take the opportunity to have a photograph with the view of the tunnel as their backdrop.
It was more than two hours of driving when we finally on the bustling capital. Before arriving, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the mountainous landscape of Abra through its winding provincial roads. With nothing but thick forests on view, this is the one of the best spots in Abra to enjoy mother nature. Soon as we set foot finally and officially onto the soil of Bangued, I breathed excitedly and started scanning around. Hordes of tricycle drivers offering us ride, mobile vendors yelling out loud their products, porters heaving sacks of produces onto their backs and passengers hurrying to exit the terminal borders. Reaching on the main streets, busy foot traffic on both street edges and establishments brimming with customers was a welcoming sight. More vehicles stuck in traffic jutting out thick grey smoke while motorcycles squeeze their away into tight traffic spaces just to get ahead – really just a typical town, only within the borders of Abra. It was national campaign season, and campaign collateral litter the streets, walls and buildings.
In every corner of the Bangued town, you would notice armed authorities in pairs – an army and a police officer, sometimes a trio with a traffic enforcer. This is a normal scenario during a campaign season confirmed by a random local. Using digital maps on our smartphones, we are able to locate the capitol grounds on foot.
AT BANGUED, ON FOOT
At the center of the capitol complex features an open park area with a recognizable half dome covered platform fronting the geometric-hive facade of the green colored Capitol building. Its ground floor roof extension features the typical Ionian column heads topped with a triangular roof.
On the other side of the park is the Bangued Cathedral – St. James the Elder Parish. Already on a modern architectural style, the structure features a towering octagonal bell tower with four levels of arched windows. It features also a glittering retablo placed higher on the altar side. The ceiling is embellished with an elegant chandelier and the walls are parted by high arching windows, allowing natural light to enter through it s mosaic design glasses. A mass is celebrated at that time we visited.
We checked our digital maps and located the Calaba Bridge. One of the longest modular bridge in the Philippines, spanning the wide yet seasonally treacherous Abra River – at 900 meters end to end. We chartered a tricycle to bring us on both of its ends, as walking under the afternoon us proves taxing. After agreeing on the amount we would pay the driver, we sped to the bridge. Soon after, a caged like structure emerged at the end of the road and there we met the signage of the bridge. The driver also instructed us that we can see and visit the riverbed below. True to its definition, the Calaba Bridge is indeed long. Seeing how vehicles turns into miniscule portions as they reach farther end. From there, we can see clearly the Sleeping Beauty. A portion of the mountainous skyline of Abra depicting a sleeping lady, with the face, chest and abdomen above the lower hills of the mountain ranges.
Since the sky was dry for days, the Abra River below apparently flows calmly against the clear blue sky. Noticeable are stilted huts above the river surface that visitors can rent should they wish to bathe on the river. There are no authorities that time to ask permission if we can try and check the huts, we just enjoyed seeing them from where we are. We took the chance to take road to the river bed. We marveled on the gigantic and massive support columns of the bridge. From there, we can hear and feel the clunking of steel whenever heavy vehicles would hit the bridge deck. Undettered by the noisy traffic above, scantily dressed children jumped back and forth onto the calm river.
After an exhausting afternoon tour around the main downtown area, we decided to check in with Oval Era Hotel (Contact: +63 917 184 6825) . This hotel is located on Cassamata Hill. We hailed a tricycle since our feet would not be able to carry us to the ascending road inside the park. We have made the right choice. At the wide balcony and open air veranda of the hotel, we can view the Bangued downtown, with the roofs below our feet. We chose an airconditioned twin bed room with private Toilet and bath. It was the best decision we made since we enjoyed much of our room. It also has a room balcony with view of the highers slopes of Cassamata Hill.
Our driver waited for us since he promised to bring us to another view deck within the Victoria Park. We continued the uphill road until we made sharp turn to the entrance of park. We saw an open air semi circular arena and a grotto. We walk around the park and enjoy the better panoramic view of Bangued and the mountain range backdrop.
Finally, our driver dropped as off on the gates of the hotel and we hurried back to our room to rest. Soon as we are done refreshing ourselves and our back against the supporting mattresses, we decided to end our tour.
At dinner, we visited the neighboring Ayesha Cafe. We are amazed by its interior and garden inspired alfresco dining area with the view of the Bangued town. I ordered then Crispy Beef Ribs with Gravy for my dinner. It took less than 10 minutes before the smoking hot dish landed on my table. The meat is tender and tasty against the crunchy breading. I decided to end my meal with an iced tea beverage.
We called it a night when we returned to our hotel room. The relaxing and calming cold room and soothing mattress instantly drawn to dreamland.
SINCE WE CAME A BIT EARLY
The province of Abra, being part of the Cordillera Administrative Region, proves its tourism potential. At the time of our visit, visitors are rare and locals seemed to be not used on sights of backpackers sauntering their thoroughfares. That time, December 2015, when tourism activities are not yet rampant, we had a hard time in obtaining information from locals. There is a different vibes as to a tourist town like Banaue where locals are more warm to visitors and a smile is like a permanent gesture. I remember when the now famous Kaparkan Falls of Tineg municipality is still reachable by 6-7 hour trek or 3-4 hour horseback ride according to a local we have spoken with. We also lack in coordination with the tourism office and we are only able to see spots on what we just researched in the internet. I am now happy that Abra has taken huge strides in tourism, and social media was an effective marketing tool on bringing to a wider reach the beauty of Abra. I am thankful to my longtime travel buddy and confidant, Ella, for joining me in this tour and herself braving the long commute. As of posting, I could imagine the impact of increasing tourism activities in Bangued. I have learned many destinations now, like the rolling hills, rice terraces and many waterfalls. I tried to plan an itinerary for this a weekend trip would not suffice. I want to see myself what could be the difference from years back. This lingering travel thirst would want my itching feet board that “Abra” or “Bangued” signed buses.
Photo of Mt. Bullagaw in Abra by avid mountaineer and trusted financial advisor, Mr. RJ Garo,
Dreaming still to visit this seasonal Kaparkan Waterfalls
TRAVEL GUIDE to BANGUED, ABRA:
- From Manila, you can take Bangued bound bus (Dominion Lines and Partas Line)
- Alternatively, you can take Vigan/Laoag/Pagudpud bound bus and alight in Narvacan Junction. Take jeep, bus, van bound to Bangued
Will I ever go back? I will and that’s for sure. There are many section in the province still void of blog article and I am willing to spend time and effort to return to the province.