Apayao Province: Adventure Destination

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In my books, Apayao is a top adventure destination. It is so raw that very few travelers venture into this northermost Cordillera province. Admittedly not an easy destination. But its remoteness adds to the adventure.

 

Apayao is bounded on the north and on the east by Cagayan. That is why it was, for a time, part of Cagayan. To its west is Ilocos and Abra. To the south is the province of Kalinga which was, also for a time, part of the Kalinga-Apayao province.

One would think that the asy access would be from Ilocos. There is none. Or from Abra. Think again. Apayao is accessed via Cagayan Valley, from the toen of Pamplona, in particular.

Thus, the adventurous visitor will have to travel all the way to Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, cross Patapat, and drive on to the Cagayan towns of Sta Praxedes, Claveria, Sanchez Mira, and Pamplona. The junction in Pamplona leads to the first and most progressive town of Luna, Apayao.

One must make arrangements for accommodations before traveling to Apayao as there are not many. Again, that is characteristic of places where one goes on an adventure.

PLACES TO SEE

Marag Valley  is a haven for adventure travelers. Proceed to the Tourism Center in Marag Valley which is easy to find because it is within the barangay’s basketball court. Make arrangements to tour the Dupag Rock Formations, the Hanging Bridge, and the Manacota Underground River.

Dupag Rock Formation

If you are extremely fit and athletic, take the hard route. As for me, I felt that the easy route was actually hard. Wear shoes or sandals with great grip and traction as the rocks could be slippery. Do not go without a guide, as you will need him/them as human ladders.

The rock formations are accessed after crossing a shallow river.

 

 

Hanging Bridge

Not quite an adventure, but definitely a must see, even just for photography. A hut on the foot of the bridge serves as Visitors Center. List down, and make a donation. You can also arrange a picnic on a floating hut on the river.

 

 

Manacota Underground River

This is, to me, the better one of the two underground rivers in Apayao. Hike for 1.5 kilometers, crossing the same river 7x moving from one side of the river to the other, because in some parts the other end would be rocks and boulders where you can not hike. One river crossing would be nearly waist deep. Make sure you wear quick-dry shirts and shorts

Second river crossing was waist deep. And 5 more river crossings after this.

The reward from the long hike is the beautiful mouth of the river. Going in is even more pleasurable, as the narrow boat navigates in between rocks and boulders INSIDE THE CAVE. No this is not like Puerto Princesa.

The end of the underground river cruise is a beautiful spot that looks like paradise. You may want to swim there, or just stay to immerse in the beauty of nature.

Lussok Underground River

This is easier to access. We parked our 4×4 right into the grounds where the tourism desk is. There is also a toilet for visitors here. Access is easier as there is no hike, but the roadworks have not been completed so we drove our 4X4 onto a shallow river and muddy roads. 

The cruise into the cave is steadier, as the boat has a balancer (bamboo poles on its side, but not really outriggers. It was so steady the guide stood on the other end of the boat. 

Start point for spelunking

Pudtol Ruins

This is found behind the Municipal Hall of Pudtol, within the school compund, right beside the church. This was an old Spanisg church built with the intention of Christianizing the indigenous Isnegs. Another church ruins can be found in Mataguisi, a different barangay in Pudtol.

Where to Stay

Star Jewel
Hands down, it will have to be Star Jewel. The proprietor, Josefina, is a retired nurse. Basic accommodations, but nice and clean, and airconditioned. meals can be arranged. The dining room is folksy, and there is a videoke for free use of guests.


Another Option
Big groups may want to stay at the cottages operated by the Tourism Office. Each cottage can have as many as 10pax for P2,500 a night. There are many such cottages, each one with its own dining room and a living area.


Contact the Toursim office thru their facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/apayaotourismoffice/

 

Hanging Bridge in Marag Valley

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Yes, it is but a bridge. But in beautiful Marag Valley, the hanging bridge takes on a special persona. Because of the general feel of the river and the fields, crossing the hanging bridge becomes an urge. I am told that single motorbikes even cross the bridge  – – I can not imagine how, but I believe.

There is a small hut that serves as a visitor’s center. One needs to register, and make a donation. Gladly.

Not much to say, and I think the photos will invite you to see the bridge. Or maybe have a picnic on a floating hut.

Have a picnic on this hut that can float into the clean waters of the river

 

Register, and drop something in the Donation Box for the maintenance and improvement of the hanging bridge

 

 

 

Dupag Rock Formations in Marag Valley, Apayao

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Bar none, this is the top draw when any traveler goes to Apayao.

First, for its sheer beauty. Second, for the challenge one has to take to conquer the rocks.

I am 61 years old, and a regular adventure traveler. And so the guide asked whether I am up to climbing Dupag using the hard route. Instinct told me to take the easy route.

The easy route was not at all easy. Even while I was blessed with good weather (a group of friends went 2 weeks earlier but did not make it to the rocks because of incessant rains), the climb was still difficult because the rocks were still rather slippery. I was wearing a good pair of sandals, but for some reason, my soles would slip. Thus, I had to do it more slowly, hanging on to trees and shrubs along the way, and clinging on to rock surfaces.

 

Higher into the climb, I was beginning to ask myself if I could make it, or retreat and go back down. But heck, I was there already, so I persisted and climbed some more. No harness. And the climb meant inserting my feet, usually just my toes, into tiny crevices of the rocks. And holding fast to the sides of two rocks, if not to the sharp ends of the top surfaces.

Moving from one section to the next is a bigger challenge. To go beyond one rock that looked like a giant blade into the next rock, one could fall. But our able guide perched himself between two rocks and asked me to use his thighs as a step. OMG! If he fell from my weight, we would both fall down. On top of that, I had to hang on for dear life to the top surface of another rock while stepping on his thighs. But I made it to the next spot.

I had lots of water for sustenance. And in many parts, I felt like the wind wasn’t at all blowing, the leaves on the fields still, and so I was gasping for breath, needing oxygen. I fanned myself using my baseball cap. And was unashamed to tell the guide I needed to rest to recover so I can go on.

Finally we made it. Success !

With the difficulty and all, I think I will do it again when I re-visit Apayao. Especially since I have made it once, and know exactly what to expect the next time.

How to get there

From Luna town, visit the Tourism Center in Marag, near the basketball court, about 15-20 minutes from Luna town center. Register and they will provide a guide and head gear for safety.

 

From the visitor center, we were guide to Dupag.

Vehicles are parked at a point before everyone has to cross a shallow river. There is a small hut afterwards, but it served its purpose better on our return, to rest a little bit.

Rest Area

Somewhere near the rest area was a hut where an old man lived, and he showed us a lambanog (fermented coconut wine) with ginseng and real cobra inside.

a real COBRA drink

Lunch

Had lunch in a small carinderia near the basketball court.

VISIT MARAG VALLEY

There are other attractions within Marag Valley. Like the Hanging Bridge, and the Manacota Underground River. Will be writing about these attractions, too. Meanwhile, I had to take a souvenir shot to prove my conquest of Dupag.

Lussok Cave and Underground River, Luna Apayao

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Prior to traveling to Apayao, I researched on “must see” places and Lussok is one of the Top 3. Thus, I made sure this was going to be part of my itinerary.

LUNA, APAYAO
This cave and underground river system is in the town of Luna, the first town one will hit when traveling to Apayao from Cagayan Valley, the easiest access to this province. Thus, Luna town has become the de facto provincial capital. In fact, the government center has moved from the official capital town of Kabugao to Luna.

On the rocky slope of Barangay Dagupan one will find this  this multi-chamber cave  with beautiful centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites, with crystals embedded. Thus Lussok is also called Lussok Crystal Caves.  The visit is via a boat without outriggers, on calm and placid waters from the opening of the river unto the end.

 

Our boat had a boatman and a guide who brought in a flashlight, admittedly rather weak, but enough to show us the images created by the rock formations – the Blessed Virgin Mary, fruits and veges, animals, and faces . The water was so still our guide was standing on the front end of the boat.

 

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SPELUNKING

The Lussok caving adventure has three options for spelunking, with easy, moderate and hard routes.  The trail eventually leads to a bridge  above the entrance to the caves, visible to everyone going into the cave by boat.

Start point for spelunking

ACCESS TO LUSSOK

I understand from previous stories that Lussok was difficult to access. But with roads done, this cave system will soon be more accessible. On my visit, we drove our 4X4 all the way to the compound where they accept visitors to the cave. But that was after traversing a shallow river and muddy roads because the road has not been completed. I assume that in the next many months, Lussok will be most accessible.

 

The Visitor Center

 

literally: Apayao, Be Proud of It (Apayao: Ipagmalaki)

 

Star Jewel Lodge in Apayao

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It is a jewel. And I am happy to have found it.

Star Jewel is, to me, the best place to stay in Apayao. It is in Luna town, the first town the traveler will hit when entering Apayao via the usual and fastest way – –  from Pamplona in Cagayan Valley.

 

First town from Cagayan Valley

The place is comfortable, homey, and friendly. No frills. No fuzz. I rate it 5 stars not because of its rooms nor its facilities. No, no way it compares with the best hotels. But it is perfect for travelers like me wanting to experience the rugged beauty of the province of Tuguegarao.

It is a nice place to come home to after rock climbing, after crossing rivers, after spelunking or just taking boat rides thru underground rivers. It is a nice place to have a beer, and a chat with other guests with the same passion and interest. And for warm, small talk with the owner, retired nurse Josefina, and her staff.

owner Josefina, retired nurse

Josefina tells me that when she started the business, it was billed as “homestay”. Because that was how the hospitality business started in Apayao when there were only a few visitors, and no real hotels. Realizing that homestays mean accommodating visitors into your own home, and because she has built private rooms for guests, she then called it, appropriately, a lodge. Star Jewel Lodge. And because of her facilities, the lodge is accredited by the Department of Tourism.

I arrived around 7pm because travel to Apayao is really long. Travelers from Manila will have to take NLEX SCTEX TPLEX and drive on all the way to Pagudpud and to the  Cagayan Valley towns of Sta Praxedes, Claveria, Sanchez Mira, and Pamplona. It is in Pamplona where there is a junction to Apayao with Luna as the first town.

The late arrival, tired from travel, was met with a pleasant dinner of crabs and adobo, plus seaweeds salad, and bananas for dessert.

My room was clean and nice, I mean nicer than I expected since Apayao is a poor and remote province. My room had aircondtioning, a nice bed (actually 2 beds), a proper toilet with shower and toiletries.

 

The common dining area was simple and folksy, complete with a videoke for visitors, at no extra charge. Coffee is always available and one only needs to get some from the thermos. Drinking water is purified.

Breakfast can also be arranged, as I did.

Exploring Apayao’s rock formations, underground rivers and other interesting spots will necessitae staying at Star Jewel at least two nights. Thus, plan your trip well, and book the nights you will need. Because you might otherwise have to stay somewhere with less than the comforts and atmosphere of Star Jewel.

Josefina does not always have her mobile phone with her. So you need to persevere and keep calling. Better yet, send her a text message so you know you get your reservation across, and continue to call to confirm, if she hasn’t returned the call.

As I checked out after 2 nights for my long journey to Kalinga, Josefina gave me plenty of suman (rice cakes)  as my baon. Wonderful, thoughtful lady indeed. 

I felt so enamored I wanted to review them on tripadvisor, but they were not listed. So I listed Star Jewel on tripadvisor and, hopefully, they will be so listed. I will be back to Star Jewel. For the suman. And for the warm welcome.

visit their facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/STAR-JEWEL-LODGE-830464200351918/