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/

 

Manacota Underground River in Apayao

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There are two (2) underground rivers I visited in Apayao. Lussok and Manacota. For some reason, Lussok is more popular. As for me, Manacota is a better choice if one has to see only one.

Manacota is within the Marag Valley tourism package, which included the acsent to the Dupag Rock Formations and the Hanging Bridge.

To get to the mouth of the cave, one has to hike for 1.5 kilometers and cross the same river seven times (7X). Why, you might ask, must anyone cross the same river 7x? That is because in some parts, the edge of the river would be rocks and boulders you can not walk on, and so you must cross. Repeat this scenario as many times and you end up crossing the river 7x. Alas, I thought it was more than 7, and the guide said they were not counting just getting wet walking in the river, on its sides. Just crossing from one side to the other is 7x.

Start of the trek

 

First river crossing, thru a small dam

 

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

At the end of the river crossings, we saw this sign that enjoins visitors to preserve Manacota.

 

The fatigue from walking and crossing rivers is compensated by the beauty of the destination. And it was still just the mouth of the cave. So serene. beautiful.

We then boarded the boat without outriggers into the cave. This was realyy some adventure. The boat without outriggers was navigating thru rocks and boulders inside the cave. Some passages were so narrow it was just enough for the width of the boat.

The end point was even more worth it. It looked like paradise. The waters were stronger and the boat had to be anchored on one side of the cave to protect it from the rushing waters. We got off and saw some portions of the river so clear, so clean, and actually inviting guests for a swim. Perfect spot that we wished we could stay there longer and gave a picnic.

 

 

 

But we had to go back as another set of visitors had to use the boat for the same beautiful experience.

From the cave and into its mouth again

The trek back was easier, even as we were more tired. We were looking forward to a sumptuous second lunch (hahaha) that we arranged for the wife of the barangay captain to cook for us. Surely, some nourishment after this tiring but worthwhile adventure.

 

our guides, and the barangay captain

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.