Sitting for too long can make your body feel so sore. After a 12-hour butt-numbing journey on a provincial bus to Tuguegarao, I was more than thankful to see Kuya Nato. He was our shuttle driver who brought us to Hotel Josefina, a quaint inn that sits at the heart of Tuguegarao City in Cagayan. Geographically, Cagayan is situated in the northeastern part of Luzon, thus explains the long drive.
For our almost three days stay at Cagayan, we opted for Hotel Josefina. Significantly impressive, the hotel has a homey feel. Its decorative accessories are stylishly romantic as well. At once, I felt at home.
Finding our way to our room, we passed by a narrow hallway. Narrow hallways can be dull, but with decors hanging on its walls and the brightness of direct sunlight passing through the other side, I have a rather reassuring walk toward our temporary abode.
We got a twin deluxe room, just spacious enough for two people who do not have much luggage but have a lot of chips to munch. An overnight stay was P1,100.00.
Aside from its 24-hour front desk service, Hotel Josefina had free WIFI, electronic key card door, and an individual smoking area.
We had our quick hot shower and without much delay, headed to Jomar’s Panciteria for our late breakfast. Jomar’s Panciteria, a famous eatery in Tuguegarao, was full that day, mostly of tricycle drivers having their pancit matched with ice-cold beer. Outside the main kitchen area, rows of nipa huts were erected where anyone could smoke and chit-chat comfortably. A serving of Jomar’s super special was at P70.00.
Going around Tuguegarao, it would be ideal to have a local guide with you. Good thing Kuya Nato had some friends he could ask to drive us around the city. For a whole day tour, most van owners would ask for P2,500 as rental fee plus P1,000 for the gasoline. We opted for a tricycle service and hired a driver for P1,000 for four destinations that day.
With our tummies filled with Tuguegarao’s most famous pansit batil patung, we were ready for our first destination — Callao Cave.
Manong driver recommended that we visit Callao Cave first as it may take us about an hour to reach Penablanca. We readily agreed since my friend was so eager to visit the place before dark to take some real nice photos inside the cavern.
We paid P40 for the entrance. Though no defined fee for the tour guide, the registrar encouraged us to give any amount to Jaylord, the kid who acted as our guide within the place. The tour guiding job is the primary source of income of most youngsters in Penablanca and is very much supported by the local government.
Very knowledgeable and bubbly, Jaylord talked with excessive pride about Callao Cave. He also narrated how he had met Korina Sanchez and her Balitang K crew. He mentioned as well that he was given a scholarship as Korina’s token of gratitude for touring them around.
Every tourist wanting to take a glimpse of the famous Callao Cave need to painstakingly climb 187 steps. And from there, he will be welcomed by the cave’s main archway.
Halfway up the stairs, one could enjoy a spectacular panorama of the Pinacanauan River. It has clear waters and beautiful natural setting which all the more makes it fit as one of the tourist attractions of Cagayan Province.
Flawlessly sculpted by time, Callao Cave — according to Jaylord — was named after a kalaw bird which richly inhabits the place. That was before, though, as these kalaw birds are swiftly diminishing because of the rude hunting activities of others who apparently do not appreciate nature’s wonder.
The cave was naturally accentuated with stalactites believed to be present for centuries now. The cave was a sight to behold, especially the stylish drapers and other cave formations. By the entrance, there was a path leading to a chapel where pews and makeshift altar were arranged. Jaylord confirmed that masses are heard there every first Sunday of the month.
Though I have been to a number of caves in the Philippines, Callao is definitely important to me. It has such impressive features which, I guess, I will never dare forget for the rest of my life. It is where I find peace, a moment I could pray and commune with God and feel His presence. It is cold inside but does not give negative chills.
After Callao Cave, we headed to Iguig to see the famous Calvary Hills. Very popular with devotees especially during the holy week, Calvary Hills is located within the grounds of San Antonio de Galicia Church in Iguig, Cagayan. And within the 11 hectares of rolling hills are life-size concrete statues of the stations of the cross. Its elevation provides stunning views of the Cagayan River and the valley.
Aside from being called the “smiling land of beauty,” often, Tuguegarao is also known as the land that sizzles as it has recorded the hottest temperature in the country. Likewise, the city’s average temperature during summer months is 38 degree Celsius, one of the highest in the Philippines. This scorching weather of the city is but an ordinary occurrence thus, after our Calvary tour, we all the more felt the need to refresh and quench our thirst. In all honestly, Tuguegarao City is the melting pot of the Philippines– both figuratively and literally.
We went back to the city and looked for a decent restaurant to 1) put something inside our growling stomach, 2) drink and replenish our body’s water and electrolyte levels after dehydration caused by the extreme heat, and 3) visit the Metropolitan Cathedral of Tuguegarao. Also known as Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, this biggest Spanish-built church is included in our must visit places in Tuguegarao.
My travel buddy used her internet connection to research; and relayed that one of Tuguegarao’s must-see diners is Lorie’s restaurant. Though somehow difficult to find, Lorie’s never failed our high hopes for a decent and filling lunch. We had a genuinely good eating experience there!
Together with their highly recommended chicken barbecue and pork liempo, we had frozen chocolate beverages and cakes for dessert. These were some of my friend’s great shots of our food.
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral
Also called the Metropolitan Cathedral of Tuguegarao, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral is the seat of the archdiocese of the city and considered the biggest Spanish-built church in the entire region. Named after two of the twelve apostles of Jesus, the cathedral has a beautiful five-level bell tower.
Before we retired for the day, we went to Buntun Bridge, the longest river-spanning bridge in the country which connects Tuguegarao and Solana. Also known as the second longest bridge in the Philippines — after the San Juanico Bridge– Buntun bridge is constructed for travelers to cross the Cagayan River. Yes, under it is the Cagayan River, the largest river basin the country.
If sunsets over Manila Bay are among the most beautiful and colorful views that almost all condominiums along Roxas Boulevard in Manila advertise, the sunset along Buntun Bridge is also worth experiencing.
As we waited for the sky to turn into some red and orange, we were startled by the radiating glows of the sun as it set. The steady and reliable steel bars against the dimming light all the more made the scene very dramatic.
The view from below was just as impressive. We couldn’t even hear any rushing sound of the water nor the vast carpets of green left no eerie feeling. Everything seemed quiet and steady. So gold and … steady.
The sunset scenes made our evening calm and relaxed. After our dinner of bulalo and papaitan at Felicita’s, we went straight to bed to have a good night sleep. Because the following day, we have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to catch the bus plying to Sta. Ana, Cagayan.
Palaui Island and Anguib Beach
We arrived at the bus station at five in the morning that following day. The lone bus bound for Sta. Ana, Cagayan left already, giving us with no other option than to catch by chance a UV express van that would bring us to the port and eventually reach Palaui Island and Anguib Beach. Luck must have been on our side as we were able to get our seats. Fare was P180.00 each.
Excited to see the location shoot of the US reality TV series Survivor season 27, we endured the butt-numbing ride. We were very optimistic that seeing the pristine Palaui Island and the enchanting Anguib Beach would help us forget all the discomfort of traveling for three hours in a passenger van.
We arrived at the port at around 8:30 in the morning. Signages that say “27th and 28th seasons of ‘Survivor’ USA were filmed on Palaui Island” were around the area. The boatman relayed to us that the Survivor shoot further put the town, which has been a once-obscure fishing village, in the world’s tourism map.
Going to Palaui Island took us about 45 minutes. The ride was not a bore as we were constantly entertained by the clear waters– bright enough to see the seabed in the deepest sections. Everything was a perfect harmony of green, brown and blue with the mountains on the side and the clear blue skies above us.
This impressively beautiful view greeted us as we step our feet at the Palaui Islands —
The view was simply like a canvass with the strong sun rays splayed at the horizon as background to the lush green hills and the serene blue waters. The calmness of the sky, mountains, and sea invited me to take my late morning stroll and simply enjoy the damp sand and the tiny sea shells that somehow pricked my feet.
As we explored the island, our feet brought us to a vast grassland leading us to the famous Cape Engano Lighthouse. There was a trail up; one needs to go through over 200 steps and a shorter hike inclined at about 45 degrees. From time to time, I stopped not to rest and catch my breath but more on to savor and capture everything.
All our efforts to reach the summit was rewarded with a stunning view of the bluest of blue skies… of the lush green hills and grasslands… of the sparkling blue waters and its waves pounding at the nearest gigantic rocks… and of the serene cove with the deepest blues.
Aside from the picturesque landscape of the island, the lighthouse came in second as my favorite Palaui attraction. Our kind tour guide said that this Spanish-designed structure is still functioning using solar-powered light. The lighthouse also has open windows to let one see the natural landscape and welcome in natural air.
We must have enjoyed the view from above that it almost took us an hour before we decide to go down. It was easier to go down the hill, perhaps we were somehow familiar with the trail already. But as we went down, I kept on rewinding the view I had at the top. I would want to bring my boys there. I would want them to experience what I have experienced. Perhaps it is the lack of disturbance that drove me to want to visit the lighthouse again. Even the wind was somehow cooperative that day. Though I felt its blow, i did not feel its hard slap on my face.
After the Cape Engano Lighthouse, manong tour guide invited us to visit one of many waterfalls in Palaui — a place that can be reached after a 10-minute walk through a forested area. There, fresh water from the mountains falls to a natural pool where one could douse off that summer heat.
Our Cagayan travel was truly a tiring one. But all the energy we put into this adventure was rewarded with:
- the new learnings and awareness about the place, its culture, and its people’s beliefs;
- first time experiences which I could now strike off my bucket list;
- conquering my fears of the unknown and knowing that I could do it;
- helping me slow down and giving myself a break from the hustle and bustle of the big loud city; and
- the realization to appreciate my work, my family, and myself.
After another 16-hour butt-numbing experience inside the Victory Liner bus which brought us home, I realized that indeed, life is worth living. You just need to appreciate everything surrounding you, may it be the scorching sun or the long trails or even the dried falling leaves.
* I was able to see the beauty of Cagayan Valley about two years ago, and would want to once again experience its natural beauty – the fiery sun included – with my boys.