Uncharted Territories – Abra (Part I)

Often an overlooked destination and a blank canvass on the tourist map, the province of Abra for the longest time is still managing its way to become one of the next up and coming destinations in the country. With its location and being relatively near the top tourist destinations in the Northern Luzon, shadowed by the great Ilocandia and the mighty Cordilleras, only a few eager and brave travelers and backpackers alike have set foot into this intriguing province.

Downtown Abra and the sleeping beauty that is Mt. Bullagao from afar.

The province hid from the call of tourism mostly because of the negative notions set by the local media tagging Abra’s publicity as unsafe and dreaded. Primarily due to political rivalry and being an election hotspot, many reports of deaths and abductions have loomed the local scene and kept the people from visiting the area. But it is time to change our perspectives regarding this matter, in retrospect, there is much more to Abra than the fear inducing news and negative publicity.

Prior to my trip, I knew very little about Abra and what it actually has to offer. I was plainly curious for what’s in store for me inside this landlocked region. Only fueled by photos from social media as one word got out of its amazing destinations, I told myself that I should set foot on this province, but this time, solo. 

Landlocked Wonders

Abra is part of the Cordillera Administrative Region, this landlocked province is bordered by Ilocos Norte on the northwest, Apayao on the northeast, Kalinga on the east, Mountain Province on the southeast, and Ilocos Sur on the southeast. It is said that the original inhabitants of the province are the Ifugaos and the Bontocs but eventually they moved farther up and left the place to the Tingguian Tribes.

From Manila I took an overnight Deluxe Partas Bus going straight to Bangued, Abra and cost me 800php, I failed to catch the 7:00pm regular bus trip but all is well since the seats inside the bus are incredibly comfortable and can be reclined totally. I slept all throughout the trip and woke up when we had our stopover at Candon City, Ilocos Sur, it was way faster than I expected. Most of the provinces in the country will greet you with a welcome arch, but not here in Abra, wherein a tunnel serves such purpose. Tangadan Tunnel is a 40-meter tunnel situated along the Abra-Ilocos Sur National Road.

Fifteen minutes before 5:00 in the morning, and after six hours and forty five minutes of land travel, I have finally set foot in Abra!

Ms. Dykath Molina, a tourism coordinator of Abra whom I made contact prior to the trip met me up in the wee hours of the morning just to accomodate me and even treated me to the Acosta Pansitan’s Abrenian Pancit Miki. Way to go!

Sunrise over the mountains of Kalinga

At exactly six in the morning, my habal-habal guide Kuya Minic was already waiting for me and so we started the whole tour. The natural tourist destinations are basically raw, majority of the roads past Dolores and Tayum are not passable to all types of vehicles that only off-road capable conveyances can pass through this dirt roads. Public transportations in the form of Monster Jeepneys only plies several routes once a day only so going into this places are rather costly and likewise advisable to groups or if renting a motorcyle.

The Rolling Hills of Apao

50+ kilometers northwest of Bangued, we ventured down to Tineg, Abra to reach one of its natural landscapes that has circulated throughout social media after the Kaparkan Spring Terraces, that is the Apao Rolling Hills. Too bad, the waterfall is only open during the rainy season (August to December) since during summer months no water trickles down the terraces of enchanting white rocks. 

Then we also passed by San Juan and their imposing golden lion statues along the road and its beautiful municipal hall.

Municipal Hall of San Juan, Abra

The way going to Tineg was not an easy one, majority of the roads are still not developed, it was raw and rugged and the trip aboard the single motorcycle is not for the faint hearted. But the sight of the surrounding mountains fringed with lush forests, wide valleys, river systems and pastures riddled with corns, rice and numerous types of vegetables, made the trip worth it. Tourism still hasn’t knocked on this undeveloped province, but for some, it is where the charm really lies.

Dirt road going to Tineg, Abra

Monster jeepney and motorcycle as common modes of transportation.

After a butt numbing trip, the weather changed dramatically and it felt like I was in the Cordilleras due to the cool climate as we arrived at the Balay Ti Tineg, or the Tineg Municipal Hall standing atop the mountain ridge with splendid views of the surrounding valleys and the Abra River. A few kilometers away, the Rolling Hills of Apao waited before us, as the sun slowly rose above the horizon, leaving the vast grassland filled plains in a beautiful array of amber and auburn hues.

” ….atop the mountain ridge with splendid views of the surrounding valleys and the Abra River.”
Municipal Hall of Tineg, Abra

Being near the Municipal Hall, Police Station and the Rural Health Unit, this place is ideal for camping and for stargazing. Located at Sitio Vira, Brgy. Alaoa in Tineg, the panoramic viewpoint of the Apao Rolling Hills is a very picturesque landscape that left me in awe. The mountains of Apao cover its neighboring Barangays of Lacub and Lan-ag. 

“….the Rolling Hills of Apao waited before us, as the sun slowly rose above the horizon…”
“…..leaving the vast grassland filled plains in a beautiful array of amber and auburn hues.”

Truly, I was surprised of what this province initially has to offer, beaming with a distinct characteristic that slowly unveiled itself as we ventured farther down into Brgy. Alaoa.

The Piwek

Another thirty minutes down Brgy. Alaoa, where pairs of Labuyo (Native Jungle Chicken) were disturbed by the faint rumbling of our motorcycle from their morning hunt for food along the road side, and flew like birds of paradise, I never thought that chickens could fly (and even soar through the air) that high! 

Rice Terraces as seen from the main road leading to Alaoa.

Encompassing the equally picturesque mountain ridges of Brgy. Apao, the dirt road lead to one of the obscure spots in Tineg, the Piwek Rock Formations. We arrived at a modest community down the footholds of a limestone karst of a mountain down to the gleaming riverbanks of Salakop River.

Daing na Igat, or Freshwater Eels dried under the sun to preserve it longer.

People in here spoke in heavy Ilokano dialect, but after some negotiations, we were given guides to accompany us to the rock formation (It was Kuya Minic who accompanied me all the way to Piwek), they charged us a total of 300php (200php for the guide, and 100php for the raft). Initial part of the short trek involved crossing the emerald waters of the Salakop River by a bamboo raft. Ten minutes and we were greeted by the limestone formations that line the riverbanks of the Salakop. 

“Initial part of the short trek involved crossing the emerald waters of the Salakop River by a bamboo raft. “

The beak shaped limestone rock at the river is worth the climb as it gave me a good view of the river and the surrounding mountains. It is reminiscent of that of Tinipak River in Daraitan Rizal, but a little bit rugged and more beautiful from its obscurity. 

No raft were present on the other side so I was asked if it is alright to wait for it, but I chose to climb the little mountain called by the locals as Mt. Aliwatey, going to our next destination where crocodiles and eels frequent the place.

The hike was relatively short but purely descent, there were no tree covers and thus, it was a little exhausting because of the warm and humid weather down here in Alaoa. But upon arrival at the little craggy peak, I caught a good glimpse of the meandering river down below and the imposing rocks they call the Ambang Rock Formations.

Another ten minutes of descent, we finally reached the rocks, but there were no crocodiles on the banks, only the Barangay Captain and his crew searching for Igat (Freshwater Eel) to eat that day. Ambang Rocks are said to contain gold ores because of the bright streaks of brown and yellow against the peculiar color of the rock that from afar, looks like camouflage patterns.

Another rock formation lies at the other bend of the river but it will take longer to reach so we chose not to venture at the other side. We traversed again at the other side of Mt. Aliwatey and arrived by 9:45am at the Piwek cliff diving spot, I had no life vest that time so no cliff dive for me then. 

We travelled back to Tayum by 10:15am and prepared myself for another long and bumpy ride.

Next part of my Abra adventure here:

Uncharted Territories – Abra (Part II)



How To Get There:

● In Metro Manila, there are three bus companies plying the Manila/Cubao/Pasay to Bangued route, namely Partas Bus Company, Viron Transit, and Dominion Bus Lines, Fares start at 650php for the Regular Airconditioned Bus, and 800php for the Deluxe Bus. (Travel time: 7-10hrs)

● For those travelling with private vehicles, Bangued is 408 kilometers from Manila. Passing through NLEX-SCTEX-TPLEX and the Manila North Road, then turn left at the Abra-Ilocos Sur road which is 4 kilometers past the town of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, head past the Tangadan Tunnel until you reach Bangued. (Travel time: 7-8hrs)

● Other entry and exit points are the Abra-Kalinga Road in the east, which passes through the town of Malibcong, Abra to Balbalan, Kalinga. There is also the Abra-Ilocos Norte Road that passes through the town of Danglas, Abra to Nueva Era, Ilocos Norte. Public Transportations along these roads are still not available.

● Once in Bangued, destinations within the city are accessible through tricycles which is its main mode of transportation. It can take you within the town and its adjacent municipalities. Minimum fare starts at 10php. Jeepneys are also stationed in Bangued but their schedules are based on the Alas-Puno-Bago-Umalis schedule or it will wait to be filled up with passengers before it leaves, so if planning to go farther, contact the tourism office to arrange your service vehicles.

● You can contact their local tourism officer, Ms. Dykath Molina at 09277725856.

Where To Stay:

■ Abrassi Hotel – Poblacion, Tayum

■ Origines Hotel and Restaurant/ Abra Valley Grand Hotel, Hollandia Homestay- Calaba, Bangued

■ Oval Era Hotel/ Adtemco Hotel – Zone V, Bangued

■ Terrence Hill Resort – Poblacion, Bucay

■ Abra Tourism Homestay – Calaba, Bangued


Itinerary and Expenses

Abra Day Trip

Day 0

2200 Partas Bus Terminal, Cubao (Deluxe Bus, 800php)

Day 01
0445  Arrival at Bangued
0530  Meet Tourism Coordinator, Dykath Molina
0540  Breakfast at Acosta Panciteria
0600  Start motorcycle tour
0730  Arrival at Apao Rolling Hills, Tineg
0800  Salakop River, Brgy. Alaoa, Vira, Tineg
0810  Piwek Rock Formation
0830  Traverse to Ambang Camouflage Rocks via Mt. Aliwatey
0915  Arrival at Ambang Rocks
0930  Ascend back
0945  Piwek cliff dive spot,
1000  Descend back to Brgy. Alaoa (200php guide fee, 100php raft fee)
1015  Brgy Alaoa, travel back to Bangued
1120  Stop Over at Brgy. Dolores
1130  Tayum Church, Gabriela Silang Gallery
1150  Resume trip back to Bangued
1200  Don Mariano Marcos Bridge
1215  Arrival at Bangued, lunch at Nanay Binang’s
1300  Resume, San Lorenzo Ruiz Church
1415  Little Baguio, Brgy. Nagaparan, Danglas
1450  Calaba Bridge
1500  Back at Bangued, wash up
1530  Bangued Plaza, Municipal Hall, Provincial Hall, Bangued Cathedral, Cassamata Hill National Parj
1600  End tour (1500php tour fee)
1930  Depart for Manila (655php)

Day 02

0330 – Arrival at Cubao

Total Damage for Solo Trip: 3200php + Food


“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

– Henry David Thoreau


Go, Carve That Niche

Rex

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