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.
After setting foot at some of the far flung municipalities in Abra, I continued my journey back to the provincial center, Bangued, with persistent hopes of proving that the province is far from what the local media claims it to be.
I felt a jolt of sudden relief as paved roads welcomed us again at the municipality of San Juan. With the long ride covering almost two thirds of the distance down to Bangued, we stopped over at Kuya Minic’s house to rest for a little while. Then after some good fifteen minutes we strolled a little until we reached Tayum.
Tayum, located just four kilometers north of Bangued, is one of the places you shouldn’t miss on your next visit to Abra. We were welcomed by a quaint town center with many surviving bahay-na-bato ancestral houses (Filipino style houses with lower portions made with bricks and adobe while the second storey is made up of local wood). We then turned left to visit one of the impressive churches in the province.
Tayum Church or the St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish Church is declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. This Spanish Baroque style church was built during the Spanish colonialization and boasts of a facade a little similar to the Earthquake-Baroque style churches in the Ilocos Region.
I noticed that some of the details aside from the brick clad sidewalls supported by buttresses and fluorishing vines lining the upper portions, are the designs that somewhat suggests influences from the Filipino culture for the presence of “Palayok” or clay pots atop the pillars.
Another interesting sight is the little scale model of the church beside the rectory grounds, smallest church in the country eh?
A few blocks away along the Teodoro Balmaceda Street is where the former headquarters of Gabriela Silang is located, known today as the Gabriela Cariño Silang Gallery of Fine Arts.
The estranged wife of one of the great leaders of Ilocos resistance, Diego Silang, Gabriela made a name for herself and retaliated against the spanish forces after his husband got treacherously killed in 1763. She was called as the “Joan of Arc of the Ilocandia” for being the first female leader of a Filipino movement for independence against Spain. This is where she stayed prior to her attacks continuing the Ilocos Revolt after assigning two locals as generals namely Miguel Flores and Tagabuen Infiel.
Unfortunately, there was no one around that day and I was not able to take a look at what’s inside so I just peeked from the alightly ajar front door. But it is said that it contains an impressive collection of paintings, books, artifacts and documents collected around the world by the retired ambassador, Rosario Cariño. Some notable and prized pieces were paintings by Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, Pablo Picasso, Domenico Ghirlandaioto, and Pierre Auguste Renoir.
After a worthy visit in Tayum, we further travelled down to Bangued but passed by some fascinating bridges along the way. First was the Don Mariano Marcos Bridge, located along the Abra-Kalinga Road and connects the towns of Tayum and Dolores, and is the third longest bridge in the country. Make sure to stop by and appreciate the view.
We arrived in Bangued by lunchtime and had a quick stop at Nanay Binang’s that serves authentic Ilocano and Abrenian cuisines cooked in traditional way. We had good servings of Dinardaraan, Ginisang Munggo, and Dinakdakan. It is one of the most visited eatery in Bangued.
Then we met Ms. Dykath somewhere in Calaba and transferred to a private vehicle since they insisted on taking me to the “Little Baguio of Abra” and who am I to resist such offer. This was by far the best and hospitable tourism office experience I ever had. Then the next bridge came into view, the Calaba Bridge.
Spanning over the mighty Abra River, which is one of the largest river systems in the Pjilippines. It is a major infrastructure project at a total length of 900 meters that connects Bangued to the town of La Paz. During dry seasons, Nipa Huts are present under the bridge and swimming is allowed to beat the stifling summer heat.
We also happen to pass by the municipality of La Paz where it is famous for the Bulbulala Loom Weaving Village, eight kilometers northwest of Bangued. This place is unique since the sustainability of the craft is still continuous since old and young generations alike are into the trade.
Another 40 kilometers northwest of Bangued, and around 2:00pm we arrived in Nagaparan, a community in the Municipality of Danglas, is located along the Abra-Ilocos Norte road. From afar, we caught a glimpse of the black mountain named Mt. Sedir and noticeable are the presence of pine trees around the mountain ridges due to the elevation gain to reach the area.
Mountains and more impressive ridges awaited us that looks a lot similar to those in Tineg. Then we travelled back to Bangued and made sure to stop over again at Calaba Bridge!
Abra was said to be a thriving community engaged in agriculture and trade even since the Spaniards came. There were evidences of pre-colonial trades include the excavation of antique porcelain jars and gongs in Bangued. And in the year 1898, Augustinian Friars established Abra as the provincial capital.
After a long drive down from Danglas, they showed me the tourism homestay in case I visit again, and room price ranges from 300php-600php per night per person. It is also where I washed off as my day almost comes to a close.
Then for the last leg of the tour, Kuya Minic took me to Bangued’s favorite park, the Victoria Park. It is also known as the Cassamata Hill National Park, from the main road it is accessible through a 15 minute ascend on paved concrete road leading to the top of the hill or a 5minute tricycle ride.
This is where some of the provincial events are held and where you can enjoy the stunning view of the whole downtown Abra. This is also where you can see the surrounding mountain ranges and take a glimpse of Mt. Bullagao, also known as the Sleeping Beauty for its resemblance of a woman in her sleep.
Tha park also has a shrine for the Blessed Mother and Infant Jesus and an amphitheater for several events.
From Victoria Park, I bid goodbye to Kuya Minic and for showing me what Abra has in store for me for the whole day and paid 1500php for the whole tour. Might sound costly for some but Tineg is really far, and travelling with a local is the most safest way of exploring a destination.
Five minutes from the Park is where the Provincial Capitol and Municipal Hall is located. Then at the other end of the park is where the Bangued Cathedral is located.
Known also as the Cathedral of St. James the Great, this churchbhas survived several eras, from the Japanese occupation and the adjacent Colegio del Sagrado Corazon used as military hospital and is now called the St. James the Elder Parish Rectory, up to the bombing of American Warplanes in 1945, the church has stood the test of time and was declared as cathedral in 1955.
The place is very much alive, a typical day at the busy intersection, students walking around the park after class, fast food chains in their usual chaos, tricycles in their usual waiting lines. Everything in Abra is very much the same as every town center in the country is. I was all alone but I never felt frightened or threatened from what I have experienced the whole day.
Truly awesome, a day spent in Abra is worth the long travel, but there is still far more awesome attractions like the numerous waterfalls such as those in Kili and Kaparkan, mountains to climb like that of Mts. Bullagao, Sedir and Poswey, Springs to take a dip like that of in Lusuac, spanning rice terraces to marvel at, river systems and rock formations. There is truly more to Abra than the negative notions set by the local media that is waiting to be rediscovered.
One thing’s for sure, this place is truly, #ABRAMAZING!
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
2200 Partas Bus Terminal, Cubao (Deluxe Bus, 800php)
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)
0330 – Arrival at Cubao
Total Damage for Solo Trip: 3200php + Food
Go, Carve That Niche,
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things — air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese