Vrooming around Vizcaya
There was a time when driving through the Cagayan Valley Road was a long, arduous and dull journey due to the narrow two-lane roads which extend up to Luzon’s northernmost tip. Then, there were the countless trailer trucks of rice and agricultural cargo you have to overtake, and the dreaded Dalton Pass zigzag road, where you have to crawl, and one mishap can get you stranded for a couple of hours.
With the opening of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), and the widening of the Maharlika Highway, the road gauntlet experience has been drastically reduced, and you can be at the doorstep of Cagayan Valley in as fast as four hours.
With splendid four-lane roads, scenic pit stops along the way, driving has become a more pleasurable experience even for sedan cars and motorcycles.
Pit Stop 1: Balete Pass. After an exciting crawl in the highland road, motorists are welcomed at Balete Pass in Sta. Fe, the provincial boundary of Nueva Vizcaya which is the usual pit stop because of its Instagrammable mountainscape. Popularly known as Dalton Pass where some 17,000 Japanese and US-Filipino Allied troops were killed during World War II, including Gen. James Dalton, whom the place used to be named after.
At 914 meters feet above sea level, the pass is also at the boundary of Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley regions.
If you’ve got time to spare, glide over for the breath-taking zigzag below at the zipline, a new attraction operated by the municipal government, or take a side trip to Imugan Fall, a two-level fall with shallow catch basin where you can enjoy an icy dip after a moderate trek.
Pit Stop 2: Saty gas station. This home-grown fuel retailer in Bambang town can be at par with the big oil players because of vast land area and the wide array of food franchises, convenience stores, and shops it offers. With a motorist-friendly design, its configuration is akin to a compact mall where you can hang out a little longer than usual.
Indeed, gas stations all over the archipelago has indeed levelled-up tenfold, and the search for a clean toilet or a decent meal isn’t a major issue anymore for road trippers.
Pit Stop 3: Bayombong. This provincial capital is a rapidly-urbanizing town with popular supermarkets, car dealers and service centers, government facilities and other amenities of modern living. The town is also the cradle of culture evident in the presence of heritage landmarks—the majestic St. Dominic Cathedral, seat of the Catholic diocese, and the People’s Museum and Library, the repository of local heritage, which was declared by the National Museum as an “Important Cultural Property.”
The Provincial Capitol Complex has been dubbed “Luneta of the North” because of its spic-and-span tree-lined park ideal for public recreation, man-made lagoon with rowboats, and the newly-opened convention center which aims to make it a hub for conferences and events in Region 2.
The town is also host to the Grand Ammungan Festival, the annual cultural extravaganza which gathers the 18 indigenous people’s groups who have made Nueva Vizcaya their home—the Ifugaos, Gaddangs, Isinais, Dumagats, Kalanguyas, and Bugkalots, to name a few.
The festivity is coined from the Gaddang and Ilocano words which both mean “gathering,” and showcases cultural diversity as a way of celebrating the province’s founding anniversary. The highlight of the summer-time festival is the parade of floats and the street dance tilt which features contemporary interpretations of ethnic dances, as well as visiting troupes from award-winning festivals.
Pit Stop 4: Capisaan Cave. If you are an adventurous soul, you can detour from the national road, to the interior town of Kasibu for a spelunking tour of Capisaan Cave, the country’s fifth longest cave system, and boasts of rare calcite formations, sharp-pointed stalagmites, stalactites, and speleothems.
From the lion-shaped Lion Entrance, cavers will be treated with astounding formations, starting with its 4.2-km. subterranean river where explorers have to wade-in for most parts. Guides can customize the tour depending on your time availability, but it is suggested that you do the whole nine yards for a consummate caving experience.
Tucked in the interior villages, its jump-off point can easily be reached by car, thus minimizing the long trek.
Pit Stop 5: Buko Pie Alley. Much like its counterpart in Laguna, this so-called “buko pie alley” is a mandatory stopover for the obligatory pasalubong for family and friends back home. Located along the national highway in Bagabag town, you can’t miss this spot where cars, vans and buses pull over to get their hoards of pie variants—mango, ube, and pineapple, and an assortment of sweet delicacies.
This spot is also a just a few kilometers away from the junction road, to the famed Ifugao Rice Terraces, the world’s eighth wonder and a Unesco Heritage Site, which is about 90 minutes away.
Bagabag is also host to a feeder airport which receives occasional flights from private planes and commercial carriers, whose schedules have been rather erratic in the past few months.
Pit Stop 4: LMET. A must-see is the Lower Magat Eco-Tourism (LMET) Park in Diadi, the province’s main attraction within the 24,000-hectare portion of the Lower Magat Forest Reserve which provides watershed protection to Magat Dam. This secluded hideaway has a fishing lagoon, camping grounds, swimming pools, cottages for overnight stays, recreational facilities, and hiking and biking trails for moments of solitude with nature and the Creator.
With splendid roads and the right mix of nature, adventure and culture, vrooming around Vizcaya may yet be your next favorite road adventure.
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