Enchanting Claveria (Cagayan)

Claveria Cove

We left Buguey around 1:30 PM and our bus was to travel another 2 hours to get to Claveria, the last Cagayan town prior to entering Ilocos Norte.  It was now raining intermittently when we traversed the beach boulevard facing the town’s clean, 4 km. long brown sand Claveria Cove.  It was very windy when we alighted the bus for some photo ops and the waves along the beach were very turbulent.  On our left, we could sees the hazy outlines of the rock formations Punta Lakay-Lakay (“old man”), Punta Baket-Baket (“Old woman) and Punta Ubing-Ubing (“child”).  The onset of rain necessitated our return to the bus.

Lakay-Lakay Blue Lagoon

Back on our bus, we proceeded to Taggat to visit Lakay-Lakay Blue Lagoon. This lagoon is also located in a cove, albeit a smaller one.  As the bad weather prevented fishermen from going out to sea, the shore of this fishing village was filled with similarly-colored (blue and white with yellow stripes) fishing boats parked prow-to-bow and outrigger-to-outrigger. Minus the boats and in sunny weather, the panorama before us would have been a photographer’s dream.  Picture a lagoon enclosed by towering cliffs on both sides (the cliff on the right is topped by a cross) and jagged, rocky islands, all lashed and sculpted by the turbulent, churning waves of the sea.   Only in my dreams can I imagine such a scenery. In calmer weather and low tide, I could have swam to those rocky islets. Rain again woke me up from my day dream and we all had to run back to our bus.

Claveria town hall

Back in our bus, we next proceeded to the Claveria municipal hall where the amiable Mayor Celia Layus and other town officials welcomed us.  A merienda of buko juice, still in its shell, palitaw ( a sweet, flat and glutinous rice cake topped with brown sugar) and ginataan was prepared for us.  During the presscon, Mayor Layus narrated her plans to put up a zip line facility in the lagoon.  Personally, I would prefer that they leave the lagoon as it is and set up the zip line somewhere else in the town.

Buguey: The "Crab Capital of the North" (Cagayan)

El Presidente Beach Resort

After breakfast at Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort, we next headed west, to Ilocos Norte, with stopovers at Buguey and Claveria. We arrived at Buguey by 10 AM and were dropped off at the El Presidente Beach Resort where we were welcomed by town officials led by Mayor Licerio Antiporda III and his wife. The skies were overcast and it was very windy.  Before entering the conference hall, we were given a welcome drink of fresh buko juice, still in its shell, plus crab sandwiches.  While waiting for the start of the press conference, some sampled the Lamba Sparkle Berry Delight, a cocktail consisting of a 1/3 cup each of the following: native Buguey lambanog (nipa palm wine), sparkle and red berry juice, plus half a teaspoon of sugar; then garnished with lime and cherry and, finally, all the ingredients are shaken, strained and poured into a cocktail glass.

Lamba Sparkle Berry Delight

In his speech at the presscon, Mayor Antiporda enumerated his efforts to further boost the town’s tourism potential as well as to fortify its claim to being the “Crab Capital of the North.”  He also informed us that the local government-run El Presidente Beach Resort will soon be undergoing a total makeover, thanks to a PhP32 million loan from Land Bank, and will be turned into a U-shaped, bungalow-type hotel with 15 guestrooms and two dorms and will be renamed as the Buguey Crab Hotel.

Crab claws anyone….?

Afterwards, we were all invited to partake of the feast prepared for us: steamed shrimps; brackish water crabs, both steamed and cooked in the half shell; breaded prawns; seaweed, oysters, fresh fruits (mangoes, bananas) and bocayo (coconut candy). Some, foregoing the use of spoons, forks and knives, decided to dine kamayan style. While we were doing so, we were regaled with a bevy of native dances performed by schoolchildren and young adults.

Driftwood by the beach

After dining, some of us slipped out the conference hall to burn the excess calories gained as well as to check out the windswept black sand beach, observe people harvesting shells or children playing and to admire the high, turbulent waves breaking on the shore, a consequence of the converging waters of the South China Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the Cagayan River.  Prior to our leaving for Claveria, everyone in the media group was gifted with a bottle of Buguey lambanog to take home (I was given two).

Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)

Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort

After our half-day Palaui Island excursion and lunch at the port, we were again picked up by our CEZA bus and brought to Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort where we were to spend our second night in Sta. Ana.  Our media group was welcomed, with cool welcome drinks and face towels (in lumpia form), by Front Office supervisor Mr. Carl Dulay and his cheerful and attentive staff.  Surprisingly, I was assigned my very own spacious ground floor airconditioned room .

Check out “Resort Review: Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort

mY sPACIOUS suite

Just like Sun City before, it used to just cater to Chinese from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau but is now opening its doors to Filipino tourists, we being the first to do so.

The infinity pool

Since it was still early in the afternoon, some of the ladies went for a swim at the pool while Kenneth del Rosario, Sheryl Songsong, Ron Rivera, Kim Madridejos and  I had a pansit merienda and a chat with Mr. Dulay at a picnic shed by the beach.  Later, tired after our Palaui hike, I had a late afternoon siesta at my room.  I totally forgot my complimentary 15-min. massage. Dinner, consisting of a number of ihaw-ihaw (barbecued) dishes (fish, pork, etc.), sizzling sisig, grilled prawns in butter, etc., was served at the nearly finished clubhouse beside the pool.  After dinner, Ms.Ma. Theresa “Tess” Liwanag, the resort’s Asst. Gen. Manager and HR Head, hosted a number of team building games for our group.  My breakfast the next day, at the Chinese restaurant, consisted of longanisa, fried egg, garlic fried rice, coffee and fruits. C’est la vie.

Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort: Sta. Ana, Cagayan.  Mobile numbers: (0918) 916-0645, (0927) 808-5432 and (0917) 448-2123.

Breathtaking Palaui Island (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)

Palaui Island

We woke up very early in the morning to overcast skies and rain.  After breakfast at the Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort, we all checked out of our villa.  We left our luggage at the hotel lobby for transport to the Eastern Hawaii Resort, later to be our second home in Sta. Ana.  Thus unburdened, we all boarded our CEZA coaster for the fish port at Brgy. San Vicente. Point Escarpada, in Brgy. San Vicente, the sailfin capital of the Philippines.  It has the best fishing grounds for marlin, being at the confluence of several ocean currents that carry baitfish and the larger pelagic predators that hunt them.

White sand beach at Punta Engano

At the port, 5 motorized outrigger boats were chartered to bring us to the undeveloped and seldom visited, 3,850-hectare and volcanic Palaui Island, a 7,415-hectare Protected Landscape and Seascape with a shoreline of 20.6 kms., a length of 10 kms. and a width of 5 kms..  The island is inhabited by a community of Dumagats administered by a Filipino church group and is also home to different monkeys, wild pigs, deer, sea turtle and various endemic and migratory birds.  

Cape Engano Lighthouse

The skies were still overcast when we left port.  With me in the boat was Astra Alegre, Izah Morales, Kara Santos, Nina Fuentes and Kim Madridejos.  Our 45-min. boat ride was uneventful until we reached open water when the sea suddenly became choppy, creating mild to wild panic among the other boats but childish exhilaration (except for the visibly worried Astra) with me and my companions with every rising wave.  We first made short landfall at a gray sand Siwangag Cove for some photo ops then returned to our boats for our final landfall at a gorgeous bay with a curving white sand beach and well-preserved coral.  The beach looked really inviting but we weren’t here for swimming or snorkeling.   Instead, we opted to visit its picturesque old Cape Engaño Lighthouse (Faro de Cabo Engaño), the northernmost Spanish-era lighthouse in the country.  Located on the windswept headland of Punta Engaño, it was designed by Engr. Magin Pers y Pers, started in 1887 and completed on December 30, 1892. Upon reaching the end of the beach, we began our ascent up a mildly sloping to steep trail up the 92.75 m. high, cone-shaped hill, pausing at intervals to admire the Batanes-like scenery of its surroundings.

Dos Hermanas

After a 30-min. hike, we finally reached the lighthouse.  Though now run down and a little eerie, it was obviously a sight to behold during its heyday.  The back of the lighthouse had a panoramic view of the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean breaking on the beach and rocky shore, the rolling, green-carpeted hills below, the two rocky islands of Dos Hermanas beyond and, farther off, the Babuyan group of islands, leaving all of us awestruck by the sheer beauty of nature before us.  It was already drizzling when we went down the hill and returned to our boats.  The return trip was just as exhilarating as the previous.  Upon arrival at the port, a prepared lunch adobo and rice awaited us at the nearby picnic huts.  

Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)

Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort

After our seafood dinner at Gonzaga, it was again back to our bus for a shorter (40-km.) drive to Cagayan Export Zone Authority in Centro in Sta. Ana and it was already 8 PM when we arrived at the upscale Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort (also called Sun City Hotel and Casino) where we were to call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting anything bordering on the luxurious in this part of the country but boy was I surprised.  Upon entering the resort’s gate, I thought I was in a classy resort the likes of which can only be found in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Reno or Macau. Well for one, the 7-hectare Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort is the first and the only high-end resort in northern part of the Philippines that offers complete world-class facilities and amenities.

The online gaming  Casino

This PhP400 million (HK$ 70 million) resort, a subsidiary of the Sun International Group Ltd.,  was ormerly opened only to high-rolling Chinese nationals from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan but this Cagayan Economic Zone Authority-operated resort will soon be opening its doors to locals with us in media being the first to try out its world-class facilities.

One of the resort’s F&B outlets

Upon arrival at the resort, we first checked out the online gaming casino before proceeding to the restaurant where we were warmly welcomed by Sta. Ana town mayor Darwin A. Tobias.  Also prepared for us was a gourmet dinner with delicious cream of mushroom soup, barbecued chicken lollipop, sweet ham, fish fillet and mixed vegetables which we all enjoyed.

Bedroom with twin beds at Villa

Gabby Malvar, Ferdz Decena and I were assigned a nearby (the others were transported to their villas via a golf cart) neat and clean Asian-inspired villa.

“Check out “Resort Review: Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort

Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort: Brgy. San Vicente, Sta. Ana, Cagayan.  Tel: +853 6644 8811 and +853 8844 4422.  Mobile numbers: (0917) 588-9916 and (0908) 894-7042.  E-mail: reception@cagayanresort.com. Website: www.suncity-group.com.


Dinner by the Sea (Gonzaga, Cagayan)

The delightful seafood feast

After our pansit batil patong merienda at the Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center at the Provincial Capital Complex in Tuguegarao City, we returned to our CEZA bus for a 138.2-km. (2-hr.) drive to Gonzaga, incidentally the birthplace of current Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile.  Along the National Highway, we passed the pretty, Spanish-era red brick Church of St. Filomene in Alcala and the Church of St. James the Greater and Calvary Hills in Iguig.  It was night time when we reached the town and our destination: Matara Beach in Brgy. San Jose.  Here, we were warmly welcomed by town mayor Carlito F. Pentecostes, Jr., other town officials and townspeople.  As per our original itinerary,our late afternoon merienda was supposed to have been held here, not in Tuguegarao City, but our 4-hr. delay at the airport changed all these plans.As a consequence, the town officials had to improvise for the change of schedule, installing a generator to provide lighting for the tents set up along the beach to house us and the banquet prepared for us.  Still, the dark denied us the opportunity of seeing how beautiful the place really is – its white sand, coral reef, turquoise sea and blue sky.

Our media group with Mayor Pentecostes (in yellow)

Our disappointment was somehow alleviated by the feel of the fine sand beneath our feet, the warmth of the townspeople and the wonderful array of food set before us.  And what a wonderful array it was – steamed shrimps, sweet and sour and barbecued fish and lots of crabs – with many of us, including me, dining kamayan style.  Despite just having eaten a filling merienda in Tuguegarao City less than three hours ago, we simply just couldn’t resist not partaking of the seafood feast before us.  So much for dieting.    However short was our visit to this coastal town, it still warrants another visit. Maybe next time.  

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, National Highway, Gonzaga, Cagayan.  Tel: (078) 856-6502 to 03.

Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center (Tuguegarao City, Cagayan

While at the museum, I also took time out to talk with museum curator Ms. Primitiva “Bing” Talla whom I  first met in Basco, Batanes in 2006. Conceptualized in 1971, the museum was inaugurated on August 15, 1973 during the Aggao nac Cagayan.  I also  explored the museum’s modest but distinguished collection covering various periods in the province’s history – from prehistoric times to the last century.  Though picture taking, normally, was not permitted, I was granted special permission to do so.

Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center

On display were fossilized teeth and bones of elephas (pygmy elephants), rhinoceros and stegodons that once roamed the valley half a million years ago; ancient flaked stone tools; 4,000-year old pottery and jewelry found near Lal-lo; porcelain tradeware from the ancestral river trade unearthed from Ybanag burial sites; carved colonial wooden altars; gold-braided vestments from old Dominican missions; and other religious artifacts and antique furnishings such as re-enameled washbasins from old mestizo families, mostly from Nueva Segovia and Vienna chairs.

Display of religious artifacts
Bones of stegodons
Antique furniture

Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center: Expo Bldg., Provincial Capital Compound, National Highway, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan.  Tel: (078) 846-7337.  Open Mondays to Fridays, 8:00-11:30 AM and 1:30-4:30 PM.

Lakbay Norte 2, Second Leg (Tuguegarao City, Cagayan)

The Cebu Pacific plane that brought us to Cagayan

I was again invited to join the second leg of the Lakbay Norte 2 media tour, this time to cover the provinces of Cagayan and Ilocos Norte.  We were supposed to depart on our Cebu Pacific-sponsored flight to Tuguegarao City (Cagayan) at the NAIA 3 Terminal by 8:45 AM but rain and poor visibility at Tuguegarao Airport caused a 4-hour delay.  We killed time at the airport by chatting with media colleagues and pigging out on food (we ate two meals there).  We finally left Manila by 1 PM and arrived in Tuguegarao City an hour later.  This would be my second visit to Tuguegarao City, though my first visit was just a short stopover at the airport  on my way to Basco, Batanes.

Our media group with DOT Region II and CNCVB representatives

At the airport, our media group was welcomed by representatives of Department of Tourism Region II and the Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau (CNCVB).    We were picked up by a CEZA (Cagayan Export Zone Authority) bus and brought to the Cagayan Museum and Historical Research Center, at the Provincial Capital Compound in Tuguegarao City. Inside our bus, we tried the dumpling-like pawa, a local delicacy made from ground sticky rice with sweetened ground peanut filling, much like the angko we tasted at Camarines Norte. Upon arrival at the museum, we were treated to a merienda of Cagayan food fare. What a merienda it was!

Pancit batil patong

The food fare spread before us include pancit batil patong, rich and sweet hot chocolate, chicharabao (chicharon made with carabao fat), chichacorn and kakanin. The delicious and filling pancit batil patong, a Tuguegarao specialty, was the star of the show.  It was made with miki noodles and sautéed meat (either pork, beef or carabeef) and  served with a sauce of fresh, chopped onions, poached eggs and seasoned with suka (vinegar), toyo (soy sauce) and calamansi (Philippine lemon). The whole assembly was topped by a fried egg.  

Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau (CNCVB):  c/o 2/F, Fragrante Bldg., 1 Aguinaldo cor. Blumentritt Sts., Tuguegarao City, Cagayan.  Mobile number (0917) 578-3524.  E-mail: jaimetabbu@yahoo.com. 

Department of Tourism (DOT) Region II: 29-A Rizal St., Tuguegarao City 3500, Cagayan.  Tel: (078)  844-5364.  Fax: (078) 844-1621 and 844-1736. Regional Director:  Ms. Blessida G. Diwa.  E-mail: dotr02@yahoo.com. Website: www.dotregion2.com.