Today we have a Guest Article from an old LiP Reader, Alex Buenafe. Oh, I don’t mean Alex is old, I mean that he has been reading LiP for a long time! Anyway, Alex recently returned home to Canada from his most recent trip to the Philippines, during which he explored the northern part of the country. Alex has some interesting insights into the Northern Philippines to share with us, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Thank you very much, Alex, for sharing your experiences with the LiP Audience. I am glad that you had an enjoyable and safe visit to the Philippines! MindanaoBob
I have been a LiP reader for the past year and a half and found the site enlightening about life in the Philippines as it really is. Although I live in Toronto, I now have a tiny cubicle for an address in Manila. I’m still ambivalent about living long term in Manila, so the search goes on.
Whenever an opportunity arises to go to the Philippines, I try to get a feel for different places in the country. Since 2002, I’ve been back a few times, the last time in April and May of this year on assignment. My trips whether work related or personal usually take me to the Visayas – Cebu, Negros, Panay, Bohol, where most LiP readers seem to prefer to park themselves. I grabbed the opportunity to go to Tuguegarao, Cagayan and see what life is like in the northern part of the country. To many faithful LiP readers, Cagayan is John and Rebecca Miele’s “home province”. John has written very interesting articles about that part of the country which I used as my resource.
El niño was top of mind prior to coming. My contacts in Manila had talked about the heat and farmlands drying up. I wondered about the region up country, prime agriculture region where I was going. From the air, farmlands in Luzon looked pretty dry, and mountain sides were starting to turn brown too. “Desertification” was the word that came to mind if the rains don’t come soon.
The rice terraces in the Cordilleras usually damp and wet weren’t spared. On the road going south to Nueva Vizcaya stunted rice talks looked pitiful. According to my local colleagues, farmers would have to harvest whatever there is. My biggest disappoint were the summer fruits. Except for the watermelon (pakwan) the fruits sold by sidewalk vendors downtown didn’t look “healthy” especially mangoes. At the local grocery, Marton (I think) on Buntun highway, the best looking fruit I found was an imported Fuji apple.
What is that famous Erap-tion? “Weather-weather” (As in, it comes and goes like weather?) The rains finally trickled in on the 2nd week, and by the end of May, Tuguegarao had a weekend of rain. It was a relief to see the Cagayan river, the mightiest in the country, fill up a bit and start moving again. On a return trip from Batanes 3 weeks later, I finally saw a pale shade of green on the ground. Let’s hope the new government and DENR start working fast and furious to negate the effects of the mischievous twins, el niño and soon to come, la niña. If I recall correctly, the French sun king said, “After me the deluge”.
Tuguegarao is the hottest place in the country with the unenviable record in Philippine weather history: highest recorded temperature of 44c. The city is at the lowest point in the valley hemmed in by the Sierra Madre on the Pacific side, the Cordilleras on the other, and to the south cutting across is the Caraballo mountains in Nueva Vizcaya.
Locals admit summers are very hot normally, while “winter” months can get as chilly as Baguio (low teens or lower in celsius.) For the time I was there, evenings and mornings were in the mid 20’s and slightly breezy, daytime highs were touching 40c and humid.
I don’t mean to disparage the good people of Tuguegarao but I found the city uninteresting, like an overgrown frontier town. SM is planning to build a mall one day. Maybe it will spur gentrification of the downtown core. The 16th or 17th century Cathedral is probably the only attraction in town. Cagayan like the Ilocos region has a number of 16th-17th century colonial churches e.g Alcala, Iguig, Lal-lo (Nueva Segovia in the old days) etc. The most famous one, Our Lady of Piat, about 40 minutes from town is not colonial nor old (1970’s). But the brown papier maché Madonna is a 16th century import from Macau. (Photo Piat Church after mass.)
Tricycles rule the downtown core, 11,000 of them the most per capita in the country. The fare is supposed to be P10.00 per ride, but beyond 2 or 3 blocks the tricycle driver changes the rule and will ding you P30 – P50 per ride. A local government survey revealed that the average take of trici drivers in Tuguegarao is only P200 per day gross. (Local fruit vendors make double that. Minimum wage is P224 per day.) A government employee working with me dryly commented that trici driving is a job of last resort, as in – can’t find a job, too fussy or too lazy to find a job or pretending to have a ‘job’. Anyone planning to be a tricycle king, kindly do your math.
The more exciting places are not too far from the capital. Other than Piat (for the religious), there’s Callao cave and Pinacanauan river in the foothills of the Sierra Madre 30 minutes out of town. The cave has 6 chambers with natural skylights. The river is a where locals go to cool off but suddenly drops a few feet from the bank. (Photo Pinacanauan River sunset.) Australians archaeologists have found the “oldest” homo sapiens in the Philippines in Callao. It is believed to be older than the Tabon man found in Palawan. That is old. Another archaelogical site is Lal-lo, (I didn’t go there) archaeologists have discovered mammoth tusks and Neolithic settlements of Austronesians, ancestors of all Filipinos. There’s a ‘story’ that goes around that people are doing a different kind of digging around Callao cave – for the Yamashita gold. Good luck. I decided to take a pass on Sta. Ana and Palaui island. It seems one requires a pass or an invite to certain areas of the economic zone and tourist destination. John Miele had alluded to this in his post on Sta. Ana. The economic zone is a touchy issue with the locals.
Tuguegarao may be uninteresting but Cagayan (and Region 2 – Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya) has an interesting landscape and very natural environment. It seems to attracts its share of expats and balikbayans wanting a lot of land, swimming pool with a room for a pony. That’s according to one realtor who had sold 5 properties out of town. And about work – that will be for another post. Yes, I did work some then took siestas in between. Fortunately, the places I stayed had working generators. Nothing like air conditioning in the summer heat with el niño. (Photo: Friend in Tuguegarao, Chloe a Pomeranian.)