The rainfall that was repressed during our first day in Cagayan was now letting on. Dark clouds loomed overhead and followed us like vultures waiting to pounce. Everything was bleak and the air was heavy with the smell of ozone. But despite the less than cheerful weather, we put on our best smiles and bucked up.
Our custom Lakbay Norte Victory Liner bus shuddered to a stop and, with a noticeable soreness to my tushy, I woke. From the window, I saw that the weather had turned bleary. We’d been traveling for 12 hours, spanning the length of Nueva Ecija all the way to Cagayan. To here, in the municipality of Tuguegarao.
After shaking off sleep from our eyes and a round of pandiculation, one by one, my companions and I disembarked. It was past 7AM but it felt like the sun got lazy and was taking its time to get up. A light drizzle was underway and wisps of morning fog blurred the edges of things. There was a dullness to the scene, almost like it was painted with watercolor.
It’s a shame it took us a delayed flight to visit this gem of a place. “Of all the places we’ve mapped in the coastal towns, Divilacan Isabela is the most beautiful and is our favourite!” said one of the NSO Mappers we met at the flight check-in counters in Maconacon. The working duo has been mapping Eastern Isabela for months already and are ready to go home. But the fickle status of our flights had other plans in mind. Our flight was cancelled and had to stay here for another day which is not unusual for this region. But wonders never cease as we met the cheerful Tourism officer of Divilacan, Natalie, who was also waiting for the flight. In no time she quickly whipped up an endorsement letter and then found ourselves riding a motorcycle to Divilacan.
“Nung dumating yung mga rescuers dito, di sila makapaniwala sa lakas ng hangin. Yng mga puno ng niyog di lang nabaluktot, naputol din sila at maraming nabunot. (When the rescuers came in, they couldn’t believe how strong the wind was. The coconut trees were not only bent, they were cut in half and many uprooted.)” Narrated our 60-year old forester guide with us, recalling the harrowing experience with the 2010 Typhoon Juan as if it happened only a few days ago in Maconacon. Almost a couple of years have passed, Maconacon is showing signs of revival despite the scars left by the typhoon. The houses and government buildings have been rebuilt and they now have electrical power (albeit only 7 hours a day). Nature however is slow to recover, the once bold wall of a mountain-face still shows significant scars and the landscape changed as we have discovered while exploring some Maconacon attractions.
In the age where the world is getting smaller because of technology, the sense of authenticity in travel is also slowly diminishing. Part of the attraction of Eastern Isabela is its remoteness. Cut-off by the great Sierra Madre Mountain Range to the rest of Luzon, the region is a place where cellular signal is almost non-existent, electrical power runs at most 7-hours a day or none and where indigenous people are still closely linked to nature like the Dumagat of Isabela. Here in this remote land, I somehow found a sense of authenticity meeting these indigenous people.
I could see the cellular tower standing like a centrepiece of the town. Despite its signal lights on, it’s just a static display as my phone shows no signal even if I’m just a few hundred meters away. I fan myself up as I wipe-off beads of sweat trickling from my forehead caused by the mid-afternoon heat. There are no electric fans around as there are no electricity to power them yet. That is part of the story of this town Maconacon Isabela, somewhat cut-off from the rest of Luzon but roughing it out in this region does yield some memorable travel.
Let’s literally go beyond what North Luzon is mostly known for. Go past the borders of Ilocos Norte and step into the neighboring town of Claveria in Cagayan. I was awed by the raw beauty of Claveria even under gloomy skies on my first visit that I immediately planned a return trip soon after I got back to Manila. I was able to spend a few days here with my friends and found it as a destination in itself. Here you can find a dedicated video, the itinerary and travel budget chart for claveria and a side-trip to Tuguegarao.