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.
Isabela consist of 34 municipalities and 3 cities in a province. It is the second largest province in the country. The vast area consist of agricultural plains, forested areas of the Sierra Madres and coastal towns. As one of the top corn producers in the country, Isabela found the bambanti, an Ilocano term for scarecrow, as a significant icon, symbolizing Isabela farmer’s diligence and resoluteness to earn his keep, feed his family and produce for the community. Hence the Bambanti Festival was born in January 2013. It aims to unite the municipalities, showcase their creativity, unique products and increase tourism.
If you’ve ever visited the furniture shop Crate and Barrel, chances are, you may have seen these finely crafted placemats, carpets, rugs or even some exquisite living room furniture pieces made from abaca (Manila hemp), rattan or nito. The prices here is a premium and it’s easy to conclude that most of them may be imported. Interestingly, when I visited Camalig, Albay’s Natural Carpet Industries, I was surprised to see Crate and Barrel tags on the newly woven circular abaca placemats inside their 7,300 sq. m. factory. Those US$10 placemats at the shop can be bought here directly for only US$ 3. It just shows that the abaca industry is back in the limelight as one of the main export products of the country and can compete with international brands.
There’s a distinctive smell of wood amidst the mixture of paint and thinner lingering in the air. I could hear the constant pounding of multiple mallets on chisels carving away pieces of wood to make form to an otherwise large piece of wood. Occasional sawdust fills the air when sudden gust of wind blows through this open air wood carving workshop. Paete Woodcarving has been a thriving industry since the Spanish era until now. A walk at the town’s market road, it is hard not to notice the rows of shops, selling variety of wood work and paper mache. This crafty town of Paete, north-east of Laguna have earned its declaration as the Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines back in 2005. Thanks to proud Paetenians whose generations of wood carvers passed their skills and dedication for elevating the art. Here we meet some of the master woodcarvers that have etched their legacy in the town’s history.
There’s a certain excitement on visiting far-flung locations. Maybe the idea of finding authenticity in a remote location drives us to go further beyond the tourist trail. Often times we discover gems in seclusion but that is not always the case. Sumnanga Village, the farthest of the Sabtang island villages found at the west side probably has the least tourist footprint on the island. It even took me at least eight years to return to this village despite having been to the island several times already. But sadly it’s another case of tainting my good memories of the place but thankfully there’s redemption in its natural beauty.
The guard seemed puzzled that a guest would be heading to the beach as early as four a.m. “Mag sho-shoot lang po sir! (I’m gonna shoot some photos sir!)” I said. “Ah cge sir! (Go ahead sir!” he replied with a smile as he unlocks the side door. It was the main gate from El Puerto Marina Beach Resort and its a few meters walk to the beach walking, by the resort fence on a dirt path. The nocturnal salty air got stronger as I near the shore. I seemed to have stirred the attention of a resident dog who doesn’t stop barking seeing (or was it smelling) my presence there. Another guard doing his round saw me and I sent a quick wave to let him know I saw him there and start setting up my tripod for a shoot. The landscape was well-lit by the waning crescent moon. I wanted to shoot stars but this dreamy and solemn landscape will do. Lingayen beach in all its vast morning-glory unseen in slumber.
The province of Quirino in Cagayan Valley, named after the former and sixth president of the Philippines Elpidio Quirino has often been overlooked and misplaced as a destination. Maybe because they are in a land-locked area between three provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Aurora and no direct access on the main national roads or flights. This makes Quirino quite interesting alternative destination. “What’s here? What can we see and do?” Are just about some curious queries unraveled on our recent visit. But before any exploration, we made our way to Cabarroguis, the province’s town capital.