(This is an advertorial). A slew of reggae music blared through my portable speakers at the front seats of the van. It was Deng, our driver’s playlist, interplay of songs from Indio I, Coco Jam, Tropical Depression and Popong Landero to keep him into his driving groove while we head to Batangas coast from Tagaytay. At the back my cousins, mom and brother were amused by the two toddlers own song performances during the drive. We were already mid-way through our 6-day vacation and everything was going well.
It seems I’ve been scaling deeper up north a lot lately and I really don’t mind. It’s time to get past the ever popular Ilocos region and cross the border just a step to Cagayan Region and explore the next town of Claveria. Known as the gateway to the Babuyanes Islands, Claveria is a small town with its livelihood revolving around fishing. First time I went here during the Lakbay Norte 2, we rode through here under heavy rain but it didn’t dampen the magnificent rock formations the place holds. So I went back with a few friends and discovered a lot more.
The challenge was to reach Vigan in the quickest way possible coming from Sagada. The original plan was to go directly westward plying the Sabangan-Cervantes-Tagudin road from Halsema Highway, but as it turns out, even after a year, the bridge construction over the river cutting through Cervantes was not finished yet. The first alternative was to go back to Baguio then Vigan which would take a grueling 11-13 hours ride. Our driver and co-navigator did ask around while we made a stop at Abatan and found out we can avoid that bridge by going through the Mankayan-Cervantes-Tagudin route instead. We took this dare and preferred this unfamiliar route. Everyone seemed excited with this adventure detour, even I, when I realized we’re passing through the historic Bessang Pass National Park where probably the most difficult battle in the Philippines World War II history was fought against Tumoyuki Yamashita.
The Halsema Highway is one of the Philippine’s engineering feats. Its 130kms road stretching from La Trinidad Benguet to the Bontoc Mountain Province has an elevation of up to 7400 feet. It is the highest highway in the Philippines and is one of the most scenic drives you can experience in the country. Whenever I embark on a 6 hour journey from Baguio to Sagada via public transportation, I’ve always wished I could somehow stop for a while on some points of the road. That came into a realization when I became the local guide and assistant photography mentor for Jim Cline’s first Philippine’s Photo Tour led by Humanitarian Photojournalist Karl Grobl. With our own mini-bus at our disposal, the group made a few interesting stops along the Halsema Highway.
Sometimes I just want to be selfish and keep a place to myself, I thought while I was gently swaying on a hammock, under the trees, with refreshing breeze blowing, view of blinding white sands, deep blue horizon and birds enthusiastically in concert above me. But then again, people will always find a way to discover a place like this Nagsasa Cove in San Antonio Zambales. And once word gets out, people would flock here. Just the thought of this quiet cove turning into another crowded tent city beach makes me cringe. I know it’ll be inevitable but for now I’ll make sure I enjoy and every minute I’m here.
It’s really a challenge to go to places not really on everyone’s radar. Atimonan isn’t really a tourist hot spot. It has a few known sights like the Pinagbanderahan, Quezon Memorial Park and its Zigzag road known as Bitukang Manok. Aside from that, it is mainly a transit town often passed by. I did some further research and found some sites of interest like the Bantakay Falls, since I always like to incorporate nature elements in my trips. Good thing I got a hold the number of Atimonan’s tourism officer, Cecile and were able to ask directions on the phone.
I have vague memory of the last time I stayed in this seaside town of Atimonan, Quezon province. There was a time from my grade school to high school days where the family would have an annual holy week vacation in Atimonan then in Bicol since both are my dad and mom’s province respectively. We were always looking forward to this each year since it was a really fun place to be. Our cousin’s simple house of four concrete walls and iron sheet roofs at Baranggay Buhangin was close to the sea. It was an enjoyable simple life just being there as a kid.