This pandemic made the world stop on its tracks. It caught us all off-guard when it literally reduced our mobility. We suddenly found ourselves being confined in our small spaces, both literally and figuratively. I suddenly found myself not being able to do one of my passion and hobbies - traveling locally. I struggled to maintain this travel blog that I had to re-package previous blogs and I had to search old travels that I have not featured. As of this writing, we are back on the road to #GOT81 and we are exploring Nueva Vizcaya.
Nueva Vizcaya is a landlocked province under the Cagayan Valley Region. It is bordered by three mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre, the Cordillera, and the Caraballo, that gives the province its rugged terrain features. Apart from being the gateway of Cagayan Valley, Nueva Vizcaya is a budding eco-tourism destination where you get to enjoy the peaks of its hills and mountains and what’s underneath it.
Dupax Watershed Forest Reserve (Dupax del Sur)
Our first stop for the day is a protected area tucked within the municipality of Dupax del Sur. The Dupax Watershed Forest Reserve is a 425-hectare forest protected under Presidential Proclamation No. 720 that was signed in August 1934. The reserve is under the management of the DENR and access to the park needs to be coordinated with them. The park remains closed to tourist since the lockdown and our group was lucky enough to be the first visitors since it was closed.
The reserve redefines early morning exercise with its hike trail. It was refreshing to breathe in the cold morning air and hear the rustling sound of fallen leaves as you hike down the main artery of the forest. Our guides from the tourism and DENR local office, Jill An and Maricel, gladly walked us through the trail. The reserve has a Japanese Tunnel along the foothills of Mount San Vicente. The tunnel is believed to have an exit point at the St. Vincent Ferrer Church located at the town center.
The peak of Mount Vicente can be accessed easily by a concrete stairway from it base. “Climbing” the 360 steps to get to the top caught me off-guard as it was really steep. I had to pause along the way to catch my breath while enjoying the view of its forest cover below. They have pine trees in the area that gave that familiar pine scent. It reminded me of my childhood in Baguio.
Mount San Vicente or Mount Isnai stands at 600 meters above sea level and offers an amazing 360-panoramic view of the flatlands and rolling hills of Dupax del Sur and its surrounding areas. You get a full view of its forest covers, the town center, the rugged mountain ranges that borders Nueva Vizcaya, and its valleys. The low-lying clouds did not give us the opportunity to catch the sunrise but it did give us a dramatic and sober early morning vibe for our photos.
The view atop Mount Isnai was a great reward after the challenging climb. The hike was a complete package to the senses from the views to the sounds of nature to the whiff of the pine tree. It was enough to give us that extra charge for a day of exploring.
Dupax del Sur Town Center
Dupax del Sur has a rich history. Its name is derived from the Isnai word “dopaj” which means “to lie down in complete relaxation”. The current site of the town was previously a campsite by hunters where they relax after days of hunting before heading home. Dupax was once the biggest municipality in Nueva Vizcaya before it was politically divided in 1974 creating Dupax del Sur and Dupax del Norte.
The poblacion of Dupax del Sur is encrypted with its history. You will find small monuments honoring the humble beginnings of Dupax from a camp site to its first Capitan del Pueblo. You will also find a Spanish-period flagpole made out of bricks. The flagpole was erected in 1873.
San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church and Century Tree (Dupax del Sur)
The San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church is an 18th century church that is located at the heart of Dupax del Sur. Completed in 1776, the church is one of the oldest in the country and its design is similar to that of the Tugegarao Cathedral. The church is one of two Spanish-period structures in the town of Dupax del Sur recognized as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum.
The church follows a baroque design with semi-arched door (first level) and windows (2nd level). The first level has two blind windows flanking the main door that features an image of the Holy Eucharist while the a niche honoring San Vicente is located right above the door. The top level of the facade features seven finials, with the middle featuring a crucifix. The three-story brick belfry sits on the right of the church. Each level bearing the year that it was completed - 1776, 1786, and 1788.
The interior of the church remains simple just like the church’s facade. The two level retablo has the image of the Crucified Christ as its central figure. Interestingly, there are two whitewashed columns at the entrance that supports the choir loft. Both columns feature reliefs of cherubims, floral designs, and shells. These are the same designs found in the church’s baptistry.
The church has a sprawling courtyard. A huge century-old Acacia Tree can be found adjacent to the church convent. The tree is believed to be the only surviving tree planted during the Spanish-period and it is believed to be around 142 years old. The century tree is also believed to be on of the oldest in the northern regions of the country.
Dampol Bridge (Dupax del Sur)
A short walk from the church complex is another heritage structure in Dupax del Sur - the Dampol Bridge. Built in 1818 by the locals, the bridge is a single-arched unreinforced bridge that crosses over the Abanatan Creek. You can view the red-colored bricks from the side of the bridge that is similar to bricks used in the church. It was recognized as a National Cultural Treasure in 2015.
The whole area is now collectively known as the “San Vicente Ferrer Church Complex and Dampol Bridge of Dupax del Sur”. The church and the bridge remains to be the only duly-recognized cultural treasure in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. The rich heritage value of Dupax del Sur is now being pushed to be included in the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in the country.
Capisaan Cave System (Kasibu)
From the peak of Mount Isnai, we went up for a challenge to explore what’s underneath the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya. The municipality of Kasibu, an hour away from Dupax del Sur, is home to the 5th Longest Cave System in the country - the Capisaan Cave System. This cave network spans a total traverse length of 4.2 kilometers from end to end. It takes an average of 4 hours to navigate through the network that will get you crawling and squeezing through small holes and, of course, getting wet and muddied.
Our caving adventure started out at the Alayan Entrance where we were grouped into 4. The ratio of guide per visitor is 1:5 to allow guests to enjoy the beauty of the cave system safely. Although the cave system is not as challenging as that of Sagada’s, with its cliffs and drops, take all instructions by heart because the traverse has lot of river crossing of varying depths and can be physically challenging.
The Capisaan Cave System is said to be a “geologist’s paradise” because of its amazing stalagmite and stalactite collections and rock formations. This is where you will also find rare calcite formations. There is an abundance of flow stones, soda straws, and calcite rafts. I was really amazed by the soda straws because it was my first time to actually encounter this cool formation that is also hollow inside. It was a full 4 hours of just enjoying the art work that nature sculpted in thousand of years.
The through-and-through adventure is physically demanding. The first half of the spelunking will have you walking through cavernous “halls” while the latter part will have you crawling and duck walking. You get a full adventure of river crossing, rappelling up and down stone faces, squeezing yourself into a tiny hole, and crawling through crevices. At certain points, it requires a little flexibility to get through. Expect to get the usual cool down with its cold spring water because 70% of the cave has water.
As we made our exit at the Lion Entrance, we were relieved that we survived the 4-hour spelunking. It was exhausting, coupled by the fact that we had an early morning surprise hike, but seeing all the beauty inside the cave made the whole adventure worth it. I seldom get myself to do this kind of travel but this one is definitely for the books. You get to be physically active while connecting with nature through its artistry. Definitely something worth doing when you find yourself in Nueva Vizcaya.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Nueva Vizcaya is not your typical tourist destination, not because it lacks beauty, but because the adventure that it offers caters to adventurous spirits. Most of its destinations are still not within the radar of the usual travelers, some are still up to be discovered. The province is off-beat and is ruggedly beautiful and it takes a keen eye to see and appreciate its raw and natural beauty.
Finally… we are back on the #GOT81 travel trail after almost 2 years of hiatus. I still remember that fateful day when the lockdown was announced. I was in Hinatuan doing my usual province run when I had to rush back to Manila. We are slowly getting back to our usual run. We still have a few restrictions but let us not compromise health and safety. Together we can slowly rebuild our country. I have already started and it was good to finally have Nueva Vizcaya… unlocked!
Getting there: This trip to Nueva Vizcaya was organized by Tara Akyatan Na Adventure. I joined the organized tour for ease of travel to Nueva Vizcaya. Going DIY can be quite a challenge because of limitations on public transport. You can follow the FB page of the group for future trips to Nueva Vizcaya.
A lazy Saturday had me planning for a quick day escape. The city was starting to choke me so I was looking for a place where I can just enjoy the provincial feels and breathe in the fresh air. The province of Rizal was a good choice for this kind of quick and easy trip and I remembered on how much I wanted to visit again a Spanish-period church that was one of the most beautiful that I have seen in the country. Little did I know that the quaint town of Morong would spell out a different kind of fun.
Morong is the precursor of the present-day province of Rizal. This riverside town, along the shores of Manila de Bay, was first discovered in 1572 and was converted into a pueblo in 1578 by Franciscan missionaries. The towns of Baras, Tanay, Pililia, and Binangonan was under its jurisdiction. It was later re-structured in 1853 to become the Distrito de Morong with the towns of Jala-Jala, Angono, Cardona, Antipolo, Boso-Boso, Cainta, and Taytay added to its political jurisdiction. The present-day Morong remains to be a quaint and relaxing town. Except for a historical marker in town, it is void of any reminders that it was once a “kabisera”. It has managed to attract visitors by keeping its laidback and provincial vibe.
St. Jerome Parish Church (Morong Church)
The St. Jerome Parish Church, more popularly known as Morong Church, is a Spanish-period Catholic church completed in 1620. It sits on an elevated portion of the town that keeps it safe from flooding along the banks of the Morong River. The church is dedicated to St. Jerome and is home to two of the saint’s relics.
The bell tower and facade of the church is the most striking feature of the Morong Church. The baroque revival-style features intricate stone carvings that gives the facade an elegant and dynamic look. The belfry dominates the town skyline and an illuminated cross serves as a guide for fishermen on Laguna de Bay. Interestingly, the three-story facade was only built from 1850 to 1853 by Bartolome Palatino of Paete, Laguna and Chinese craftsmen.
The simple interior of the church stands out with its simple retablo. The dome of the church is both adorned by glass-stained windows and the paintings of the 4 evangelist - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A side door leads to a prayer chamber adorned by images of saints and the image of a dead Christ. I took notice of an artwork of Jesus Christ with a farm scene as a backdrop, however, there were no available information about the painting. The church’s altar is also home to two relics of St. Jerome. One is buried beneath the altar while the other relic sits adjacent to the image of St. Jerome on the left side of the altar.
Apart from its religious and aesthetic value, the church also played a role in history during the Filipino-Spanish War. The church became the last fortress of the Spaniards stationed in Morong after they were attacked by Filipino civil guards. It became the fort of the Spaniards before they surrendered to Katipuneros on August 19, 1898.
Not far from the church is a bridge where the original Morong bridge once stood. The Punta de San Geronimo was built from 1696 to 1701 under forced labor. The bridge, that arched over the Morong River, was made of adobe stones and cemented with sand, lime, molasses, and the juice of the puso-puso leaves.
The bridge was intentionally destroyed by Filipino guerrillas at the start of World War 2. The act only delayed the occupation of Morong by the Japanese. A steel and concrete bridge now stands on the site where the old bridge once stood.
Morong Old Municipal Hall (Comandancia) and Tanghalang Francisco Feliciano
I had no knowledge that Morong was once the capital of the precursor of the present Rizal Province. At the heart of the town stands the re-constructed Comandancia. The building, that was once made from adobe, served as the seat of power of the Distrito Politico-Militar de Morong. It was later used as a school building before it was torn down and re-built to serve as municipal hall of the town.
The Comandancia now serves as Morong’s town museum with the transfer of the government offices to the new municipal hall. It also bears the historical marker of the town of Morong. The marker outlines that Morong was once the capital of the province.
Adjacent to the Comandancia is an open space park that is known as the Tanghalang Francisco Feliciano. The town plaza, complete with an open space and a stage, serves as the a venue of town activities. It was named after the National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano who hails from this town.
On one side of the plaza is a monument honoring the first Filipino to die overseas during an international conflict - Tomas Claudio. He also hails from the town of Morong and fought during World War 1. He met his demise while fighting in France and his remains are now buried at the Manila North Cemetery.
Duckling Society Park and Puking Bato
Located closer to the shores of Laguna de Bay, the Duck Society Park is a park located in the midst of the Morong’s rice field. The park is also popularly known as “Boulevard” and it is a favorite early morning and/or late afternoon spot for a quick run and stroll. The park gives you a panoramic and relaxing view of the town’s rice fields and the town.
The park also has an interesting rock formation called “Puking Bato”. A local shared with us that the rock formation, when cleared of grass, is shaped like a female genitalia hence the name. The rock formation also sits in the middle of the rice field and was covered with grass so I was not able to see the actual formation.
I still have to figure out why it was called the Duckling Society Park. My guess is that it is a location where you also get to enjoy bird watching because the fields are good locations for birds to swarm in. I think migratory birds, and ducklings, frequent the surrounding rice fields of the park. The park, located at the center of the fields, is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the views.
Cavalier Statue (Titing Kabayo)
Further away from the town center is another statue that locals refer to as the “Cavalier Statue”. The statue sits on the fork of the road that features an armored knight with a battle axe mounted on a horse and on attack mode. It has become the symbol of the Barangay Maybancal. Locals celebrate the Cavalier’s Day every October 25.
Bikers refer to it as “Titing Kabayo”. As to why they call it as such, I will leave it up to you to discover. Zooming in on the picture may provide you the answers.
Coffee Stop: Bukid Cafe
Rizal is a hotspot for coffee lovers with its wide selection of coffee spots and an addition to this growing list is Bukid Cafe in Morong. While most of the cafes in area boasts of overlooking views, Bukid Cafe provides a relaxing place that perfectly combines a cup of coffee and the beauty of Morong’s countryside. The cafe was a perfect way to cap a day of exploring the town.
Tucked within the fields of Brgy. Bombongan, Bukid Cafe offers a laidback place to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee complete with the “probinsya” vibe. Think of it as an afternoon coffee session like you are at home in the province in the midst of the rice fields. You get to enjoy the rustic views of the Morong rice fields against the backdrop of Antipolo and Teresa’s mountainside. Definitely, a great place to wrap up a fun day of walking around Morong.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
If you are looking for a quick escape from the city that would give you that laidback vibe, Morong is a perfect roadtrip destination. Its old town charm and verdant rice fields views could easily snap you out of the city buzz and re-energize you. It slows you down and gives you that much-needed jumpstart especially when city life starts to choke you.
One good thing on this roadtrip was getting re-acquainted with one of the most beautiful church in the country and finding out that Morong was the original Rizal province. Well, you always learn something new on every trip. These tidbits of new information never fails to impress me and makes an old destination become more interesting. I guess, I found me a new “charging” spot that is close to Manila.
Getting there: You can take a jeep or an FX for Baras or Tanay at EDSA Crossing. This is a faster option rather than taking a Morong jeep that will pass by the towns of Taytay, Angono, Binangonan, ad Cardona. Ask the driver to drop you off at the junction of Morong where you can take a trike to the town center. Tricycle is the way to go around when you are in Morong.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.