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.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.