November 11, 2014
The current craze in water sports hits anew with the growing popularity of river kayaking. One kayaking hub sought after area in Northern Luzon is the famous Abra River in the Cordillera autonomous region.
Often glossed over in tourist brochures and travel guides on Northern Philippines, the province of Abra holds a storehouse of simple pleasures for the traveler who wants to imbibe nature and adventure in refreshing doses. Although Abra has never made it to the list of favorite destinations in the north, except for the corny soft drink commercial on television where four traveling teeners passed through a dark-eerie looking tunnel. The tunnel used in that commercial is called the Tangadan Tunnel, one of the official landmarks of Abra Province.
Parallel to the tunnel is the river unknown to many, but is one of the exciting new destinations in adventure tourism comparable to the waves with Futaleyu, Chile, Apurinmac in Peru and Ciruh in Turkey.
Turning off from the Manila North Road at the junction of Narvacan in Ilocos Sur, one enters Abra through the Tangadan tunnel and welcomed by the provincial marker, “Ti Kabalyo.”(the horse) Abra for centuries has been isolated from the rest of the world by towering mountain ranges of the Cordilleras. There natives called Tinguians boasts of rich cultural heritage which colorfully blends with Ilocano customs and traditions. The scenic spots all over the province are tailored for the eyes to behold for indeed theses vistas are better seen for words fail to describe them adequately. Traditionally, the whole of Abra is covered with rice fields and fresh farm vegetables, a rendering that weathers over the season from planting to harvesting from the rainy months to sunny dry days. These fantastic colors finds – diverse but never garish-change quite dramatically over the course of a single day. The landscape is suspended in an ethereal calm, the peace broken only by the toads and the buzz of hopeful cicadas.
Abra according to popular theory has been derived from the Spanish word “abrir” which means to open, Spanish expeditionary forces found it difficult to penetrate Abra, the only way to the interior being sail in skiffs – a small sailboat with outriggers on the deep, swift flowing Abra River. The culture, customs and traditions of the Tingguians which have transcended and survived the centuries were first recorded by French writer and traveler Paul P. dela Girroniere in his book “Twenty Years in the Philippines.” The urge to see the Tingguians in their native mountain habitats goaded him to journey to the mountain hinterland in what is now Abra. In about the same time, two German travelers Semper and Schanderberg, who were anthropologists also visited Abra and wrote about the vast natural resources and the culture of the natives in the place.
During the Spanish time, Abra was part of Ilocos Sur, until it became a politico-military province in October 1846. In 1917, an executive act by American Governor Francis Burton Harrison was made into law establishing Abra as an independent province. Kayaking in Abra is practically new as it is only in Pamora Farms where one can rent the kayaks for a ride in the Abra River. The farm which operates this service, only offers the sport during the kayaking season from December up to late May depending on the water levels of the Abra River. As a back stopper to the lean kayaking months, one can try the cultural tours around the province of Abra, including a visit to the home of illustrious hero Gabriela Silang in the town of Tayum. Here, the well preserved house of Gabriela is worth a visit.
It was here were the flag of the revolution of 1763 against Spanish domination was organized. Gabriela who had Tingguian blood carried on the revolt when her husband Diego Silang was shot in neighboring Vigan. The couple fought the Spaniards to the last breath of their lives together with the thousands of their followers. In nearby Mary Barbero Park, centuries old acacia trees, natural springs and man made waterfalls await visitors and travelers.
Jonjon Morado who supervises the operation of kayaking in Abra, advices beginners to familiarize themselves with the various paddle strokes before attempting their way down the river. While it is true that the lifeblood of kayaking is pure adrenaline rush from time to time, one could not argue that safety is a requisite. One must come fully protected and with great presence of mind. “Never take the trip alone, and remember that the “buddy” system works here,” Jonjon added. No matter what it takes, the role is to successfully ride the rapids and come out in one piece.
The country’s Department of Tourism has lined up Kayaking as one of its new adventure Philippines campaign, aggressively promoting kayaking as one of the outdoor sports to do in the country today. “We have thousands of tropical islands which can lure both hobbyists and sports enthusiasts to try this new sport in the country,” according to Ms. Stanie Soriano, Manager, of the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation who is aggressively promotion the sport, not just in the country but in RP’s major tourism market . It’s just like biking on land but this time is paddling or Kayaking your way on water, added Didi Camara of the Philippine Kayaking Association. Kayaking for an hour or more can take you to a tiny deserted island or further and discover nature in its splendor as well as more interesting facets of the country’s people and culture, added Val Camara, president of the Philippine Kayaking Association.
The Department of Tourism together with the Philippine Kayaking Association has already identified various kayaking routes all over the countries, including nearby islands where kayakers can experience the idyllic comforts of local accommodations and go beyond the usual tourist sites. The Philippines is a natural seascape for kayaking and all forms of paddling. Its archipelagic characteristic has borne numerous routes for tourists to discover and enjoy the beauty of kayaking around the country.
How to get there: By plane. PAL flies to Laoag daily and a car transfer can bring you to. Pamora Farm The kayaking service only operates in the daytime. By Bus: Take the Partas Bus going north to Bangued, Abra either at their EDSA Pasay station or Aurora Blvd, Station in Cubao. Buses leave every hour but are best to take the late night trip which gets you to Bangued in the early morning the following day. One way fare is P585 with stops in Vigan, Ilocos Sur or San Fernado, La Union.
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