Adventures in Apayao

June 23, 2018 Travel

A few weeks ago, I received some photographs from my aunt of her and her friends' climbing what I had thought of, a few months earlier, as a very raw destination. Tourists now flock to this site after it was featured in a popular local television show.

The Dupag Rock Formation is currently the top tourism draw in Apayao Province, and I  wouldn’t blame anyone wanting to venture there. The rock formation is located more than 550 kilometers from Manila, which adds up to about twelve hours of butt numbing road travel. The consolation is that the trip is very scenic.  

I went there myself with some mountain-climber friends a few months back. The guide warned us the climb would be very difficult, even more taxing than some of the Philippines’ toughest mountains.

Of course, we took that advice with a grain of salt. A few months before our visit to the Dupag Rock Formation, we had also visited Lussok Cave and the Underground River, also located in Apayao, where the guides told us the cave is comparable to, and possibly even more beautiful than, one of the world’s top natural wonders, Palawan’s Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  Let’s just say they exaggerated. More about that in a bit

Well, it turned out the guide gave us a fair warning. The rocks were slippery and often required us to insert our feet in tiny crevices, which was a bit scary for me, especially because my legs are not what they used to be after undergoing several surgeries required to fix them following a mountain climbing accident.  Many times, we found ourselves clinging on to the sides of rocks for our very lives.  

The trek, and the climb, definitely made our hearts race, but the views easily made up for the exertion and, yes, the fear. 

The Dupag Rock Formation is one of the most amazing rock formations I have ever seen and, while I fear the negative impacts of mass tourism, I am happier to see posts talking about the Dupag Rock Formation being a tourism destination rather than a refuge during times of insurgencies.

The Dupag Rock Formation is located in Marag Valley, which boasts other attractions like the Manacota Cave and the Underground River. I decided to reserve those for future visits. The water had been too high when we had last visited - my fourth foray into the province.

The first visit had been in 2009 when we attempted to summit Mt. Magpulto. Our attempt failed because of the rains, which locals said were probably because of our visit, but it was still a memorable experience. We were at least able to enjoy the company of locals who live in the mountains. We also got to traverse, on our way back, one of the country’s cleanest bodies of water, the Nagan River.

I went back to the province again that same year, cruising the far reaches of Abulug River, commonly known as the Apayao River, to reach the three community beneficiaries of my group TREK, or Trails, to Empower Kids.

From a vast, wide entry point, we entered a dark green river, The dense thickets over-hanging the water allowed very little light to penetrate down to water level. It was both creepy and serene.

I next returned to the province more than six years later. Our group, TREK, had chosen the Apayao communities to be among the beneficiaries of our 10th anniversary celebration called #trek10for10.

We did not need to get into a ‘banca’ as there were already bridges and roads connecting the communities. Though not as isolated as our usual communities, we chose to retain them as beneficiaries because of their obvious need to receive continued aid. 

As our side trip, we visited the Maton and Lussok Rivers and the Underground Cave. Both are underrated attractions in the Apayao region.

The Maton River, located in Pudtol, is one of the country’s cleanest rivers. It is hard to resist jumping into its clear waters when you are there. The rock formations also provide perfect photo backdrops.

Lussok Cave and the Underground River, located in Luna, are the more developed attractions. My point earlier was not to infer that Lussok is not a place worth visiting. It is, and it has its own beauty.

Inside the caves, which can be reached via a boat ride, are rock stalactites and stalagmites formations which depict the Blessed Virgin Mary, vegetables and fruits.

Just like Luna’s other popular attraction, which is Dupag, Lussok is also organized. There are guides available, but safety gear is in short supply.  There are picnic huts and designated swimming areas, however, there are also areas where swimming is banned to protect the ecosystem of the river.

I can imagine Lussok is currently teeming with tourists. Despite the attention Lussok gets, though, in my book, Apayao is still a wildly desirable, off-the-beaten-track destination for more adventurous souls.  

On my fifth visit, I wonder what new wonders I will discover? Not yet planned, but hopefully soon.

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