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.
We were keeping watch of our time, noting the places we passed by. We left Sagada by 8am, made a coffee break stop Kilawatan, Sabangan by 10am and stopped for a few minutes to refuel and buy supplies at Abatan, Baguias. We took the right descending road and from hereon, it’s unexplored territory.
I was stealing glances on my window while I was transcribing an interview and writing an article while I was on a bus. Of course I wouldn’t want to miss the views on a new road like this. Mankayan Road was narrow with a lot of short zig-zag turns like Halsema Highway but fortunately paved. We passed through the town living along this road and it was very long. It’s much like any other rural communities but the important thing was I saw that it’s possible to commute here from Abatan via jeepneys and possible, to Suyo as well but that I have to check. I noticed we were now descending to lower ground as the temperature slowly heats up.
A little past noon, we made it to Cervantes Road and from a far we could see the bridge construction. All they have at the moment where the pillars/columns in which the platforms would be placed. From the ground we passed through several zig-zag routes again as we ascend the mountainous road of Bessang Pass. By 1:30pm we reached the “Battle of Bessang Pass” Monument which is declared a National Monument located at Barangay Malaya, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur. This was Yamashita’s backdoor stronghold and last ditch of defense during World War II. The monument was built to commemorate the 3400 soldiers who fought and died to defeat the Japanese Troops led by Gen Tumoyuki Yamashita himself which ended last June 14 1945.
An hour later we took a stop on the road when Karl saw the spectacular panorama through his window. We were possibly at least 5000ft above sea level and were looking at a dramatic gorge. Aside from being a National Monument, Bessang Pass National Park is also declared a protected area under Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) and we could certainly see exactly why. “Kauai!!!” I heard someone yell. “Huh What’s Kauai?” I asked one of the participants and I found out it is the oldest island in Hawaii. I got a high that this scenic gorge with multiple waterfalls spilling from different directions would somehow remind them of a scene in an island. Spectacular I may say. And even as we drove down the pass, there were a number of waterfalls just along the road.
We hit a little snag on a depressed portion of the road on our way down to Suyo but fortunately we were able to go through the obstacle with the help of some rocks filling the gap and the locals there giving assistance. It’s such a waste this Bessang Pass isn’t being used commercially as it’s probably one of the most scenic routes in the Philippines along with Halsema Highway. The road while still good at this time is showing signs of deterioration as pointed to me by co-navigator, Jo. The cracks on the road could lead to erosion of the soil underneath.
By 4pm we reached Tagudin, Ilocos Sur and arrived at the National Highway going north. We made a brief stop at Candon for some snacks and a restroom break. We reached Vigan by 6pm. Our travel time was about 10 hours and I think we saved 2 hours if we took the Baguio route. It was a pretty good time considering we made a few stops again. But definitely, Bessang Pass National Park was worth the adventure detour and a place I would certainly like to explore in the future.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.