Lakbay Norte VI Part 3: Of Cagayan and Things Unplanned

Nuestra Señora de Piat
Nuestra Señora de Piat
Nuestra Señora de Piat

Our custom Lakbay Norte Victory Liner bus shuddered to a stop and, with a noticeable soreness to my tushy, I woke. From the window, I saw that the weather had turned bleary. We’d been traveling for 12 hours, spanning the length of Nueva Ecija all the way to Cagayan. To here, in the municipality of Tuguegarao.

After shaking off sleep from our eyes and a round of pandiculation, one by one, my companions and I disembarked. It was past 7AM but it felt like the sun got lazy and was taking its time to get up. A light drizzle was underway and wisps of morning fog blurred the edges of things. There was a dullness to the scene, almost like it was painted with watercolor.

Milking cows at CSU
Milking cows at CSU

Cagayan State University

We were in the compound of the Cagayan State University (CSU), greeted by teachers and students, and representatives from the North Luzon Visitors Bureau, and Cagayan North Conventions and Visitors Bureau. It was here that we had our breakfast, sampling on CSU’s products like flavored milk and mango-flavored jello. We also got to try sugar cane juice, prepared on the spot. By us. We were given a stick of the thing which we had to feed through a grim-looking metal contraption that was apparently a juicer. How was it? Sweet, of course, and a tad grassy.

After breakfast, we were taken into a tour of the campus, to a goat farm and a milking facility. Just like PMP Farm in Nueva Ecija, the campus is being molded to become an agritourism site.

Facade of the Nuestra Señora de Piat
Facade of the Nuestra Señora de Piat (Photo by Martin San Diego)

Nuestra Señora de Piat

After feeding goats, and trying our hands on cow-milking, we boarded the bus once again. Our next stop was Nuestra Señora de Piat in Piat, Cagayan. One, I would later come to know, of the many churches we would visit in Cagayan. The structure was made of reddish bricks, reminiscent of revival architecture. Its interiors would’ve been impressive, accented with gold and bronze, but the Big Ass electric fans swirling overhead ruined the effect. Enthroned inside the church was the Lady of Piat. An image that was famous for being supposedly miraculous.

Inside the Chicha-rabao factory
Inside the Chicha-rabao factory (Photo by Martin San Diego)

Carabao chicharon

After that “courtesy call”, off we went to Lighthouse Cooperative – another one of my favorites during the trip. Here, we got to see how Carabao chicharon is made. From skinning to packing, we got to bear witness to the whole process. I was amazed at seeing the gelatinous cubes of carabao skin blossom into golden papery thin orbs of deliciousness upon contact with the vat of scalding oil. It was like alchemy. It had me seeing chicharon in an entirely different light. The best part, however, is the taste test. Flavored with a variety of seasonings – garlic, vinegar, and hot-and-spicy – the chicharon was hard to resist. I especially loved the hot-and-spicy ones. Never mind the fact that they cause a fit of sneezing and coughing. And as the proverbial cherry on top, we were given loot bags filled with all the variants.

The Tuguegarao Cathedral
The Tuguegarao Cathedral (Photo by Martin San Diego)

Tuguegarao Cathedral

We also did a quick stop at St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral, also known as the Tuguegarao Cathedral. It was raining so most of us weren’t keen on standing outside to get a photo. But I managed to get a decent one. The church reminded me of the Paoay Church. It was built in the 18th century, and adheres to the baroque aesthetics. Like the Our Lady of Piat Church, it was made of reddish bricks. It was quite beautiful.

Pancit batil patung
Pancit batil patung

Pansit batil patong

Later, for lunch, we headed to a panciteria. A trip to Tuguegarao, after all, would not be complete without gorging down on some batil patong, and so it was decreed we would have it for lunch.

In one of the numerous panciteria in town, we were able to witness how the delicacy is prepared. We were told that the secret is the fire on which it was cooked. Instead of LPG, wood is used to create fire and this adds to the flavor.

It was my first time to try the dish and I loved it. You can never go wrong with noodles and pasta, I think, and pansit batil patong did not disappoint.

I have to note that all the while that Wednesday, the sky was teeming with storm clouds. All throughout, there was a downpour and it swayed back and forth from drizzle to sheets of rain. I shouldn’t have felt surprised when one of the highlights of the trip – exploring the marvelous Callao Cave – was scrubbed off the list. We were informed that a landslide occurred somewhere along the road that led to the cave, and while it was passable by foot, there was no telling if the cave was safe to explore or that other parts of the area were landslide-free. And so the plan to go spelunking was abandoned, much to the group’s dismay. The sulking did not last long, however, for we were travelers and know that such things were inevitable. We carried on and went to a local museum instead.

Balai Carmela
Balai Carmela (Photo by Martin San Diego)

Balai Carmela

Later, a few hours before dusk, when we were back on the bus, we were told that the road to Valley Hotel – our home for that night – was flooded. Impassable. But we shouldn’t worry, we were assured. A new accommodation was ready for us.

That night we were billeted at Balai Carmela. This was the best accommodation we had. The rooms were super nice. And we had the pool and the convention area all to ourselves. We were well taken care of here. An array of booze was even placed on the table for our (their) pleasure. Dinner was great too. There was a lot of options but I went for barbecue and a bowl of steaming soup.

After our dinner, we proceeded to have some fun, to make up for the unrealized parts of our itinerary. We played reverse charades, giving birth to lots of laughter, and inside jokes that still hadn’t lost its luster up to now. We got to bond as a group, got to know each other and find common ground.

I wonder what’s in store for us the next day.

The pool at Balai Carmel
The pool at Balai Carmel (Photo by Martin San Diego)

Essential Information

Cagayan State University
+63 78 844 0099

Nuestra Señora de Piat
Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat Rd, Piat, Cagayan

Lighthouse Cooperative
Corner Taft Street Centro 02, 39 Luna St, Tuguegarao, 3500 Cagayan
+63 78 304 0635
Operating Hours: Mondays to Sundays, 8AM to 5PM 

Tuguegarao Cathedral (St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral)
Rizal Street, Barangay Centro 10, Tuguegarao, Cagayan

Balai Carmela
Capitol Hills, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan
+63 926 839 5746