It was one of those national landmarks in the country most people are familiar with. Having grown up reading about it on text books, Magat Dam is known one of the largest dams in the country. The water is mainly used for irrigation, flood control and electric source through the Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant. We took a drive to the municipality of Ramon from Echague to visit this popular dam for an afternoon sightseeing.
I’m ashamed to say that when they said we’ll be meeting one of the smallest minority group in Isabela, I was thinking they were some remote tribes still wearing their traditional garbs similar to the Dumagats. The Yogad tribe in Echague, Isabela is quite different. They were wearing old Spanish style costumes in bright blue and red colors. They have small mirrors attached strategically at the front and back. They have swords and seem to be ready for battle. They did not come from deep into the mountains nor live by the sea. They sailed all the way from Mindanao many decades ago but today are facing extinction as an indigenous group.
As the second largest province in the Philippines, Isabela seems less explored. Maybe the places are far between that it takes considerable time to explore them. Or municipalities are cut-off by the Sierra Madre mountains like coastal villages Maconacon, Divilacan or Palanan that it takes a plane ride to get there. When an invitation to explore Echague, one of the municipalities of Isabela, came in, I immediately took the offer. Exploring new places is always exciting whatever I may find there. In this case, Echague is getting ready to showcase their eco-tourism attraction, the Madadamian Falls. A network of falls and streams found within the lush forest region of Echague.
Isabela consist of 34 municipalities and 3 cities in a province. It is the second largest province in the country. The vast area consist of agricultural plains, forested areas of the Sierra Madres and coastal towns. As one of the top corn producers in the country, Isabela found the bambanti, an Ilocano term for scarecrow, as a significant icon, symbolizing Isabela farmer’s diligence and resoluteness to earn his keep, feed his family and produce for the community. Hence the Bambanti Festival was born in January 2013. It aims to unite the municipalities, showcase their creativity, unique products and increase tourism.
It’s a shame it took us a delayed flight to visit this gem of a place. “Of all the places we’ve mapped in the coastal towns, Divilacan Isabela is the most beautiful and is our favourite!” said one of the NSO Mappers we met at the flight check-in counters in Maconacon. The working duo has been mapping Eastern Isabela for months already and are ready to go home. But the fickle status of our flights had other plans in mind. Our flight was cancelled and had to stay here for another day which is not unusual for this region. But wonders never cease as we met the cheerful Tourism officer of Divilacan, Natalie, who was also waiting for the flight. In no time she quickly whipped up an endorsement letter and then found ourselves riding a motorcycle to Divilacan.
In the age where the world is getting smaller because of technology, the sense of authenticity in travel is also slowly diminishing. Part of the attraction of Eastern Isabela is its remoteness. Cut-off by the great Sierra Madre Mountain Range to the rest of Luzon, the region is a place where cellular signal is almost non-existent, electrical power runs at most 7-hours a day or none and where indigenous people are still closely linked to nature like the Dumagat of Isabela. Here in this remote land, I somehow found a sense of authenticity meeting these indigenous people.
I could see the cellular tower standing like a centrepiece of the town. Despite its signal lights on, it’s just a static display as my phone shows no signal even if I’m just a few hundred meters away. I fan myself up as I wipe-off beads of sweat trickling from my forehead caused by the mid-afternoon heat. There are no electric fans around as there are no electricity to power them yet. That is part of the story of this town Maconacon Isabela, somewhat cut-off from the rest of Luzon but roughing it out in this region does yield some memorable travel.