Anywhere By Bus: The Road To Sta. Ana

10 Apr

Anywhere By Bus.

The theme came to us, appropriately, while we were on a bus hurtling through sleepy Nueva Vizcaya on our way to Sta. Ana, Cagayan, 15 long hours away from home. It made perfect sense, since this was what we travel bugs have always had in common — a love for cheapery, eatery, picturey, sleepery trips in the quest for the paths unbeaten.

Bus rides never fail to provide that perspective for the intrepid traveller. There are no check-in counters to catch, no overweight luggage to watch out for. There are no overcharging cabbies a-hustling outside the terminal, and while taking the bus isn’t the quickest way to get from point A to B, it sure is the more scenic mode of transport that’s more egalitarian to the usual suspects for designated driver.

So anyway, our ABB trip had begun to hatch barely a week before Holy Week. We had to get creative with our destination options cos it seemed like the rest of the Philippines had already beat us to flight / boat / accommodation options everywhere else. I don’t remember whose idea it was to hit up north north north north to Cagayan Valley, but thanks to some links of dodgy blogs, we were able to wrangle an idea of what was out there for us (Read: Nice beach! Lighthouse ruins! Oooh! Sold!)

So we were on the first Florida bus direct to Sta. Ana that Richard could get us on (P600 fare for the regular bus). We left the Sampaloc terminal at 11:30am on Holy Thursday. The ride was comfortable and scenic as the route took us through the rice fields of Nueva Ecija, winding through the foothills of the Sierra Madre in Nueva Vizcaya, and across the great Cagayan River – which is the longest and largest river on our archipelago, and through Tuguegarao City. What I found really strange though was lot upon lot of imported cars by the docks at Sta. Ana. There was a casino too. In the middle of nowhere. *cue Twilight Zone theme*

We arrived at our final destination – the fish market at Sta. Ana, Cagayan Valley at 2am on Good Friday. We were probably the only other group left on the bus by this time. Found a sleepy trike driver to take us to the fish port (P200 for the 5 of us. Oh come on, it was 2am and a good 15mins away!)

We were to stay at the Jerolynda Resort, which according to Jeremiah (+63935 9645071) was already full, but he said we could camp out on the beach (P50 / night per tent). The resort is 5min away by boat from the fish port, and since we had arrived in the dead of the night, we had no other option but to spend a few hours at the port waiting for day to break. There were some pretty large rats hanging about, but they looked friendly naman, almost domesticated. *urk*

At around 5am, we were met by our boatmen Darwin (+63910 6401060) and Watit who took us across the way to Jerolynda. After meeting Jeremiah and his wife Nancy, we pitched our tent, ordered a packed lunch and set out for our first destination, Cape Engaño, just around the bend on Palaui Island.

Cape Engaño and its old lighthouse was, for lack of a better word, surreal. I mean, just look at it! Could you ever have imagined this place existed in the Philippines?

From its quiet inner bay and white coral beach, to the green hills with MONSTER carabaos grazing, to the ruins of the country’s first light house built in the 17th century, to the treacherous tides over the cliff below that the lighthouse sought to warn passing ships against… It. Was. Just. So. WOW.

From Cape Engaño, we circled the island to find a good place to snorkle off Cape Verde’s beach. Well we didn’t really find too much to see underwater. But then again, being Coronians (or having affinity with Coron in one way or another), we all have very unrealistic standards when it comes to beaches and reefs. It was still nice to hang around in such blue water.

We ended up at Manidad island for lunch, with an interesting rock formation that takes up majority of the island and tide pools with random things washed up into it. It looked like half of the community at Sta. Ana were here for Good Friday. Little kids playing in the surf, women sharing meals and gossiping, fishermen trading macho stories over rounds of Ginebra. We also found out that Darwin was the president of the fishermen’s co-op, so we all felt very very cool indeed. 🙂

The next day we hit up Anguib beach, which had great sand and calm waters – but since it was Black Saturday all of Cagayan must have come out there to chill and so there was nowhere else to sit in the shade. After lunch we went back to Jerolynda to pack up our tent and make our way to Tuguegarao.

I’d recommend Jerolynda for campers. Prices are reasonable, and their food won’t disappoint any landlocked city slicker. We had blue marlin, adobong pugita / octopus, conch shells (these were SUPER GOOD), tanigue, and crabs. Their beach is nice and they’ve got ok facilities for campers like benches, barbecue pits and light posts all around the camping grounds. Electric sockets are available at the common areas like the dining area or videoke bar (yes, like every Filipino resort in the countryside, Jerolynda is well-equipped with a videoke machine.) just bring an extension cord and you’re set.

However, if you are prissy, I wouldn’t recommend Jerolynda. The campsite only had one bathroom and shower that would score pretty low in my book for cleanliness. But then again, if you were prissy why would you camp at all?

All in all, our blitz through Sta. Ana and its neighboring islands made for a really interesting trip. I had never been so far up North before and it was so different than from what I’m used to – for one, the massive, unpurposed waves took me  by surprise. You know how waves usually just all go in one direction? Well up there you’ve got these renegade waves that go every which way! Truthfully I was disappointed that we didn’t get all the way up to Camiguin Island to watch out for dolphins and humpback whales like we had hoped, but our boatmen cautioned the weather was bad at sea. So not cool for our tiny little boat.

Our 2-day itinerary with all the beach-hopping cost us P4,300 on published rates by the co-op. I think the boats can carry 6-8, though we were only 5. Our boatmen Darwin and Wawit were really skilled. I was impressed with the way they handled our boat given the rene-waves. 🙂

From Sta. Ana fish port, we took a trike back to the market (P15 per head) to catch a jeepney for the 2-hour trip to Aparri (P80 each) where we caught yet another van to Tuguegarao (P100 each for a 2.5H trip). By the time we got to Tuguegarao and a nice plate of Miki Cabangan (yummerz!), we were spent. Found overnight lodging at the Aras Inn, across the V-Liner station, so we wouldn’t miss the bus at 11am the next day, Easter Sunday (around P650 fare for Deluxe to Manila). It may have been a motel instead of a hotel, but hey, after camping on the beach, a bed is a bed is a bed. (P850/night for a room for 4 + P100 for an extra mat)

It took us 12H to get back to Manila from Tuguegarao. In total, damage for transportation, lodging, most meals, and the boat trip was around P3,600 each. Not bad for how far we went. Though I’d have to say each of us must have spent a total of P500 at each of the stops our busses made on chips, drinks, candy, coffee, goto, mami, and other carcinogenic delights only found in bus stops (like hotdogs drenched in BBQ sauce).

We arrived home from our Holy Week sojourn several pantone shades darker, all camped out, but happy campers nonetheless. Sta. Ana held the sea, sand, and sun together like old friends, and it was such a treat to have been there to take it all in. 🙂 Yay! Til the next trip to Anywhere By Bus!

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