WE often hear about Casiguran as a reference point for incoming weather disturbances. People often mistake that this northern-most town in the province of Aurora as often hit by typhoons. Actually, it is hit by typhoons only occasionally like last year by Typhoon Lando.
The town’s name came from the native word “Casigurunan” that means “safety.” This is mainly from the bay that is nearly enclosed by the main-town’s landmass and the peninsula of Barangay San Ildelfonso. This bay is known as Casiguran Sound, a protected area that is rarely hit by monsoon winds making it a perfect sanctuary for ship anchorage.
The original settlers of Casiguran are the Agtas, now called Casiguran Dumagats. They have settled in this Pacific coast because of the bounty that the ocean brings and the safety the bay offers. They have learned to farm and fish and trade with low-landers who have migrated to Casiguran.
The Spanish mission came after 1600 and Casiguran was founded by Franciscan friars in 1609. It is the last frontier in the evangelization of the natives along the Sierra Madre mountain range. It played an important role during the Spanish time as safe refuge for sea vessels and a fortress to ward off invasions from the Pacific.
Because of its remote location, the population of Casiguran remains very low. There are only about 25,000 people living in Casiguran, most of them Tagalog, Ilocano and Kapampangan migrants, plus a healthy Dumagat population.
Casiguran is not your usual tourist destination. It takes 10 hours to get there and there are hardly any tourist facilities like resorts and restaurants. But for those willing to get out of their comfort zones, Casiguran offers some very exciting discoveries and adventures.
How to get there
For those getting there, there are two options: one via Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija and the other via Cordon, Isabela. The Pantabangan trail starts in Manila: take the NLEX, then SCTEX, exit from Tarlac and continue driving to La Paz, then to Talavera. From Talavera, enter the road going to Rizal, then Pantabangan, before finally entering Aurora Province via Maria Aurora. The roads from Manila to Maria Aurora are all well-paved, and it usually takes six hours of driving to get there. From Maria Aurora, Casiguran is only 125 kilometers away, but one must drive through the winding Sierra Madre trail, so it takes at least three hours to reach Casiguran.
The newly-opened Cordon Trail cuts across Quirino via Maddela before rejoining the Aurora coastal road in Dinalungan, a town before Casiguran. This trail takes three hours, plus the eight-hour drive via Maharlika Highway from Manila to Cordon.
Those taking the public transport can take the Genesis bus bound for Casiguran that leaves every morning from Cubao and Pasay terminals. Alternatively, one can go to Cabanatuan Central Terminal and take a local bus (non-aircon) or a UV Express van to Casiguran.
What to see, what to do
Although Casiguran is one of the original Spanish settlements in Aurora, there is hardly any trace of their influence in the present town. Gone is the old church, and what stands is the generic structure of steel and concrete that was badly damaged by Typhoon Lando. The only religious attraction in Casiguran is the old chapel in Ermita Hill. This plays host to dozen of penitents during Holy Week. Ermita Hill also provides a good vantage view of the whole town.
In Barangay Culat, one can visit the unspoiled, often-deserted Casapsapan beach, with its powdery white-sand and crystal clear water can rival Boracay. There is also a fresh-water river that flows out into the sea where one can wash up after swimming in seawater.
It takes less than 30 minutes by boat to get to San Ildelfonso peninsula. San Ildelfonso provides a natural barrier between the calm Casiguran Sound and the turbulent Pacific Ocean. From the landing point, trek for 15 minutes to cross the narrow peninsula to reach Dalugan Bay. In the Dalugan Bay, one can simply marvel at those giant Pacific waves as they hit the rocky shoreline. There are several natural pools located behind the many rock formations where one can take a dip to enjoy their cool waters.
From Casiguran, it is possible to cross the northern border to reach the town of Dinapigue in Isabela, where the massive hundred-foot Dibulo Falls provides a cool respite for weary bodies.
Where to stay, what to eat
Option for lodging is very limited in Casiguran. There are several resorts like Punta Sierra Verde, Bulo Lodge, Bitong Village and Dangkalan Beach but most of them are closed during the off-season. An alternative is to get in touch with the local tourism office so that they can recommend a comfortable place to stay for visitors.
Dining options are also very limited. There are several eateries in the local market that serve the usual adobo and beef tapa, but if you make prior arrangements with them, they can prepare seafood dishes.
But the best experience in Casiguran is camping out for several days in Dalugan Bay where some of the Dumagats continue to live. This experience will help visitors to get a better understanding about this lost Philippine tribe.
For centuries, the Dumagats lived in coastal areas and were lords in their own domain. However, the coming of migrants into their territories pushed them to mountainside and dispersed them in small groups.
The Casiguran Dumagats are one of our last links to the vanishing Pacific race. Centuries of unwilling integration and abuse by lowlanders have reduced their numbers to less than 700. As their number gets smaller, their unique culture and language will someday be gone.