IF there is the Chocolate Hills in Bohol province, there is also the beautiful Karst formations called Namunit Hills in Cagayan province, which will highlight this year’s annual festival in Santa Teresita town.
The 3rd Namunit Festival and 6th National Eco-Tourism Festival in Santa Teresita, which will kick off on March 7, 2018, a weeklong festivity, earlier featured its Laguna De Cagayan (formerly Bangalao Lake), migratory birds, Bakong plants or Hanguana Malayana, and some 54 caves.
This Northern Luzon’s only eco-based festival will be joined by a conglomeration of foreign and local tourists, researchers, environmentalists, urban planners, businessmen and traders, and artists, among others, are sure coming to town to roam around Namunit Hills.
Mayor Lolita Garcia of Santa Teresita said the town has been preparing to host both local and foreign visitors who will come to witness the chirping birds singing on the Namunit Hills, which she likened to the sound of music.
“I assure our visitors that the Namunit Hills are alive with the sounds of migratory birds that flies on their wings to the trees,” Garcia said.
She said Northern Luzon’s answer to the Chocolate Hills in the Visayas takes center stage this year after five years of playing second fiddle to the other tourism offerings of the municipality.
Taking the Magapit (in the old capital town of Lallo)-Mission (Santa Teresita) superhighway going to Santa Ana, the seat of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), one will see the Namunit Hills’ natural architectural grandeur on the right side of the road.
“They look like a box of chocolates accidentally left by some legendary giants of yore,” Garcia would always describe them as such, and said it was only named Namunit Hills last year after a thousand years of existence.
Benjamin De Yro, a Tuguegarao City-based local historian and writer, said the truth is that the Namunit Hills are part of other hills covering up to the former Barangay (village) Nagbabacalan, now the village of Rebecca in Gonzaga town.
“Our old folks from Rebecca village would tell a story that those hills are the result of a fierce battle between two giants who allegedly cupped sides of the mountains to throw to each other,” De Yro said.
He said those parts of the mountains are now what the residents call the Namunit Hills of Santa Teresita, which was formerly Buguey town’s Barrio Namunit, also a historical place believed to be the landing site in 1557 by the Spanish conquistadores led by Juan De Salcedo.
De Yro said the hills are actually Karst-shaped like a cone lying over the panoramic green and golden rice fields of Santa Teresita, intersected by brooks and streams overflowed by the Mission River and highlighted by the Laguna De Cagayan in Barangay Luga, habitat to the Hanguana Malayana, locally known as Bakong plant.
Natural fiber source discovered
The Bakong plant was recently discovered and promoted by the local leadership of Santa Teresita as a good source of fiber of various products such as gifts and housewares, textile, high grade paper, wall décor, and other artworks and furniture, among others.
The local government unit is closely coordinating with the Department of Trade and Industry for launching of the Bakong fiber in the international market possibly New York and Thailand.
Geologists explained Karst resulted from the excavating effects of underground water on massive soluble limestone. The terrain where Karst are usually located are characterized by barren, rocky ground, caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and the absence of surface stream and lakes.
“At first we have suspected that the presence of a Karst is a sure sign that underneath it are caves,” Garcia said.
Indeed, Garcia said, a team of local, national and international cavers have discovered, for the last six years, some 54 caves that revealed subterranean rivers, magnificent stalactites, and stalagmites plus an array of suspicious species now inside laboratories of scientists in Manila.
She is also expecting researchers from the University of the Philippines to update the municipality this year on the four species found inside the caves last year during an exploration activity.
While on the right side of the Magapit-Mission road are the Namunit Hills, one can see on the left side various small lakes surrounded by massive limestone formations.
“This part of the town has yet to be explored because there might still be hidden caves underneath those formations,” Garcia said.
Other than these natural resources Santa Teresita town offers, it has the Namunit Creek to explore and only recently, the municipal tourism office explored the mountains and re-discovered various waterfalls.
Garcia said their experience in Santa Teresita town could very well be a mirror to other municipalities as it is a tourism story of political will.
“All we wanted then is to see our town in some tourism maps. We never expected this to happen,” she said.
She said that for the 3rd Namunit Festival and 6th National Eco-Tourism Festival, Namunit Hills will finally take its own tourism bow and “for our people of Santa Teresita, a dream has just been fulfilled.”
How to get there
To get to Santa Teresita, one can travel by land or by air. By land, ride a direct Florida or Victory bus from Manila.
This is going to be a long bus ride, about 13 to 14 hours. It is also possible to take a bus to Tuguegarao City for 12 hours and then ride a van or bus to Santa Teresita for another two hours.
By air, take a plane to Tuguegarao City and then ride a van or bus for two hours. Once in Santa Teresita, one may also visit Santa Ana town’s world-class beaches as well as the Palaui Island, an hour travel by land from Santa Teresita.