Cruising in North Cagayan
THERE is more to Santa Ana in Cagayan than what can be witnessed from its ongoing development that is making the town a self-sustaining industrial and financial hub in this northeastern-most tip of the Philippines, thanks to the efforts of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA). The Cagayan Freeport is now a recreational and tourism center where one can embark on a backpacking eco-adventure trip and still indulge in luxurious amenities.
The Casagan Village in Palaui Island is also well-known for its “Takuli,” a traditional paddle boat and river cruising activity staged in unique natural settings. Recently, CNN Travel gave distinctions to several destinations in Cagayan including: Palaui Island as one of the best beaches in the world; Anguib Beach touted as the Boracay of the North for its white sand beaches and pristine blue waters; Gotan Beach also called Golden Beach; and the white sands of Nangaramoan Beach, Pozo Robo Beach and many, many more.
A few minutes away from Santa Ana town, Barangay Casagan was one of the filming locations for the 28th season of the American reality television series “Survivor.”
The place itself is divided by a beautiful and scenic river called Tangatan where people usually use a “takuli” to transport their agricultural products from their farm to the center of the barangay. Since time immemorial, farmers prefer to use their takuli as a means of transportation even after the local government provided them a hanging bridge.
Most of the greatest civilizations started near the bodies of water. Casagan was formerly a sitio of the Barrio of Marede. Aetas were the first inhabitants and built their huts at the banks of the Tangatan River. They later roved to the other sitios of Termoy, Birabira, Marabon, Rayray and Torkia.
In the late 1910s, the group of Felipe Galamgam and Sebastian Evangelista from Ilocos Sur settled in the area. They first settled at the mouth of Palawig River and later on moved out at about 4.5 kilometers northeast following a trail. They stopped along another riverbank where they finally settled down. They started clearing, and made a living out of their crops and some other forest products.
Clearing in the area continued with the arrival of other settlers headed by Gregorio Peneyra, Antonio Serrano and Eusebio Rabanal, all from Ilocos Sur, who together with Galamgam and Evangelista were the first homestead grantees from the government.
The fertile soil and nearby thick forest where narra, ipil and lawan grew was very inviting. This good news about the place spread in the Ilocos region so from time to time, as the settlers took their vacations in their places of origin, relatives and friends would travel back with them to the place.
This paved way for the rapid increase in population in the sitio that entitled it to become a separate Barrio of Gonzaga in May 17, 1933. The initiative to have the place recognized was initiated by Serrano who was appointed the first Teniente Del Barrio. The first barrio secretary was Aurelio Evangelista.
The Tangatan River in Casagan that flows at its middle from east to west was a source of additional income and food to the early settlers. The river has a lot of fish and edible shells. Because of these, people from neighboring barrios were attracted to flock to the place and share with the richness of the river.
Casagan got its name from a fishing device called “casag” that was popularly used to catch plenty of fish in just a short period of time by the early people who flocked to the place. But some folks claim the place is named after the Aeta word “casagan,” which means “a place to meet together.”
Accordingly, the Aetas who were the first early inhabitants, lived far apart from one another, thus a place was designated to meet wherever they would go out hunting or fishing on a certain day. It was here also where they met to decide on matters concerning their other activities, hence Casagan became the name of the place.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach Barangay Casagan in Santa Ana town is to take the bus from Manila. It takes between 12 and 14 hours to reach the town. Those with private vehicles can drive north via NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX, exit at Pura, then continue driving the northern highway from San Jose City all the way to Santa Ana via Dalton Pass and Tuguegarao City. Santa Ana is about 635 kilometers away from Manila.
Alternately, there are regular flights between Manila and Tuguegarao City. There are daily flights by AirPhil Express and Cebu Pacific Airlines to Tuguegarao City departing from Manila. From the Tuguegarao airport, Santa Ana is around 158 kilometers or three hours by bus or by UV express van.
What to see, what to do
Besides the mangroves and other trees that grow along the riverbanks, most species of birds stayed in the area and considered it as their home. Early in the morning, bird watchers can see different species of birds found along the river as you go kayaking, which makes the adventure also a relaxing one because it brings you closer to nature.
Besides kayaking, the place is surrounded by fields and mountains, where “Survivor” Season 28 filmed one of their episodes. The area was set as the marooning and challenge area of the “Survivor” contestants.
Another highlight of the place and considered one of its gems is the La Mesa Falls that has its own unique interpretation. It has been one of the many destinations during summer, particularly during Holy Week because of its peaceful and raw beauty. Rainforest trees can still be seen in the area, which explains why there is abundant water cascading down the falls. Rappelling is a potential activity with the elevated rock formations. La Mesa Falls is 6.81 kilometers from Parada-Batu entrance and 5.92 kilometers from Tangatan entrance.
Casagan is abundant and rich in culture, tradition and even natural setting. Rice fields, rivers, mountains and water falls are among the highlights of the place. The place is also considered a place for firefly watching, Salamanca (puzzle fruit) watching, hiking at the waterfalls and diving in the river.
First Takuli Festival
Spearheaded by CEZA and barangay officials, different organizations and residents of Casagan launched the Takuli Festival on May 14-15 to highlight their Patronal Fiesta showcasing the tradition of the community.
During the opening of the activity, Department of Tourism Regional Director Virgilio Maguigad was one of the special guests and joined the opening of the New Casagan Visitor Center, and staging of the first ever “Takuli Racing,” one of the highlights and best activities of the festival.
The race was joined by five teams: second placer Palaui San Vicente Motorboat Association; Santa Ana Pineapple Farmer Growers Producers Cooperative; Palaui Island Guides; Casagan Tour Guide; and the winning Casagan Farmers.
Among the other highlights of the activities were the Rice Field and Fluvial parade with Patron Saint Isidore the Laborer. Other activities included Wet Shirt Relay Contest, Search for Ms. Takuli 2016, Palaro ng Bayan that included traditional games such as the Assemble Salamanca Puzzle Fruit Contest, kadang-kadang relay, and sack race relay,
There was also a piglet hunting contest where participants who catch a piglet can bring it home and grow it as their investment. A kite flying contest and carabao races are also held.
Where to stay, what to eat
Casagan is located just 15 minutes away from Centro, Santa Ana where hotels and resorts in the Cagayan Freeport offer comfortable accommodation facilities. Approximately 600 rooms – a combination of executive suites, villas, dormitories and hotel accommodations – are readily available. Watersports, spa, KTV, fitness gym and restaurants are some of the facilities on hand for leisure and recreation.
There is also an option for homestay in Casagan. It comes with a bed, pillow, blanket and mosquito net. Sleeping at the open cottage by the river allows visitors to listen to the sounds of the wild.
During their festival, people within the community usually celebrate by preparing foods usually through a bayanihan (community cooperation) system. Every household contributes voluntarily an amount for food that will be served during the celebration.
There is abundant harvest in Casagan. But if you prefer seafood, there are plenty. The best dish to try are the freshly-caught fish that are available everywhere. Just ask the locals to cook them for you before they are taken to many of the high-end restaurants both in Santa Ana and Manila.
These are just some of the surprises waiting for the visitors to the place. And there are many more. But they only come to those who visit the place.