AS a young boy, I was always a curious traveler. I always preferred to sit right next to the window of the bus so I wouldn’t miss a thing when I traveled with my family. I used to wonder what lies beyond those rows of houses along the national highways: could there be a monster waiting to eat the heart of a curious young boy who would dare to venture outside the safety of his comfort zone?
I finally outgrew my fear of the monster, but my curiosity remained. I still prefer to visit places outside the usual tourist trails. One of those places that I have wanted to visit was Cabugao in Ilocos Sur.
Whenever I take the bus to go north to Laoag City, Cabugao stuck out in the province of Ilocos Sur where most of the towns were named after saints, like Santa Maria, Santa Cruz, San Emilio, San Esteban, San Ildenfonso and even Santa.
What kind of name is Cabugao? Checking the internet, I finally found how the town got its name. In ancient time, there was a ruler named Kabu Angaw, whose righteousness and fairness earned him the respect of his people. His leadership was said to be legendary, so much so that his people were referred to as “taga-Kabu Angaw.” When he passed away, the people deeply mourned his loss. They continued to be called taga-Kabu Angaw, but when the Spaniards arrived, the name was contracted to “Cabugao” denoting not only the ruler but the place he ruled.
Cabugao’s place in Philippine history is Salomague Port, which is an ancient port of call of seafarers, merchants and traders from different Asian countries. Many of the Chinese traders who finally settled in the mestizo district of Vigan entered the country through Salomague during the Spanish time. During the American occupation, it served as the departure place for the thousands of Ilocano sakadas destined to work in the sugarcane fields of Hawaii and California.
Today’s Cabugao is one of the highly-urbanized towns in the province of Ilocos Sur. Its more than 35,000 residents are engaged mostly in farming, fishing and trade. It still has yet to tap its huge eco-tourism potential, but at present it is just content with the title “Surfing Capital of Ilocos Sur.”
How to get there
Cabugao is 433 kilometers from Manila, 26 kilometers from Vigan and 54 kilometers from Laoag.
Those with private vehicles can take the triple Xs: NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX. Exit from Urdaneta interchange and continue driving via MacArthur Highway. It takes 10 hours to reach Cabugao.
Those taking public transport can take any bus going to Laoag and alight in Cabugao. A quicker alternative is to take a one-hour plane from Manila to Laoag, then catch a bus or a van going to Cabugao.
What to see, what to do
Cabugao’s main attraction is Salomague Island. This 1,109-hectare island with its powdery white sand beaches on the west and east sides remain uninhabited despite its proximity from the mainland. Visitors can camp on the island, swim on its cool and clear waters, dive or snorkel to see its marine garden, or just laze around and enjoy the sun all day long. Boats can be rented in Sabang for P500 (roundtrip). It takes five minutes from Sabang to reach the island.
Barangay Sabang is an attraction itself. With its colourful bancas moored along its beaches and an attractive wooden boardwalk, it’s a nice place to watch the sunset. But Sabang is best known for its famous Kido’s Point that challenges surfers during the surfing season of January to May.
Pug-os Beach is a laid-back beach north of the town center. It is a nice place to stay for those who are looking for a quick escape. Pug-os is also where the traditional way of making salt by boiling salt water continues to be practiced.
The old Salomague Port is still there but is no longer used. It is worth visiting together with the old lighthouse (built in 1920s) in Barangay Dardarat to guide the boats coming in and out of the port. A Sakada Centennial Memorial was constructed near the Port in 2006 to commemorate the first wave of Ilocanos who left the Philippines to work as sakadas in the plantations in Hawaii via Salomague.
At the town center is the Saint Mark the Evangelist Parish Church that was built in 1772. It lost parts of its aesthetics to a fire in 1965. The architectural charm of its interior was never brought back and just kept simple and undecorated.
The Municipal Government Center is another interesting place to visit. Standing beside the old Presidencia (built during the 1950s) are modern buildings like justice building, public library and a sports complex.
From the Government Center, the road crosses the Cabugao River to the commercial complex where the New Public Market and several commercial buildings are located.
Where to stay, what to eat
Most of the resorts in Cabugao are located in Pug-os Beach. Ponce del Mar Resort and Restaurant and Cabugao Beach Resort offer lodging by the beach.
Surfers can stay at the dormitory in Sabang. A room with common bath and toilet can accommodate a whole barkada of eight for P1,500 per night. But for those who wish to experience the joy of sleeping under the stars can camp overnight at Salomague Island.
Food in Cabugao is basically the same as the rest of Ilocos. So feast on bagnet, longganisa and igado. But in Cabugao River, there are several varieties of fish and shrimp that can be caught using bamboo traps. These fish and shrimp are best cooked pinangat style using the local salt from Pog-os.
But for those who wish to try some unique Cabugao snacks can get them at the many stalls lining up the road in front of Cabugao Institute or at the public market. Sample their unique suman called Patupat made from gluten rice and coconut milk. There is also the local version of the carioca called Kaskarol, which is coconut meat wrapped in dough then fried with sugar. Or maybe taste the sago plant called locally as Silag, which is diced to make it easier to get its meat.
For those who wish to explore Cabugao further, particularly the waterfalls and springs on the eastern side of the town, they can rent those green tricycles parked at the terminal of the public market. These green tricycles are attractions by themselves as their sidecars are made to look like passengers cars complete with the big logos of Toyota, Honda or even Mercedes Benz. Perhaps when you use them to get inside the unknown territories of Cabugao, their logos can drive away the monsters lurking in the dark.