The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. -Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (1874-1936) British journalist, novelist and poet.
My mother was born in Cagayan Valley in the Philippines. I remember spending the summers of my youth there (wow, sounds romantic eh?). We always used to go in May, during the fiesta. My cousins always get to be the star of the fiestas. We would dance the night away. But I don’t remember getting to meet a boy of my age like in the movies because most of the boys are my cousins too. I also remember how bumpy the roads were. Traveling to Cagayan has always been loooong and bUmpy. Ordinary city kids will cringe and get cranky but we enjoyed the most of it. I remember how my hair will stand after a jeepney ride from the city proper to my mom’s place because of the then-unpaved roads. When we finally get to our destination, our hair will be “teased” and our face “powdered”. But that was more than ten years ago.
Fast forward to 2009, our last visit to the Philippines… Cagayan seemed unchanged to many people. Endless rice fields passing through mountains remain to be the trademark of this province. The Cagayan river cannot be missed. In some places, its strength coupled with the wrath of typhoon Peping can also be noticed.
What also seemed unchanged is the fact that Cagayan Valley remains to be a secret up the hills. It is still NOT the first choice of tourists who go to the Philippines. It is still the warmest spot in the country during the hottest period of the year. To some people who live there and assume the simple provincial life, Cagayan must remain unchanged. The spanning rice fields coupled with the hardworking Carabao is seen everywhere. But to me, who has been to Cagayan many times during my youth, it was anything but unchanged.
The Cagayan that I saw last year was still full of ricefields (thank God). The Callao Caves were still there (again, thank God). But having been away for sometime from the province and also from the country, I must say, I have never seen Cagayan in all its glory. The Cagayan that I saw last year was far from the one I knew during the summers of my youth (ahem… ).
It was fresh and refreshing. It was rich in virgin forests. It IS full of promise. Most roads are already paved. New tourism destinations were even discovered like the white sand beaches that will rival those of Pagudpud. Historical and beautiful churches still stand. Which makes one wonder why Cagayan has always been difficult to sell as a primary tourism destination.