(Pictures to come later. Or read this article at the March-April Appulse issue at Appulse
While I was straddled on my bended knees on either side of a ridgelike hard mud protusion crawling with my elbows
in a position like that of months-old baby starting to crawl, I was surprised to see on an opening the face of 4-year
old RR similarly on bended knees repeatedly advising/cautioning everyone,"Yung mga ulo ninyo! Yung mga ulo ninyo."
I can't forget that exhilarating "bike ride" at Sierra Cave on April 27. To me and to all in the group, that was the best
part of our PAS Astropilgrimage adventure- slithering our bodies through cramped stalagmites and columns,
muddied like pigs as we crawled on muddy cave floor, and exiting on a very long descentclinging on tree branches,
shrubs, and twigs. Wow!! Unbelievablyfirst-rate adventure and raw fun! Thanks to our able spelunking guide, no less
than thehead forester of DENR Region 2 Tito Mangantulao.
Exploring Sierra Cave is by special permit from DENR. The cave is protected and preserved for scientific researches
only and no tourists can just go there on a whim.
But that is only one of the highlights of the PAS Astropilgrimage last April 26 to 28.
Every year, the Philippine Astronomical Society undertakes these out-of-town trips to de-stress from the
gruelling work and preparations for the National Astronomy Week celebration held every third week of February. It
is a team-building, team-renewing, team-planning, team-socializing activity aside from the usual assessing of the NAW
and other past organizational activities. In the past, we had these out-of-town trips at Baguio. This year, PAS travelled
10 hours by Victory Liner to Tuguegarao City for the weekend visit to sights of interest at Penablanca, Iguig, and
Tuguegarao. Twenty guests came including four members from Ateneo de Davao University who flew via Cebu Pacific Air
and arrived on April 26.
Friday April 26
Eleven guests arrived on this date via Victory liner- Ian Allas, Hernan Dizon, Marlon Monzon, Jake Irlandez, Judith
Irlandez, Nora Irlandez, Izza Irlandez, RR Irlandez, Ronald Tanco, Nico Mendoza, Christine Miranda. Except for
Ronald who took another deluxe bus from Pasay and thus arrived later, we picked them up at the bus station at
6:30am, one hour earlier than expected. Ronald came two hours later.
They had breakfast at home first; and at 10:30am, the group proceeded to Cagayan Museum and Historical
Research Center for the first activity of the trip. Surprised! I was shocked to see the department heads of
the Provincial Government of Cagayan at the main door of the Cagayan Museum - they were all there to meet
and receive us and to also join us for the hosted lunch later.
This warm welcome of the group somehow moved me to tears. Thank you very much Cagayan Governor Alvaro
Antonio, Executive Assistant Jenifer Juinio-Baquiran, Zeny Gerena, and the Cagayan Provincial Tourism and Museum staff.
The group had an hour viewing the Museum exhibits that showed the prehistory and history of the
province as well as its cultural, archaeological, historical artifacts, and artworks.
From the Cagayan Museum, our next stop was at the Kammaranan Hall across the Capitol Compound for our hosted
lunch. This was,indeed, another big surprise! I thought we will just have a simple styrofoam-packed lunch
as I requested but we were given instead a sumptuous catered meal complete with the presence and company of
department heads of the Provincial Government of Cagayan!
Ronald came later to join us for lunch because he had to go to Cagayan State University for the annual national conference of agricultural
engineers. The Davao group, however, was not able to join us. Their flight.was delayed by one hour. After
lunch and after picking up the Davao group at the airport, we went to Savemore to buy our food for dinner and
breakfast. All precious minutes and hours maximized. We had to be here only for 30 minutes, and then we
motored to Callao after stopping briefly at our house to get some kitchen utensils and food provisions.
Callao!! An archaeological reservation area. A national park. Home to 400 caves dotting the massive cliff
limestone formation bounding the Sierra Madre Mountains foothills. Where millions of bats unfailingly
snake through the sky at 6:30pm for their circadian flight. Where boating, river swimming, fishing, and kayaking
provide the means of relaxation to guests and natives alike. And where the famous Callao Cave is, the once
home of the oldest Filipino whose 69,000 years-old fossilIzed metatarsal bone was archaeologically found at its cave
entrance. We were supposed to stay in two cottages - La Cagayana and Ybanag Cottages, but we opted to stay all
together at Ybanag Cottage.
Not enough time left before the spectacular bats’ flight, we changed to shirts and shorts and proceeded immediately
to the river for the boating to Mororan. We went to Akkargan first to look for 'panghilot', but it's more to look at the
assorted pebbles of different sizes and colors abundantly strewn in the island's sandy floor. At 6pm, off we went to
the final activity for the day - the batgazing.
"Quiet, quiet". Everybody was hushed to silence. The bats won't go out daw if they hear noises in the river. But at
exactly 6:20pm, they snaked in the sky for 12 minutes. Millions of them, and everyone was gaping in astonishment
at the sound and the sight. This spectacular bat flight never ceased to amaze me each time, even if I have seen this
like a thousand times.
Friday April 26
Happy and laughing, the group was looking into the different cloud formation already sillhouetted on topof the
cliffs as we motored back downstream to our cottage. The resort area has that eerie glow after sunset. We planned to
have the observation of the Lyrids meteor shower and the night sky at the riverbank; but as has always been the
problem, clouds filled the sky. "Kahit na lang sana moonlight", we could have had so much fun singing and eating by
the river. But as weather had it, we had the remaining activities for the night at Ybanag Cottage. While our chef
Ronald was cooking our dinner of chicken with creamed corn, the group took turns in playing the guitar and in
singing. The Provincial Tourism Office provided all the cooking and dining utensils that were all ready when we came.
Leo Manosca and Ron Aves arrived in time for dinner. Ronald's chicken dish was so yummy. It was a blockbuster!!!
Super-delicious!! Everyone had enough serving of this dish, along with the watermelon, mango strips, boiled peanuts,
After dinner, the group listened to an informal lecture by Ronald about telescopes and softwares used on
android and apple systems. The planned night observation was impossible though because we were clouded
Morning has broken. As usual, our chef Ronald cooked our breakfast of scrambled eggs topped with cubed
tomatoes. We had several loaves of bread with Reno liverspread as filling as well as Heinz Pork and Beans for the
other breakfast viand. Of course, we had fried rice from last night's problematically cooked rice. (The provided rice
cooker was not working well so we had to re-cook the half-cooked portion while I don't know what they did to the
burnt portion.) Again, another filling and delicious meal. Masarap magluto talaga itong si Ronald - where on earth
did he get his culinary skill?
The lovebirds Josuel Racca and Margie Parinas arrived at 7:30am. We closed the cottage door and opened it
only when we had the signal from Marlon outside the cottage that they had arrived. Presto!! They had the rice
shower!! Rice grains littered the floor outside the door. No wonder chickens came running and wandered into
the cottage 30 minutes after. The rice grains do not emit a scent - how the roaming chickens knew of the
littered food baffled me.
Josuel and Margie had a quick breakfast. Then, we hired a boat to cross the river to the other side where
the caves are (20p round trip). First climb was the Callao Cave - 184 steps to the cave with an hour to explore. Wow!!! The sunrise effect on
the cave as the morning sun rays filtered through the top natural openings was so beautiful beyond words could
The group had a heyday here - right when sunrise struck the cave's natural openings and thus bathing the
chambers with the sun's surrealistic glow. We had halo-halo after the climb, beating off the summer heat
and the possibly already dehydrated bodies after the cave exploration.
Saturday April 27
Sierra Cave na - where real spelunking was! The cave entrance was gated, and we had to climb through a
no-trail shrubby area to the cave entrance where we descended three meters down. There are no artificial
structures or cemented steps to facilitate the descent. Everything natural and untouched by tourism-oriented
improvements. Indeed, this is a well-preserved cave just perfect for scientific studies of cave geology and faunal
habitation. Without our headlamps and flashlights, the whole cave is in pitch darkness.
Sir Tito Mangantulao guided us through the cave, showing the different stalactites and stalagmites,
explaining how each is formed and for how many years. He said that it takes 15 years to form one
centimeter of a stalactite. Can you guess then approximately how many millions of years old Sierra Cave and
Callao Cave above it are?
We were supposed to take the muddy exit - different from the entrance, but the mud was knee-high. No way
jose for all, although the braver guys tried to check how deep the mud is. We took another exit. Wow!
Thankfully, we opted for that. That's where the crawling and slithering through cramped columns and taking
"the bike ride" were - sooooooo much fun!!
The crawling finally got us dirtied with mud just the same, and finally the exit through another gate that had
to be unlocked for us.
Here, Izza (the 7-year-old daughter of Jake Irlandez) started to cry. She was afraid of the steep descent
that has 70-degree inclination. Our other guide Nestor went ahead so he could carry her down as we were
already stuck above when she kept crying and didn't want to move.
To come down, we held on to shrub branches, twigs, propped tree roots, and jotting anchored rocks. Ron Aves
gave me his helping hand so I won't lose my balance. But then 3 meters near the road, I started to
freely glide on my butt downward. All caught in a camera video. But too bad the video was corrupted
per Jake; and my videocam's battery was already dead halfway through the cave.
After the exploration, everyone dove into the Pinacanauan River below. The water was warm and was waist-
to breast-deep only. Two pairs laughingly engaged in horse fights while we swam with gusto. The water is so
clear that stones at the river bed can be clearly seen.
Our boat came for us after an hour of swimming to take us across the river, and we continued the swimming
at the other side of the river. But ooops. We had to go and pack for the trip back to Tuguegarao City.
Our hired jeep ride came at about 4:30pm. However, very strong rains buffeted us when we were still at Tawi
Bridge at Callao vicinity - a repeat of the same pouring rains the day before followed by a 6-hour brownout that
prevented me from going out to buy fresh fruits and foods in preparation for their coming.
Because of the rains, we had to go to Victory Liner first for the change of ticket schedule (Jake and
his family were scheduled to leave that night) and to reserve for tickets for the group's departure the
next day. But tickets can only be reserved on day of departure.
The strong rains finally stopped. Despite its getting dark, we proceeded to go to Iguig Calvary Hills for our
last activity of the day. Luckily, someone opened the already closed gate for us. (I found it somewhat strange
though how he knew we were outside the closed gate when there seemed to be no one around the church -
it looked like he was waiting for us when no previous appointment was made anyway.) Lucky us in that
regard. At least, our time was maximized by going to
Calvary Hills at sundown.
The group got a panoramic view of the Cagayan River, of the hills where prehistoric mammals like
elephants and rhinoceros used to roam, of the four-centuries-old water well, and of the brick stairway
used by the Spanish conquistadors and friars during the Spanish era to climb up from their boats to the
mainland communities above. The St. James Apostle Church where a Papal Nuncio-authenticated relic of
Jesus Christ's cross was enthroned was already closed.
Finally, off we went to the all-you-can-eat dinner. Unfortunately, the best restaurant for this was closed
for renovation, so we went to another. The hired jeep went back to Callao after dropping us here. From
this restaurant we walked back home after dinner as our house was only a block away.
Everyone looked ready to retire after their room assignments. My mind ceased to function out of
exhaustion from that Callao adventure. I had to pull out other bedcovers because I forgot about the
already prepared/freshly laundered sheets and blankets.
Twenty guests waiting on me? Nataranta na. I couldn't find the cable of the Magic Sing when we were
supposed to have group singing. The ones left still kicking in the living room shared a shot of the
non-alcoholic red wine. We were supposed to have a night swimming at the pool and have midnight snacks
of pancit, barbeque, and chichirya at the roofdeck; but the afternoon strong rains deadened these all.
Ian Allas wanted to work on his thesis, while the rest opted to sleep or to dabble on the piano. I was
too exhausted to the bones myself so I was not inclined to have more activities. Instead, I prepared the two
tables for the early-morning breakfast the next day.
Breakfast was ready at 5:30am, but Jake Irlandez and his family had to go to Victory Liner station at 6:00am
without taking their breakfast. Ronald, who preferred to sleep at the living room couch, was fast sleep still;
tired I'm sure from the Callao-Iguig-Tuguegarao driving the day before. I took them to the airport and
quickly came back for the rest of the group who were all ready for breakfast.
Breakfast was quick. No more tsokolate ah this time, but we had coffee and pineapple juice plus eggs,
sardines with onions, bread with hazel nuts cream spread. Margie, Nico, and Josuel went pool-swimming
after breakfast. Heard that Hernan hunted for ripe guavas on his own.
I had to rush them to go to the bus station after breakfast or they'll lose their reserved seats. Oh my, we
were almost late. We arrived at the bus station at exactly 9am - some people have already taken their
seats. That meant our wall clock is late 20 mins. Luckily, they were still given the preference.
And then the goodbyes. Ronald was the last to leave because he took the plane back to Manila, which
departed at 12:55pm. We took him around the city first -an activity left behind by the group who were
supposed to go on a calesa ride around the city on Sunday April 28, have the pancit batil-patung for lunch,
and buy their souvenirs. But all were thinking of their work the next day. As if they can rest from a longer 12- to14-hour day
trip; but, at least, they get to see the rural scenery going back to Manila.
Next time na raw, with Aparri also. Oh?? If there's a next time, friends. Mind you, I'll be in Timbuktu by
Thank you everyone for coming, especially the four PASers from Ateneo de Davao University who also
brought some coco sugar presents for each guest in the group - Criselda Buyan (Cris), Khryss Ernest Pude
(Chunks), Maria Nelfa Bermudez (Nelfa), and Rowil Roxas.
Personally, I did enjoy so much your company and all our PAS Astropilgrimage activities especially the Sierra
March - April 2013 - APPULSE
Official Newsletter of PAS