Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
LICUAN-BAAY is one of Abra’s upland municipalities nestled in and surrounded by mountains that hide plenty of treasures: the hospitable Tinguian, scenic waterfalls and rivers, and even highly prized gold.
Located east of the capital Bangued, it is accessible via the Abra-Kalinga Road that connects the two said provinces. The public utility jeepneys, as well as private motorcycles, serve as the main mode of public transportation to and from Bangued and Licuan-Baay.
This was how this author, together with cousins and friends, reached Licuan-Baay for a short vacation and exploration in April. Why there, you may ask? Our family hailing from the municipality of San Quintin married into Pogyao family from Licuan-Baay—the wedding, held just a day before our trip! After the celebration in our family’s place, we decided to go to our new in-laws’ place.
Licuan and Baay are formerly two separate districts with the national highway serving as their boundary. On one side, there’s Licuan and on the other, there’s Baay. In 1993, the two merged to become one municipality in 1993—paving way for faster progress among its people. Sighting its two-storey, concrete municipal hall, with a police headquarter on one side and business center on the other, along the national highway with decent light posts, was enough proof.
Sharing their bounty
The people, the ones we met and who we now consider our extended family, were the humblest and the most generous. They live in Sitio Caguyen in Brgy. Caoayan in Licuaan side, in the traditional bahay kubo of the Itneg (the colloquial term for Tinguian, which is the equivalent of Igorot in the Mountain Province or Kalinga). Their homes, made from solid, sturdy narra and other light, natural materials, are tucked in the mountainside.
They do live humble and simple lives but they are blessed with bountiful, natural resources which make them far richer than most of us really. They have fish ponds, they breed their own livestock, they plant and harvest their own crops, and they produce their own electricity via a micro-hydro powerplant (built through a foreign missionary).
They readily share all these blessings to those who come to them, like us their guests. On our first night, we had drinks with our newest cousin and law and his father, and they shared to us the plan for tomorrow.
They were to butcher a whole, native pig for us (the black ones) so that we could go on a picnic in their sitio’s waterfalls.
According to our uncle-in-law, who is among the sitio’s elders, it’s their tradition to butcher a pig and cook dishes for their guest not only to share their land’s bounty to us but also to wish us to bring back their good fortune.
On our picnic day, we trekked first to the waterfalls to bathe and had lots of picture taken. The whole Pogyao family followed suit carrying all the big pots of newly cooked pork dishes along with big bottles of soft drinks plus the plates and utensils. We settled ourselves on a spot wide enough for all of us.
While eating to our tummies delight, dark clouds suddenly descended and brought trickles or rains. We had to finish our food and cut short our picnic to go home immediately. The water from the mountaintops could flush us all down if the rain fell harder, which it did. But we all went down safely albeit carelessly and quickly!
Yet there was no complaining. Who doesn’t love a shower from the heavens above? It made the trip truly unforgettable!
Visiting hidden beauties
For the most part, Abra-Kaling road was already cemented and asphalted making the trip to Licuan-Baay an experience in itself. Pine trees covered the zigzag roads on one side, while hills rolled on the other. At one point during the road trip, raptors soared over us. Wildlife such as these top predators signalled healthy biodiversity in an area.
We briefly stopped by Tubong Public Market, located along the highway and at Bonglo, the first town of Licuan-Baay. Despite its little offerings—some local delicacies, honey, fruits and vegetables—it served as a major stop-over for many motorists and travellers. We have arrived.
Our first destination was Panaclisan River at Baay side. Before going there, we took another break and snacks at sari-sari (retail) store in front of the municipal hall.
The river, like many of those in the north, is laid with rocks and boulders, which we trekked to get to a natural pool. On its north side, water came from a little falls set in high boulders where swimmers could dive from. We were enjoying such a sweet time when we saw dark clouds coming. It was about to rain, fast.
The rain, it was always on our tail during our three-day vacation. Thankfully rain didn’t bother us much, instead gave us a certain thrill with a little chill beneath our clothes.
So on our way to the Pogyaos, the rain did catch us. But we arrived at their home, took a proper shower and had merienda, again! The night came and it was time to rest for another day of sightseeing.
The next morning, we watched coconuts being harvested, we went to a hanging bridge, we walked past vividly green rice fields, and take a quip dip in a small river with pool and caves. All these were part of the daily lives of the people of Caguyen.
Last on our sightseeing was the waterfalls where we had lunch. The trek up were also nice because we passed by the dry riverbed, which later on had water after the rain. According to our cousin-in-law, there used to be a pool below the waterfalls but because of weather, the a huge chunk or rock fell over thus opening the water outlet and changing the terrain.
Nevertheless, it was nice to just chill and bathe especially because the water from the mountain top was cool and refreshing!
To cap our day, we experienced grinding freshly roasted coffee beans, harvested right at their backyards.
And before we knew it, it was our last day. Another feast was served for us in another household in Brgy. Caoayan poblacion. Finally, we bid goodbye to everyone with our hearts wishing to extend our stay. If we only could!