April 2012
Photos, videos and stories of town explorations.
"This form of transport system has been in Vigan since the Spanish colonial era and until now, it remained present to the streets of Vigan for centuries -- and today, they own this festival."

Vigan, being a home for rich culture and intact heritage in the Philippines, it is not doubtful why many have fallen in love with this world heritage city and just this week, the Viva Vigan Festival of the Arts 2012 has just began. The first main event for this festival is the Calesa Parade [2012 version].

Vigan Calesa Parade
Calesa/s became the stars of the day. All were decorated with beautiful designs mainly depicting the rich culture and heritage of Vigan.

The calesa/s were just stunning as they take the parade route. The sun was very present this day and it can not be denied that it was hot. But I can see the enjoyment of the people watching those lovely calesa/s on a parade.

The old and the young, I can see the smile to their faces as they see those calesa/s dressed in a way that they are not used of seeing.

The city became vibrant, full of people, both the locals and tourists, travelers and visitors. Vigan turned colorful instantly and the people of Vigan has just showcased their creativity and skill on arts.

Vigan Calesa Parade

Vigan Calesa Parade

Vigan Calesa Parade

Vigan Calesa Parade

Viva Vigan Festival
Calesa is a common form of transportation in Vigan but usually, they cater for tourists who want to roam around Vigan.

This form of transport system has been in Vigan since the Spanish colonial era and until now, it remained present to the streets of Vigan for centuries -- and today, they own this festival.

Calesa with the image of Calle Crisologo has been synonymous to Vigan. Viva Vigan Festival of the Arts gave way for these horse-drawn carriages to shine even brighter even just for a day.
Photos, videos and stories of town explorations.
"For sure there is a harsh effect to health and at the opposite side, there is a harsh effect for the livelihood of the people. Indeed a big debate."

Why harsh? Isn't tobacco farming a good source of income for the people? Well, as you read along, I will be discussing some issues related to the tobacco farming industry of Abra. Planting tobacco is one of the major livelihood activities in this Cordillera province and it is interesting to note the struggles faced by the tobacco farmers.

Tobacco farm pidigan abra
The Scenic Tobacco Fields in Pidigan, Abra

I was in the town of Pidigan in the province of Abra. It was quiet, no noise, no pollution, purely fresh and relaxing. Suddenly, I can smell a familiar odor I used to smell in Ilocos. My instinct was right! It was the tobacco fields as the source of that familiar smell.

I was approaching the tobacco farms of Pidigan planted on a plain situated at the foot of the mountains of Abra and this valley is one of the reasons why there are still a lot of cigarette smokers while Cigarette-manufacturing companies dwell in wealth from this industry.

However, there is nothing to blame in this scenario because this is an industry and it brings cash flow to the province. The tobacco field is a source of income for the people in this part of Abra. They provide raw materials for the cigarette companies to manufacture.

Abra is just one of several provinces that produce Virginia tobacco like Cagayan, Pangasinan, Isabela, La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte.

At this junction, why I called it harsh?

The Harsh Effect

The harsh effect is focused on health. I believe everyone is aware about that cigarette smoking kills. The government also campaigns and warns the people against cigarette smoking.

Are the tobacco farmers to be blamed? Here, we enter to an open discussion and opinions are all correct. This industry provides food for the people of Abra. Actually, it could be an endless debate between health and livelihood and from these facts, the tobacco fields are the first hand source of cigarette products while the manufacturing companies add some addictive chemicals that are harsh to health.

tobacco farm
If the government campaigns for a smoke-free Philippines this would mean the death of the tobacco industry.

Question, can the Philippine government provide another livelihood for the people of Abra and other tobacco-producing provinces when this industry come to an end as a result of anti-smoking campaigns? For sure there is a harsh effect to health and at the opposite side, there is a harsh effect for the livelihood of the people. Indeed a big debate.

The Harsh Reality

I actually salute some tobacco farmers who were able to build good houses and send their children to good universities and really, I know some of them but not all are able to do it.

The existence of the law called RA 7171 which pumped millions of pesos to tobacco-producing towns gave hope to the tobacco farmers of Northern Luzon especially for Abra where economic status is not as vibrant as the other tobacco-producing provinces. For sure, the million of pesos from the tobacco excise tax will benefit the people.

However, is the fund really benefiting the tobacco farmers of Abra or it just goes to the pockets of those who are in authority? Well I am not blaming or accusing anyone, I am just asking a question and I think the farmer themselves can answer this question.

I was able to talk with a tobacco farmer and according to him, his life from the time he started farming tobacco is still the same amidst the presence of RA 7171 that is bringing millions to Abra.

To balance the situation, leaders claim that the fund goes to infrastructure projects like farm to market roads. To end this post, it is a harsh reality that still many of the tobacco farmers of Abra are poor and I am hoping that through this industry, the quality living of the farmers will escalate for better.

Abra has a lot of potentials. Of course, we should not always rely our destiny to the government. But on the side of the farmers, I believe they need a tender loving care from the government.
Photos, videos and stories of town explorations.
"From unknown rice terraces, springs, waterfalls, culture, traditions and people, I believe Abra has more to offer but for it to happen, the province must gain first the trust of travelers and tourists that it is safe to explore whether as a solo backpacker or as a group."

Abra is a province that is usually ignored for tourism. One reason I may connect with this situation is the bad publicity that Abra is known for via media. Abra is known to be a province with high incidence of crime most especially those related to politics.

Downtown Bangued | Abra Valley | Sleeping Beauty Mountain

[BANGUED] Downtown Bangued with Sleeping Beauty Mountain (Background)


Abra Province in the Philippines is a famous province, not in terms of tourism but in terms of political instability and election-related violence.

Abra Provincial Capitol

[BANGUED] Abra Provincial Capitol

Once election in this province comes, it becomes a hot spot of the Commission on Elections because they are expecting that violence may happen.

On my walk along the streets of #BANGUED


FAST FACTS: Bangued is the capital of Abra province. Majority of the people are Ilocanos. Bangued is a bustling town located at the Abra Valley.

PHOTO: Sapilang Falls in Brgy Sagap
, the capital of the province, I actually didn't feel a warm welcome from the people maybe because I am just paranoid about the warnings of my parents and the news I was hearing on radio and television.

But per experience, I knew it is safe here, just get rid of anything that  is related to politics and be sure to don't act as if you are high and mighty, you might be misinterpreted. Make it sure also that you look friendly and lastly, don't make any enemy here. I don't recommend you to visit Abra immediately before, during and after election and during campaign period.


Within the provincial capital Bangued, major tourist attractions are not plenty and asking the locals themselves, they even don't have an idea where to send me. They simply say awan (a term for "none"). In fact, I already have an idea what to expect about Abra since I went to their Provincial Capitol to ask some individuals in order to be more familiar about the province.

Kimkimay Lake of Villaviciosa, Abra

[VILLAVICIOSA] Kimkimay Lake in Brgy Tuquib of Villaviciosa Town

The province is exciting! The culture, the natural and even man-made wonders, the people and the traditions are all amazing but few are known about them -- so Abra remains to be at the bottom of the tourism hierarchy because of some factors related to the province itself.

But just to test how the locals can assist tourists and travelers in exploring their province, I was just disappointed that from the 5 strangers I asked, no one of them can recommend a place to visit and have fun.

Wilawil Falls in Baay, Abra

[LICUAN-BAAY] Wilawil Falls in Baay

There are only few good roads that interconnect the towns, so most of the towns especially at the upland area become isolated during heavy rains.

A town called Tineg is the least accessible that it becomes allegedly a dwelling place for the leftist group NPA.

Some news reporters and military people reach the town using choppers while the locals spend a day or two in returning home from Bangued using horses, not vehicles - due to the absence of good roads to the most remote communities.

Anito Falls cascade along Tineg River of Abra

[TINEG] The undiscovered beauty of Tineg town

However, the shallow portions of this interior town located deep in the mountains of Abra can be accessed by land in either muddy or dusty rough road.


Inside the Provincial Capitol of Abra, I didn't feel any tension, instead I was feeling secured. They have air-conditioned offices and the employees of the Capitol looked decent.

Inside the Abra Provincial Capitol

[BANGUED] Inside the Abra Capitol

In front of the Capitol, some posh cars were parked and I have an instinct that they are mostly owned by the politicians.

At the third floor of the Capitol, I was aback to see military people inside a public building and it created paranoia at the tip of my hypothalamus.

Bangued Municipal Hall

[BANGUED] Municipal Hall of the capital town

Errr... Soldiers? What might have they done here? It suddenly sparked at the back of my mind about the news I always hear that politicians in Abra have military escorts, a very controversial scenario in Philippine politics. Allegedly, military escorts no longer serve the interest of "all the people", but serve the interest of "one."

Expect to see military people at the entrance Tunnel of the province and during election, they are scattered everywhere.


Abra is accessed "practically" via the Manila North Road. From Manila North Road, there is only 1 more road that will lead you to Abra and this is "the only" road that will lead you to Abra from the Manila North Road,  meaning once this road becomes impassable, the province gets isolated. There are another roads going to Abra but they are practically not a road of choice.

Abra is not at all mountainous. There is also a lowland part. The capital Bangued is nestled in a valley drained by the Abra River which originates from Mt Data in MOUNTAIN PROVINCE


FAST FACTS: This province is known for the cave connections and hanging coffins of Sagada, the burial caves and rice terraces of Bontoc and for being a center of a vibrant Igorot culture and heritage.

PHOTO: A marker at Mount Polis, near the boundary of Mt Province and Ifugao
draining to the West Philippine Sea via the towns of #BANTAY


FAST FACTS: Bantay is home to the Bantay Belfry built in 1519 where several TV show and movie scenes have been taken.

PHOTO: Old Quirino Bridge in Banaoang: This bridge used to connect Bantay to the rest of the south. It's no longer in use. A new bridge has been built to replace it.
and #SANTA


FAST FACTS: This coastal town located at the Abra River delta is believed to be the birthplace of Gabriela Silang, a revolutionary Filipina fighter during the great World War..

PHOTO: Church of Sta Catalina de Alexandria


FAST FACTS: This province has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the Sta. Maria Church and the Heritage City of Vigan.

PHOTO: Pinsal Falls (taken during dry season): Said to be the largest in Ilocos Region.

Abra has an extremely rugged terrain with mountains and hills rising along its perimeter and interior.


Early inhabitants of Abra are the Tingguians or Itneg. The Ilocanos traded with the Tingguians and eventually learned that Abra was a good place and upon occupation, the Tingguians are forced to flee to the mountains.

Maeng Tribe of Tubo, Abra

[TUBO] Old women of the Maeng Tribe of Tubo with colorful hair beads

Muyadan Tribe of Manabo

[MANABO] Young generation of Muyadan Tribe in Manabo town

With a Banao Tribe elder

[DAGUIOMAN] With me is an elder of the Banao Tribe of Daguioman

Banao Tribe of Malibcong, Abra

[MALIBCONG] Photo-opp with a golden couple of the Banao Tribe

Majority of the people of Abra is Ilocano. Some other minor groups living in the province are the Itneg or Tingguian people.

I also learned from a resident in Bucay, Abra that there are some communities or villages there with different dialects. At one area, a group of people is speaking one dialect while the other group of another area speaks another dialect. Asking why this is the case, she answered that those groups belong to different tribes, thus different dialects too. One tribe, one dialect, united with one identity, amazing!


Abra is actually an amazing place but full of challenges for you to explore because most of the towns are remote but for sure once you reach those hidden towns, I know it will be worth seeing a pure beauty without a touch of commercialism.

Women at the Timeg River

[TINEG] Said to be the Cordillera's murder capital

From unknown rice terraces, springs, waterfalls, culture, traditions and people, I believe Abra has more to offer but for it to happen, the province must gain first the trust of travelers and tourists that it is safe to explore Abra whether as a solo backpacker or as a group.

The name of the province, being almost synonymous to politics-related killings and violence, my father called me immediately when he learned that I am in Abra, speaking with extremely angry voice on phone wanting me to go back home ASAP because of fear I might be harmed. So this is what I am talking about. It is the challenge to change the image of Abra for good, my father is one of those people restricting their friends and family members to explore Abra. In light of the foregoing, there is a big task of changing the image of Abra as a peaceful place waiting out there./end

Abra #TownExploration Series

Map showing the Location of Abra

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[PANGASINAN] Flesh-Eating Disease: of Prophecy, Hipocrisy and Politics

TEASER: "...though media are very entertaining and informative, our role is to become critical thinkers."

[IFUGAO] Giving the Children of Ifugao a Bright Future

TEASER: "If the smile of your crush or your loved one can make your day complete, I would say a helping hand that will make the children of the rice terraces to continually smile will mean a lot."

[VIGAN] Let's Support Vigan City for the New 7 Wonders Cities

TEASER: "Live with the people of Vigan and love it. From there, you will learn that there are just culture and traditions that can not be explained in words and can not be showcased in festivals that you have to actually experience it for a considerable length of time for you to understand.""/span>

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