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Memories of a Pinacanauan River cruise

Cruising the Pinacanauan River is one of those things I like doing in Cagayan province. It's rather short, however, but scenic.

Locals fishing the river. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Pinacanauan River is no tongue twister and it is one of those bodies of water that I would not mind cruising often. Stunning vistas, ancient cave complexes, a natural dusk flight attraction as well as spectacular limestone walls make this route memorable.

Last January 2010, I was invited by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau to join a media tour of travel writers and bloggers to experience North Luzon for seven days starting in Cagayan province all the way to Pampanga to sample the various local cuisines and experience the attractions offered by the various provinces along the route. It was more than six years ago that I first visited Peñablanca, Cagayan Province, lured by images of a simple chapel inside a massive cavern that is Callao Cave. I was then based in Mindanao as a telecoms engineer and the call to adventure has always been strong even when I was still a child.

The distance was never a problem since for me, the farther it is, the better. There’s always this desire of extending my reach of places, discovering new things and a natural curiosity of the world around me. I always wanted to conquer my own terras incognita thus, unexplored lands, uncommon people, strange smells and tastes and unusual sceneries has that visceral pull and appeal.

Long motorized pumpboats load people, animals and produce as these are brought to the inner communities along the Pinacanauan River

Out of curiosity, I just boarded one of the long pumpboats, longer and wider than the dragon boats found at the waters off the CCP grounds in Manila, waiting for passengers at the banks of this beautiful and clean river. I was tired and sweating then from the brief visit at the Callao Cave. I fondly remember that when I sat down on the wooden planks, right infront of me was the behind of a horse. But luckily, it was calm. In other boats, pigs were loaded too but people aren’t complaining. When it finally started its motor, I was thrilled. Thrilled with the discoveries that I will then make and expecting to be surprised.

What lay ahead? It was my first trip to the northeastern part of Luzon and everything was just new to me: the people, the natural surroundings and even the strange tongue which I learned later to be Ilocano.

There were shallow parts that the bangkero, or boat handler, will have to go down and lead the boat to some deeper portions or adroitly evade rocky outcrops that can be devastating if it crashes on these. There were sections where the surface can mirror the sky with its stillness that from time to time, is rythmically broken with ripples. Or areas where the river can surge, frothing and roaring.

View of the mountains opposite the river bank. Spectacular vistas!

Rock faces along the banks reflected in the river's surface

When the Pinacanauan River is mentioned, it is not the impressive Callao Caves that come to mind nor the daily bat flights at dusk emanating from a cave high up one of the cliffs. Both are attractions in their own right. It is the image of a boy sitting at the front end of the boat, his long bamboo pole used in navigating deeper parts, balanced and resting horizontally on his lap. His frail and dark body contrasting with a massive limestone wall rising from a bend. A calm posture, almost zen like, meditative. A study of contrasts.

Then this mental picture moves on to that cliff as my gaze is transfixed to its massiveness. The high rise formation is overwhelming. Its rough but bright surface contrasting with the darker water and blue sky. But the view was fleeting. For a few minutes I was in awe, humbled by its monumentality. As the boat navigated downriver, it came up to a rush of water and within a few more minutes, that wall disappeared as it rounded a bend.

That is my memory of Pinacanauan River. Unforgettable.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

13 Comments

  1. fetus
    July 27, 2010 @ 0:43

    beautiful shots, and even more beautiful place to to go.

  2. journeyingjames
    July 27, 2010 @ 5:52

    “the farther it is, the better. There’s always this internal desire of extending my reach of places, to conquer my own terras incognita. Unexplored lands, uncommon people, strange smells and tastes, unusual sceneries.” -nicely said! this is also me
    ang galing talga, nice photos, asteeeg!

  3. estan
    July 27, 2010 @ 5:59

    @fetus, james, thanx bai 🙂

    glad you liked it james

  4. kristine cuer
    August 16, 2010 @ 11:45

    wow. great shots! I hope I can make my own memory from this place^^

  5. I was dwarfed at the Callao Caves of Penablanca | langyaw
    August 23, 2010 @ 11:24

    […] route. It was my second time to visit this place, the first, almost a decade ago that ended with a cruise along the Pinacanauan River. This geological formation, part of several in the area, has been developed affording better […]

  6. thepinaysolobackpacker
    August 31, 2010 @ 16:45

    There are great writers and there are good writers and it’s rare to find both..like you. I am envious,I wish i can write the way you do! Indeed, the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. 🙂

  7. estan
    August 31, 2010 @ 17:36

    @gael, thanx. hehehe

  8. Happy Trails
    September 12, 2010 @ 19:31

    wow i live in region 2 but i never knew about Pinacanauan River in cagayan. this is a revelation, a must visit indeed! thanks 😉

  9. Rizalenio
    October 30, 2010 @ 14:45

    Ngayon ko lang narinig ang river na ito. Ang ganda dito. The best ang mga photos.

  10. estan
    November 1, 2010 @ 19:20

    thanx rizalenio. the river is along the famous callao caves of penablanca 🙂

  11. Marky
    November 18, 2010 @ 12:34

    I was thinking of choosing between Catanduanes and Cagayan Province to go to this coming long weekend, then I come across this blog entry of yours and the way you wrote it, is just asking me to tie my shoe laces on and pack my backpack and go to this place ASAP. Your writing has that effect on people…

    I think Tuguegarao, Callao Caves, Pinacanauan River will be my next destination ( i mean next after our Pangasinan trip with other Pinoy travel bloggers hehe )

    Thanks again for this inspiring blog Estan

  12. estan
    November 18, 2010 @ 12:49

    @marky, welcome pre. see you in pangasinan 🙂

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