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.
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.
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.