It’s a landlocked province tucked in the highlands of the Cordilleras. The province of Abra is often skipped by weekend warriors as they pick other places to visit. The weekend traffic often leads to popular places like Vigan, Baguio or La Union. When you ask people if they can give you tips about places to visit in Abra, expect that they could not say as much. For most of the people, Abra is still a mystery.
I was happy enough to get the chance to visit Abra. On my road towards goal 81, Abra is my 64th province. The easiest way to plan for a weekend visit to this place is to focus on its capital town, Bangued. How to get there?
Partas Bus Terminal, Cubao
By bus, you have options to either take the Partas Bus Liner or Dominion Bus. The bus terminals are located in Cubao, Quezon City. The trip is about 8-10 hrs depending on the traffic. I took the 8pm Partas Bus at their Cubao Terminal to save some money from hotel accommodation. I reached Bangued about 4:30am and I realized that it’s still a bit early to start my tour of Abra.
Good thing I’ve read some tips from a blog on the places to stay in Bangued. Transient rooms are common in town. At the Partas Terminal, you could actually ask the tricycle drivers or anyone at the bus terminal for a nearby hotel accommodation or transient rooms.
A tricycle driver pointed me to Mega Bulls Videoke Bar which has transient rooms for rent. It’s just a few steps away from Partas Bus Terminal. The rent was only Php 200, very basic amenities but for such rate, I should not complain. It gave me additional few hours of sleep.
That Saturday morning in Bangued was a bit chilly yet it was a perfect time to explore the capital town. I was excited to roam around and see Abra through this municipio. I walked the stretch from Mega Bulls to the provincial capitol, which is a good half-kilometer walk. Bangued has that old Spanish pueblo set up wherein the presidencia, the park, the church and the market are in close proximity to each other.
The present provincial capitol building of Abra was a product of re-building under the Philippines Rehabilitation Act of 1946 otherwise known as the Tydings War Damage Act which was aimed to rebuild structures that were ruined by the war.
The provincial capitol
The town plaza
The cathedral of Bangued is also known as the Cathedral of St. James the Greater. A 19th-century church which was built starting in 1722 and completed in 1807, it suffered heavily from the second world war, as it was bombed by American warplanes.
A few blocks away from the town plaza is Victoria Park. There are tricycles available at the entrance to the park which could bring you to the hilltop. Another option is to just walk on foot, up to the hilltop. While ascending, you would pass by the Oval Era Hotel, then a monument of Rizal, the national hero, the amphitheater, then finally a Marian Shrine in front of a dome and a viewpoint.
Jose Rizal monument
The view from the hilltop is the reward for taking the hike up the hill. It offers a commanding view of the entire town of Bangued with the backdrop of the Abra River and the mountains of Ilocos and the Cordillera.
Cassamata Hill National Park
As I understood it, Victoria Park is part of the Cassamata Hill National Park which was declared in 1974 as a protected area in Bangued. It covers about 57 hectares.
Shrine of San Lorenzo Ruiz
The view from Victoria Park was truly breath-taking. You get to see the expanse of the town of Bangued with the cathedral dominating the skyline. One can also notice the bell towers of an old brick church several blocks away from the cathedral. I decided to go down from the hill and walked my way to that old church which is actually the Shrine of San Lorenzo Ruiz.
It is an old heritage church made of red bricks. It is located at the camposanto or cemetery. It’s a silent testimony of Bangued and Abra as a whole. Not much information is available about this shrine and why it was built. But I noticed that it is a bit big for a cemetery church. The main and the side doors were closed so I do not know what is inside it.
The church of Tayum
I hailed a tricycle and asked to be brought to the next town, Tayum. It is just 7 kilometers from Bangued. Tayum is a local name for the indigo plant. There used to be a spot in one of its barangays wherein the plant is made to decay to produce a blue-black dye. At present, the town takes pride of its church.
Also known as the Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria, Tayum’s church was designated as a National Cultural treasure in 2001. It is a 19th-century Baroque church made of bricks.
From Tayum, the tricycle driver brought me back to Bangued and a little farther north via the Ilocos Norte – Abra road for a visit to Calaba Bridge. This bridge is about 900 meters long, spanning the vast Abra River. Designed by Waagner-Biro and completed in 2010, Calaba Bridge changed the means of crossing the river and eventually replaced the ferry boats and the balsa.
The tricycle driver mentioned that there is another bridge that connects the town of Tayum and Dolores. It’s Don Mariano Marcos Bridge. It is a steel and foot bridge said to be one of the longest bridges ever built in Abra. I decided to skip the visit so I could return to the town proper before noon.
I also skipped the Tangadan Tunnel and the historical landmark, the monument of Gabriela Silang since it is located at the boundary of Ilocos Sur and Abra and is about 30 minutes away from Bangued.
I left the town of Bangued by 1pm, taking the Partas Bus for Baguio City, a trip that was 6 hrs long. And even just for a quick visit to Abra, it opened my mind that this province has something to offer. The conquistadores used to say that the place is El Abra de Vigan or The Opening of Vigan. I say that it is ‘El Abra de la Cordilleras tambien’.
Abra, a province where Gabriela Silang retreated to and continued the revolt after the death of her husband Diego Silang in Ilocos, and where Father Balweg fought for the rights of the tribes of the Cordilleras, paving the way for the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region, ought to be appreciated and considered for a visit.
In 2017, Abra will celebrate its 100th year as a province. Visit Abra and explore the Cordilleras.