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FIRST PERSON: Nothing compares to my home province, Cagayan

I was one of the lucky individuals who got invited last year by the Department of Tourism to join itsFamiliarization Circuit Tour across Cagayan Valley.. 

I’ve been to four provinces in the region, and without bias, nothing compares to my province, Cagayan.

“Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan (Don't be a stranger in your own country) .” I will never get tired of telling this to everyone. 

While it is not completely wrong to visit other places , one should first experience his hometown as a “local”.

When the DOT, through the Santa Ana Tourism Office, introduced its new tourism brand - #YourAdventureParadise, we were expecting that the tour would offer the usual pristine white beaches, beautiful resorts, delectable foods, and a glimpse of the town’s culture, among others. But we were completely wrong after we were immersed in the series of activities conducted.

The tourism brand #YourAdventureParadise is more than the adventures it offers. Here’s why:

YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE YOUR EYES. Santa Ana, Cagayan has proven that the municipality is not only confined with white and pristine beaches as it also promotes ‘fireflies watching’ as one of their tourism attractions. (PIA photo)

‘Fireflies Watching’

Firefly watching in Barangay Casagan offers an odd experience in these days where digitalization is slowly dominating our old days. From the barangay hall, we walked for at least 10 minutes to reach the farm near the foot of the mountain, where the fireflies thrive. The fireflies live in trees called ‘Kullaban’ by the members of the Casagan Tour Guides Association.

In the darkness, we appreciate the light. As soon as we were advised to keep our phones’ lights off and to minimize our voices, the fireflies, one by one, started to astonish us with their presence.

The experience was nostalgic because the ‘fireflies watching’ reminded us of our childhood. If you’re one of those who grew up in the countryside just like me, maybe one of the things you miss as a child is catching fireflies in your backyard. That scenario when you cage the firefly with both hands, peek, and then let go when you’re fed up.

Children in Casagan are very lucky that they are still free to play with fireflies and can still see their light flickering. And if given the chance to experience this again [I surely am], I will bring my nieces and nephews here. And didn’t I tell you as well that if fireflies thrive in an area, it means that it is less polluted? Then it is safe for everyone!

BEHIND THE FOOD IS THE PEOPLE. Members of the Kulinarya de Casagan, who make the native bibingka and serve as tour guides during the firefly watching. The Department of Tourism trained the group. (PIA photo)

The Kulinarya de Casagan also didn’t disappoint. After our fireflies’ experience, we were treated to native foods such as tinola, the famous bibingka, and rice coffee. Every time I visit a place, it amazes me how the members of the organizations that manage the area help one another so that one tourist will have a complete experience. Hats off!

LEARNING FROM THE MASTER. Guilbert Perucho, president of the Diora-Zinungan Belt Fishing Association, demonstrates how to prepare our bait to catch beltfish properly. (PIA photo)

Guilbert Perucho, president, said that in 2004, from their usual 10-kilometer catching area, the group tried to go as far as 18 kilometers, which is now the area for beltfishing.

Beltfishing is not measured by the number of fish caught but rather by the challenge and satisfaction that come with it. If you have had a busy week at the office or home, then put it on your bucket list. From the shore of Diora-Zinungan, only two tourists are allowed per boat, accompanied by two association members who will serve as our banca operators and tour guides.

An approximate one hour of sea travel is expected before reaching the catching area. Life vests are provided, and a green light from the Philippine Coast Guard is needed before going to the sea. Upon reaching the destination, tourists will be taught the technical know-how of beltfishing.

Usually, the activity lasts from one hour to one and a half hours, depending on the tourists’ catch. The tourist’s catch will be theirs and will be cooked by the spouses of the fishermen, which will be served during their lunch.

With our more than one-hour stay in the middle of the sea, it made me realize how difficult fishing is. As a tourist who has never tried in my entire life the actual fishing that fishermen do, my notion that fishing is all about hooking some bait onto your line, throwing it into the water, and waiting for a fish to bite was washed out.

FIRST CATCH. As they say, there is always a first time. Here, the writer shows their first catch during their beltfishing activity. (PIA photo)

“Grabe ang hirap palang maging isang mangingisda (It is very difficult to be a fisherman)"—these  were the words I kept on repeating while we were on board. The reality of being out on the water is that you’re going to spend way more time not catching or fishing than you will reel something in. As soon as we reached the shore, I told myself that the next thing I would buy was fish directly from fishermen. “Hindi na ako tatawad (I will not negotiate to lower the price of the fish) "because I had experienced it firsthand. Salute to all our fisherman-heroes.

More than #YourAdventureParadise

Truly, in Cagayan, fun is endless. And when we say fun, enjoyment is an understatement. With my 4D3N experience of the #YourAdventureParadise Tourism Circuit, more than the enjoyment, the immersion aspect prevailed as it gave me real-life realizations. For me, as a tourist, gone are those days when we only visited one place because it was beautiful and Instagrammable. 

With Cagayan’s newest tourism brand, #EndlessFUNCagayan, the hashtag goes beyond what it has to offer. In the end, more than the place, it’s the people with whom we interact and their untold stories worthy of being shared, and in Cagayan, it’s endless. (OTB/MDCT/PIA Cagayan)

About the Author

Mark Djeron Tumabao

Regional Editor and Social Media Manager

Region 2

An ordinary writer from Cagayan Province. 

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