Today I’m on travel guide mode. Bear with me as we visit a familiar place.
Some friends who have seen the Nordis weblog have asked us about the postcard-perfect photo that graces its masthead.
It shows a narrow strip of rocky shoreline where lush green mountain meets blue-gray sea. Along the shoreline, kissed by sun and salt spray, is a long stretch of concrete bridge, a viaduct gracefully winding through steep cliffs.
This is the Patapat Viaduct, an elevated concrete highway built astride the headlands where Ilocos Norte shares borders with Cagayan and Apayao. It is part of the highway that runs straight north along the Ilocos coast, then veers eastward as it follows the edge of the Luzon landmass facing the Babuyan islands.
Upon reaching Pagudpud, the northernmost town of Ilocos Norte, you pass through a 16-km mountain road laced with rainforest vegetation, with occasional glimpses of the sea. Then you come to the Patapat viaduct and a spectacular view of Pasaleng Bay.
This is the Kalbario-Patapat National Park, 3,616 hectares of dipterocarp forest on rugged terrain covering Pagudpud and nearby Adams town. BirdLife International lists 19 threatened and restricted-range bird species that have been sighted around the park. These birds include the spotted buttonquail, the flame-breasted fruit-dove, the Philippine eagle-owl, and the Luzon hornbill.
“In that case,” Kabsat Kandu says, “I should really go there next summer with my air gun, while the bird supply lasts. The hornbill’s beak will look nice on my native headdress.”
“I doubt that,” I remind my feisty neighbor. Big birds no longer thrive in large flocks around Mt. Sicapoo and Mt. Simminublan (part of the park), which are being denuded of old-growth forest like Mt. Data and Mt. Pulog. They say the high demand for fuel wood is the culprit, but large-scale logging and cash crop operations are also threats.
“Don’t add to the problem by shooting down precious birds,” I tell Kandu. There’s been enough shooting down of innocent lives already. “Just go there and shoot pictures of people bathing in the sea.”
Pagudpud has long tracts of clean beach where visitors – poets and lovers and tourists alike – could loll and stroll around without crowding each other. But in my mind, these days, its beaches evoke the air of a young widow, forlorn and beautiful, desolate in her dignity.
That’s because Pagudpud is home to a friend now gone – church activist and people’s martyr, Jose Manegdeg III.
Killed by a death squad last year on another deserted stretch of the long Ilocos coast, Pepe can no longer be with his family, or with his colleagues, to enjoy long talks and walks on the beach, to work together, to share weal and woe for the common cause we fight for.
But there it lives, the spirit of Pagudpud and Pepe together in my mind. It soars over beach and forest, waterfall and viaduct, a great hornbill eluding mindless hunters. It crosses our thoughts, in quiet moments of day and night, like whirlpools turning with the tide.
I will have time yet, after the rains, to visit that familiar place. #
Author’s note: First published under my Pathless Travels column in the Northern Dispatch Weekly (Nordis) issue of September 22, 2006, this short piece is being reposted here on International Human Rights Day. Many changes have happened since then. The Nordis site no longer displays the famous Pagudpud viaduct scene; I was able to visit the place some months after writing the column; 11 years have passed since Pepe Manegdeg fell literally by the roadside, a victim of EJK under the Gloria Arroyo regime, on November 28, 2005; and then President Arroyo was replaced by Aquino, who in turn was replaced by current president Duterte. Pepe’s killing remains unsolved to this day.
Recent news updates on the Manegdeg killing: