Often glossed over in tourist brochures and guides on Northern Philippines, the province of Abra holds a storehouse of simple pleasures for the traveller who wants to imbibe nature and culture in refreshing doses. I have never read even quite a few write ups about this underrated province up north except for the corny soft drink commercial on television where four travelling teens passed through a dark-eerie looking tunnel. The tunnel used in that commercial is called the Tangaden Tunnel, one of the official landmarks of Abra Province.
It has also caught my interest when I came across a brochure promoting agri-tourism where in Garreta, a town 15 minutes by public transportation from the provincial capital Bangued, boasts of a farm resort called Pamora Farm that raises French native chicken of the Sasso breed. This variety can grow to as big as one’s thanksgiving turkey.
It turns out that Pamora Farm, a new agri-eco tourist establishment is a Filipino-French Joint Venture that has been operating since the year 2000 raising free range chicken in Garreta, Abra. Pamora Farm’s operation is fully integrated from raising, growing, dressing to packaging these free range chickens, ready for distribution. In Metro Manila one can find these chickens being sold in specialty shops like Santis Delicatessen, Terry’s, and Metro at the Fort. The farm also produces free-range chicken products like chicken liver pate, chicken gizzard pate and free range chicken eggs.
I found my trip to this farm guesthouse interesting since I realized that one need not spend much to go to Provence or other French countryside to have a taste of French hospitality. For me it was a great discovery in my many trips around the country this year. Staying at the farm’s guesthouses may be limited but one gets the feeling of French Filipino complimentary fusion in terms of cuisine and hospitality. As of this writing, Pamora Farm has been recognized by the Department of Tourism as an Eco-agri tourism destination.
Turning off from the Manila North Road at the junction of Narvacan in Ilocos Sur, one enters Abra through the Tangaden tunnel and welcomed by the provincial marker, “Ti Kabalyo.”(the horse) Abra for centuries has been isolated from the rest of the world by towering mountain ranges of the Cordilleras. There natives called Tinguians boasts of rich cultural heritage which colorfully blends with Ilocano customs and traditions. The scenic spots all over the province are tailored for the eyes to behold for indeed theses vistas are better seen for words fail to describe them adequately.
Abra according to popular theory has been derived from the Spanish word “abrir” which means to open, Spanish expeditionary forces found it difficult to penetrate Abra, the only way to the interior being sail in skiffs - a small sailboat with outriggers on the deep, swift flowing Abra River. The culture, customs and traditions of the Tingguians which have transcended and survived the centuries were first recorded by French writer and traveler Paul P. dela Girroniere in his book “Twenty Years in the Philippines.” The urge to see the Tingguians in their native mountain habitats goaded him to journey to the mountain hinterland in what is now Abra. In about the same time, two German travellers Semper and Schanderberg, who were anthropologists also visited Abra and wrote about the vast natural resources and the culture of the natives in the place.
During the Spanish time, Abra was part of Ilocos Sur, until it became a politico-military province in October 1846. In 1917, an executive act by American Governor Franics Burton Harrison was made into law established Abra as an independent province. Of late, the province has rejected joining the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) pointing out that the province belongs to Ilocandia historically, geographically, ethnologically and politically.
The province is home to several illustrious heroes including Gabriela Silang and statesman and former speaker of the house Don Quintin Paredes. In the town of Tayum, the well preserved house of Gabriela Silang is worth a visit. It was here were the flag of the revolution of 1763 against Spanish domination was organized. Gabriela who had Tingguian blood carried on the revolt when her husband Diego Silang was shot in neighboring Vigan. The couple fought the Spaniards to the last breath of their lives together with the thousands of their followers. Worth a visit is the residence of Ambassador Rosario Carino, the former Philippine Ambassador to Sri Lanka and his vast art, Chinese porcelain and rare book collection. In nearby Mary Barbero Park, centuries old acacia trees, natural springs and man made waterfalls await visitors and travellers.
In Bangued, the capital town, one cannot help but notice the impressive façade of the Saint James Cathedral which was built in 1722. The town has a few dining establishments offering authentic Ilocano dishes with distinct Abrenian provincial taste like pinakbet, dinengdeng, dinaldalem (minced pork and its internal organs) and bagnet. One can also order Igat, a fresh water eel, caught in the Abra river, cooked as paksiw or adobo. It is also sometimes dried and served with fresh slice of tomatoes with bagoong (shrimp paste).
Other exotic local fare include Pacpacu, a local vegetable boiled and also served with tomatoes and bagoong; Alingo, meat of wild boar or deer, boiled in lots of tomatoes, onions and ginger mixed with vegetables upo and patola. This meat has been scarce lately because of the ban in hunting these wild animals in the forests. There is also Lodong, a fresh water fish caught in the Abra River especially this time of the year, and cooked deep fried or sarciado (rich stew of tomatoes, garlic, ginger and onion). Of late locals and visitors have been trooping to Pamora Farm for a taste of their free range chicken Pamora cooked as Adobo, afritada, relleno (stuffed chicken) or simply as Tinola or Sinampalukan and served with steaming upland rice.
For souvenirs, get yourself the native weaves of Barrangay Mamarabar in Penarabia town. The handwooven cloth produced in this sitio uses organic dyes to color their textiles. For the ladies, take home with you their native handcrafted jewelry and ethnic furniture using wood from the province’s virgin forests. A visit to Abra province gives pride to its beautiful rustic settings combined with its relaxed mode of lifestyle.
How to get there: Take the Partas Bus either at their EDSA Pasay station or Aurora Blvd, Station in Cubao. Buses leave every hour but is best to take the late night trip which gets you to Bangued in the early morning the following day. One way fare is P890 with stops in Vigan or La Union.
Accommodations: Pamora Farms, located at Km. 396 Garreta, Pidigan Abra. E-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit their website at www.pamorafarm.com
Photos by Teodoro Pelaez.