Sunday, August 21, 2016

Agog over Agusan del Norte (Part 1)

Agape. Aglow. Agog. These three best describe what I felt during my sojourn to one of Caraga Region’s most progressive provinces—Agusan del Norte, which I’d like to call AgNor for short. Sounds exage, all right, but can’t blame me for being overwhelmed by what I saw there. Geez, it seemed like ages since I first set foot in that part of Mindanao so a revisit is a must!  
The clean and green Cabadbaran River in the provincial capital

Cabadbaran Bridge

After putting my AgNor escapade in the back burner for five years, I finally pushed through with it. Although I was able to return to Butuan City in 2014, I didn’t get the chance to roam around the province itself. It’s a protracted adventure that had to be shelved on numerous occasions to give way to other meanderings in Luzon and the Visayas. These past two years, however, I promised myself to devote more time to my escapades around Mindanao. 
Agusan del Norte Provincial Capitol in Butuan City


The itinerary I had drafted for my sojourn to AgNor required at least four days, including travel time. Good thing, I found the chance to do it because of the many declared holidays this month, giving me enough time to roam around the province. Excitedly, I packed my stuff and drove up north to take a peek at the province’s rustic charms.

The province is home to the deepest lake in the Philippines...Lake Mainit

Driving solo once again, I embarked on an exciting five-hour joyride to Northeastern Mindanao. From where I stayed in Davao City, I sped through the highways of several towns and cities: Panabo City, the municipality of Carmen and Tagum City in Davao del Norte and then the towns of Compostela Valley—Nabunturan, Montevista and Monkayo.

Approaching the border between Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur, I rested for several minutes before speeding my way to the bustling city of Butuan. Breezing through the municipalities of Trento, Bunawan, and Rosario at high speed, I reached the progressive town of San Francisco—fondly called San Franz by the locals—around noontime.  
A black sand beach in the port town of Nasipit

When hunger and thirst started bothering me in San Franz, I stopped over at one of the karinderias near the highway before heading for the capital town of Prosperidad, the nearby municipality of Sibagat and then onward to Bayugan City. Over lunch, I thought of some possible changes in my itinerary that day. Out of the blue, I wanted to make a detour to the Agusan Marsh!

Declared by former President Fidel Ramos as a protected area, the marshland is famous for being the abode of Lolong, who, at a staggering 20 feet, was named the world’s largest captive crocodile! Meeting the celebrity creature was one of the reasons why I’ve been yearning to go to Agusan years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could see him live in the flesh. 

On second thought, I realized more time was needed to scour the wetlands. Besides, I wanted to bask in the beauty of the marsh without rushing myself, enjoying the sanguinity of my moments there while snapping at one of the most important habitats for rare flora and fauna. So, I dropped the notion of drifting to the protected swamps, reserving it for the future.  

Mindanao's longest: The Diosdado Macapagal Bridge links the various towns belonging to Agusan del Norte with Caraga's regional center, Butuan City, as well as neighboring provinces and regions

With my tummy bursting at the seams, I hit the road anew. Driving smoothly through the two Agusans, I was beaming with satisfaction at the improved road condition. For decades, the road network going to Butuan from Davao gained notoriety for being one of the island’s worsts. It was so laden with potholes, cracks and ruts that it became the butt of travelers’ jokes.

One gag I could still recall warns women passengers using IUD about going there as they run the risk of slipping out the device while passing through the godforsaken routes! Good thing, the once dreaded roads linking the province and her twin, Agusan del Sur, with their neighbors—Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and the two Surigaos—have either been concreted or asphalted.

Apparently, the improvement, rehabilitation and construction of several kilometers of farm-to-market roads and bridges in recent years have greatly contributed to improving the region’s socioeconomic condition. These have facilitated trading activities, providing more employment opportunities and lowering post-harvest losses and transport costs.
Five hours down the road, I reached Butuan late in the afternoon. Driving around, I couldn’t help but marvel at the veritable signs of progress strewn all over. These, I surmised, came about as a result of the two legislations that reorganized Mindanao’s administrative regions, which, in turn, reshaped the Agnor’s socioeconomic and political landscape.

At present, the province is composed of ten municipalities (Carmen, Nasipit, Buenavista and Las Nieves on the western side and Magallanes, Remedios T. Romualdez, Tubay, Santiago, Jabonga and Kicharao on the eastern side) as well as two cities, Butuan (independent highly urbanized city even if it’s geographically within the province) and Cabadbaran, the provincial capital.

Cabadbaran's City Hall

If I’m not mistaken, AgNor used to be part of the old Northern Mindanao (Region X) until its integration with Caraga (Region XIII) by virtue of a law promulgated in the mid-1990s. Consequently, its provincial capital and seat of government was transferred from Butuan City to the then municipality of Cabadbaran (now a city, too) pursuant to another law that took effect in 2000. 

Caraga Region, which is almost similar in composition to the original Provincia de Caraga in the 1600s, is made up of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat Islands, as well as the cities of Bayugan, Cabadbaran, Bislig, Surigao, Tandag and, of course, Butuan. Talk about history repeating itself. Whew!

All in all, the entire escapade to Agnor enabled me to cover two regions (Davao and Caraga), four provinces (Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte), seventeen municipalities and five cities (Panabo, Tagum, Bayugan, Butuan and Cabadbaran) that form part of Northern and Southern Mindanao. What a journey it had been!  :-D

 (to be continued…)

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