Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Norzagaray, Bulacan


Five BACKPACKERS joyously celebrated the start of summer by hopping on a road trip in the beautiful town of Norzagaray, a first class municipality in the nearby province of Bulacan. The town is endowed with a lot of natural resources and beautiful scenic spots. It is the headquarters of the biggest cement making companies in the Philippines. Among the beautiful scenic spots are the historic Pinagrealan Cave, Bakas, Bitbit bridge, Hill Top, Ipo Dam and Angat Dam which is the biggest hydroelectric dam in the country. We visited four of these mentioned visit-worthy spots.


by: Ivan Ignacio






BP LEAD'S RESIDENCE


Boarding Bubu Chacha, (soon to be) BP Kenji's car and his trusted partner in his travels, were BPs Angel, Liz, Weng and me (BP Ivan). We started the expedition in the evening traversing Manila to Norzagaray via Fairview, Quezon City and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. We spent the night in our house. Regardless of the early itinerary the next day, we still managed to bond and had socials that night. It was a memorable one because that was the first time I bonded in a lengthy amount of time with my father over alcohol.

A helping of T-Ice

Waking up at 7 in the morning, the non-Bulakenos felt the rustic vibe of the town - fresh air with the combined sounds of roosters cooing, birds chirping and dogs barking. We prepped up for a long day, excited about the target spots that we had lined up. I am a resident of this town but I haven't been nor explored some of these wonders so my anticipation was just as high as theirs.

BP Lead Ivan excited to explore his hometown!

Most of these target destinations are located in the rural part of Norzagaray - that part of the town where there are less people and more Mother Nature. Bubu Chacha warmed up at the Poblacion-Bigte road which I used to take whenever I (go home from Manila to Garay) wanted to have a side seeing with nature. The other way in getting to Norzagaray, Bulacan is to take the North Luzon Expressway which is convenient but more polluted and crowded. While seated inside the car, I could not believe it why it took me twenty five years to go on a planned tour around my own hometown! Well, what matters is that I did. And I even tagged some friends with me in witnessing my town's treasures.



SANCTUARIO LA PAZ  AND IPO DAM


The first stop over was at an overlooking at Sanctuario La Paz. It is actually a memorial park aesthetically landscaped which was truly enticing and made us drop by. We rested while enjoying the view of the Central Cordilleras and the big cement factories in front of us.

BP Angel at Sanctuario La Paz
We turned left when we got to the junction at Brgy. Minuyan. We passed by the marker of Pinagrealan Cave, which can offer a nice spelunking experience. I was not able to traverse this cave when I visited it two years ago but I heard that there is another cave, Gray Cave in the vicinity worthy of a visit after a Pinagrealan Cave traverse. From that marker, the presence of civilization slowly disappeared. We were slowly being escorted inside the earth that surrounds the gifted town. We encountered a fork somewhere along the way. The right path lead to Ipo Dam and the left turn was the entrance to Angat Dam, the biggest hydroelectric dam that serves power in most parts of Luzon.

Don't be surprised to see a lot of these on the road.
Norzagaray, Bulacan is home to the biggest cement making companies in PH!

Despite deviating from the Ipo Dam turn, we were still treated with an astounding view of the dam and the mountains circumventing it when we passed by a nice view deck. Here, the friendly heat of the morning sun energized our spirits more and the vista of the dam was a delight to our eyes. And of course, with Liz' trusty DSLR, we never let that scenic view escape.

The dam and the weird tree at the view deck
BP Weng's oblivion

BPs Angel and Ivan steal a 'holding hands' moment



ANGAT WATERSHED FOREST RESERVE


The Angat Dam or formally named the Angat Watershed Forest Reserve is the largest hydroelectric dam that NAPOCOR (National Power Corporation) built in the whole country. Though named after another town of Bulacan (Angat), the gigantic structure is actually under the jurisdiction of Norzagaray. The dam provides power and irrigation to a wide span of cities and provinces in mainland Luzon.

The wide reservoir of the dam

Getting to the NAPOCOR Headquarters is kind of tough due to security. We had to secure a permit and luckily, I have an aunt who reside there. She arranged for these permits the night before. Our car Bubu Chacha had to be subjected to three separate checkpoints while going to the location of the forest reserve. You won't be able to walk inside it if you do not have a permit. After succumbing to the strict inspection of the guards, we entered the gate of the Angat Dam site. Unfortunately the NAPOCOR underground office was closed during weekend so we did not get the chance of experiencing the elevator ride down to the base of the dam. My mom said there is a control room here where you can see the water outside from the see through glass. Another reason to visit the forest reserve again!

Kenji at the Angat Dam reservoir
An Angel at the reservoir

Our permit was a tour at the reservoir and the floodgate. We were greeted by the former which spans a wide range of space connecting the hills and mountains of the area. That scene itself was very scenic. The BP girls decided to get off the car and just walk over the kilometer long road because it was truly captivating and refreshing. On our left was the reservoir and on our right was a cliff where a NAPOCOR center and the catch basin can be seen. On our north and south were just abundant green trees and plants from the hills and mountains around. It was refreshing and majestic.


The BACKPACKERS in Norzagaray, Bulacan

We hopped in the car again to advance to where the actual dam is located. There were three pumping stations and during our visit only one floodgate was actively scooping water from the reservoir down the basin. The normal water level in the reservoir is 210 meters.

The water level was at 211 meters (left), one floodgate (right) was open during our visit

Looking at the reservoir
The water of the catch basin at the bottom was crystal blue





HILL TOP - BULACAN'S LITTLE BAGUIO


Barangay San Lorenzo, or more known to the residents of Norzagaray as Hill Top, is the actual location of the dam and the NAPOCOR employees residence. From its name, it is the top most part of that hill which is a part of the Cordillera range which was easily converted as a residence. It was dubbed as the Little Baguio of Bulacan due to its regular cold climate throughout the year.

BP Liz at Hill Top
After our invigorating visit in the mighty Angat Dam, we headed to the Guesthouse of Hilltop where an astounding view of the Dam and the power plant can be seen. A bench is strategically placed where one can breathe the cool, fresh air while looking at the amazing views below. The Guesthouse is the only place where a non HillTop resident can rent an inn to stay for the night. For just 800Php a night, you can have access to all these natural wonders (with a permit of course).

BP Weng at Guesthouse
The background isn't a painting...It's real!

Kenji - the boss at Hill Top!
We spent the afternoon here - touring the compound provided by NAPOCOR to its employees. There is a school, a park and a playground where we felt the cool breeze dominating the area. Reason for being dubbed as Bulacan's little Baguio, I guess. Then we went to my aunt's house where she served us the biggest and most delicious roasted fish I have tasted. The reservoir is a source of livelihood for the people residing in the area as they breed thousands of tilapia throughout the wide water. My mom enjoys calling this as 'Hill Top's Finest Tilapias'. After dozing off from a mouthwatering lunch, we boarded Bubu Chacha and exited the hill.

The BACKPACKER ladies inside my aunt's house at Hill Top



BITBIT RIVER AND BRIDGE


The next attraction that we visited is popular to extreme sports lovers: Bitbit River. The infamous Bitbit bridge of Norzagaray is here where the adventurous buckle up their carabeners as they rappel down from the tall structure down to the river. I have seen a lot of pictures of activities here from the regular rappelling to doing the insane Aussie Rappelling to the jaw dropping Bridge Free Fall. But its accessibility and its structure (height and strength) coupled with the wonderful view of nature in full circle are the reasons why it is a favorite among thrill seekers.

The tall Bitbit bridge - the sanctuary for adrenaline rush

We went down the bridge where a park (for camping and swimming) was conveniently constructed. There were cottages lined up in the river banks. This area was shallow. Because it was a weekend, there were a lot of people in the area. This natural resource is flocked by locals and tourists for an afternoon of fine, river bathing experience. But it also offers an extreme adventure as big chunks of rocks are located in some parts of it. Campers usually climb here, and jump to the deep part of the river.

That's one of Bitbit River's rock formation

A local jumping from the rock
Despite the sign 'No Jumping Allowed', a lot of young adults still hopped from the top of the rock, some in even the most nauseating form (head first). Angel, Liz and I decided to climb the tallest rock formation and joined the ecstasy of the teenagers. It was a slippery ascent - made harder because we were not really on our regular mountaineering clothes. We were almost at the top of the rock but Liz and I did not pursue because its top was overcrowded and the rocks were becoming more slippery as ten-time jumpers went back and forth on it. My knees failed me (and Liz who really wanted to go on top) as they became wobbly as I tried to scramble from the footholds. It was reminiscent of my first Toreng Bato ascent, only this time, the whole wall against your body portion was four times longer than that of Toreng Bato. I guess I was not in the mood for some extreme stunts after comfortably seating inside Kenji's car the whole day. But again, another reason to come back!

Couple climbing the rock formation

BP Liz thirsty for an extreme adventure
A view of the river from the cottage


Matapang the Lion and the Bitbit river

After an action packed road trip (we even visited the nearby town of Angat, Bulacan after Bitbit Bridge), we satisfied ourselves in the best spaghetti in town - at Milagring's Eatery!



That was an awesome Summer Adventure in my beloved Norzagaray! It made me appreciate my hometown even more. It is kind of ironic that I had been to several farther places but had never gotten a chance to explore my own hometown. Well, now I am glad I did.

Have you visited your own hometown?



Photo credits to Liz Honrade
Special thanks to Bubu Chacha, the Lakwatserong Auto

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