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The road ended an hour off Bangued in Manabo, Abra.  For many travelers, tourists particularly, the lack of a road is a discouragement and a dead end. The current of the Abra River was too strong for walking, biking or off-riding with our pick-up. But this was precisely why we went to Abra’s southernmost municipality of Tubo bordering Ilocos Sur and Mt. Province. This was why we wander.

Because there is no road – or in this case, half-roads, quarter-roads, river bed-turned-roads, wooden roads – there are many details on the wayside that many will miss because the convenience of concrete and asphalt make them care about the end of the journey, and not what happens before they get there.

Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet, cajoled to wanderers in Campos de Castilla: “Your footsteps are the road, and nothing more: wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” So we made the road in Manabo to Tubo by ferrying and storying it.

A couple of years ago, the hubby and I would have gone to Abra for its wildness but we would not have braved taking our daughter. Ask about Abra and you get Conrado Balweg or Cordillera People’s Liberation Army.  Google Abra and you get private armies.

Abra’s kind of wildness used to be shaped by political bloodletting with clans, despite intermarriages, also hired saka-saka (barefoot) and pro assassins to eliminate each other.  Some kind of hiatus has settled at least until the next elections, and the wildness is reserved for waterfalls, summits, rivers, trails and caves that travelers with a bad case of wanderlust could only imagine.

Over dinner and red wine, we get a rundown of the terrain and possible contacts from George Lalin, a tourism consultant from the Office of Congressman JB Bernos. Passing by Bucay municipality to eat breakfast with Jun Rosales and Nides Paligutan at Kubo ni Zek, also tourism consultants and history buffs, we get a rundown of the political affairs and more contacts from the Explorers and Volunteers for Abra Tourism (EVAT) which they lead with Lalin.

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Lining up to cross the Abra River, one vehicle at a time. Photo: Bugan Ni-Rosipan

So we lined up our pick-up to wait for our turn at the single ferry, behind people, jeepneys, trucks, cars and motorcycles to cross the Abra River one at a slow time. In Luba municipality, we left the road and bounced over stones staying parallel to the river, and passing under the longest footbridge which nobody seemed to cross either because of the hour (after lunch) or due to the dangerous, twisted steel slab that only kids would dare cross.  Our butts get a reprieve from springing over a dry river bed as we paid PhP100 (around US$2) to cross a private, wooden bridge only to greet more stones on the other side.

We got to Barangay Kili in Tubo with enough time before sunset greeted by a group of women from the Rural Improvement Club led by Remy and Luneza Barcena. With the pick-up parked at the very end of the road, we started the short hike through the poblacion which was akin to Batad in Banaue before electricity, the inns and pizza places when it could only be reached by backpackers and NGO workers.

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Rice terraces, river, waterfalls, hot spring nourished by the indigenous Maeng in Kili. Photo: Bugan Ni-Rosipan

The indigenous Maeng (a sub-tribe of the Tingguian) in Kili still worked the land, their labors evident on the yellow sheen of the narrow, concrete foot path, bound on the sides by happy stalks of newly-harvested palay (rice grains). Across the river and the town on the mountain slopes are rice terraces, also yellow and still worked, by the looks of them, with no houses or electric posts from population sprawls yet disrupting the view and threatening food security. Kids ran home with buckets of shrimps and river fish called paleleng bundled for dinner followed by older brothers with gun spears.  The Barcena sisters say the elders still held sway here, and the old ways are still practiced.

We heard it before we saw it, the Kili waterfalls raised such thunder, the acoustic amplified by a circle of continuous gray-black rock wall. There is a sandy area closer to the river bed behind a boulder that would have shielded us from the mist and spray but when it rained and the waters rose, we opted to stay the night in a hut with no door on top of the highest rock.

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Kili Falls at the end of the road.  Photo: Bugan Ni-Rosipan

The energy from the great falls was too yang for deep slumber which was probably why behind the rampaging waters was another rock wall spurting fumes and scorching water. The locals built a small pool a few meters above the quieter part of the river to contain the hot flow, and here the energy is more yin, softer and relaxing. Kili may be at the end of the road but instead of a dead-end or accumulated static, the balance is most felt here: cold and hot, booming and quiet, modern and old, wildness and kindness.

Read related story:

Roading to Abra on an 8-Year Old’s Question: Who was the Gabriela Silang’s Mother?