Aside from my hometown, Roxas in Isabela, there is this one place i consider my home. The municipality of Piat in the province of Cagayan, is my birthplace and my second home when i was in elementary. We used to live in this place for so many years because my mother and grandma are natives of this place. Piat, is not one of the richest municipalities, in fact it is only classified as 4th class, but it is very special in other ways. It is being labelled as the "Pilgrimage Center of the North" simply because it is the home of the black Virgin Mary known as "Our Lady of Piat" or "Apo Baket" in the local language.
I haven't visited this place for such a long time, not until my grand mother died last September 2012. From Manila, i traveled all the way to Roxas, Isabela. From Tuguegarao City, it is a 30-minute travel through van. Passing by the municipality of Solana, the huge arc with an itawes phrase, "Maddulot Tera" welcomes us to Piat.
(Piat Cagayan welcome arc.)
When i was in the car, i was thinking how big would be the changes that will welcome me upon aboarding. I eventually found out, there's none. Still, the place is very tranquil, the people are so devoted to the patroness and the atmosphere is sanctified. I can still see the "kalesa" i used to ride when we visit the church, i can still hear the birds, i can still smell the scent of the tobacco and i can still speak fluently in Itawes dialect.
When we aboard, we immediately hired a tricycle to "Dappit" or Riverside. I remember when my grandmother brawl with the tricycle drivers who refuse to bring us to the riverside. The road is bumpy, and requires a lot of effort to reach the Cagayan river. I remember those times when the river are full of bathing people, women who wash clothes and running kids but now i can only see carabaos and the dissapointing mud-like color of the water. "Dugayung", our barangay is located across the river, it is one of the barangays separated by the mighty Cagayan river from the poblacion. We need to ride a "banca", which is worth 5 pesos to reach the side of the plateau, there is no life jacket or any protection, its fun, yet scary. Years ago, we need to walk few kilometers to reach our house but now, there are already circulating tricycles in the area.
(From the left: Kalesa, Piat logo, Some random post from the LGU meaning "Ayusin, Linisin ang Poblacion 01", Cagayan River, Carabao)
I really missed wandering in this place, there are not much technology, weak cellphone receptions, no stunning buildings, just you and your unforgettable experiences. The view is so relaxing, and it induces the brain to reflect on your life. Forget your busy world, forget your problems, forget your boss, forget your studies, forget your relationship, just enjoy the rawness of the place. I consider my grandmother a mediator between me and this place, and now that she's gone, i feel so sad thinking the possibility of not visiting this place again for the rest of my life.
Visiting this place is incomplete without taking a look at one of the only 12 Minor Basilicas in the Philippines. It's hard to leave the place without even looking or touching the venerate lady. The "Basilica Minore Nuestra Senora de Piat" or simply "Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Piat" is one of the old churches in Cagayan made up of red bricks. The church is so simple, but the feeling you get upon entering it is different. It is the home of the 407-year old Black Virgin Mary from Macau named Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, until it was named Our Lady of Piat in 1623. It was recognized by Rome, Italy in 1999 uplifting the church status into Minor Basilica, the fourth of its kind in the country. The first thing you will notice is the welcome arc, because it is located at the back of the church. The interior is of curved ceiling made up from "lawanit", a special type of wood, it also has a facade and a tall bellfry. There are also various establishments surrounding it including a museum and the life sized representation of the Stations of the Cross. One thing i love in the church is the staircase at the back of the church wherein there is a window leading to the back of the Virgin Mary. Long line of people, hoping to touch and smell the lady welcomed us. The dress is so ambitious with great details, and of course it smells so good!
(Basilica of Our Lady of Piat)
(Center: Our Lady of Piat enthroned in the church altar, Left/Right side: Our Lady of Piat sculpture at the Stations of the Cross)
Another attraction is the "Bukal ng Buhay". The native believes that the spring is miraculous, after it appeared through a dream of an OFW. According to her, the Lady of Piat insisted her to go home to Piat and find the hidden spring on the foothill where the sanctuary of Piat is situated. It was flocked by devotees from various provinces, until the local government fenced it to safeguard the well. I remember when it was featured on various television programs like Jessica Soho Report (now Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho), Trip na Trip and Rated K. It even managed to call the attention of news programs in the Philippines and abroad. I've been to that spring twice, and that was long time ago when i was still struggling from severe asthma attack.
Aside from that, there is also this delicacy that you cannot find anywhere in the Philippines. The "Pawa" can only be seen on Piat, it is made of glutinous rice with a rich peanut filling. Tasting the pawa gives you a glimpse to heaven! Everytime we visit Piat, we are taking home boxes of this delicious food. :) And if you are planning to visit this place, don't dare miss the pawa, im sure you'll fall in love with the taste.
(From left: "Napannu ka ta Grasya" meaning "Full of Grace" in the church's welcome arc; the delicious pawa; me touching the Virgin Mary)
In my entire life,i never witnessed the "Sambali Festival" celebrated every July 2nd and 3rd. A procession of Our Lady of Piat from the mouth of Cagayan River in Aparri, Cagayan to the Buntun Bridge in Tuguegarao City. That was really a long travel, and it seems exciting to let the Virgin Mary pass by you. :)
To sum it all up, Piat may not be as famous as Cebu or Davao or Manaoag but this place surely gives a fair competition when it comes to experience. I thank God for giving me people that are devoted to the Black Virgin Mary, who introduced me to our "Apo Baket". And if the time comes that i see myself dying, the Our Lady of Piat will be the first and last divine entity whom i seek guidance and protection.
(Our Lady of Piat Candle bin)
(I and my sister out an inside the church)
(Basilica Minore Nuestra Senora de Piat welcome arc)
(Our Lady of Piat enshrined)
(The church and the vendors of delicacies)
(Peace Be With You)
(Left: I, Papa and Mama riding a boat. Right: Mama ready to touch the Virgin Mary)
(From left to right: Full smile beside the church, Lerma and I on our way to the river, Ate posing in an acacia tree and on a tricycle)
(Roaming around the Stations of the Cross)
(Family picture at the church facade, sayang wala si papa naiwan sa sasakyan)