STA. ANA, Cagayan — We took a trip to Sta. Ana, Cagayan, a seashore town described as the northernmost tip of Luzon, on Feb. 1-2, 2017. No doubt the place is wonderful, but I have an ambivalent feeling about the adventure: It is both amazing and intriguing.
I was in the company of my cousins – Rose Sable-Coxon, her Briton husband Tony Coxon, her brothers Oscar and Sammie Sable and Oscar’s wife Marilou – when we travelled by van (driven by Sky) from San Mateo, Isabela to Sta. Ana on Feb. 1. Although the travel took more than five hours, it was not boring or tiresome because the scenery by the roadside was all green. Also, it was not hot as it was raining moderately.
The conversation in the van was lively, and this made the trip enjoyable. I have not seen my cousins for years, and there were lot of things to talk about.
Our first stop was at an eatery in Cabatuan, Isabela, where we had lunch of goat meat. The adobo was particularly delicious; it was the dry kind but it was soft and tasty. The “pinapapaitan” was cooked the way it should be. Oscar told me the roadside eatery has many customers.
Resuming the trip, we travelled on a new, short-cut route that passes through the town of Enrile. On the old route which was circuitous, you have to pass through the long Naguilian bridge.
With the new road, we reached Tuguegarao, the capital town of Cagayan, at about 4 p.m. We motored two hours more to reach Sta. Ana, passing through the town of Gonzaga where the Cagayan international airport is located. It was already twilight, and it was raining hard.
After taking dinner at a restaurant that served mostly seafood, we looked for a place where we could sleep overnight. The classy hotels (operated by Chinese) were fully booked, we were told, and we had to go around the town to look for other hotels. We ended up at Costa Carina, a 21-room, beach-front hotel which is owned and operated by Joan Taguba, a gracious, hospitable Ilocana who hails from San Manuel, Isabela.
Costa Carina is a lovely place with a full view of the giant waves in the Pacific Ocean. If you want some kind of post-prandial entertainment, it has a karaoke bar where you can sing to your heart’s content.
We opted, though, to go to the casino which is reportedly operated by Jack Lam, the Chinese tycoon which is at the center of the P50-million bribery scandal involving at least two commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration.
This was the intriguing part of our adventure. Upon entering the casino whose façade is similar to that of the Caesar’s Casino in Las Vegas, we were greeted by and ushered in by Filipino girls wearing red uniforms.
Then we tried to find out if the hotels in the casino complex were indeed fully booked, and instantly our visit turned weird. Directed to go to the reception counter, we asked questions to Chinese girls, and the “talk” went bananas. The girls could hardly speak English, and it took some time before we understood what they were saying.
We asked if the casino has slot machines, but nobody knew what slot machines are.
What intrigued me was that we were nonchalantly looked at by the Chinese girls as if we were strangers. Strangers in our own country? Maybe not, but the fact is that the Chinese are lording it over in that part of our country.
Trip to Sta. Ana: It’s amazing, intriguing
The casino is very different from the casinos in Metro Manila. There were some 500 or so tables and card dealers, but there were no players except at the two baccarat tables. My cousin Oscar told me that it is online gaming, and the bettors are people who are in other parts of the world. This explained the fact that the card dealers were busy shuffling and drawing cards in front of TV monitors.
At the two baccarat tables, most of the players were young Chinese men who were betting big-time. In the first table, the maximum bet is P100,000 ($2,000), and in the second, the maximum is P200,000 ($4,000). The Chinese players frequently placed maximum bets, while the few local players, mostly women, were placing the minimum bet which was P500.
One young Chinese high roller had a winning streak, and he won some P1.6 million after five to six consecutive deals.
After ogling around in the casino for about 40 minutes (it was already 1 a.m.), we retired at Costa Carina.
The next morning, we met Joan Taguba, the owner of the hotel. It was still raining, and she told us that it is the rain at this time of the year that is driving the tourists away. Her hotel, on that day, had only 30 percent occupancy. During summer, she said, all the hotels in town are fully booked.
She told us the No. 1 attraction of the town is a group of seven islands that could be reached by a 45-minute boat ride. She said that a CNN team visited the group of islands, called Palaui, and it was impressed. The team later described in its televised report that the islands, which have varied features and attractions, are among the best in the world.
We later went to a harbor which is the jump-off point to the islands. It was raining hard, and the tidal waves were surging high. The inclement weather prompted a group of boat operators to suspend all trips to the island. It is too risky, said one boat owner.
Disappointed, we consoled ourselves by looking at pictures in an office that show the pristine beauty of Palaui islands.
We promised to ourselves, though, to visit again Sta. Ana in the near future so we could commune with nature on the fabled islands.