Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega is one of only two entirely landlocked towns of Northern Samar, estranged from the ocean and the sea. Its fate is to be one of the very few towns of a province known for its marine treasures, with no fishing industry to speak of.
But what it lacks in saltwater marine treasures and beguiling coasts and shorelines, is made up for by a good number of life-giving streams snaking gracefully through its dense forests, flowing freely from mountain springs and gushing waterfalls.
Meanwhile, barrio Bangkerohan continued to flourish until 1903, when a major flood caused by a powerful washed away the entire village, forcing the residents to seek a new resettlement area. They found Campo Lope de Vega to be an ideal site, and thus turned the camp into a barrio, until 1980 when it was established as a full-fledged municipality.
With the completion of the national highway between Catarman and Calbayog, the poblacion of Lope de Vega was transferred from across the river to its present site nearer the national highway. But conscious of the experience of their forefathers the Lope de Veganons built their church and municipal hall on top of a hill where they would be safe from floods that ravaged their homes in the 1900s.
A faster and easier highway
The municipality deems itself fortune to have the concrete national road slicing through it, which allows private and public utility vehicles to traverse down the town. Provincial buses and a few passengers jeepneys prefer to ply the Maharlika Highway to cover more towns, but private vehicles and public utility vans use the Catarman-Lope de Vega-Calbayog thoroughfare as it is the shorter and more convenient route.
Despite the presence of the highway, however, intrepid bangkeros continue to operate their ubiquitous bancas in most of the interior barangays, using the town’s scenic river network and tributaries. Other residents prefer walking over short distance, but rather a necessary alternative, for going around over rough roads and terrains.
According to the town’s municipal profile, for residents of at least six Barangays, hiking is the way to get around, while those in seven other occasionally travel by banca, in addition to the all-weather baktas or hiking. This means that only half of the town’s 22 barangays move about on land vehicles.
Before the highway was built, the town was largely unknown and the economy generally depressed, with any viable and economical means of transportation.
The municipality was likewise a rich recruitment base for an ideology that professes equal and communal sharing of wealth and resources, and promises a better life for all. It was caught two system – one too close ignore, the other too distant to be real and to believe in.
Fortunes and copra prices
As with most towns in Northern Samar, the municipality is heavily dependent on copra for its livelihood, with the people’s economic fortune dictated by the price of copra in the world market or by local copra buyers.
There appears to be no solid structures like factories and warehouses along the highway to indicate any major economic activities. Although efforts to promote business and commerce, including livelihood training and micro-lending, are reportedly in place to target markets in nearby Catarman and Calbayog.
Close to 60 percent of the town’s land area is devoted to farming, mostly coconut trees and abaca, while most of the rest are forest land. With a measly 5 percent planted to other crops, including rice, corn, banana, vegetables, fruits, and other cash crops, there is a constant shortage of food, including rice, in a land otherwise well-suited for agriculture.
Overshadowed by the town’s coconut industry is a seasonal fruit that abounds in the farm of Lope de Vega town in the months of September and October. It is the town’s little known secret as bulk buyers reportedly pass when selling them at the doorsteps of restaurants in Catarman or in the marketplace of Calbayog City. Unlike the varieties grown in Luzon, specifically on Laguna, however, the lanzones from Lope de Vega are smaller, but just as juicy and sweet.
Pride of place
Residents swear there are many possible tourist destinations in the town, but there are no direct access roads going there except through a combination of banca, habal-habal and trekking. They are quick to identify Lope de Vega as one of the most promising tourist destinations in the province, although they are the first to admit that there is a dire need for more access roads to reach the town’s possible tourist spots.
The Dizo or Azucena Falls in Brgy. Bayho, for instance, is a breath-catching jar-like waterfall about six kilometers from the poblacion, accessible by a habal-habal and around 15 to 20 minutes of trekking. Cascades-lovers must be prepared to conquer steep mountain slopes, slippery forest trails, and endlessly snaking streams to get to the visual feast.
Other spectacular destinations are Gasdo Falls, also in Brgy. Bayho, Tugabungan Falls in Brgy. General Luna accessible by banca from brgy. Bayho, and Hibabalayan in Bgry. Osmeña.
Lope de Vega is by and large still a struggling 19th century town, not in the class of Vigan in the Ilocos perhaps, but nonetheless a quaint barrio with the old-fashioned charm of traditional houses made of bamboo poles tied by rattan strands and topped with nipa fronds. It is a special place waiting to be discovered not juby the outside world, but by its own people living in quiet seclusion in the camp of their past, still unaware of the wealth of resources that abound all around them.