Tuesday, August 26, 2014

to Ilocos and back!

I just had to put time stamps along the way because I wanted to monitor how long it would take me to drive all the way to Bangui, Ilocos Norte and back again to Calamba, Laguna. 655 kilometres. Seven highways. Three days. No chocolate in the car. Challenge accepted. :)

Ate Bing was with me on this fun road trip. The rest of the museum hoppers, however, opted out. It would have been even more fun if the whole gang went to Ilocos with us!

August 22

Ate Bing and I set off from Los Baños. Our adventure to Ilocandia has begun!

Time to gas up in Quezon City. Hello again, Eastwood! Traffic in Ortigas was heavy so it's quite a slow drive in C5.

August 23

We made our first pit stop in Tarlac City, 129 km north of Eastwood City. Too bad that this wasn't the end of our journey. Hacienda Luisita has a lot of sights to offer tourists. Next time, next time... When I'm not a passerby.

And we're off to Ilocos Sur! Our route took us through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), and then the Manila North Road all the way to Ilocandia.

As always, road conditions just had to slow us down. We were stuck in Villasis and Urdaneta City, Pangasinan. No biggie; it was nice to drive on long stretches of road after those road blocks… and we finally took the last bridge to enter La Union!

La Nuestra Señora de Asunción, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, was our first stop in this cultural tour/ food trip of the northwest. This church is sitting atop a hill, with a commanding view of the quiet town of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur.

After braving the thunderstorm that started at Santa Maria, we arrived at Grandpa's Inn, Vigan, Ilocos Sur... 300 kms away from Tarlac City. Goodness, this has got to be my longest drive to date!

Dinner... We ate at Cuisina Felicitas. The menu suggests pairing dinoydoy (squash and bitter gourd) with igado (pork ragout with bell pepper and green peas) and so we did. Then we also had sopas ti kappo paria ken saluyot (clam soup with bitter gourd and saluyot leaves)... Delicious dinner right after that long stretch of road!

Just when I thought my energy level has dwindled, I found my second wind. Ate Bing and I went on a walking night tour of the famous Calle Crisologo and the town plaza. Because of the rain, we did stop by Café Leona for Dutch Speculoos ice cream, cappuccino, and Chocolate de Vigan, but we didn't dine al fresco.

August 24

After breakfast and souvenir shopping, we set off to see Vigan when the sun was up. Calle Crisologo looks so different! I'm glad that we explored the city at night when the crowd wasn't there because it showed a quiet town. The morning hustle and bustle, on the other hand, showed what a vibrant place Vigan is.

Our next stop was Badoc, Ilocos Norte, the birthplace of Juan Luna. He is one of the Philippines' best painters in the late 1800s. The museum is currently closed for renovation so we didn't get to go inside. We ended up interviewing a tricycle driver, who was resting under the shade of a mango tree across the museum, about the house being repaired.

Paoay Church stood as a backdrop as Ate Bing and I ate lunch at the home of the pinakbet pizza pie, Café Herencia. It still is one of the most imposing churches I've seen, ever. As Professor Paul Zafaralla used to say, the Paoay Church shows the extremes in Earthquake Baroque architecture. We opted for good old sinigang to fill us up and hydrate us at the same time. I was so glad to see that the interior of the church was finally being repaired. It no longer looked gloomy inside.

The scenic route we had taken en route to Bangui allowed us to catch a glimpse of the Paoay Lake. It was just like a mirror! Perfect wakeboarding conditions! But I wanted to see the sand dunes so off we went to Barangay Calayab to see them. I was also curious to see what Fort Ilocandia looks like now, after venturing there a long time ago by mistake… back in high school.

While on our way to Bangui, I thought that it's early enough to make a pit stop at the Cape Bojeador lighthouse in Burgos. We are supposed to see the sunset in Bangui and it's just 20 km away. The lighthouse is on top of a hill and we had to drive up the steep and narrow incline. It was worth the side trip because the view of the sea and the town below is awesome. Mang Celso, the lighthouse maintenance man, gave us a few insights about the place too.

The windmills of Bangui first came into view. We had a snacks at Kangkang Windmill Cafe, just a stone's throw away from the giant windmills. Since the windmills were on the beach, I just had to stop and be on it. :) I didn't swim though because the tide looks strong. Back at the café, I had the longganisa burger and a buko shake... Yum!! While we're eating and resting, another group was hogging the microphone of the karaoke machine. So the café ambiance was, at that time, lost to me. However, this situation just proves that even in the remotest edges of the Philippines, the karaoke machine makes its presence felt.

I didn't hope to see a good sunset while along the Bangui Bay because of the cloud cover. However, the sun shone brightly on its descent as it escaped the clouds. So Ate Bing and I raced back to Cape Bojeador to catch the sunset at a lay-by along the AH26. 

And we're back to Laoag City, our sleep stop for the day. It was a 652-km drive from Los Baños to Bangui. Good thing Balay de Blas is such a comfy place to sleep in... But first, dinner. Tomorrow would surely a long day. It'd be an almost nonstop 560-km drive.

Due to a mix-up in the kitchen, dinner in Samaramsam Restaurant started really late. Thankfully, the manager and the head waitress were very gracious... and the food was just heavenly. The dinakdakan was like sisig stewed in Ilocano vinegar, chilis, and red onions. It reminded me of kulao but with meat instead of banana hearts. Then the poque-poque was eggplant cooked in egg, but not like torta. The egg was moist and soft while the vegetables (onions, tomatoes) remained firm and juicy... yet another example of Filipino cuisine's penchant for counterpoint. It was so yummy! 

August 25

We're back at Samaramsam Restaurant for breakfast of champs... Longganisa with fried rice, and tomatoes, plus some good old canned orange juice. These better keep me energized; I was bracing myself for the long drive home!

Pit stop, of all places: SM Hypermart, Laoag! I had to get an ice chest for my longganisa because it's going to be in the car for a long time. Alas, no cheap ice chests here. But instead of just setting off, Ate Bing and I walked over to the sinking bell tower of this city... Right across the street from the church. I found it strange that the belfry has to be outside the church grounds. Maybe it was built there so in case an earthquake rocked Laoag, the belfry wouldn't topple over the church. Who knows?

We just had to take a pit stop in Sinait so I could buy garlic and onions to bring home. During this stop, I started regretting not stopping in Pasuquin for the biscochos.

Pasalubong, for me, took the form of local produce and delicacies. I wanted to buy bagnet in Vigan. Time, however, was definitely not on my side. As tempting as it was to take a side trip back in Vigan, I opted not to. I want to be home in 13 hours! We had, instead, a brief stop at a roadside pasalubong center before we started the ascent in Bantay, Ilocos Sur to the seaside town of Santa. I was quite disappointed that the food was just pastillas, yema, and bibingka... Nothing uniquely Ilocano; I guess the recipes are Ilocano but the names have been adapted for southern visitors... To avoid neophobia.

It’s a relatively relaxing drive south through Ilocos. As we approached La Union, I knew that we were really on our way home. This road trip was about to end… Kobe Bryant’s poster welcomed us back to La Union, too.

So, it's been eight hours since we set off from Laoag. And we're stuck in traffic in Villasis, Pangasinan. But it appeared like I've driven at the same pace as during our trip north: 300 km in eight hours. Slow? Yes. But it's not me... We passed a lot of long stretches of one-lane Manila North Road because of extensive repairs up in Ilocos. 

Famished! It must be fun to have dinner at Matutina's in Urdaneta but we still had a long way to go. So, we skipped dinner there and opted to buy food to go at the closest McDonald's. Thanks to the traffic jam along the Manila North Road, it took us two hours to get our meals! No rest for the weary... More than 200km to go and I had class the next day!

Driving at 100 kph, I thought Ate Bing and I made good time. It took about 30 minutes to traverse the TPLEX and maybe another 30 minutes to cross the SCTEX. I was so happy with the highly possible prospect that we’d reach Laguna in about 90 minutes once entering the NLEX (given the lateness of the hour). That was dampened, however, when we approached the San Simon southbound exit. Twitter said that there’s a road accident up ahead involving a trailer truck… this was going to become one long night of sitting in traffic jams. 12 hours and counting. *sigh*

We escaped the snarled traffic in San Simon, Pampanga! I do hope that there were no injured people in the accident. In the meantime, Ate Bing and I finally got to stop at Shell of Asia in Guiguinto, Bulacan for my much needed venti dose of caffeine in the form of caramel machiatto. I mean, we still had about 90 km of driving to reach Calamba. I desperately needed the energy boost. A brief stop, and then we were off again. My goal of reaching Calamba before midnight… gone. Now, it’s all about driving home with enough energy to do so safely.

August 26

Finally, I got home, safe and sound!! I can’t believe it… I drove 15 hours, with minimal stops, from Laoag City to Calamba! I did have to depend on a large Coke from McDonald’s and the Starbucks coffee to bring me home, but I did it! This has got to be my longest drive to date!!

Certainly was a long driving adventure! Next time I'm doing this, I'd like to go back to Laguna via AH26. Now that will be a literal round trip! :)