The trouble with staying in paradise is that it tends to get boring after a while. Normally I would just plonk myself on the bed and switch the TV on but since our room doesn't come with one (the other available room did, but with only one free channel so why pay more for it), I had to force myself to read a book, which is something that I haven't done for quite a while. Nay, that's not entirely true. I read enough labor and employment books for my thesis at university, so the rest of the time I just want to stare blankly onto something which didn't require much processing.
It took me exactly a week to pick up the book I brought for this trip, which I didn't even think that I would do considering the assortment of gadgets and free wi-fi I seem to find myself surrounded with, but I'm glad I did. The book was sent via Amazon over a year ago by a friend in Spain who was determined to introduce me to modern Iberian literature. For some reason I didn't take the Spanish books with me, and I ended up with two books by Jose Saramago which are brilliant. Everytime I hold a book in my hands which says "Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature" it makes me a bit pissed off that our F. Sionil Jose still hasn't won it. It's worrying because they don't give the prize posthumously, and Sionil isn't exactly getting younger. The other Nobel Laureates I've read are awesome, but none of them made my weep like Sionil's Rosales saga did. I just hope the Nobel Foundation can get their act together and award Sionil for writing THE Filipino novel.
After spending the first half of the day getting lots of sun and jumping into the water for an attempted snorkle (nothing to see in Pagudpud), Pedro and I decided to head back to the resort, change and drive off to Claveria in Cagayan. On our map there was a short road which leads to the Portabaga waterfalls. The road to Claveria from Pagudpud was straightforward enough, so we thought it would take us about 30 minutes to get there, have a bit of look around, maybe lunch if we see somewhere nice. Of course what the map failed to show is that the seemingly straight road to Claveria is actually a mountain road with bits that have collapsed onto the ocean some hundred meters below or enormous boulders blocking half the road from some landslide a few weeks ago. And it was raining so the road was actually quite slippery. Terrified, I was driving extra carefully. Then we crossed the Patipat Viaduct which led to a mini waterfalls on the side of the road. It was gorgeous, and the water was cold.
We drove on and through the town of Sta. Praxedes, and then whizzed past the sign for Portabaga waterfalls and decided to carry on to Claveria for hopefully a cheap lobster lunch, as Hans said we might get. We didn't. After a quick drive at the depressing, wet beach, we decided to head back to the main street and found the Claveria Grassroots Cooperative Kitchenette where we had grilled prawns and baby back ribs for PhP 200 per plate. Best meal we had on this trip, bar none.
Driving back to Pagudpud, we stopped at a roadside shop and bought a few discs of Royal Bibingka, which are made from glutinous rice flour and lots of shredded coconut. It was delicious. The photo looks horrible, but it actually was the tastiest thing to have with coffee, or brandy, whichever you were able to smuggle into your resort room.
It's new year's eve, so better ask around the resorts if anyone is doing a countdown tonight. Tomorrow we're driving all the way back to San Fernando, La Union, staying in Sunset Bay Resort for at least one night, before driving back to Manila and getting on with life.
Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Monday, 29 December 2008
Left Villa Lita at about 9 am this morning and decided to give Saud Beach in Pagudpud another try. On the way back we saw a sign for the intriguingly named Kangkang Windmill Cafe, a shack serving excellent coffee and excellent views of the magnificent Bangui windmills.
While looking for a room in Pagudpud, we already saw these windmills from afar and didn't really get anywhere near them. They are actually pretty impressive. Not the first time I've seen them, having seen hundreds of them in Gran Canaria in Spain, but certainly the first time I've actually been beside one.
They're quite beautiful, and if I remember correctly, according to one of those Discovery Channel programs, one can generate enough power to light an entire town, so it remains quite puzzling why many towns don't have them still. It would certainly lessen our dependence on oil. But then again I guess that's why certain people would rather not have them.
We had breakfast at Kangkang but forgot to ask what the name means in Ilocano. I hope it's not the same as it is in Tagalog slang. If it is then I guess it's a good place to do it, what with the towering windmills in the background.
Drove back to Pagudpud to give Saud Beach another try and found a room at Villa del Mar, and at PhP 1,800 per night, we booked it for three nights. I guess we're spending New Year's eve here!
Kwento ni cheneleen at 2:03 pm
It was one of those days when you start off well and then it just goes wrong. We left Balay da Blas at about 10 am after breakfast and headed out to Pagudpud, which was going to be about an hour and half drive. On the way, Pedro and I had one of those stupid arguments which result in both just being annoyed and quiet. And that was the worst part.
We got to Pagudpud and asked for a few hours before realizing it was going to be impossible to find a decent room that wasn't either overpriced or doubling as a storage room. We looked at hotels, homestays and chicken coops and everything was of course full.
We decided to drive towards Cagayan and check out Maira-ira Point, that which has Kapuluan Vista Resort, which is a lovely place to stay in if they're not full. They have an entire wedding party staying there so we couldn't get a room until the 31st of December, so we decided to give it a miss. The place looks awesome, though. Set on a windy beach with windswept hills in the backdrop. An old woman in another resort offered us a room for PhP 2,500 after finding out that we're from Manila (so I guess it's cheaper if you're Ilocano) so we just thought, well, it's not the best swimming beach, and spank us if we're paying that much for a room the size of our car. Why do people do this? It doesn't exactly say friendly and hospitable, does it?
Went back to Pagudpud, asked at other resorts. Still no vacancy. Decided to retrace the road to Laoag and find the first available room, which turned out to be in a complex called Villa Lita Riverside Resort. I hated the place, and for almost the same price as our lovely apartment in Balay da Blas in Laoag, I would've happily burst into tears. But by this time Pedro and I aren't talking to each other, and I had a killer headache that only screaming murder could appease, so we decided to stay there.
As they were having someone's 18th birthday at their restaurant, food wasn't on the menu. I hated the place. It was loud because of the party at the restaurant, the TV doesn't work, and the bed was tiny and uncomfortable. Times like that, you just have to count your blessings and hope that the car doesn't break down and get you stranded in that place.
Kwento ni cheneleen at 1:32 pm
Saturday, 27 December 2008
We crossed Laoag River at about half past five in the afternoon and had to call our host Sammy for directions to his Balay da Blas. We arrived there and instantly fell in love with his place. Our room (PhP 1,650, with breakfast for two thrown in) was fantastic. Vigan tiles on the floor, a little sitting area, dining area with fridge and small cooker, a bathroom with hot water (still no tub though) and the bedroom is clean and bright and fantastic. I'm not surprised people rave about this place in the blogs I read before arriving here.
After dropping our luggage on the bed, we showered and headed out to Sammy's Saramsam Cafe in Rizal Ave. It was about a two-minute drive from the hotel, and it had a great selection of amazing food, with the Pinakbet pizza as their signature dish. We didn't have that, of course. We wanted something familiar, something substantial to reward us for having gone through the nightmare that was Vigan. Pedro had pasta with all sorts of veggies in it and I had roasted pig's ears and blanched veggies with bagoong. Nice.
Quick drive about town searching for dessert. We've been quite unlucky with dessert on this trip. We found La Preciosa a few blocks past Samsara Cafe and had coffee and chocolate cake and carrot cake there. Time for bed.
Woke up and had breakfast at Balay da Blas, then had a brief chat with Sammy to enquire about what's interesting and finally decided on Batac and Paoay. Driving not 30 minutes, we got to Batac town proper and immediately found the Marcos Mausoleum and Museum. Crowded. And the mausoleum was eery, but it was probably the only airconditioned room in Batac, so it was a nice little breather in there. Staring at Apo Makoy was surreal. On one hand it felt strange that I was standing beside the great Ilocano. On the other hand, I wondered if that was just wax. I guess we'll never find out the real score there. A quick potter about the compound took us to Bongbong's office (shut) and the Marcos ancestral house (shut). I got a couple of cones of ice cream outside and asked the Manong if the Marcoses actually stay in the house. He said yes, when they're in town, they stay there. And yes, they come at least once a month. Oh.
Quick drive to Paoay where we saw the church and not much else. Oh, we saw Paoay lake on the way. We also thought we'd go to Fort Ilocandia but I still can't get over the fact that they were so inept at handling reservations that with a sigh of relief we ended up staying at Balay da Blas.
Drove back to Laoag and ended up at our favourite Saramsam Cafe for a spot of lunch. We ordered a bowl of noodles with veggies and finally the Pinakbet pizza, which was actually quite delicious. I'm not a big fan of fusion food and those horrible experiment-type cuisine, but this one was a hit. I think we might go back there tonight to try their other Ilocano pizzas.
Finally we visited the Museo Ilokos Norte, which was just off Rizal Ave. and is a very well-setup affair indeed. Lots of local history and displays which visitors can actually hold (I did anyway, I'm not really sure if we're allowed to). We drove around for a few minutes then picked up the map and decided to drive to Sarrat for another cathedral only to get lost and end up in a town called Vintar which was conveniently having their town fiesta so I had my fill of Vigan empanada ang longganisa in the plaza. After waiting for the procession to come back so Pedro can videotape it, we walked back to the car and discovered a little gambling den beside the Comelec office. I won some, then lost some. Nakakamiss ang beto-beto ng kabataan ko sa Balite. Perya kung perya, diba. Naalala ko tuloy si Ina na mahilig magbingo at umuuwi na lang na may dalang mga pinggan at baso na napanalunan nya.
We decided to get out of there and eventually found where the parade was and watched until the road was clear enough to head back to the hotel. Nice way to finish Laoag before driving some 70-odd kilometers to Pagudpud in the morning.
Kwento ni cheneleen at 5:11 pm
For our last evening in San Juan, La Union, we decided to get dinner elsewhere. After stopping at three restaurants, we ended up at Sunset German Beach where Pedro was offered a massage as soon as he got out of the car by a very enterprising young man which, of course, he politely declined.
The food was actually quite good, and we spoke to the tipsy German owner who said the rooms go for PhP 1,100 for a/c and PhP 900 for fan. That's half of what we paid for at Final Option. Oh well. The rooms look a bit gloomy, and if you call your resort Sunset German Beach you're most likely to attract robust German families with their beer and determined-looking children; one in particular scared Pedro a bit.
The next day, we left San Juan for Vigan, driving through Bacnotan, Balaoan, Luna, Bangar and Sudipen, La Union, then crossing onto Ilocos Sur, through Tagudin, Sta. Cruz, Sta. Lucia, Candon, San Esteban and a brief stop at the Unesco Heritage cathedral of Sta. Maria. The place was shut, but the church was gorgeous and it's on top of a hill, which mean great views of the entire town. After the brief stop we carried on and drove onwards through Narvacan, Santa, then crossed the Quirino Bridge and finally got to Vigan.
Originally we booked a room at the Gordion Inn, which we decided to just ditch when our host Sammy in Laoag confirmed that he's got a room that evening for us at Balay da Blas. A few days ago I frantically rang hotels in Vigan hoping to book a room for one evening. I found Gordion Inn which was charging PhP 2,500 for two with breakfast thrown in. I thought it was a tad expensive but it certainly beats sleeping in the car.
When we got to Vigan, we decided to have get some lunch and ended up in Gordion Inn. We thought, well, if you're a proper establishment you'd be serving proper food, right? God we were so utterly wrong. We first ordered bottles of cold drink, which were deposited on our table still with the caps on, then a waitress plonked a bottle opener in the middle like it was an integral part of any first-time Vigan visitor's experience. Pedro ordered something called Lomo which turned out to be bits of fatty pork trimmings swimming in broth with a few bits of scallions thrown in for good measure. It tasted like, well, bits of fatty pork trimmings swimming in broth with a few bits of scallions thrown in for good measure. I ordered three things which were all "out of stock" of course, because such is my luck. I was determined to have an Ilocano lunch but the waiter wasn't fully cooperating. He couldn't explain the Ilocano dishes on the menu. I asked him if he was Ilocano, to which he answered in the affirmative, but when asked why he doesn't know these apparently typical Ilocano fare, he said that it's because he's new in the job. Let's take a moment here and talk about waitering in a big hotel restaurant. If I were to do it, and I get five minutes of down time due to lack of custom, I would certainly try to know what I am serving. People don't seem to treat waitering as a real job anymore.
That was the worst meal we've had in a long while, and while it makes for good conversation topic to justify giving an overnight stay in Vigan a miss, it's the kind of thing which puts one off for a very long time. I certainly won't have much glowing reviews for the entire city.
The minute we stepped into Calle Crisogo in Vigan I got a strangely familiar vibe about the place. Then I realized what it was. It's Intramuros, with more souvenier shops and crappy knick-knacks. We drove all the way here for that. I mean sure, the old houses are nice, but most of them are in various stages of serious disrepair, and I got an eery feeling that I was just in Nayong Pilipino in Clark in a row of souvenier shops and not much else. They even had a Ye Olde Havaianas Shoppe in the old quarters. That really blows.
After a brief stop at Tongson's Royal Bibingka shop and a hot fudge sundae from McDonald's it was time to leave Vigan.
We're actually quite glad we weren't staying the night there. Something about the place just feels a little too, um, artificial. It was more like a theme park rather than a heritage site. But I guess it's one of those things one romanticizes inside one's head for the longest time that when you actually get there it was bound to be a huge disappointment. Oh well.
Kwento ni cheneleen at 7:50 am
Thursday, 25 December 2008
Nothing warms the heart more than a wiener buffet, and the German Bistro at Final Option was having that for Christmas Eve dinner. I tried not eating anything to prepare for it, but the food at Final Option is actually so good that it was difficult to stop ourselves from ordering.
I spent the afternoon driving around San Juan town and looking at the Amparo Park and the little church beside it. There's really not much to see there except the usual kiosks selling pancakes, popcorn and hair accessories. So after getting ice at the shop next door I decided to go back to the resort. Before dinner Pedro and I sent out a uniform Christmas greeting by SMS (sorry guys) to friends, then we got dressed and headed to the German Bistro at around 7 pm.
It was a bit disconcerting sitting at the table in front of the stage. They had a little karaoke duo with a guy playing the occassional keyboard and a girl in a mini dress waiting to sing with him. The food was actually quite good, and at PhP 490 a pop it was a steal. I remember Lala and Oliver offering us beer sausages for PhP 350 a kilo with about 7 pieces in it. I ate about that much, plus roast pork, spud salad, grilled fish and a little pie. Money well spent, if you ask me.
The only thing which bothered us was the rest of the diners. It was an assortment of middle-aged whores with young girls (their daughters perhaps?) and old western guys. Classy. When the owner got on stage and started singing Dolly Parton songs we knew it was time to stop eating and head back to our room. Before going to bed I went to the bathroom a few times. I think I might have eaten a bit too much.
Waking up on Christmas morning in a resort is strange. We're not home nor with family, which is how Christmas has always been, but it was strangely comforting to know that we are away from it all. Of course Christmas day won't be complete without a rerun or Home Alone 2 in Star World. They should make this mandatory viewing for everyone on Christmas mornings.
I had a long stroll after coffee on the beach and was propositioned by a group of four rather ugly guys who was asking for a thousand a pop. After realising I'm not a foreigner, they just asked me to bring liquor tonight to their place at 7 tonight and we can have a "chat." Hmmm. These locals certainly know how to show tourists a good time.
A few more minutes in the sun, then jumped into the pool, and now i'm eating Beef Tartar (PhP 230) and Pedro's having Blue Marlin Fillet (PhP 220) for lunch. Things can be soooo much worse.
They've run out of dessert and the neighborhood carolers just arrived. Time to leave and hunt for pie.
Tomorrow we're off to Vigan!
Kwento ni cheneleen at 1:52 pm
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
The first thing we did was to get a copy of the EZ Map Luzon Road Atlas from National Bookstore (PhP 399). Then it was much easier to actually plot where we want to be on which dates and not get lost in the middle of nowhere.
The first leg was a drive from Manila to Alaminos. We left White Plains at 9 am on Monday morning, took the NLEX to Dau, the SCTEX to Tarlac City, and then up, up north to Alaminos. Originally we thought of staying somewhere in Patar beach in Bolinao. The drive from Alaminos to Bolinao wasn't easy. We had to take a detour because the bridge was under construction, and that took us to a dusty rough road in the middle of what looks like a mini forest. That wasn't so bad at all.
We got to Bolinao and the only decent place to stay there was charging too much, something like PhP 4,000 for two persons. That was a bit too much. I wouldn't recommend going there at all. I think I wanted to take Pedro there because when I went with Ken, Dave, Glenda and Jon there back in 2004 we had such a lovely time. Kaya lang noon nakitira kami sa bahay ng kaibigan ni Glenda sa Alaminos ng Mahal na Araw tapos ginawa lang naming day trip ang Bolinao. We even snorkled and had a little barbecue sa beach at that time.
After two hours of stopping at resorts to enquire about hotel rooms, Pedro and I decided to drive back to Alaminos and spend the night there. We ended up staying at the Mare Nostrum Hotel and at PhP1000 a night, we weren't complaining at all. It's owned by a Spanish guy and his Filipina wife, and the room has air conditioning and a cable tv. Very clean room, very clean bathroom, and plants all over the place. Very pleasant. I didn't get their number because I was exhausted when we got there and we left pretty early the next day so I forgot to get it but if you're facing the church in Alaminos, walk for about five minutes towards the Lingayen Road and you'll find it on your right, beside a funeral parlor, which would explain the tranquil ambience.
We left the hotel at around 8,30 am and drove through Sual, Labrador, Lingayen, Binmaley, Dagupan and San Fabian in Pangasinan. After several more minutes, we crossed over to La Union, driving through Sto. Tomas, Agoo, Aringay, Caba, Bauang and finally ending up in San Fernando. We found the website for Sunset Bay Beach Resort in San Fernando, La Union, and the place looked quite good. It's run by an English guy (so Pedro thought we might get some pies and sausages there) and the rooms look clean and the rates reasonable. We got there a bit after noon and of course the place was fully booked until the 29th of December. If we ever find ourselves in these parts again we'd certainly try to book a room at this place in advance. Sayang nga lang kase matigas ang ulo namin e. We thought it would be better to go to the place first and have a look around kaysa naman mag-book ng hotel na maganda sa website pero nakakadiri in real life, parang Fort Ilocandia.
We looked at a couple other places in the area, with one under construction and the other only with a couple of musty rooms charging almost PhP 3,000 for two persons, and at the back of a rather messy garden at that. Why do some people think they can get something for nothing? I mean, come on.
We decided to drive further north and got to the surfing town of San Juan, La Union. We asked at a couple of places and finally settle for the bizarrely named P&M Final Option Beach Resort and German Bistro. At PhP 2,100 for a very clean room we thought it was a pretty good deal. They have a little bar facing the beach which is open during the day, and after 6 pm the German Bistro on the 3rd floor is open for meals and drinks. The food averages at about PhP 200 per order, the servings are huge and it's actually quite good.
The staff are the giggling girls variety, which can be annoying at times but with Christmas in the air and a feeling of sweetness and light upon us, that can be forgiven. We're staying here for three nights and really just want to, um, not do anything. I slept all day yesterday after arriving. This morning Pedro and I went for a long walk on the beach. Not the romantic kind. It felt more like a morning exercise than an easy stroll. Good trying to keep the fatty midsection from creeping back in!
Kwento ni cheneleen at 3:02 pm
My three loyal readers are probably wondering why I've disappeared. It's been a rather busy last few weeks, what with trying to get my thesis proposal presentation scheduled and the actual proposal approved (which I did, thanks to my thesis advisory team!) and really just limping along waiting for our Christmas road trip to Ilocos. Before we get into that, just a few notes to recap what's been happening:
Saw Live AIDS Silver at the UP Theatre nung end ng November. I've never seen them before, but I was told that they usually do it at Aldaba Hall sa Music so we were wondering if they'll be able to fill the place up. It was supposed to start at 7 pm, and at 7,15 we were seated at our cheap seats at the back. The ushers told us to just occupy any vacant seat as soon as the lights go out which of course everyone did. They switched the light off and there was an eerily stealthy stampede of cheap ticket holders who moved to the expensive section. And that's how you get a bargain.
Live AIDS was fun, and I think my favourite sketch was the first one: Ador Cuntapay as the First Lady-elect Michelle Obombshell. She was soooo good. I was narly in tears. I've been in UP since 1996 and for the first time I'm watching Live AIDS and it was making me feel mighty proud to be here. Meron din namang mga sketch na either too long or just downright unnecessary. Like yung Little Mermaid sa Lagoon, it dragged on and on and on, and people just wanted to go. Pero all in all, I was really glad Jem, Leonard and I went. Kim couldn't because she was going to Baguio with Mcrhon. I also wanted to invite friends to go with us, kaya lang it won't be the same kung di taga UP ang mga kasama mo e. When Leonard said this I thought it was a bit, um, conceited, pero totoo pala. Totoong conceited ang mga taga UP. Choz!
We had a great little evening watching the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra's Transymphonia on Friday, 05 December at the CCP. The trip from White Plains to CCP took about two hours and by the time we got there we were starving. We ended up eating ice cream at Icebergs in Harbor Square and of course when we got at the lobby of the CCP they had thousands of glasses of wine. The Spanish Embassy was the sponsor, and Manila's society fixtures organized it. Bravi. Free-flowing red and white wine, champagne, sangria and iced tea. Little bijoux snackettes with salmon mousse, beef sashimi, etc. I don't see how the next Transymphonia can top this (Paging the European Commission. Your time to shine next month.), and it is certainly a big improvement from the Italian Embassy sponsored do last November. They didn't serve anything. As in nothing. We had to buy snacks at the bar. Embassies, if you're going to sponsor something, consulting with the Spanish embassy is not a bad idea at all. They know how to host a party.
After the concert, we went to the lobby to watch the mestizos pass by. Araneta, Zobel de Ayala, Tantoco, everyone was there. Even Gloria sashayed down the grand staircase followed by her retinue of secret service people and the usual hangers on. It was curious to find an ambulance as part of her presidential convoy. People were also seen queueing to shake Jaime Zobel de Ayala's hand. Like he personally organized the event. That was strange. He was incredibly handsome, though. And he was with a younger mestizo (his son perhaps) who looked like a very young tennis superstar. I mean what do you aspire for when you're good looking and richer than everyone else? I guess you turn to philantrophy and charity work for the less fortunate. But with the kind of wealth they have, isn't everyone, save perhaps Lucio Tan and Henry Sy, less fortunate?
Saw Hairspray at the Star Theater with the boys and Pedro earlier this month. It was quite fun, except the traffic to the CCP complex was more horrible than usual. The musical was fun. I've never seen it before and I must say it was mightily entertaining. The lead actress had such energy it was difficult not to sing along, which was tricky because none of us knew any of the songs.
After the musical, instead of hanging about at Harbor Square, we decided to go back to Quezon City for a bit of a midnight snack. Brothers Burger in Katips was already shut when we got there so we decided to go to Mogwai in Cubao Expo. I had this curiously spicy thing which name I didn't really get. It was like tokwa't baboy with salted eggs and black beans. Nanawag sya ng kanin pero syempre di na ko humingi non kase baka sabihin naman ng mga kasama ko e masiba ako. Weheheheh.
Our little once-a-month brunch group is turning into a couples for christ gimik group with Hans now with Jun, Rikki and Gerald, Nestor and Don and of course ako at si Pedro. Not our intention to leave other people out, pero si Dave and Tristan are too busy and Iggy works evenings tapos si Gari pa is lecheng best efforts lang kung pumunta sa wag na uy diba.
Then on the 17th, UP's annual lantern parade which is doubly exciting because UP is celebrating its centennial. So I dragged Pedro to Diliman to join the SOLAIR contingency, which took a while to find, especially because the parade's so long and the oval was sooo crowded. It's quite an amazing tradition, really, especially when you think that everyone made all those lanterns and bothered with costumes and make up. Pero syempre lahat naman yung UP Pep Squad and pinakahihintay. Winner din ang pagsipol sa min ng Babaylan nung dumaan kami sa tabi nila. That was strangely sweet. Heheheh.
Christmas party kina Oh-D, then another one kina Rikki. This year's Christmas celebration isn't going to be as lavish as the one last year. Nasa Chicago naman kase ang Nanay at Tatay e, at ang nag-iisa kong kapatid dito sa Filipinas e nakipaghiwalay pa sa asawa. The year 2008 has its ups and downs. Para sa amin, mostly downs. It has been a difficult year, and Peter and I both feel like we deserve a break from it all. Nakakapagod na worrying for other people who invariably don't care anyway. So we decided to leave for a couple of weeks.
I'm now sitting at a bar in San Juan, La Union. Surfing capital of the north, some guide books say. Not too shabby for us!
Kwento ni cheneleen at 1:38 pm