Sunday, November 20, 2005

North Phils., Feb. 2002 (part 2)

Day 4, Feb. 13, Pagudpud-Ilocos Sur-La Union-Baguio, 370 kms.

After a good and refreshing sleep in fresh-air, white-sand beach Pagudpud, prepared for another day of long travel. Pit stop at Laoag City, Ilocos Norte's capital, to refuel. Off to Vigan, Ilocos Sur's capital. It's really true that former President Marcos, an Ilocano, built good quality roads in these 2 neighboring provinces. After lunch, short walk at a district with Spanish-era houses; Army troopers are scattered on the streets to guard the promenading members of the caravan. Naks, gwardyado talaga kami.

Off to San Fernando, La Union's provincial capital; afternoon snacks at San Fernando airport, which is part of Poro Point free-port/Special Economic Zone (SEZ) complex, La Union. The head of the freeport gave a short briefing about the complex, the plans and projects being initiated. Nice place.

Drove back, climb Baguio via Marcos highway, though via Naguilian road should have been a much shorter trip. But the road may be too "narrow"for the long caravan. Good news here: the rock-shed tunnel and fly-over in Marcos highway, world-class quality, have been opened to traffic only last January - the road was spotlessly smooth, a-alright to a-drive ah! Ang galing! We reached Baguio about 7pm though. Another buffet dinner - hataw ang pagkain, may lechon baka na naman - at Camp John Hay, "Baguio by the Fire" party with 2 bands, one playing country music, the other pop-ballad. Syempre sayaw din ako pati mga kasama, sila Elma, Joy, our new friends, students from St. Louis University, who also joined the caravan.

Day 5, Feb. 14: Baguio-Pangasinan-Olongapo, Zambales, 350 kms.

We left ahead of the pack because I didn't want a stressful descent of Marcos highway like what we did in descending Ifugao. It allowed the 4 of us in the vehicle to take a relaxing trip downhill, view and discuss the balding mountains of La Trinidad, Baguio and other parts of Benguet to give way to thousands of new houses constructed -- population pressure. We also stopped by Agoo church, La Union, reputedly one of the oldest churches in Luzon.

Traffic in Dagupan City, Pangasinan that day was hellish! I don't know if it happens everyday or because it was a V-day. Well, Pangasinan has the largest population of all provinces in Luzon. Grand program in Lingayen, the provincial capital. Luzon Colleges' drum & bugle corps (dbc), the national champion in last year's dbc competition, was there to entertain us when the pack arrived. Imagine taking lunch on a beach front of Lingayen Gulf, and a band was playing Jennifer Lopez's "Let's get loud" - ayos! Toot-tot-tot, tot-tot-tooooot, tot-to-tot,tot-to-to-to-tooooot... (swinging our heads while eating). Then the female band members dance as the band played "Angelina... be my sigñorina", another round of cheerful applause from us. Pang. Gov. Agbayani gave a short talk.

At a park near the provincial capitol, WWII-vintage tanks, fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns are displayed, with photo exhibit of the landing of Gen. MacArthur in Lingayen, the Fil-Jap war, etc. The trade fair near the tanks showcase the place's known delicacies like bucayo & other souvenir items. From Lingayen, we headed to Lucap, Alaminos, to view the famous "Hundred Islands" (pero pag high tide, "less than hundred islands", hehe).

Short program and snacks at Iba, Zambales' provincial capital, where Gov. Magsaysay also gave a short speech. Off to Olongapo, already dark, we couldn't see lahar deposits in rivers and bridges of Botolan, Cabangan, and nearby municipalities.

Another big cultural night & party with a band in Olongapo, at Ocean View resort hotel. Young teeners, boys and girls, dancing ala-Caribbean style with bamboo torches along the beach. Olongapo mayor Kate Gordon gave a speech. Another buffet dinner, another lechon baka.

Day 6, Feb. 15: Olongapo-Subic-Clark-Manila, around 200 kms.

We toured Olongapo City - clean, no garbage, jeeps color-coded. Then the Olongapo Convention Center - modern, good facilities, big, can accommodate up to 1,700 people. Entered Subic, many employees greeted us with cheers and welcome banners. Ocean Adventure, Subic's latest and biggest showcase, is about 24 kms from the main gate. This smaller version of HK's Ocean Park attracts dozens of buses daily, full of schoolchildren from many schools of Luzon. Entrance fee is P400 for adults, P320 forchildren, more discounts for group tours. Inside, one can watch the sea lion show, whale show (about 15 mins. each show), meet the professionals (the sea lion & whale trainers), an aquarium, learning/lecture room, souvenir shop, restaurants, etc.

SBMA Chairman Payumo gave a speech during lunch. Then off to Clark via Floridablanca and Porac; here we experienced "lahar ride" in Porac's" laharlandia". Manageable even for non-4WDs; one can see some roofs of buried chapels and houses.

Back to Clark, Challenger Field, where we left 5 days ago last Feb. 10. Everyone was ecstatic - they "survived" the 6 days caravan. Well, some unlucky participants didn't complete the journey, like those who have to leave early. Or met accidents (scooters who bumped dogs in the highway; tail-driving van which bumped another participant's pajero in the descent in Dalton Pass on day 1 alone, etc.). Awarding ceremony was modest but jolly: a certificate of completion, a bag + cap + long-sleeve white shirt, all printed with "North Phils. Expedition, Explore 2002", then buffet dinner na naman.

Summary, other observations:

(1) Provinces covered: a total of 12 provinces were covered by the trip, counter-clockwise:
3 in Region 3 (Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Zambales), 3 in Region 2 (Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan), 2 in Cordillera region (Ifugao and Benguet), and 4 in Region 1 (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan).

(2) Roads: generally good. Nearly 3 years ago, in April 1999, me and my friend Mark Agaloos, another classmate in PDE, UPSE, went through this North Phils. tour: about 2,000 kms. in only 4 days, or the 2 of us were driving alternately about 500 kms/day. Our route then was clockwise:
Day 1: Manila-Bulacan-Pampanga-Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union-Ilocos Sur-Bangued, Abra.
Day 2: Bangued + nearby municipalities of Abra
Day 3: Bangued-Ilocos Sur-Ilocos Norte-Cagayan (Gonzaga and Sta. Ana, the country's north-westernmost part; barko na ng Phil. Navy ang dulo ng kalsada)
Day 4: Cagayan (Gonzaga, Tuguegarao, Callao Caves)-Isabela-N. Vizcaya-N.Ecija-Bulacan-Manila.

That time, several roads from Ilocos Norte to Tuguegarao were pathetic; many road cuts that would compel you to make sudden slow down from 80 to 20 kph. Now, except for a few road cuts, Cagayan road system is between good to excellent.

(3) Farm animals: I noticed that farmers in N. Ecija, N. Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan prefer carabaos; you can see many carabaos from the highways. Whereas farmers inIlocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan prefer cows. Do cows thrive better in the breeze of South China Sea and carabaos thrive better in the air of Sierra Madre mountain range and Pacific Ocean? :-)

(4) Crops: Rice fields as far as your eyes can see in Nueva Ecija. Then a mixture of rice and corn plantation in Isabela and Cagayan. There was one portion, I think in Isabela, where there was a very wide cornfield - pinakamalaking maisan na nakita ko. Sana hindi naman corn-y ang mga tao doon, ako lang, ho ho ho. Tobacco, more tobacco, in Ilocos Sur down to La Union. I thought if we want to minimize smoking in this country, cost of tobacco should increase, so, how about a new breed of pests that can destroy the tobacco plantations? he he he.

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