Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Over Tarlac

For Christmas last year, I gifted Karlie with a trip to Mt Pinatubo and an overnight stay at Microtel Luisita. To make the trip extra fun, since Karl would act like a lazy grandmother at some point in the trip, we invited his cousin to come along --just so I'd have a playmate.

It was my first long drive ever and I was looking forward to putting the pedal to the metal! It was such a refreshing driving experience, driving  in the North Expressway and SCTEX --no traffic!I was going like 120 kmph and a few times i even reached 140! So much fun! The fastest I could drive within Metro Manila is 80 kmph and thats only during the wee hours of the morning when there are barely any cars in the highway. I felt like a racecar driver huehuehuehuehuehue!

Our itinerary was: leave Marikina around 2:30am as we should be at Capas McDonalds by 5:00am,  we were to be assembled at Sta Juliana, the jumpoff point for Mt Pinatubo 4x4 ride, before 7am, arrive at the crater lake just in time for lunch.

The night before, I cooked Adobo to take to our picnic lunch, packed some apples, 1 litre of water and a bag full of excitement!

When we arrived in McDonalds, the tour company had a free 2 pc pancake breakfast, which was a surprise perk! And all along I was wondering why we had to be there at 5am when the drive to Sta Juliana will barely take 30 minutes! So sneaky and sweet at the same time! 

Random tractor on the drive to Sta Juliana

At Sta Juliana where the fleet of 4x4 bad boys were assembled

The ride was really, really bumpy that it felt like our whole bodies were being pushed and shoved something serious --but it was so much fun though!

At the first stopover for some picture taking. This wild / domesticated pig caught my attention (It's a wild pig being raised as a pet by the Aetas so I don't know how to classify it). Our tour guide spoke to the lady in the local dialect (Kapampangan I think) and I guess he asked her if we can take a picture because she took a rope and tied it around the pig, who was nonchalantly walking along the lahar plains earlier, just like a nice pet dog. The nice lady even caught the squealing piglet for us to hold but we felt sorry for it since it was crying fit to beat Jesus so we just left it alone.
This nice fox red piglet however (same color as my Labrador Retriever, the gorgeous grandpa Chase!) was more amenable to take pictures. It was just like a bristly, fat puppy!

I was an idiot here because I almost sprained my ankle. Almost. Thank God I didnt or else i would have ruined it for everyone. Although it kinda hurt up till the next day, like I landed wrong or something.

 This grandpa was awesome! He spoke to us in Tagalog and he was like, "you like my snake, you have to pay me so you can take a picture! LOLOL" I wanted to pet his pet snake but I didn't know what species it was, and neither did he, so I decided not to.
This is him, close up.

After that first stopover, we had another one but it was mostly just the same lahar formations so I'm not going to post it anymore. We drove on and Tito Henry, the oh so handsome driver of the 4x4, asked us where we wanted to take off. We had a choice whether we were going to get off at the 7kms to crater checkpoint, which would take roughly 2hours, or at any point after that or start at the 2km (or was it only 1km?) trekking point, the point where 4x4 wont be able to enter.

I honestly wanted to start trekking at 7km but then we were a group and none of them wanted to walk the barren, sun beaten plains. So yeah, okay, fine. i didn't want to seem like a show off and just get off the 4x4 by myself. I'm glad I didn't though as it was super hot and there was not a tree or any shade in sight!

This is the track going to the crater lake. A much better starting point for the trek as it was already under the shade of trees, a steady creek was flowing downstream and everywhere was full of vegetation. I can tell we were already near the beautiful crater as the soil was so fertile and many of the rocks had a sulfurous color to them.
 It was a very short, uneventful trek but with every step we took the air got cooler and fresher. 
The view was breathtaking. Pictures could not capture the true beauty of the crater lake.

 Noise was unwelcome here as they may cause the lahar to avalanche. 

136 steps to the crater lake

After a very delicious lunch, Say and Karl took a nap while I checked out the flora and fauna. Not much fauna but there were some pretty nice wild flowers. I also discovered that my phone can take wonderful SLR-like pictures! 

Not all the pictures here were taken exclusively at Mt Pinatubo. This is a collection of all the flora photos I took in and around Tarlac City including Mt Pinatubo, Monasterio de Tarlac and Luisita Technopark

At around 2pm (or was it 3pm), DOT (Department of Tourism) radioed in and said that it was drizzling a bit in Zambales so we had to hurry down as a precaution because if the rains get heavier there it will cause flooding which will cause the lahar to flow and obstruct our path going back down to Santa Juliana.

Here are some pictures that we took on the drive back to Santa Juliana. The lahar formations were really very beautiful despite its, how do I word this, simplicity. I mean, it may just look like a boring mass of gray but if you really look at it, its got really beautiful, amazing patterns made by nature.

Do you see Jesus's face? this was pointed out by one of our companions in the tour.

Yeah! eat our dust!

It's really not enough to see the lahar formations in pictures. Like the crater lake, it looks a million times better in person. Plus you will see the indigenous tribe of Aetas chilling by the rocks totally unaffected by the heat and dust. They are so nice too. We passed by a group of Aeta children hanging out by a big boulder and I waved at them, they started laughing and chasing after the 4x4. Sah kyat!!!

We were the first group to reach the checkpoint so we took a picture on this sign that earlier was crowded by all the other tourists falling in line for a picture.

I want to own a 4x4 jeep someday. I've always wanted one ever since one of my brother's best friends took me for a ride in his Wrangler Jeep when I was in high school. And after this trip, I want it more!

When we got back down to Santa Juliana, some of the tricycle drivers gave me some cashew fruit to snack on (they saw me gazing longingly at the fruit and offered to get some for me!)

In case you haven't tried cashew yet (the apple not the fruit --the fruit is the seed looking thing) it is very juicy and the juice is very tangy and sweet albeit a very mild astringent taste. Refreshing!

On the drive to Tarlac City, I noticed that there were a lot of Duldul or Kapok trees by the roadside. Our street in Iloilo, where I grew up, had an abundance of these trees as well. I loved playing with its very soft, down-like fiber. It was Say and Karl's first time seeing this tree so we stopped and Say and I played with the fiber, scattering it and allowing it to be blown by the wind. Karl stayed inside the car as he is deathly (or probably just psychologically) allergic to almost all sorts of fibers, hairs, pollen and the likes. Sad.

Tarlac City

It took more or less half an hour to reach Microtel, Luisita. One thing to note when driving in Tarlac is that the roads are very well maintained, they are wide and drivers are extremely courteous. I wanted to give all of them hugs!

Tarlac Arch

Facade of Microtel Luisita

Our room, which I got on sale at Ensogo for only Php1800 for an overnight stay.
It's odd because the color scheme and interior design as well as architecture of the place looks so much like EGI's. :/ I mean all EGI buildings look kinda the same: Serene, the one in Taft EGI Albergo in Baguio and the one in Mactan. I'm sure the others look the same.

After a nice long shower, we headed to the heart of Tarlac City to find a nice place to eat. We decided on Matutina's Seafood Restaurant just along McArthur Highway.

A homey ambiance. Perfect restaurant pick --it all felt laid back and ancestral-y.

We ordered lechon kawali, bangus sisig (which was the best bangus sisig I've ever had) and pakbet. Everything was delicious, and with a pitcher of iced and three servings of rice we only paid Php610. Win!

I was already super tired after our early dinner and I didnt have any coffee in me that day since I just got better from a serious bout of hyper acidity that lasted for 2 days --plus I havent slept yet since the previous day. I work nights and I was up the whole day after work because we got our driver's license (I've been driving around Manila using a students permit only haha such a badass). 

Lucky Karl as he slept during the drive from Manila and I packed his things for him. So with my energy levels at an all time low, we headed back to the hotel and I caught some much needed Zs.

The next day, having slept for 12 hours straight, I was up before the crack of dawn.  I was eating an apple trying to decide where to run when I made up my mind to annoy my travel buddies by playing music while dancing around our room trying to wake the two of them up --the air was fresh, there were lush greeneries all around and the sun is just about to wake up --perfect time to jog and circuit train! Karl being an old lady stayed at the hotel while Say and I got ready to get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let's get into physical! Let me hear your body talk, your body talk! Sorry I got carried away. 

I only had my trekking sandals but it would do! The day was too beautiful to waste!

The hotel was just walking distance from the Techno park and Aquino Museum. We decided to exercise behind the museum where a security guard, who was having his morning coffee, chatted us up about the Aquino museum and Ballsy Aquino who he said visited the center often.



We finished our rigorous exercise (Say can barely walk the next day LOL!) just before sunrise so we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the view.

The hotel served free breakfast so we headed back at around 6:30 am to load up for the day.

Both plates are mine. I started with cereal, then toast and i was going to stop there but i tasted their danggit and it was too good to pass up!

First stop of the day was the Aquino Museum. 

They are open daily from 8am to 5pm. Entrance fee is 50php.

My family, especially my father's side, were really big Ninoy Aquino supporters as they were lawyers and writers opposing the Martial Law during those troubled times. It was a very touching experience and none, not all of my father's or uncle's stories and explanations has made me understand Ninoy and his role in  the restoration of Philippine Democracy more than this experience. He was such a beacon of hope and strength --and boy, was he a phenomenal writer and speaker. And he was soooooo brave and charismatic. Now I understand why they hero-worshiped him so much.

Ninoy and Cory wedding picture

Here are some things that you will find in the museum. 

 A replica of Ninoy's solitary detention cell where he was held for 7 years on trumped up charges. Gradually,  after Pepe Diokno's release in 1974, he was allowed more amenities like exercise equipment, kitchenwares, typewriter and books.

The actual garments he wore when he was assassinated.

One of the best things i read there was Ninoy's personal letter to Atty. Sedfrey Ordonez after he was sentenced to die by firing squad. The last part read:

I will not bid good bye for we will meet again. I will not say thank you because my gratitude is eternal. i go only with regret: our acquaintance has been all too brief!

Brave man Ninoy. T_T

An enlarged replica of a portion of his wall in his solitary confinement cell where he marked the passing of the days with a nail from, December 1972-December 1979.

The Museum documented Ninoy's and Cory's life. Starting from Ninoy early life and career from being a war correspondent in Korea to his political career as Governer and then Senator up to his incarceration, exile and to his assassination, then EDSA revolution and Cory's term as president of the Philippines.

The Aquino Museum is definitely worth a visit! A Must MUST MUUUUUUST see if you ever find yourself in Central Luzon.

After The Aquino Museum, where we spent more than 2 hours I think, as there was so much to read, we headed to SM Tarlac. Like I mentioned in previous posts, Karl has this thing of checking out all the SMs in the Philippines. There we bought some drinks and a Map of Tarlac City.

Next stop was supposedly Ninoy Aquino Park but it was super crowded with bazaars and it didn't seem all too different from the crowded public parks in other places in the Philippines that we decided not to go in. 

 This is the Maria Cristina Park - Maria Cristina was a former beauty queen and daughter of the former Tarlac governor Alejandro Galang. She is from Camiling, Tarlac and her house there was made into a museum as well but we did not have time to visit it.

Tarlac Capitol. This is in the 500 peso bill.

 They call this the Tarlac Museum but mostly its the achievements of Architect Zaragoza. A renowned architect from Tarlac, some of his projects included the Meralco Building in Ortigas, restoration of Quiapo church and Sto Domingo Church.

I love this guy. He works at the Zaragoza Museum and he successfully convinced Karl that we should go to Lubigan to visit the Monasterio de Tarlac where the giant Jesus Christ statue, like the one in Brazil but of course not as big, is located. It is also where a relic of the Holy Cross is located --the only one in Asia.

If you ever go to Tarlac, locals will most likely tell you it's an hour or more to get to Lubigan. This is assuming you will rent a tricycle, which is the most common mode of transportation in Tarlac. But if you are travelling by car, it would take you around 30 - 40 minutes only.

Literally in the middle of nowhere. LOL

Pechy looking like he is in a car commercial. Good guy Pechy, he is so gas thrifty. He didnt even use up a full tank of gas even though we traveled for probably more than 400 kms! We still have 1/4 tank left when we arrived home from our trip.

Do you see the rice terraces behind us? We didn't dare go closer to take a better picture as there was a dog barking at us and since both our legs were hurting from the exercise we did, we'd surely end up with our assses as Alpo if the dog decides to attack hahaha.

We saw an albino carabao on the way but Karl was driving the car and i dont know why he was in such a hurry to get to the Monasterio and he refused to stop to take a picture. I was annoyed because that was only the second time I ever saw an albino carabao and I probably wont see one again. I kept going on about it on the drive back that I think I made Karl guilty because he slowed down at every familiar looking fence or tree looking for the carabao but the carabao was no longer tethered under the tree. I told him that the owner probably took it to the river to cool off as was the custom in farms.

I could tell he felt guilty so I milked it for all it was worth. I made him say this apology:

Neni, I'm sorry for not letting you take a picture of the albino carabao earlier. I regret it because we would probably not see another albino carabao in our lifetime ever again.

LOLOLOL that made me feel better!

The road to the Monasterio was mostly uphill and on both sides of the road were various fruit trees like guyabano, langka, cashew, star apple or caimito and there were also more kopak trees, acacia trees, mahogany and bananas.

When we arrived at the Monasterio you could really feel the sanctity of the place. It was oh so very quiet and  soothing piano music was playing softly around the grounds.

This is where the relic of the true cross is kept but we didn't go in as we were inappropriately dressed.

The statue was very formidable and the view here was spectacular. I cant even.

We had lunch at the souvenir shop where we shared honey ribs, caldereta, chopsuey, apples and some of my leftover adobo from yesterday. With 3 rice, 1 banana and 3 pineapple juice we only paid 295php. Each serving was good for 2 persons already.

We made our way back to town at around 4pm.

 corn plantation by the side of the road.

 Mr tractor guy with just harvested corn.
 oh my god these lambs are so cute!
It was so funny how one of these sheep says"bah!" he sounded like a human simply saying "BAH!". At first, we thought somebody was making fun of us but it turns out one sheep was shouting "BAAAH!! BAAAH!" at us haha

We stole some mangoes off the side of the road. Well technically, not stealing, since these belonged to nature. haha

 Tarlac Recreational park. There was an event going on that day.

It was already 6pm when we arrived in Tarlac City proper. We went to Robinsons in Technopark to buy some drinks and we ate the banana chips and roasted cashew nuts that we bought from the Monasterio, just killing time before we could leave to go back to Manila.

Train display at Technopark Luisita.

Before heading home, we bought calderetang chevon (goat meat) from Julia's Kambingan.

While waiting for our takeout, i snacked on some Balut sa Puti. Yums!

That's it for our Tarlac Trip. Also, on the way home, we passed by The city of Mabalacat and GPS showed there was a theme park inside, Feliz Cidade theme park. The city was enclosed behind walls and lookd so intriguing so probably this May, 'coz we're going to Zambales, were gonna take a detour there.

See you next post!