First thing’s first, I need to express my regret over buying an unruled notebook. I had this optimistic idea of starting a travel notebook filled with notes, photos, flat paraphernalia, and sketches of things from my trips. That was a stupid idea. A couple of points:
Just look at how messy the page already is. Shit.
Jess suggested that I start a travel blog with all the trips coming up, and I guess this is my first step. I had no clue how to write then I remembered how easy it was for me to describe my Calatagan beach trip to you girls. Pretending that this is a letter to the six of my favorite people takes off a lot of pressure from my shoulders. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up reading this in the future?
So back to the trip. Going to Isabela wasn’t as difficult on my butt as I thought it would be even if it took a 10 hour bus trip. We left the station at around 9 PM in a Victory Liner Super Deluxe bus, which meant only good things in the form of wi-fi, foot rests, reclining seats, and Skyfall. Four for you, Victory! As expected my family was making a scene but whatever, we were the fun people in that bus. My mom made herself the temporary bus stewardess of the trip (a position that probably didn’t exist before that night). The rest of the night/early morning was spent trying not to freeze, but at least my butt was too numb to feel any pain.
TIP 1: If you go on the Victory Liner Super Deluxe, bring socks and a thick blanket. You probably won’t need to use it in Cabagan, and they’re extra things to lug around, but definitely worth it if you don’t want to die on the ride there.
There’s a new hotel in the area but we stayed with relatives, as expected. If we ever visit together, there’s a whole stretch of houses right across the Albano Hospital (which is also named after or possibly owned by another relative based on the name). It’s loud, there are a lot of people, and it’s crazy fun. Being constantly surrounded by relatives from the area is very good especially if you’re like me and you don’t speak Ibanag, which is the local dialect. My grand aunt said I need to learn it before my next visit so I don’t get sold. I think it was a joke, but just in case…
Speaking of relatives, one great highlight of the trip was my uncle’s ranch. Jesus, that ranch! Pretty much the most gorgeous house I’ve ever been to. I’m not sure it has a name but I doubt it would be hard to find considering that it’s the only one on that face of the mountain. The ranch stretches for a couple of acres (about 40, if I remember correctly since I was busy drooling), has a helipad, a permanent restaurant setting that faces the next mountain, an infinity pool–the works. He said we should live there the next time we visit, and oh, I definitely agree. It was only with the utmost self-restraint that I didn’t take pictures, and also because my uncle was there and he doesn’t get how people would be in shock of where he lives. Definitely sneaking you in when we’re there.
One other great thing to look forward to? The food! Unbelievable amount and variety of food. I ate up to six times a day because every house we visited has a table of food prepared for visitors. My Tita Kikay, whose restaurant is locally famous enough for tricycle drivers and Victory Liner conductors to use as a stop, makes the best Pancit Cabagan. There’s a special sauce and pieces of lechon kawali that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. My Tita Ruby, on the other hand, makes this special dinuguaan with deep fried…well, I don’t know what exactly, but it’s worth that leap of faith.
TIP 2: Make sure to pack things that are loose and with elasticated waistlines because you will go up a couple of dress sizes. There’s so much good food to try and you’re going to end up having a bit of everything. There’s so much to try including igado, bopis, lengua, inatata, meatballs, pancit, asisi, and inatata (I’m not usually a fan of malagkit, but I had my mom collect a bunch of these from nearly every house we went to).
TIP 3: Try the soda called “Sparkle.” It’s a lighter but I think more delicious alternative to Mountain Dew. Apparently it’s been around since my mom was a kid spending her summers here.
This letter’s getting long and my hand’s starting to hurt so I best wrap it up. Oh, before I forget, make sure to book your return trip in Tuguegarao. The ticketing stall in Cabagan is confusing and not really reliable, so it’s best not leave it to chance if you’re on a schedule. And I think that’s about it. Can’t wait to see you when I get back in Manila and we can talk about this over coffee.
P.S. No attractive Leonardo DiCaprios to speak of. I am disappointed but also partly relieved because I’ve been eating my body weight nearly everyday. Bloated doesn’t even cover it.