Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kapuluan Vista Resort - Calm amidst the Chaos

Pagudpud, to my mind is the Boracay of the North.
For many years we had frequented Saud Beach until uber-commercialism
drove us to look for something quieter.
Two years ago, we re-discovered Blue Lagoon Beach.
I remember the first time we saw this gorgeous stretch of white sand more than
ten years ago.
There were only a few make shift huts and it seemed totally isolated from everything.
Sadly, Blue Lagoon is now just as commercialized as Saud Beach, with a monstrous huge concrete hotel, dozens of
cottages offering "homestay" accommodations, mini apartelles, etc.
Greed, land grabbers and schemers have taken over.
But, it still boasts of a wide and clean white sand beach,
clear and blue waters.
Because it is nestled between the mountains and the sea, you can tune out and focus
on the still gorgeous scenery that surrounds Blue Lagoon.
And if you take the road all the way down to the end, you'll come upon an oasis of calm --
so different from the many resorts in the area.
This is Kapuluan Vista Resort.
Kapuluan is a 15 minute walk past the main beach area but this means it is tucked
away from the maddening commercialism of Blue Lagoon.
The beach area across Kapuluan affords you a great view but
it's rocky and not suitable for swimming. The waves though are great for
surfing. The place has become a magnet for surfers, local and foreign alike.
It is the surfing in this area that lured the owners to come home from Southern California to try and
build a relaxed and relaxing vibe -- mix pleasure and an enviable lifestyle with a thriving business.
The result is a well thought out resort -- from the native yet contemporary architecture to the minimalist
but comfortable, tasteful rooms to service that is gracious and personalized, to an expansive cuisine
that is Ilokano by way of California.
Thus, you can order regional specialties like bagnet, pakbet or dinakdakan.
Or you can go Cali-Mex and have the huge burritos (chicken, lobster, fish or steak)
which are made with freshly picked veggies from the owners' organic garden.
Or, because you are steps away from the beach after all, you can have grilled seafood -- whatever
is freshly caught that day.
The days go by slowly in Kapuluan. Since we time our vacation in June -- we practically have the
resort to ourselves. It's a wonderful place to relax and recharge -- and the highlight of our
Northern Road Trip.

O Tempora! O Mores! Signs of "Progress" on the Northern Road Trip

Are you old enough to remember the charming sight of an ox-drawn cart,
laden with baskets, woven mats, assorted crafts?
They used to be found all through the provincial highways, specially during summertime.
Going from town to town, it was a living for most families who sold their wares during
fiestas and tiangge days.
Well, that cart is no more.
Imagine my horror when I saw that the ox had been replaced by a Kawasaki motorcycle!
While animal lovers may welcome this as a more humane, I think the ox
must secretly have enjoyed the pasyal from town to town --
they seemed to be well taken cared of by their owners and adequately fed, watered and tended to during the journey.
What charm is there in a tricycle laden with baskets?
They're noisy, pollute the clean provincial air with their fumes and clog traffic on busy roads.
I'm all for progress and I look for the signs every year when we take our road trip --
progress by way of wider and better roads, cleaner streets, well zoned areas, well maintained public plazas
and municipal halls, newer and better public markets, and so on and so forth.
The tricycle substitute for the ox drawn cart is nothing but an abomination to me.
I hope I don't see it again on next year's road trip!

Teaño Milk Candy - Delicious Discovery from Alcala, Cagayan

On the second day of our Northern Road Trip, I mention to Jay how thankful I am that I married a man
who loves driving long distances.
In that case, you should have married a truck driver, he retorts.
While we do enjoy the annual road trip, let me say for those who don't know me, that Jay has to do
all the driving himself since I am a non-driver.
What I do is I ride shotgun, navigate as best as I can, point out items of interest and ply him with food, drink
and conversation to keep him awake the whole time.
We have different styles though -- Jay has a
to hurtle through villages and towns --
specially when traffic
is light.
I like meandering and discovering interesting places, specially when the interesting places have something to
do with discovering something delicious.
This is how we found the best carabao milk pastillas in the whole wide world --
it's called Teaño Milk Candy and it's sold from a house in Alcala, Cagayan.
We came upon this utterly addictive and creamy delicacy many years ago while driving through Alcala.
We wanted to stop by the church, which is a very pretty and well preserved sample of
Spanish architecture so Jay was not in full hurtle mode.
Right before we reached the center of town, we espied this small sign
by the highway that said Alcala Milk Candy.
Now carabao milk pastillas is one of Jay's favorite things in life
so it was easy enough to get him to stop and park.
The candy is sold out of the window of the owner's house. You ring a bell and the owner comes out to attend to you.
A pack contains about 12 thin bars of milk candy -- it's not too sweet and you can really taste the goodness
of the fresh and pure carabao milk that it's made from.
The label says this milk candy has been around since 1930. It keeps for a few days, unrefrigerated but according
to the proprietor (Ms.Teaño, I presume) it can last for months if stored in the freezer.
Teaño Milk Candy has found its way beyond Alcala, Cagayan. They say it is a staple pasalubong for homesick Cagayenos all over the world.

Calvary Hills, Iguig - A Must stop on the Northern Road Trip

Less than 30 minutes away from Tuguegarao City, it's time for the first stop of the day at Iguig --
a picturesque town overlooking the wide and mighty Cagayan River.
Each year that we drive through Iguig, I invariably wish that I could find a way to live here.
Life just seems so simple and serene.
This small, quiet town in Cagayan has one major attraction -- bigger than life size statues of the 14 Stations of the Cross set amidst 11 hectares of gently rolling terrain.
Called Calvary Hills, the Stations of the Cross provide a backdrop to the centuries old church of St. James which in itself is a wonder to behold.
In remarkably good and preserved condition, the church seems like an ordinary brick structure from the front but go around the back to see the magnificent flying buttresses that surround it.
I often wonder why it has not earned a place in UNESCO's list of Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
It certainly ranks right up there with Paoay and Sta. Maria Churches in Ilocos, Miag-ao in Iloilo and Baclayon in Bohol.
We always stop at Iguig and since we get there early in the morning on weekdays,
we have the church and Calvary Hills to ourselves.
The view of the river, the green and rolling hills, the amazing church
with its flying buttresses ... I always have to
tear myself away with such regret and
look forward with anticipation to next year's visit.
It is an inspiring and uplifting part of our journey.

One Night in Hotel Lorita - Best Hotel in Tuguegarao City

After visiting Our Lady of Piat, the next stop is Tuguegarao City which is where we spend the night.
Since it's been a long journey, it's specially important to find a place that's clean, well maintained, safe
and with adequate, secure parking.
Hotel Lorita delivers on all those points.
Located along Rizal Street, it's very near the Cathedral, the public market and other commercial and business establishments.
But even if the hotel is right by a busy street, you are insulated from the noise and bustle once you enter the small but neat lobby.
I always ask for a room on the "annex", which is set way in the back on the third floor.
There, the rooms are bigger and each is furnished with a queen sized bed, a comfortable sofa and a small personal ref.
Cable tv and air-conditioning are part of the deal.
The bathroom, while bare, is nonetheless spotlessly clean with hot water to boot.
This last visit, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Lorita now has free wifi for guests -- and connection was strong and stable, better than in most places here in Manila.
On this trip too, we noted that Lorita's restaurant had been expanded and renovated. We had always enjoyed the very good
Chinese food served here and now with the expansion, the dining room was even fuller than before.
The room comes with free breakfast which gave Jay a chance to enjoy Tuguegarao's garlicky and delicious longganiza, a worthy cousin to the Ilokano variety.
After a restful, quiet night in Hotel Lorita-- our Northern road trip continues after breakfast!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Our Lady of Piat -- Yena Tam Ngamin

The real reason why we make our annual Northern Road trip as a drive from the eastern side of Luzon to the western side
is so that we can visit Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan Valley.
I first learned of Our Lady from my parents who made the trek many years ago, in the early 80s.
Since we started our road trip, Piat has been an annual pilgrimage for us.
The Basilica Minore of Our Lady is located in the small town of Piat, about 30 kilometers from Tuguegarao.
For more than 400 years, she has protected and guided the people of Cagayan Valley. The Basilica Minore, a brick church that is not an old structure, houses her image which originated from Macao in the early 1600s.
It was originally brought to Manila and then to Lal-lo, the center of the diocese of Nueva Segovia.
From Lal-lo, it was brought to Tuguegarao before it was finally brought to Piat in 1623.
The image of Our Lady seems to be made of dark wood but interestingly enough, it is actually made of papier mache.
The statue of Our Lady of Piat is at the center of the altar. You may go to the back of the church, climb a flight of stairs and reach the back of the altar where a small door opens up to the back of the statue.
Pilgrims line up and climb to fervently touch her statue, wipe it with hankies, scarves, towels; bow heads in prayer, give thanks, ask for help with petitions and requests.
Our Lady of Piat is very merciful -- she has countless miracles attributed to her through the centuries. She has saved the people of Cagayan from drought, from invasion, from plagues.
And for me, just one pilgrim out of countless many, she is truly Yena Tam Ngamin.
It is indeed a blessing to be able to visit her every year.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SPAMmed at Burger King!

Who doesn't like Spam?
Generations of Pinoys have grown up on this "special processed army meat" although
I'm not sure if that's what it really stands for.
To my mind, it's more like "seriously positively addictive meat" because once you start eating it,
you want more and more.
Jay loves Spam -- this health nut husband of mine admits to this definitely unhealthy addiction.
While we try to avoid it at home, he seeks it out at Burger King where they serve it for breakfast.
Our first stop on this year's North Road Trip was at the Shell Station along NLEX and he zoomed in
on the Burger King outlet like a homing pigeon looking for Spam pellets.
It was even better because since I've stopped eating meat, he got my two slices of Spam while I still had
a filling breakfast with a double dose of scrambled eggs.
Fortified with Spam -- it was onward, upward and northward for us!
Next stop ... lunch!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feli-Citas' - Discovering Pancit Cabagan in Isabela

I had read quite a bit about this famous pancit so I was not about to miss the opportunity to try it on this year's annual Northern road trip.
I knew that it could be found in various towns in Isabela and all the way up to Tuguegarao, where there is a version of it called batil patung.
I also knew that Cabagan, from where it originates would not be on our route as we usually take the short cut from Santiago to Tuguegarao.
Good thing I asked about pancit cabagan at the Petron station in Santiago City. The owner, who was counting out mounds of cash looked a little alarmed when I barged into her office.
However, she graciously gave me directions to a not-to-be-missed place -- Feli-citas.
But you just missed it she said -- turn back and go five minutes down the road. Then, seeing my crestfallen face, she added that we would be passing one of its branches in Roxas, an hour's drive away and right along our route.
We almost missed Feli-Citas' Roxas branch!
I was looking earnestly for a stand alone restaurant but it turned out that it is part of a huge Total Gas Station, attached next to the convenience store.
The short menu of specialties was listed right on the food counter which also had some trays of home cooked food. There were slabs of very tempting lechon kawali but we were focused on finally sampling pancit cabagan.
The girl manning the counter said that batil patung was just pancit cabagan with a whole egg on top so I opted to try both versions.
The platters of pancit, generous for a single serving, came out from the kitchen, freshly made and very hot.
First glance showed that slices of lechon kawali were liberally sprinkled on top and both batil patung and pancit cabagan were very saucy, saucier than most other noodle dishes I had tried. It almost looked like lomi albeit, with thinner noodles.
We were even given a coffee cup of extra sauce!
While I didn't eat the lechon kawali on my pancit, each spoonful was redolent of the aroma and flavor of rendered pork lard. Very flavorful and rich but also very heavy on the stomach.
While I think the noodles are really miki , freshly made, the sauce was so overpowering you could not appreciate their springiness and chewiness.
We left Roxas and Feli-Citas with full tummies -- the pancit cabagan would last us through a couple of hours more to Piat and on to Tuguegarao!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pork in the (North) Road

Every year, around June, Jay and I take our annual road trip to Northern Luzon.
We started this in 1994 and have been able to do it annually, barring a year or two.
We start by going east, going through the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Cagayan Valley.
We stop at Piat in Cagayan to visit Our Lady of Piat then break the journey and spend the night in Tuguegarao City.
The next day, we head for Ilocos, driving upwards to the northern tip and going downwards towards Ilocos Norte where
we enjoy the great white sand beaches of Pagudpud.
After a few days, we drive back through northwest Luzon, passing through Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga and back home.
It's a great road trip that takes us about a week and it's something I have always wanted to write about.
And now with this blog, I can.

One Less Pig To Die

And cow. Chicken. And duck. And goose. Yes, sheep. And goat.
I've done it. I've stopped eating any kind of meat.
Every year, I turn vegetarian for the 40 days of Lent.
I become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, forsaking all meat, fish, poultry.
Nothing but vegetables and eggs and dairy products.
When Easter rolled around, I decided to extend the fasting from meat although
I started to eat fish and other kinds of sea food.
And I have lasted so far, up to now, without tasting any morsel of meat.
I'm doing it for health reasons -- I feel better and healthier and yes, lighter.
I'm also doing it for ethical reasons -- in my own small way,
hopefully some animal will not give up its life in the usual inhumane fashion.
So what about this blog then ...
Of course it will go on because there are so many other delicious things to enjoy,
so many food experiences to share.
And while I will not be eating meat, I can still reminisce and blog about it.