AS WE CONTINUE OUR NORTHWARD JOURNEY, the urban sprawl of the last municipality we pass through slowly gives way to rice fields that seem to stretch to the mountains in the distance. Our bus coasts through the highway, whizzing by tricycles, motorbikes, other buses, and the occasional private cars. I’ve been looking out the window for some time now, simultaneously feeling the warmth of the late afternoon sun and the force of the wind smacking my face.
“This is relaxing,” says Joseph, who’s sitting with Dave behind me. “I can get used to this.”
“I don’t know,” I think to myself. “I don’t want to get used to this. I want to feel this sense of wonder every time.”
It’s not like I’m going for the first time to Pagudpud, a place marked by a dot on the top-leftmost part of Luzon Island. It’s so far from Manila and evokes strong ideas of a far-flung place, it might have been another country, if not another island apart from Luzon. But I’ve gone this far twice before – first, during a road trip with my family around Northern Luzon that took us to the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera Regions; and second, when I returned to Ilocos in 2009.
FINALLY, we reach our destination. We alight at the bus station, where a tricycle takes us to a simple guesthouse near Saud Beach. The three of us drop our bags in the room, charge our phones, change to our swimming attire, and head to the beach.
I let Joseph and Dave get in the water first while I walk around. A handful of children are swimming in the distance, dwarfed by newly installed wind turbines on a hill farther away. After a few minutes, I finally get in the water as well. Thanks to its proximity to the town center, most visitors to Pagudpud make Saud Beach their first destination. And it’s not a bad place to get your first impression of the area – the beaches here boast of fine white sand, and, on sunny afternoons during the off-season, the waters are practically quiet, it’s hard not to lapse into a blissful stupor. I lie on the shore with my legs drenched in the water. With the water gently lapping at my sides, I look at the sky slowly transforming into a multitude of warm colors. I have a few favorite experiences, and this is one of them.
We have our dinner of dinengdeng (a vegetable dish similar to pinakbet but with more broth) in a restaurant near our guesthouse. It’s 7:30, and families with kids are arriving. We have to get up early the next morning as our tricycle driver will take us to other sites in Pagudpud. My shoulder aches a little from sunburn and there’s a feeling of exhaustion from all the things we did for the last 24 hours or so. “Cheers,” Dave says, raising a cone of ice cream. “We finally made it here.”
Joseph and I raise our cones, too. “Cheers!”
THE NEXT MORNING, Jaymar, our tricycle driver, drives us from the beach and into the interiors of Ilocos Norte. He pulls up beside a cottage near a fork in the road. He instructs us to log in at the counter, which we do, and soon enough, we’re accompanied by our guide Mang Manuel to the Kabigan Falls. Our thirty-minute trek takes us through a large clearing and then a forest before reaching the waterfall cascading from a hill 120 feet high. Joseph quickly takes off his shirt and dives into the cold waters, followed shortly by Dave, and then by me. We reminisce a similar experience from our Batad trip, while Mang Manuel sits on a boulder nearby. It doesn’t take long before crowds slowly arrive. The three of us finally decide to put on our shirts back and head back to the tricycle.
We ride eastward to the Patipat Viaduct, a coastal bridge that links the Maharlika Highway from Ilocos Norte to Cagayan. We get off the tricycle to take a couple of pictures. The rolling hills and the rocky beach below are reminiscent of Batanes, and this only furthers the wanderlust of Joseph and Dave.
“It’s like seeing God paint a picture,” Dave says.
Returning to our tricycle, we head back west to the Lovers’ Rock, a pair of rock formations that, legend says, were former lovers. Go figure – the Timmangtang Rock was the male and resembles a dome, while the Bantay Abot Cave was the female, and is shaped like a mountain with a hole in the middle.
Back in our tricycle, we head to Blue Lagoon, a strip of beach that I recall as a sleepy place due to its location away from the main road and it being obscured by a large hill. But with the opening of a resort, much of the quiet solitude I remember has been replaced by stores, restaurants, and even a zipline that takes vistors from a hill and over the waters to a station near the beach. Despite the new additions, it doesn’t feel as busy as, say, Boracay – at least not yet.
“This is it. Blue Lagoon,” Jaymar says. “You just go and enjoy yourselves. I’ll just park here.”
And enjoy ourselves, we will. It’s almost close to noon but I don’t mind swimming. With the new-look Pagudpud, I’m eager to create new memories.