Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Labor Day weekend in La Union

I have a fear of natural bodies of water. The last time I was in one was when I snorkeled with Cams and Andrew in Talicud Island, Davao after our Mt. Apo hike last year—and that was only because everyone in our mountaineering group was coming and snorkeling was less scary than the original plan to go diving. I've been considering adding surfing to my bucket list, however, so when some work friends decided on a trip to La Union over Labor Day weekend, despite planning issues that had to be compensated for by the promise of good food and a nice place to stay at, I thought why the hell not!

Off to La Union we went, the nine of us in two cars, after a hard day's work last Friday. Seven hours and a couple of stopovers later, we finally arrived at my colleague JC's place in San Fernando. It was almost sunrise when we settled ourselves into bamboo and wicker chairs in the wooden house's veranda and over bottled water and some cigarettes discussed our itinerary, the first of which was to get some shuteye. I didn't feel like sleeping but succumbed to it anyway to prepare for the day ahead.

We woke up some four hours later to the sweltering heat that could have only been caused by air-conditioning being shut off. We had no electricity, which in the area also meant no water. That we were going to get wet surfing later on anyway was a very small consolation to the icky feeling we all shared, but we had to eat something first so we packed our swimming gear in our bags, hopped in our cars and went out for brunch before hitting the beach.

We couldn't use our credit cards and ATM cards anywhere because of the power outage, so we had to pick a restaurant, preferably with generator-powered air-conditioning, that served lutong-bahay (home-cooked food) for cheap. JC recommended Midtown Plaza Restaurant located, well, midtown. No luck on the air-conditioning but the food was fantastic.

Midtown Plaza Restaurant food

They had barbecued pork, kare-kare (delicious because they used ground peanuts and not peanut butter), lechon kawali, lechon paksiw, dinuguan and sinanglaw (an Ilocano delicacy of stewed beef innards), among other Filipino dishes, served turo-turo-style. We were all so famished we picked multiple dishes for ourselves, and then our eyes bulged during check-out as apparently they weren't so affordable after all. The empty plates we all had on our tables afterward proved they were well worth the price though.

Wall art in Midtown Plaza Restaurant

Lucky for us almost everyone was in Boracay that Saturday as San Juan's beach resorts weren't too packed with people. We were even able to get a large tent to ourselves at Sebay Surf Resort after only a few minutes. Turned out, however, that the tent was actually for an event, and we were asked to vacate it late in the afternoon. But not before having us a good time.

A good time for my friends meant taking a dip in the water, playing frisbee and having jump shots of themselves taken. Not me. I was content just checking out the surf shops and mostly staying in the shade of our borrowed tent, enjoying our colleague DJ Tom's music issuing from JC's Bluetooth speaker, people watching, and taking in all the nature around me. And then, of course, surfing.

It was about half past two when those of us who wanted to get surfing lessons finally agreed to do so. Because there was a Labor Day weekend event, San Juan Surf Shop only charged us P350 for an hour and twenty minutes' lessons, including surf board rental.

We were taught the parts of the surf board along with the ways we could transition from lying prone on our boards to standing. There was a quick return demonstration and then the real thing. It felt like I was in Physical Education class again and that like in grade school and high school I would fail and just get myself embarrassed in front of my classmates. I burst my lower lip open after getting hit by my own surf board while trying to paddle it back to my instructor, but aside from that and a few other amateur mistakes, I was fairly successful in many attempts riding a wave to the shore. My surf instructor Peter certainly thought so too.

Surfing 101. The waves were so low they were perfect for lessons, but not really great if you want to brag about the experience through photos. (Thanks to JC for this shot.)

Alex (or Travis to work friends), my surf instructor Peter, Daryl, Daryl's surf instructor whose name I didn't get, and me

After the beach, we went to a supermarket called CSI to buy drinks for the night (naturally) and breakfast food for the following morning. Then we got empanada de Iloko from Victoria's for snacks. I got their most expensive variant called Double Double (two eggs and double the usual amount of longganisa for its filling) and I had trouble finishing it because aside from being hot, it was huge. It was an entire meal in itself, for only P80.

Victoria's empanada de Iloko

We decided to have dinner in the backyard and thankfully not so many mosquitoes come out at night in La Union unlike in the metro. Over talk of mostly work-related stuff, we had our fill of steamed rice, pork liempo and sinanglaw, and shortly thereafter had shots of brandy with kinilaw na tanigue, char-grilled hotdogs (I made the wrong decision picking the brand Vida), Vigan longganisa and jamonado as pulutan. We bought beer after we ran out of brandy and then, sleepy but surprisingly still not drunk, went to bed at around 4 AM on Sunday.

The only thing missing were fairy lights hanging from the tree and this would have been a scene right out of a rom-com

Sinanglaw, an Ilocano delicacy of stewed beef innards

Char-grilling our pulutan

I was the first to wake up about two hours later because I had volunteered to cook breakfast for everyone. It was quite a challenge, considering I was by myself and there wasn't a can opener or gas stove in the kitchen or even salt and pepper to flavor the food, but I was able to come up with a decent selection of breakfast viands that included tocino, luncheon meat, longganisa and scrambled eggs, all cooked in a rice cooker.

Our last item in the itinerary was having halo-halo at Halo-Halo de Iloko, which I had already visited two summers ago with some acquaintances from Baguio who spontaneously asked me to tag along. The place had the same cozy interiors, with articles written about it framed on the walls, photos of visiting celebrities compiled in an album, wood-and-capiz dividers, tribal antiques and other knick-knacks scattered about.

One thing that had changed was Halo-Halo de Iloko now serving cupcakes, which I thought was a bad thing to add to their menu when their main offering is something equally sweet. Still, my friend Daryl and I decided to try one while waiting for our halo-halo orders. We got blueberry cheesecake, which was good but also tiny and expensive at P90.

Halo-Halo de Iloko's blueberry cheesecake cupcake

Our fiesta halo-halos, their tall and special variants priced at P99 each, came a few minutes later, offering relief from the heat with just the right amount of sweetness and not too much ice that you'd have to shovel through with your spoon to be able to mix all the ingredients together.

Halo-Halo de Iloko's fiesta halo-halo

During the drive to La Union we listened to loud and upbeat music to keep us, especially Daryl who was behind the wheel, awake. On the drive back to Manila we listened to slower, more sentimental songs, and then a recording of Parokya ni Edgar's October 2013 guesting on Magic 89.9's Boys' Night Out. We  marveled at how it's been 19 years since the band first made music and how they said they've only been able to do it for so long because they love what they do. As we laughed at their jokes and sang along to every song they performed on the show, I could only hope that I too could be doing what I love for the next 19 years or more. And that vacation trips like the one we just had would come along more frequently.

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