13.6 degrees centigrade according to my watch barometer. We were inside our tent. I could imagine how cold it was outside our tent hearing the unrelenting howl of the wind. It is 2:30 am and we’re at the Camp 2 of Mt Pulag, the highest mountain of Luzon and considered as the third highest in the country. I braced for the chill as I zipped open the tent door. A draft came in as I peeked outside. The sky was clear with stars jubilantly sparkling. The waning moon illuminated the landscape. “We have a clearing!” I gleefully thought. Thank god the weather was on our side and after almost 14 years, I’ll be back at the summit of Mt Pulag.
Being in one airport at a time is amazing, but being in two at the same time is ultimately rare. How is this possible, you ask? Well, the Gold Coast’s runway is in both New South Wales and Queensland – and just minutes away from the beach. It is the gateway to one of Australia’s most visited destinations.
Gold Coast Airport, formerly known as Coolangatta Airport, has recently been named the Best Regional Airport Australia/Pacific at the Skytrax World Airport Awards, yet again. This is the third time that they are receiving the award, with millions of travellers voting for them. There were 14 million respondents from all over the world, with 550 international airports participating. The airport just recently launched its unmanned check-in counters, too, where passengers can check-in through a kiosk. There are 25 kiosks available, which saves the passengers from the hassle of falling in line for check in. Just goes to show that the Gold Coast Airport is definitely one of a kind!
Our custom Lakbay Norte Victory Liner bus shuddered to a stop and, with a noticeable soreness to my tushy, I woke. From the window, I saw that the weather had turned bleary. We’d been traveling for 12 hours, spanning the length of Nueva Ecija all the way to Cagayan. To here, in the municipality of Tuguegarao.
After shaking off sleep from our eyes and a round of pandiculation, one by one, my companions and I disembarked. It was past 7AM but it felt like the sun got lazy and was taking its time to get up. A light drizzle was underway and wisps of morning fog blurred the edges of things. There was a dullness to the scene, almost like it was painted with watercolor.
Our second day in Nueva Ecija began in Cabanatuan City, with a filling buffet breakfast courtesy of Harvest Hotel. One by one, we lined up for eggs, daing na bangus, batutay, and other breakfast staples. The taho station also got us excited.
The two variants of batutay they served – garlic, and sweet – were just too good to pass up on. And as it were, I had way too many, which was just as well since our schedule that day was jam-packed.
The Lumineers blared through my earphones as our bus cruised along the North Luzon Express Way. After a fun breakfast at Jollibee, we were now bound for our next stop.
“O, Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind, girl, since the flood,” crooned Wesley Schultz as we sped by fields of grass.
I was lacking sleep and Nueva Ecija, whose treasures we’ll be exploring for two days, inched on the corners of my listless mind much like Ophelia does to the folk singer’s. This year’s installment of Lakbay Norte will take us across two provinces. And the underrated province of Nueva Ecija will be our gateway – the municipality of General Tinio, to be exact.
5:25 AM. Our car was parked in front of the Masungi Georeserve gate waiting for them to open. The wind howled and sent chills down to our bones making us seek warmth inside the car. I have long been interested on visiting the Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal but booking a tour was a challenge as slots are often filled. DIY or walk-ins are also not allowed as booking should be done in groups of 6–10. Fortunately, our friend Lea, whom I met in Batanes Asus event called for joiners to complete a group of her friends with her father. We chose the earliest schedule to somehow catch a good light on the trail.
Weekend escapes usually entails some planning – from where to go, how to get there, what food to bring and where to stay. The choice for weekend trips from Manila are usually at the popular beaches of Batangas, Zambales and Quezon. What if I tell you there’s a tranquil and secluded cove only 3–4 hours away from Manila that you just have to conveniently bring yourself and not think about the food or the place to stay? Aroma Beach Hideaway is tucked in between Morong and Bagac at underrated Bataan. Managed by Bataan Nature Adventure, they emphasize on just enjoying your time at their beautiful cove and let them handle the rest.