That Friday morning, we all prayed hard for sun and blue skies. After the drenching of yesterday, still vivid and sharp, we wanted nothing more to do with rain. And as though the echo of our collective pleas reverberated throughout the divine plane, the roiling clouds started to ease. As a result, we hurried to board our designated motorboats.
The rainfall that was repressed during our first day in Cagayan was now letting on. Dark clouds loomed overhead and followed us like vultures waiting to pounce. Everything was bleak and the air was heavy with the smell of ozone. But despite the less than cheerful weather, we put on our best smiles and bucked up.
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.
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.