Driving through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) last week, I realized your first long trips out of Manila was through this great new road. First, when you were six months we drove to Subic and on to Zambales. And the second was a trip further up north to Baguio.
Perhaps one day when more infrastructure are built crisscrossing these islands you look at our trips fondly, recalling with nostalgia that single smooth drive through the countryside with Mama and Papa. Who knows, you may be taking a superfast train or zipping through the sky on your personal aircraft.
My own trips up north growing up are made up of very fond memories of gentle moments with your Lolo Pablo, Lola Del and your Titas. They all grew up in Olongapo City where your Lolo served as City Engineer in the 1950s and 60s, so when summer of the 70s came it was standard to head for the Subic bay beaches to visit with old friends. Either that of head up north to the beaches of Bauang, La Union where Lolo grew up.
Your Titas’ memories go back further, at a time when they would all cram into the back of the Chevy stationwagon (the size of today’s Suburban) while I would be in a baby basket placed at the foot of Lola’s seat (talk about leg room).
But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is the early 1970s when your Lolo had this aqua 1967 Toyota Crown, which had wrap around airconditioning (blowers in the front and back) and a built in refrigerator in the trunk. He’d stock up on canned Real Fresh milk and chocolate drinks for the trip – softdrinks were available anyway in any sari-sari store along the way.
As we made our way through EDSA, we’d swing by the only Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet then – at the Bonanza compound – to buy a bucket of fried chicken for our lunch when we hit the beach. Then we’d zoom off to the North Diversion Road – the beginnings of today’s North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) – which made it a express drive up to Guiguinto, Bulacan.
From there we’d drive through Bulacan and Pampanga via the tree-lined MacArthur Highway, but always not missing that little store in San Fernando that makes and sells Allied peanuts. Your Lola Del would buy a half gallon can – the same that they use in today’s Arce Dairy Ice Cream – and order extra toasted garlic which they would fill on the top.
From there we would either go towards Lubao and on to Olongapo or head further up north through Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union and Baguio.
That’s, of course, when the whole family would go on the summer journey. It was slightly different when I would go with Lolo Pablo to his business trips up north – just us boys. In our solo flights as we’d sneak in a little something here and there, like when he would actually teach me how to drive on the highway when I could barely reach the pedals. But the best was when we would stop at Hacienda Luisita.
No, it isn’t the mall and restaurant row we know it today. The Tarlac entrance to HL was nothing but a field of giant trees shading the roadside. Under one tree sat a carinderia, reminiscent of those truck stops which feed the weary truckers plying their northern route. Here I always ordered the best breaded pork chops I have ever tasted, then we’d sip the remainder of our cold Pepsi (in the old frosted bottles) under trees.
At times Lolo Pablo would decide to take the bus instead, not the classy airconditioned ones but the quick hopping ordinary Rabbit lines. It would be like a rolling market with vendors of all sorts of goodies sold throughout the five hour journey. Between naps I would feats on hard boiled quail’s eggs, balut, popcorn and Sarsi.
Once in La Union, we’d hit the beach and never leave until the sun sets. In the early mornings fishermen would land on the beach with their catch and Lolo would get first pick for our lunch grille, before the fishermen could haul their catch off to the market.
And throughout the day we would subsist on what the manangs bring us while we played and built sandcastles on the shore. Early in the morning they would bring us those triangle-shaped suman, sticky rice wrapped in leaves with and with very subtle sweetness and saltiness. As the day progressed they would bring ripe mangoes, duhat and sineguelas. When the tanginess or sweetness would become a bit too much, all we’d do is dip the stuff in the salt water and the balance of flavors would be achieved.
We spent so much time in the beaches of Olongapo and La Union that come the start of the next schoolyear in June my skin would be so dark and would slowly lighten as the semester progressed. Some of my teachers worried that I was sick because I was becoming pale, and they would struggle to ask your Lola Del such a delicate question about my failing health during the parent-teacher conference. Of course she would just laugh it off... she always assumed the worse, like they were prepping her for a report of my latest act of juvenile delinquency.
But that’s another story.