October 4, 2008. No nitty-gritty details, no itinerary. All I had was a wishlist - of places to go, things to see, food to eat - and a ticking clock on the last weekend before I was assigned back to Manila for work. On the surface, this meant that I had to move out of the place I had rented in Pampanga and that, after the weekend, I would need to return my car and once again depend on public transportation to get around (and I wasn't looking forward to it).
But what it all really, truly meant was that after five exciting and memorable months, it was time for me to write on that final page destined for fabled farewells, so that I could say "so long" to the life I lived as a sales trainee in South and North Luzon, and settle back into the life of a cube-dweller in Manila.
Needless to say, I was set on making an adventure of that Last Weekend. Fortunately I had two friends, Edell and Mabz, who were willing to join my thinly-planned trip. And on Saturday, we left Manila and took a drive north to Pampanga. On top of moving out of my apartment there, three other things were on my To Do list:
1. Visit Bacolor Church, half-buried due to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991. 2. Visit Betis Church, also known as "The Sistine Chapel of the Philippines" because of the beautiful paintings found in its interior. 3. Try Aling Lucing's famous sisig!
I knew that Bacolor Church was in, well, Bacolor, and Betis Church was in, well, Betis, and I could accurately pinpoint where these towns were in the Luzon map I had bought a few months prior. I figured that was enough. One could always ask for directions. And it was a Saturday! The laziest day of the week! I didn't want a strict itinerary on the laziest, supposedly most unstructured day of the week!
If my two friends were disconcerted at the prospect of driving into a strange town knowing nothing else but its name, they didn't show it. I suppose they knew me well enough and had grown accustomed to my randomness and minimalist planning style. They are friends for keeps.
Our first stop was Bacolor Church. From the North Luzon Expressway, we took the San Fernando exit and inside San Fernando drove along the main road, familiar to me because of my many route rides in the area a few weeks prior. We found the rode that led to Bacolor and once within the town, started to ask around for the specific location of the half-buried church. It took a number of instructions from various people and a few u-turns before we finally got to our destination.
Also known as San Guillermo Church and the Nuestra Senora del Santissimo Rosario, the Bacolor Church is a baroque-style church built in 1576. In 1991, the Mt. Pinatubo eruption buried half of the Bacolor Church in mud and lahar.
Since then, the interior of the church has been renovated. From the inside, it has the customary look of a typical church in the Philippines, save for the half-circle windows found along the side of the interior that look out to essentially nothing but the ground - they were obviously windows meant to be placed at much greater heights. From the outside, however, it isn’t hard to notice the apparent squatness of the church, hinting at the depth upon which it was buried.
Our next stop was Betis Church, in Betis, Guagua. I had been to other parts of Guagua a few times prior but never to Betis, but with the map, a bit more of asking around and looking for road signs, we managed to find ourselves in what is supposed to be known as "The Sistine Chapel of the Philippines".
And Betis Church didn't disappoint. The paintings inside the church were pretty impressive. My favorite (and Mabelle is with me on this) would probably have to be the angels singing in a choir - I remember inheriting a Bible Stories book from my mom (she or one of her siblings had owned it since they were children!) with similar-looking illustrations. We spent a considerable amount of time just staring up at the ceiling, in awe of the paintings.
There was also a museum beside Betis Church, so we checked that out as well. It was mainly of paintings and statues and pictures of the priests of Betis Church over the years.
Catch Part 2 of The Last Weekend: Saturday Stories, coming soon!
After Betis Church, the food trip started! I had been told about Guagua's legendary chicharon, and had once been to the store that sold it - a tiny, hole-in-the-wall, blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of place. It took us a while to find it - it turned out to be the most difficult place to locate out of the entire trip! But it was super worth it. The place is called Galan's Gen. Merchandise, and they sell Galan's Chicharon (naturally). Here's the address:
Galan's Chicharon #06 San Roque, Guagua, Pampanga
They sold different varieties of chicharon at Galan's - even one with reduced fat! But we figured, we weren't going to be coming back to Galan anytime soon, and it wasn't like we ate Galan's chicharon everyday, so we said so long to "eating healthy" and went for the original, contains-all-the-oil-and-fat-in-the-world, my-nape-will-be-hurting-from-this-but-to-hell-with-it Galan's chicharon. We also brought some as pasalubong for our families - my parents were thrilled.
After our heart-stopping, cholesterol-inducing quest for the famed Galan's Chicharon, it was time for another I'm-going-to-need-a-bypass-surgery-next-year destination: Aling Lucing's Famous Sisig Place!
A few months prior to our road trip, tragic news broke about Aling Lucing, the woman who invented the sisig recipe in the 1970's. I'm not sure how it affected her sisig's popularity, but in any case, we were still looking forward to eating roadside and trying the sisig that started it all - these days Papanga is well-known for its sisig, so much so that they have a Sisig Festival every December to celebrate it!
Aling Lucing's Sisig place is literally situated on the side of a busy intersection in Angeles, where the old railroad used to be - it's not for the squeamish. I don't mind eating at carinderias and roadside stalls and buying food from street vendors (except when I'm in Manila - I have to think twice about those things when I'm in Manila. Maybe it's because I grew up in the province and was rased to believe that Manila streets are dirty, bacteria-laden places. I love the isaw in UP though! But more on that later.), so it was no problem at all, and the whole look of the place got me a little excited - eating at a place like that wasn't something we did everyday.
After lunch, we decided to drive back to Manila, but not without stopping at the gas station where we ate Razon's halo-halo. We could've gone to the original, but I hadn't a clue where it was found in Pampanga. Besides, there was more to be done in Manila!
It didn't take long to drive back from Pampanga to Manila, where we hung out at the Marikina Shoe Expo in Cubao and bought random trinkets - a necklace with a massive masquerade-ish mask pendant for me, and a favorite romance novel title for mabz (there's always a serendipitous moment waiting to happen at a second-hand bookstore, and don't you just love it when it really does happen?). After checking out a number of stores, we were off again, this time to UP Diliman, where we were to meet our friend Aldous to have some isaw and dessert at Chocolate Kiss!
Overall, a road trip with friends is probably one of the best things to do on a Saturday. And the best part is, you don't need to spend a lot of money or do a lot of planning to actually make it happen!