Part One: Pagudpud, the “Boracay of the North,” on the northern shore of Luzon.)
Leaving now on my last big Philippines adventure, curtains up against the eastern sun and Shania Twain on deck on the busfront monitor – scene outside the window similar to central Iloilo with green rice flats and hill-mountains sprouting in the distance. There are men selling banana chips at the stops and outside a roughhewn hutch painted lime green (and lettering in darker lime green) claiming “CLEAN RESTROOMS” – in my town the only public CR is at the plaza in the midst of all the smoke and dust that choke our only major road – stalls guarded by a hatted-and-sunglassed old man collecting some minimal payment for their use. There are pantat-fish painted on the facade (and for me these colorful pictures are infinitely preferable to the real thing grilling on sticks meters away on roadside stands to be eaten like fleshy popsicles.)
Out of season, “fresh fruit” as part of a resort breakfast means “two tomato rounds and a slice of cucumber”
Forcing myself to move slowly I stop for the night – a midsize city with most of the amenities you’d expect and nothing more – thousands of trikes filling the morning air today with noise and smoke. Onward to Pagudpud now where my greatest fear is not finding an affordable place to stay and having to move on and further on.
Watched the sun set last night from my fifth-floor coffin, sinking behind the distant low mountains and sending glints of skittering light off the metal of cars and trikes and buildings – before wandering the streets in the gathering night, everything shut down early and dark and quiet except the mad ape squealing of jostling tricycles.
Tourism officer Harold assured me that “Actually there is no crime in Pagudpud” – despite the banner above the town plaza demanding justice for the attempted murder of the mayor… he was also shocked that I came here alone and confirmed the point with me over and over – and probably still doesn’t believe me, even though Pagudpud has no crime. (And no dishonesty either.)
Following this morning the curve along Pagudpud’s Saud Beach to the west, tramping pristine sand and bluegreen water and almost as beautiful as the beach itself is the genuine wind farm spinning its (counting) 60 blades along the perpendicular shoreline. Ilocos Norte is remote, far from any major urban center, and places like this need and are in a position to utilize (thanks to lack of existing infrastructure) renewable energy sources effectively and as part of ongoing development…
Massive strong waves bowled me over yesterday when I went swimming in the morning and today they remain substantial though not quite as angry. In the afternoon I took a walk east along the road – bad idea – within minutes the stifling heat had me pouring sweat and within the walls of trees I could hardly breathe. So of course I headed back for the ocean, discovering several campsite resorts seemingly abandoned for the offseason fringed along the still-pretty shore to the east. But now writing this there is an older European here at the Emohruo Beach Resort hitting on the Filipina staff and it’s putting me off my pen…
I suppose when you live in one place for as long as two years perhaps it’s impossible not to develop some kind of regional fondness, but it’s still strange to me when I find myself missing my “home” province. To my ears the voices here are a bit harsher than the rhythmic gentle lilt of Visayans (in my head I exaggerate this singsong quality, imagining their voices creating a soft landscape of easy hills and shallow valleys), but it could be simply the delusion of a nostalgic mind. Certainly I’ve had no cause to mourn the loss of Ilonggo kindness: everyone has treated me with utmost friendliness… but somehow it always makes me a little bit glad to step off the boat in my own dirty, crowded city and take my shortcuts home.
Walked about as far as possible along Saud Beach to the west until the growing cliffs made the way impassable. The rocky part of the beach is in its own way just as pretty as the sandy lagoons, and it was even emptier than the main swath this morning: I saw several groups of Filipino tourists and one chubby European boy obstinately facing up to the waves. In the afternoon I trekked back the several kilometers to the town center – thinking for some reason there was more to see than was actually there – read in a shady pavilion after a carinderia lunch, snagged some groceries and went back beachward. On the way I passed vast rice fields filling up the yawning valley in which Pagudpud rests. Muscular worn karabaw plowed up the soil in empty ponds and a single figured dressed all in black stooped – to pluck or to plant I don’t know; I was too engrossed in imagining the perfect photograph of the scene, ironically, to actually notice its full reality.
Sunburned of course, red in the face and arms after beach day one – despite the tube of sunscreen lying in my backpack, the gift of a concerned sprite -
Nine thousand miles to the Philippines and 40+ hours of travel from my site to Pagudpud, and all so I can eat the “American Breakfast” – and the great thing is I find it more amusing than depressing.
I bought some ponkan Tang yesterday and mixed it up in my trusty water bottle which I’ve had since PST and which has gradually gained a splotchy film of mold on its interior. Drank the Tang. This morning I noticed my bottle has been scoured of most of the mold – the difference is remarkable – and am forced to conclude that something acidic in the Tang broke down the splotches, which I then unknowingly drank. But hey, clean bottle.
And now drinking brewed coffee at one of those beachside resorts I can’t afford, a few meters from a little stony cliff falling off into the morning’s strong waves. I can see the entire halfmoon parabola of Saud, and from here to the far zenith the water grades through a dozen shades of blue from a beigeish aquamarine to a mysterious deep ocean tint and back again; and at the distant point jutting jauntily into the sea, one tree stands apart and squiggly whitecaps charge the shore like cheery tildes. If you follow that point back into the land, cradling green hills rise and then disappear into the distance behind the frontline palms.
For some reason I woke up this morning thinking “One day we’ll have Tom Jones impersonators and at that point it might be time to reset this big experiment”