I was never good at packing stuff. Regardless of my itinerary, I’m always bound to forget something. One of the worse disasters was forgetting my toothbrush for a 3-day immersion at a lonesome community somewhere in the forested middle of my hometown. I ended up quaffing my roommate’s mouthwash and experimenting with toothpicks and papers (yuck). In short, I was very bad at packing my stuff.
Speaking of ‘baggage’, these past few days have been somewhat baggage-ful. To some emotional extent, I guess. I have been dealing with emotions that are stranger to me. I have been feeling things for the first time and lo and behold, I do not have the balls (yet) to deal with it. The city brings too many memories that I need to be oblivious about it to feel ‘me’ again. Or, in the words of some writer, I need to leave in order to find myself again. But apparently, no one has told me that this leaving-and-finding-one’sself fuckery comes with sun, sand, and seafood! Ooohlalalala…
Dagupan is a 5-hour bus ride from Manila. Traveling at night allows you to witness that fine line separating those city lights from the suburban vibe. Traveling in the morning, on the other hand, allows you to feast on everything that has rested in the darkness: cows on grasslands, cloud patterns, inuman sessions by the road at the height of noon. Yessir, it was a road trip.
We stayed at Jane’s (the heiress XD) hotel the entire weekend-long trip. I found the gayest roommate in Jay–I would sleep over a green joke while Jay would spend the entire night watching a flopped horror flick from the cable TV. Those were one and a half nights of good laughs and green jokes.
Anyway hemingway, we woke up to the sight of finely fried bangus, scrambled eggs, and appetizing sugpo the morning after we arrived. Little did I know that the next meals would be some sumptuous bangus overload. Yaaaay. After all, we were there for the tarpaulin-rich BANGUS FESTIVAL!
First stop (after our big breakfast–gosh I still can’t forget the bangus and mayo combo!) was the beach.
We were supposed to go to Bolinao, a 2-hour ride from Dagupan, but thinking that too much time on the road was not within our time’s means, we opted for a nearer place instead. Except for the wandering kids who would hastily ask for our spare baon amidst Jay’s punchlines, the beach was gorgeous. Powdered sand in pale-honey. Generous sunshine. Calm waves. Pretty locals that do not give a damn if you are in bikini or what. I stayed in shade the entire time while Jay and Jane enjoyed a pretty nice dip under the 9-am sun. I swear I felt like I was in a scene from a movie while seated on the stool with the oversized umbrella from manang. I was watching life before my eyes. Or rather, life was watching me in 3D. Anyway, that was a good 25 minutes of pseudo-existentialist contemplation (which can be inevitable once faced with nature) and I came back to life and so were my tanned friends.
Next stop was the parade. We jumped from one spot to another catching shade and performances. The entire thing radiated festivity in all aspects: rhythmic drums and bugle renditions, witty depictions of bangus in costumes, and smiling locals. There was sweat all over the place, too. 🙂
Jane’s uncle happened to own a small coffee shop alongside the hotel. Named as Sugarloop, the cozy cafe opens at 4pm until after midnight. It doesn’t have the indie vibe like some of the cafes you’ll see in Manila, but it sure stands out amidst the other establishments in the area.
Sugarloop served as our “hideaway” while waiting for the parade to pass by where we were. And amidst waiting and indulging on blueberry cheesecake and iced coffee, Jay and I planned of putting up our own cafe bistro with a bookshop extension. It will be named: The Waiting Spot.
After our HUGE dinner at the hotel, all three of us went off to the plaza. There was an on-going activity–a culmination of the parade–at the center while strips of food kiosks and souvenir booths lined up by the road. This part of Dagupan somehow resembled my hometown in Bicol, too. Laidback. Trees. People in flip-tops. Litters. Happy vibe.
There was also a display of artworks on the street– mostly depictions of bangus and some street graffiti-inspired paintings on canvass. Pictures there and pictures here and we capped off the stroll and headed home.
I would’ve ended the day drunk and wasted, but since we were off to an early mass the next day (naks), we just availed ourselves of the night’s inevitable pseudo-confessions. Also, Jay kept on pointing out how I take 10 years in the bathroom. Bummer. We slept with a promise to wake up at 4am sharp. It was 1 in the morning.
The Last Day
The last day started with a text from B. According to the Ten Rules of Moving On, I should keep my fingertips off the keypad, resist the urge to reply, and shut the fuck up. But I replied anyway. He didn’t (I subconsciously waited for a reply for practically the entire day but there was N-O-N-E). It was a heartbreak. But the day started too early to wallow on such petty and self-absorbed disputes so I got up and moved on.
Jay and I stood by the pavement just outside the coffee shop’s facade and waited for sunrise. What was once a crowded street now transformed to a barren and quiet canvass. Few tricycles roaming around, waiting for passengers. It took 15 minutes and five refusals for a ride before Jane arrived. Off to Manaoag we went.
The Our Lady of Manaoag Church was less than an hour ride from Dagupan proper. It was a quiet ride on our way there–the kind you’d appreciate when all you wanted was to watch the lush details you pass by. Jane’s lolo kept us company by sharing small anecdotes (how the Bangus Festival has changed over the years, etc) while an old Jazz song from the local FM radio played in the background. He drove for us. In the middle of telling a story, he’d ask if we slept well, if we ate well, or if Jane was being the good host she was supposed to be. Jay and I would catch his stare at the rear view mirror and nod followed by a chuckle and Jane’s sneer. I never had a lolo but I felt like how it was to have one in him.
The Church Encounter
Finally, the church.
The Our Lady of Manaoag Church is Pangasinan’s iconic destination that perfectly combines faith, culture, and tourism. By faith I mean devotees flocking into the Shrine in droves while religiously enduring the pretty tight line at the entrance. By culture I mean the old conventions that locals still uphold up to now such as the tiny rituals we do before lighting a candle. By tourism I mean the strip of booths selling tupig, puto, mangoes, walis tambo, and what-have-yous. And of course the prerequisite photo op with the image of the Manaoag.
It’s been months since the last time I stepped into the Church and attended a Sunday mass. The last time was at Papa’s funeral. Back in Manila, my officemates have resorted to the idea that one day, i will burn in hell because of my stubbornness in not obliging to the 3rd commandment. Anyhoo, I still would like to think that this Church encounter was not a pretext to make up for something I did. I bought two candles and lit up one. I prayed for guidance for my family. I prayed for enlightenment in my career path (or the lack of it). I prayed that Pa, wherever he is, rests in peace and contentment with the occasional sneer while peeking through from above.