The last time we drove to the province of Aurora was in 2018, and it was high time for a visit. Back then we drove to Baler, famous for its surfing spots. This time, our destination would be municipality of Dingalan, and we would be passing through the province of Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon. D was the one who came up with the idea of the visit to Dingalan, as he wanted to show me a place that he’d visited decades ago, and was curious how it look like these days. The drive was going to be shorter than that of our drive to Baler, but we still left as early as six in the morning in anticipation of a few scenic-viewing stopovers.
On the road we realized we should have brought along some cash and decided to do a quick stop at an ATM in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. It turned out to be a wrong move as that’s where we spent a bit of time being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. After close to an hour we finally got out of the heavy traffic zone and was back to the easy driving, reaching Palayan City, Nueva Ecija. This time we we already hungry, and I frantically checked my Google Maps for the closest restaurant where we could have brunch. We found one that seemed promising and was highly rated, so we navigated our way to Mountainview Restaurant at Laur, Nueva Ecija. This restaurant had ample parking space, and offered a wide variety of food options. D got sinampalukan (tamarind chicken), a Filipino version of chicken soup, where the broth is sour and made with tamarind, ginger, tamarind leaves, green chili and other vegetables. I, on the other hand, got the typical Filipino all-day breakfast bangsilog (milkfish, egg and fried rice). We seated ourselves outdoor in a hut which offered a view of the mountains. Well, it wouldn’t be called Mountainview for nothing. The service in this restaurant was good, and the food was yummy and affordable. We spent less than 500 pesos (US $10) for our hefty meal.
After our brunch we headed off to Gabaldon. This was the place D was raving about, as it provided a dramatic view of the Sierra Madre mountain range. He said when he went here in the early 90’s the highway was not cemented yet. I’ve seen short video clips in social media about Gabaldon, and I agree it is beautiful. As we got to the welcome arch, I was speechless for a second as I took in the view in front of me. It was breathtaking and my camera cannot do it justice.
We had quite a few stops here in Gabaldon. The first stop was at Calabasa Picnic River, at the banks of Pampanga River. No tourists were there when we dropped by, and we were ‘welcomed’ by goats and carabaos. Just like the view of the mountains when we entered Gabaldon, the Calabasa Picnic River was picturesque. The water was clear, and the mountain backdrop was spectacular. I gazed at the grazing animals, and some of the carabaos dipped in the river, and thought it’s good that they have the river to go to on a hot day.
Our next stop is D cycling along the Dingalan-Gabaldon Road. I drove off to our meeting spot and parked next to a group of farmers harvesting their crop. It reminded me of a song we sang in grade school “Magtanim ay di biro” (Planting is serious business, in English). I found myself humming this song as I waited for D to load his bicycle in the car when he caught up with me.
Afterwards we headed off to our final destination for the day: Pacific Buddies Beachfront Resort in Dingalan, Aurora. We drove through a short distance of rough roads as we passed a mountain, and when we saw this, D didn’t need convincing to stop so we could take a photo.
Finally we got to the resort. It was almost 2 o’clock when we got there. Pacific Buddies is the most highly rated resort in Dingalan, Aurora, and the owners were friendly and welcoming. We settled in our room. It was a big room with a terrace and a view of the mountain.
The resort did not have a restaurant, and we walked less than a kilometer away to the town market. We bought 2 pieces of big squid and also bought our breakfast in advance. The lady who sold us the squid was also going to grill it for us, and she would also have the food delivered to the resort in the evening. We only paid 250 pesos (US $5) for our dinner, and the same for our breakfast. It was such a good deal!
From the market, D and I walked along the beach. It was a meditative walk because there was nothing else in my mind but the softness of the sand, the sound of the waves, and the feeling of the sea breeze on my face. The beach was almost empty except for a group of young children playing on the shore. I waved hello when we walked by, and they all smiled and waved back. It’s uplifting to see the stress-free life of children. Long ago, I was also like that. Still I’m glad we have opportunities for trips like this to remind me of the simpler, heartwarming things in life.