From NLEX to Baguio via SCTEX and TPLEX

I am amazed at how much faster it is to travel to Baguio now compared to when I was a student there. The last time I visited was in 2017 for our company’s strategic planning, and it only took us 3 hours to reach Baguio from Quezon City. The main factor for the quick travel time was that we were able to maintain a speed of 120 km/hr without any stops.

During our recent visit, we left home at 2:30 AM to avoid heavy traffic, as Baguio has become more popular and accessible. There was a slight confusion about which exit to take, as Waze suggested the Dau exit. We followed the suggestion and ended up on the McArthur Highway. However, it was only a short distance to the Mabalacat Exit, which was the correct route. It took us 45 minutes from the Bocaue Exit to reach the Mabalacat Exit. We decided to have an early breakfast at PTT-SCTEX, where we stopped for around 45 minutes. After that, we resumed our journey and reached TPLEX in less than 20 minutes.

It’s important to note that TPLEX is different from NLEX and doesn’t have as many gas stations for pit stops. Therefore, if you need to take a break, it’s best to plan accordingly. The stretch from TPLEX to the Rosario Exit took about an hour, and the next suitable stop would be the gas stations along Marcos Highway. Due to the closure of Kennon Road at that time, it took us another 45 minutes to travel along Marcos Highway. It was surprising to see that Marcos Highway is no longer as isolated as I remembered, with numerous vendors selling sweets and vegetables along the way. There are also new establishments that have been built, although some obstruct the natural view of the mountains.

On our way back home, we made a stop at the eatery near the Total Gas Station. The eatery is called Max Grillos, and they serve delicious, clean, and affordable food.

To ensure a smoother travel experience, it is advisable to start your journey with a full tank of gas to avoid long queues at the gas stations. Additionally, opting for an early morning departure is recommended. This way, by the time you reach TPLEX, there will be sufficient daylight. It’s challenging to imagine being stuck in TPLEX during a dark night since many areas lack proper lighting. By planning your trip accordingly, you can mitigate potential difficulties and enjoy a safer and more convenient travel experience.


Pan Resort and Hotel in Abucay, Bataan

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bataan, why not try Pan Resort and Hotel in Abucay? This is a three-star hotel and it’s a good place to stay if you want to go swimming. Pan has a kiddie pool with fountain and an adult pool to offer. The pool water does not smell of strong chemicals. On the left side of the area are the tables and chairs with curtains as partitions. There are electric fans and power outlets available. The grill area is just nearby but since there’s only one of it, you would need to wait for your turn in case somebody uses it ahead of you.

The shower and wash area are clean though they can still be improved by replacing some worn-out fixtures. The patio leading to the hotel has a sign reminding swimmers to dry themselves before going there or they’ll risk paying PhP500 as a fine. The downside of the pool area is the absence of lifeguards in case of accidental drowning. There are no floaters for rent or for sale so if you’re not a good swimmer, please stay on the shallowest part of the adult pool.

Check in time is 2:00 PM and check out time is 12:00 noon the next day. Swimming is free for hotel guests while non-hotel guests have to pay PhP200 for the swimming entrance and PhP700 for the cottage. While waiting for your check-in or check-out, you can stay at the small hotel lobby. On the right side of the lobby is where they serve complimentary breakfast from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

The rooms are okay for a three-star hotel, just pick the poolside area for better view. The bedsheets, comforters and pillowcases are clean. Toiletries are available except a bathroom tissue; I am not sure if they ran out of it. Gerry’s Grill is the nearest restaurant while 7-11 is just across the road.

They have a lean staff so I’m thinking that this would become an issue if the hotel and the swimming area are fully booked. So far, the ones that we encountered are courteous and helpful.

Pan Hotel and Resort’s nearest accessibility to Balanga main road is through the EGSA.

For the photos, kindly check this out.

Baguio Memories

I cramped myself into the empty cabinet out of desperation. It was my second night in Baguio without my family. My parents wanted me to be there two weeks before the opening of classes. They thought that this technique would help me adapt faster. Yes, I was not used to being away from my family. I had separation anxiety as a child and that did not improve even when I was 16 years old at that time.

I heard Andres knocking on my bedroom door. Andres was a high school student and a fellow boarder. He was probably worried because the last time that they saw me was lunchtime. The sound of his footsteps became faint. Then I heard him talking with Ate Miling, the caretaker.

He said that I was not in the room. Ate Miling could not believe because she did not see me leave the house. I got out of the cabinet and quickly went to my bed to pretend that I was sleeping. I heard a set of footsteps coming.

“Iris? Iris? Are you there? Can I open the door?” Ate Miling said.

She opened the door and found me “sleeping.” She reprimanded Andres for being careless. Andres answered back that he never saw me sleeping and the room was empty when he opened the door. They left the room and there I was, alone again and crying. I turned to my right side to face the large window. I saw a woman running, she resembled my mother! I cried again because I missed home so much.

The following day, Ate Cynthia, our landlady, asked me if I was okay. I just nodded my head. She must be not used to teenagers who had little words to say.
“Do you really speak a little?” she asked.
I nodded again.

“Anyway, there seems to be nothing that we can talk about. Would you like to tour the city with Johanne and Jake?” she asked with concern.
I nodded.

After dinner, Johanne, her son and Jake, a fellow boarder, asked me to get ready. I asked them if we could bring Andres with us. We passed by South Drive and Johanne asked me if I was familiar with Hyatt Hotel.

“I think I saw a white lady,” Jake said.
“Where?” Johanne asked.
I looked out of the window and tried to see what Jake was pointing to.
“Ah, the ghost of the 1990 earthquake casualties?” Andres asked.

We went inside Camp John Hay. Johanne was driving slowly so I was able to see the beauty of the landscape. Soon, fogs were covering the green grasses. It looked magical!

“You know, ghosts love foggy nights,” Jake said in a serious tone.

I did not reply.

“Let’s go to the cemetery, maybe we can see ghosts,” Johanne said.

Johanne parked the vehicle and all three of them got out of it to breathe the fresh and cold air. I stayed inside the vehicle out of fear. I hated cemeteries.
“Are you scared? It’s just a cemetery,” Johanne asked.
“I think I’m already sleepy,” I replied.
“What? It’s only 8:00 PM,” Jake said in jest.

It took me another two weeks to know that the cemetery in Camp John Hay was just Cemetery of Negativism, a tourist attraction. Belated thanks to Ate Cynthia, Johanne, Jake, Ate Miling and Andres for taking care of me while I was homesick and desperate.

From NLEX to Pico De Loro

Weeks before our Pico De Loro trip, I was googling how to get there from Nlex but I didn’t find anything detailed. Anyway, we took our chance and got help from some friends’ advice and Waze.

Take note that the entry in Skyway Nlex is next to Smart Connect but just in case you miss it, go straight to A. Bonifacio Avenue and enter the ramp in the right lane.

Skyway uses the Autosweep RFID. If your vehicle does not have it yet, there are available installation booths in the left lane. The maximum driving speed is 60 kph.

You can enjoy the scenic view of the city with the high-rise buildings while driving. Don’t get too amused because before you knew it, you need to take the NAIAX exit to get to Cavitex. (Please take note that you would need to take the NAIAX entrance when going back to Nlex.) Cavitex uses the Easytrip RFID.

You will pass by the Cavite towns of Imus, Kawit, General Trias, Tanza, Naic and Maragondon on your way to Nasugbu, Batangas. The Kaybiang Tunnel is a famous selfie spot in Maragondon and to avoid accidents in the area, they decided to put some barricades at the entrance and exit points.

After the Kaybiang Tunnel, you will see a Y-shaped road. Turn left and go straight ahead. When you see the Puerto Azul resort on the right corner of the road, you’re on the right road. You can use Puerto Azul as a point of reference on Waze as well.

Make sure that your car is well-conditioned and that you are skillful enough to drive on a zigzag road. The road is not as steep as in Benguet so if you’re used to driving on roads like that, this should be easy peasy for you.

There are some view decks along the way where you can see the seas. There are affordable small resorts near the view deck that offers accommodation, too.

If you are not in a hurry, you can go straight to the flea market in Looc to buy something to cook in case you’re staying in a condo unit. The flea market is located on the left side of the road. The nearest landmark is the Papaya Beach Resort before the flea market.

In Pico De Loro, you need to go to the registration area. Prepare your IDs, vaccination card, and payment. They will issue a badge that you need to wear while you’re inside the Pico De Loro.

Check-in time for condo air BNB is 2:00 PM and check-out time is noon the following day. You can also check-in to the Pico Sands Hotel in case you want a hotel vibe.

We stayed in Jacana B and I liked it there because the set-up felt like home. The disadvantage is the units there are not soundproof so there’s a chance that you’ll hear the noise in the corridor.

The covered parking is reserved for the members only. You can either use the open parking across the road or the parking space within the front yard of the condo.

There is a shuttle service that arrives per pick-up and drop-off point every 5 minutes. But if you prefer a leisure walk, you can walk and take advantage of the fresh air.

The Pico Restaurant only accepts an order for lunch at noon. We wanted to secure our spot so we ordered pizza while waiting for 12:00 PM. Expect that the food, drinks, and dessert are pricey. We had our lunch there for the experience and cooked our succeeding meals later on. One thing that we noticed is the quality of seafood that they sell in the flea market, they’re fresh and tasty!

I read that bringing food to the beach area is prohibited and that must be the reason why there was no litter around. The following day, I was disappointed to see a lot of thrash from beer-in-can to junk food wrappers. Good thing, they assigned somebody to clean the area. But as responsible tourists or travelers, it is our responsibility to keep the area clean and treat the place as our second home.

The beach was clear when we went there on our first day of stay when fewer guests were swimming. On our second day, the water looked murky so we decided to swim in the Country Club instead.

A staff is assigned to get rid of anything floating on the water like leaves. He does it in the morning before anybody uses the swimming pools. They are strict on the proper swimming attire so if you are not wearing one, you can go to the beach instead.

There’s a big lagoon that is home to schools of fish in the middle of the establishments. Swimming in the lagoon is strictly prohibited.

Generally, we enjoyed our short stay in Pico De Loro. We needed some time out from our daily hustles and quality time as a family. We did not expect too much from the resort and we focused on the beautiful experience instead of the hassles.

Sabang, Puerto Galera Memories

“Where do you prefer to go? White Beach or Sabang?” the petite woman in front of us asked her boyfriend.

I poked my husband’s arm and whispered, “Are they any different?”

Clueless, my husband turned his head in the direction of the ticketing office in Batangas Port. It was 2009 and the availability of fast internet service to do rush research was next to impossible. We were too busy with the wedding preparation and worrying about my mother’s deteriorating health so the trip to Puerto Galera was actually a last-minute attempt to consume our honeymoon. We originally planned to go to the island in the Southern Philippines but I scrapped the idea because it would have been harder for us to get back to our province should my mother needed to be confined in the hospital again.

In Batangas Port, there were two queues: one was for those going to the White Beach and the other one was for those who wanted to go to Sabang. I asked an elderly man in front of us which one was better in terms of adventure and without batting an eyelash, he suggested Sabang.

“If you want to try scuba diving, Sabang is the place to go,” he said.
I saw the petite woman with her foreign boyfriend again. They were already buying tickets for Sabang. The line going to the White Beach was getting longer and longer and I did not have the patience to spend another hour just to get a ticket so I thought that maybe, we should go to Sabang instead.

The waiting area inside the port was clean and spacious. Instead of airplanes, you could see large boats floating on the blue seas. After 15 minutes, they allowed us to get loaded on the boat. My husband and I were the first passengers for us to choose the best spot. The boat kept dancing on the silent waves of the water, I started to feel sick. Motion sickness has always been my problem so I was nauseous even before the boat started sailing. The petite woman with her boyfriend seated on the other end of the boat. Most of the passengers in our boat were foreigners.

Travel time from Batangas Port to Puerto Galera took 45 minutes. It was windy but cold sweat formed on my forehead due to seasickness. I saw a school of flying fish swimming after our boat, I wanted to dive in the water if only to reduce my seasickness (anyway, I was wearing a life vest). Not even the strong citrus scent of the local oranges eased my nausea but as soon as I saw the island, I felt a little better. How I managed to walk later without falling from the plank of wood was a miracle because I was dizzy.

While I was naturally systematic and organized, there was a time when I preferred to be spontaneous. When I say spontaneity, it means that when we arrived in Sabang, we had no idea what kind of accommodations they offer there. At the port, a woman asked if we already had some place to stay while in Sabang. She asked us to follow her when we told her that we were looking for a place to stay. (Again, the paranoid me would never do that in the present time)

We checked in at the Steps Garden Resort. The resort was elevated so we had a fantastic view of the seas. I stayed in the balcony to shake off my seasickness. It took me until dinner to finally let go of my headache.

I didn’t know the kind of nightlife that they offer in White Beach but in Sabang, the ambiance was similar to Olongapo. More foreigners were roaming around than locals, some with a can of beer on their hand. The next morning, we explored the island and found a shortcut leading to a beach in front of a Korean restaurant. We found that the rocky beaches in Sabang were not ideal for swimming so we must be patient in finding a smooth spot to swim.

We explored the market and the grocery store to compare prices because foods were a little pricey at the resort’s restaurant. We ended up buying grilled plates of seafood from the eateries outside of the resort.

To fully appreciate Sabang, we availed of the tour package with free snacks and lunch. We were in the company of an older couple and an American guy. The woman who assisted us in our hotel accommodation was the one who arranged for the tour (I forgot her name). Her nephew named Marvin was our tour guide. We took a dip at the Tamaraw Falls and had our lunch in their simple gazebo. We went to see the river (I forgot the name) but decided not to swim because the water level was too low as it was summer season. We had a carabao ride on another site when the rain started to fall leaving all of us wet. We went to the Mangyan Village and crossed the hanging bridge there for souvenir photos.

It was one hell of an experience at the tail-end of my spontaneity and being adventurous. Two months after that trip, I lost my mother. From then on, I couldn’t afford to be gambling again on my safety or future.