Previously, I had mentioned that a return visit to my ex-girlfriend’s hometown of Alfonso Lista, Ifugao was in the stars. Today, the stars were in perfect alignment and after a three-year hiatus, I returned to the sleepy provincial border town to pay a much-needed visit to her mother.

Baliwag Transit offers daily trips to many parts of Northern Luzon, including my destination of Santiago City, Isabela.

I boarded the last trip of Baliwag Transit bus to Santiago City, Isabela at their Cubao station before 11:00 PM of Saturday, after much wrangling over whether to ride with the said bus company or with their leading competitor Victory Liner. After getting no response from the Victory Liner Kamias station on several phone call attempts, I made up my mind to stick with Baliwag Transit despite their somewhat older fleet of buses with matching hard and rather uncomfortable seats. From there, it would be a typically grueling nine-hour trip to the capital of Isabela province.

Stopovers included the Baliwag Transit terminal in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija and a smaller unnamed bus stop in the town of Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. Ongoing road works along several stretches of the Daang Maharlika (translated in English as the “Noble Highway” or officially known as the Pan-Philippine Highway) slowed our progress to a crawl at several points, making the road trip an even greater test of endurance.

I arrived in Santiago City at 8:00 AM this morning, and proceeded to a nearby Jollibee for a quick breakfast of burger steak, fried rice and egg (yes, I am referring to their Breakfast Steak meal priced at P58). From there, I picked up a tricycle (the city abounds with them like Manila crawls with taxis) and had myself dropped off at the jeepney terminal with a ride bound for Alfonso Lista.

On the way to the sleepy border town, the jeep stopped by several places along the Santiago-Tuguegarao Road to pick up boxes and sacks of commodities (such as fruits and vegetables) as well as the usual passengers. As I discovered in my first visit to the place six years ago, jeepneys serve both as passenger and cargo transport systems. Through a set of racks installed on the roof, as well as some young men hopping on board to load the stuff, the jeepney has yet again become a sign of Filipino ingenuity by making the most out of limited available resources.

Magat Dam, located along the Isabela-Ifugao provincial border, is one of the largest multi-purpose dams in Southeast Asia. This is the view from the road linking Ramon, Isabela to Alfonso Lista, Ifugao.

Getting to Alfonso Lista requires turning off to a semi-paved, semi-dirt road leading to the lower branch of Magat Dam, of which the dam head serves as a roadway leading to the town.  From there, I got down at a far-off street corner and proceeded to walk the rest of the way to their house despite the searing summer heat (with the temperature in nearby Tuguegarao City spiking at a record-breaking 39 degrees Celsius). I met up with her mother (whom I fondly call “Nay”), who was selling ice candy for extra income during summer vacation. She accompanied me back to their house and made me feel as welcome as I was in my home. I was also warmly greeted by her siblings, who took to asking me about my life since the last visit.

From there, Nay and I spoke at great length about her eldest daughter (my ex, who else) and she profusely apologized to me while admitting that her daughter had been hard to reach as of late as well among other things. Having revealed to her the true score of our broken relationship, she comforted me as best as she could and expressed regret at how her daughter had changed dramatically ever since she started studying at Angeles for her college degree.

We had a hearty lunch of adobong manok, upon which we had her uncles join in. Unaware of the true status of my relationship with Len, they continually expressed their approval for me as their niece’s “fiancée”. While Nay kept mum for the time, I went along with their raves and showed my appreciation for their support as well.

Soon, I decided it was time to leave, as I had planned to only go there for the day and return to Manila by early Monday morning. Nay accompanied me to the jeepney stop and went about her usual trade of selling ice candy along the way. She even met a couple of her friends, who expressed delight in meeting Len’s “husband”.

Despite my lack of skill in deciphering Ilocano, I figured that she had told them about me earlier and thus gave them that rather awkward and mistaken assumption. Still, I played the part coolly and joked around with Nay’s friends.

I hopped on a jeep back to Santiago City, and proceeded to the nearby terminal to take the next bus back to Manila. As I had an hour and a half to wait before the bus departed, I dropped by the nearby Internet cafe and checked on my Facebook. Oh, and I also got to writing this blog entry too.

The trip should take another nine hours back to Cubao, and from there I will either take a bus or taxi back to my home turf. Despite sweltering temperatures and long travel times, I can actually say that this was a Sunday to remember.

Looks like the bus will be leaving shortly, from my watch. Guess this is where I get off.

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