Road Trip

Sitting with Glenda at the Raguindin table a couple of evenings ago, I noticed on the faces of Aiza and her sister Mae slightly puckish smiles -- the kind that are usually prelude to a gag or joke. Mae was encouraging Aiza's daughter Donaiza to try a paste she had prepared with the dumplings we were eating. Donaiza dutifully swished a dumpling in the paste and put the entire dumpling in her mouth. Immediately she bolted up out of her chair and ran to the water cooler. Between swigs of water she angrily hurled rapid-fire Tagalog at her relatives; it was then I realized that Mae had mixed into the paste some of the powder Aiza had shown me recently, powder she claimed turned food "super hot." Donaiza dislikes spicy food, and I felt sympathy for her as she continued to gulp and swirl water in her mouth, while Aiza held up the phial of potent powder. Donaiza sat down, still obviously angry while her mother and aunt were still cracking up. She was quiet for a few moments. Then her face turned red, quickly, and three moments later she too was laughing loudly. She caught herself doing this after a short while, thought better of it, and, snickering, rose and quick-stepped it to the kitchen. Adolescent gawkiness, Filipino-style.

It has been a busy few days: errands yesterday (Tuesday) in Rizal, and over the weekend a road trip to Metro Manila to help Glenda's daughter Krizza celebrate her 11th birthday. Krizza lives with Glenda's sister Gio and attends school in Paranaque, one of the sixteen cities of Metro Manila. Friday morning Glenda and I picked up Glenda's nephew Edmar, his wife Nobe, their baby Joy-Joy, and Glenda's father Mario at the Cabanatuan bus terminal and headed south. After four hours we were on the newly finished skyway, tall buildings looming on either side of us, through Quezon City, Manila, San Juan, Taguig . . . .  Paranaque is one of the southernmost cities of the metro area; driving from the north, one has a nice tour on this skyway of one of the world's largest metropolitan areas.

Then we were on the streets of Paranaque itself. At 57, I did not like driving in Metro Manila; seven years later, I have not warmed up to it. Motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, great diesel trucks barging into lines, twenty or thirty road signs in a driver's view at any given moment. The robot lady on Glenda's phone told me where to go, which I was thankful for. We went to the narrow street off which Glenda's sisters Jenny and Gio lived -- Jenny with her husband Bong and Gio with her partner Charm, in separate apartments -- and entered a warren of narrow alleys, then climbed three flights of stairs, to the apartment of Jenny and Bong.

Had to leave the car outside this road: no parking.      Krizza and her mom at Jenny and Bong's.

Gio and Charm were working -- they and Jenny all have restaurant jobs, while Bong is a barber -- but Jenny and Bong were at home, and little Krizza was on hand as well. We all settled in to the little apartment (7' by 14', I'm guessing): Mario sprawling on the bed after the long ride; Nobe and Joy-Joy also on the bed; Glenda, Jenny, Krizza, and I at the table; Bong and Edmar working in the kichenette. Soon we all had bowls of tilapia, greens, and rice, and sat about chatting, me learning about them and they learning about me. When we visited the next evening, Bong served pompano after learning it was my favorite fish in the Philippines. That Saturday evening, we drank San Miguel's Red Horse and sang on the family's makeshift karaoke machine.

Glenda and I left the others on Friday to check into our hotel, about a kilometer up the boulevard, and after a short rest walked down the street to SM Paranaque to determine the best restaurant for Krizza's celebration the next day. Kuya J's got both our votes, and we informed the staff there that there would be a party of 12-14 folks descending on them at 11:30 the next day.

                                                Birthday girl.       

Crispy pata, a whole chicken, broiled scallops, ox tongue, spring rolls, pinakbet (a veggie concoction), pancit, garlic rice, I can't remember what else. Stuffed after an hour or so, we all walked over to Tom's World, where the children (and a couple of adults) won many stuffed animals! 


           Kaitai, Bong's nephew, was master of the Deep Ocean game. Seen here at the

              end of the table: Nobe with Joy-Joy, Edmar, Kaitai, Jenny, Bong, and Gio.

Ridiculously early on Sunday morning Glenda wrestled me awake: Bong wanted to be on the road by 5. Bong, Jenny, Krizza, Gio, and Charm had planned a day trip to Rizal, and they all joined the rest of us for the trip back to Cabanatuan in my 7-seat Avanza, which now carried ten adults and two little ones. Bong, a better driver than I am, took the wheel, and we arrived in Cab City well before noon. Gave the car to Bong for the ride to Rizal, and Glenda joined them for an afternoon of family togetherness, while I slept and did some reading at the Raguindin house.  They made it back just in time for me to drive them to the terminal and catch the last bus for Manila.


Take Me to the River

Flooding caused by two typhoons over the last few months destroyed a good deal of the onion crop in the foothills of the Sierra Madres to the north and east of Cabanatuan. Because this area is practically the only place where onions are grown in the Philippines, onion prices soared, in some places by more than 500%. The government responded by lifting import restrictions on onions, and the market is expected to be flooded with more than 21,000 metric tons of foreign-grown yellow and red onions by late next week. The problem lies with the timing of this: the government lifted the import restrictions just before the farmers who do have crops began harvesting. Now, most of the farmers whose crops were wiped out by the typhoons will be better off than the farmers who are bringing their crop to harvest -- most of the farmers who lost their onions have crop insurance, whereas the farmers whose crops survived will now have to sell at a loss in order to compete with the foreign providers. Newspapers are starting to keep track of the number of suicides among the onion farmers of eastern Luzon.

On a brighter note, the Torreses took me along on a family outing to the Sampaloc River, just north of Rizal. We arrived at noon and stayed until 4:30 or so. It was a mostly cloudy afternoon with a nice breeze; the water was cold, the current fast! It was a great opportunity for me to get to know Glenda's family better, and for them to get to know me better. We cavorted in the water (well, most of us did), played scrabble, and ate. And ate. Grilled fish, buttered shrimp, rotisserie chicken, a huge salad . . . .

After the outing, Glenda returned to Cabanatuan to run my household; for the first time in the Philippines I'm actually living with a girlfriend. As for her children, Krizza attends school in Manila and is staying with Glenda's sister Gio; Francis is currently staying with his father back in Rizal. Glenda has been separated from her husband for a long time, and very much wants to get an annulment. The Church recently relaxed its policy on annulments, but still it takes quite a bit of time, and a considerable amount of money, to attain one. More on that later. As for now . . .

I C     D  U  M  P    !


My Bad

Don-don Raguindin buried Beulah two hours ago in the family garden beside the front stoop, not far from the burial place of Beulah's grandmother. Three days ago, Tuesday afternoon, I brought the 4-month-old pup to the vets for the first of two worm shots. She barfed that night and would not touch food the next day: read online that this was not unusual for a pup after her first worm shot, but if symptoms persisted after 36 hours, the pup should be taken back to the vets. On Thursday I was expected at the joint celebration of three milestones in the family of Glenda Torres: the christening of Glenda's niece Joy-Joy, the 8th birthday of her son Francis, and the 29th birthday of her sister Gio. I'd been asked to serve as a godfather of Joy-Joy and had bought gifts, and so decided to bring Beulah with me to keep an eye on her during the day (Glenda welcomed me to bring her "baby" in a text). Beulah seemed more lively than on the previous day at the festivities of Thursday, taking an interest in all the people. She sat in the laps of several in attendance, and early in the afternoon Glenda was able to feed her milk

through an eyedropper. Pic dump now.

It was a lovely time. Thirty or forty people, Torreses and their friends, sat at the tables to meals of menudo, lechon, tilapia spring rolls, a spicy seafood salad . . . . Packages of food were put out on a table for neighbors to come and claim. I'd bought a case of Alphonso I, and that was broken out after dinner as the karaoke machine was readied.

In the middle of the songfest, Beulah squirted on the shirt of birthday girl Gio. Bubu was brought to a mat in the family's sari-sari store, where she was attended to by Glenda and one or two relatives. I broke away from a conversation and by the time I reached the sari-sari Beulah had destroyed the mat and befouled two cinder blocks of the sari-sari's wall. It was almost 4pm, and there was not enough time to bring her to the clinic that had cared for my cats and at which Beulah had received her worm shot. A young man, Patrick, whose acquaintance I had made during the day, suggested that I take her to the clinic in Rizal, and after brief thinking I declined, saying it would be more comfortable for me to bring her back to the clinic at which she received the shot. Besides, she should be okay for one more night. Before I left with the pup, Glenda produced a solution and the eyedropper: five drops in the mouth each hour that evening to prevent dehydration. The solution had been provided to the family when one of its dogs was sick. Told Glenda I would be at the door of the clinic in Cabanatuan when the clinic opened in the morning.

Delivered the drops, until I dropped off that evening after placing Beulah on a folded pair of old pants and tucking her in with a towel. This morning, found her already stiff, gone.

"My bad," was often the response of students of mine who failed to prepare well for a test or to meet a deadline. It seems to me I acted within reason, regarding Beulah's care after the shot, but that expression has been something of a mantra inside me today. I'm negligent now -- as you and I have sometimes been, in the past. Goodbye, little friend.


A Day and a Night in Rizal

Happy 2023, folks! The site is unglitched now; sorry about the unplanned hiatus. Last week the landscape of my fair province of Nueva Ecija was potted with giant mudflats. It was the between-time in rice country: between harvest and planting. Open-air granary floors and some roadsides were strewn with the orangey-golden palay (unhulled rice) which, after drying in the sun for a day or two, was bought by and trucked off to the mills. The day before yesterday, as I drove up through Llanera to Rizal, rice fields were a shimmery, delicate green: the shoots had been planted.

Near the turnoff to Barangay Agbannawag in Rizal, 30-year-old Glenda Torres and I hooked up on video chat, and I pointed the smartphone at the windshield. She announced the turnoff and directed me to a rear corner of the barangay, where her family's house and sari-sari store, made of untreated cinder blocks, stood among mango and guava trees. A garden next to the house, and behind the house that shimmery green stretching for at least half a kilometer.

Glenda had spent three days with me in Cabanatuan, after our long chats on facebook. We met on a dating site. Now her children and I would get acquainted at the Dentofarm Resort, which had recently opened in Rizal. Glenda's parents greeted me at the house, staring me up and down but with smiles. I met her brother Edmar, his wife Nobe, their one-year-old daughter Joy-Joy, her cousin Aldrin, nephew JM, and the man she called her best friend -- the gay, very funny, blonde-haired Markevin.  

JM, Nobe, and Joy-Joy joined us in the car for the ride to the resort; Aldrin, Edmar, and Markevin would join us after they had finished servicing a motorcycle they were working on. The Sierra Madres faced the resort to the east, and a steady breeze was blowing off them. It was partly cloudy throughout the day; the afternoon temp was 26C (high 70'sF). And the water was good! We ordered silog dishes with extra eggs for lunch; Aldrin and Edmar drove out on Aldrin's trike later in the day, came back with rotisserie chicken and sisig. Three quatro-quatros of gin and orange juice put the young men in the mood for singing, and we were allotted two hours on the resort's karaoke. Glenda sang beautifully, and Markevin would have been judged astoundingly good by an American tourist -- having witnessed a lot of karaoke singing in the Philippines, I realized he was merely excellent. After some gentle pressing ("Anglos don't know how to sing" was my retort) I rendered Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," which requires good growling rather than good pipes.

About 9pm the young men, Nobe, and Joy-Joy bade the rest of us goodnight (very cute wave from Joy-Joy). The children -- Glenda's Krizza and Francis, along with nephew JM -- settled into one room; Glenda and I took the other. And shortly after settling in, a stomach bug made its presence known to me, alas. Still dealing with it as I write this, though it has quieted down somewhat. Took care to make my bathroom excursions as quiet as possible during that night, and I think Glenda got enough sleep; not me, but in the morning was up to driving Glenda and the kids home, and made it back to Cab City without incident. Slept far into the next morning, and today took the medicine Glenda told me to pick up. Hopefully did not pass this on to any of my new friends!

P C    D M P


No Crying He Makes

At least he wasn't crying when I popped in at the duplex earlier today, after doing the last of my Christmas shopping. He was sound asleep in the cradle attached to the ceiling by ropes, which was gently rocked by Mariel with the help of a string attached to the prow of the cradle. They showed me the stitches where doctors had cut in to use a neck vein for an iv, after other veins had proven too small. Arsean was released from the hospital yesterday, after a stay of several days. His lungs are clear, but he still has an occasional cough, according to Marielle.

Before shopping I had visited an ATM for 20K from my Banco de Oro account, and one of the 20 notes was the new P1000 bill! News of this bill coming down the pike was fairly recent, and I hadn't expected to see one for a while. There is a group pic of, as you would guess, politicians on the bill that is most in circulation today. But the new bill features the Philippine eagle, an endangered species which in terms of length and wingspan (but not bulk: this is a sleek bird) is the largest species of eagle on the planet. Mindanao has between 100 and 200 breeding pairs; there are also a few breeding pairs in the forests of Leyte and Samar, and in the Sierra Madres of Luzon. I presented the bill to Jheng (who is collecting the new 20-peso coin) as her early Christmas gift.

Scientists have named the times we are living in the 6th Great Extinction, with animal species dying out on almost as daily basis, and one wonders whether this magnificent bird has much time left. It is protected: anyone found guilty of killing a Philippine eagle faces up to twelve years in prison. Could it make the kind of comeback the American bald eagle has enjoyed? Doubtful: its range is just much, much smaller than that of America's bald eagle.


High Anxiety

In the car this morning Jheng told me that Mariel, staying with her baby Arsean at the new hospital downtown, constantly has tears in her eyes, and has been so distraught that she refused to eat any dinner last night. Jheng had just helped me to mail a form to the SS office in America (there is no place to park at the post office), and we were on the way to buy breakfast for Mariel at a place across from the hospital. Jheng was determined that Mariel would eat this morning, even if it pained her to do so.

Arsean, less than two months old, is seriously sick with pneumonia. He began fussing three or four days ago, Mariel took him in and returned with a nebulizer two days ago, and yesterday, with symptoms worsening, she took him back to the hospital, where he was admitted. The baby's father, Sean, has a cold and is not allowed to be with his child. The plan is for Jheng to take Mariel's place at the baby's side once or twice a day, so that Mariel can return home for periods of sleep.

Yesterday the baby's iv kept clotting, and, after being told by a doctor of the vital importance to run an iv for a baby in Arsean's condition, Mariel signed papers to allow doctors to operate on Arsean in order to insert an iv in a large vein in his neck. The operation went well, but I'm sure the sight of her baby with a tube sticking out of his neck does little for Mariel's peace of mind. Jheng sent me a picture of Arsean post-op; I won't place it here.

Offered Jheng the use of the car during Arsean's hospitalization, but she told me that, as at the post office, there is no place to park at the hospital. Both are in very busy sections of town, and, while parking garages above or below ground do exist Phlipside, the codes one must follow to build one in this earthquake-prone country often make them prohibitively costly, in the eyes of the builder. I can think of only one parking garage in this important hub of central Luzon, at the SM Mall in the southern part of town.

Shopped yesterday. The busy Maharlaika at WalterMart.

Will post again as soon as we all know that Arsean is on the mend, reader. Am spending the afternoon reading, cooking, playing with Beulah, typing here . . . .  Christmas is coming! Here's hoping Mariel and Sean have a healthy bouncing baby over the holidays.



She was sired by Nano, the Raguindin's pug. The family that owns the mother, a mutt, had agreed to give one pup of the mother's litter to the Raguindins, apparently -- and the Raguindins, learning of the loss of my cats, asked me if I wanted to adopt her. After some hesitating, I said sure. The name the family had given her happened to be the name of a girlfriend of mine from college days, and calling her that proved to be a little weird for me, so I changed her name to "Beulah" (why Beulah? not sure about that) and now she recognizes the name as her own. What she has not yet recognized is the purpose of the newspaper laid out in the bathroom. I'm guessing that will come.


Vice President Harris Pays a Visit

The vice president arrived on Monday in Manila, where she met with President Marcos. Among other things discussed, there was a joint reaffirmation of the 1951 mutual defense treaty, which stipulates that if one of the two nations should be attacked by a third nation, the other nation would militarily help defend the one attacked.

Yesterday, Harris and the Second Gentleman (have I got that right?) flew to Palawan, the long, narrow island that that juts out from the archipeligo in a southwestwardly direction and fronts the South China Sea. There the couple visited a fishing community and a coast guard base. At the base, the vice president gave a speech underscoring the importance of "respect for sovereignty" and "freedom of navigation," and so on.

Now, I do hold those two freedoms in high esteem. And I'm sorry to see either abrogated by a belligerent power, as they have been in Ukraine, for instance. Over here in East Asia, China has laid claim to a huge swath of the South China Sea, including what should be the territorial waters of four other countries. An international court in the Hague invalidated China's claim in 2016, but China did not send representatives to the court sessions, and has ignored the court's ruling. It has built military bases on islands in its enormous claim, denied non-Chinese fishermen access to fisheries they had previously fished for ages, and is starting to place oil rigs in what are basically disputed waters.


                    (The Japan Times)

. . . And yet. And yet, the Philippines and its neighbors have been muddling through what is certainly a difficult time. There have been no hostilities between countries, and a great deal of negotiating. Manila is in talks with Beijing to undertake joint oil exploration in the South China Sea, for example. Vietnamese diplomacy is endeavoring to give Vietnamese fishermen access to fishing grounds off the Paracel Islands.

The U.S., as you probably know, has become China's bogeyman over the last couple of decades. The superpower rivalry, with its tit-for-tat tariffs and denunciations, is growing increasingly bitter. And does the appearance of an American vice president in the Philippines indicting the Chinese power grab help or hinder the talks between China and its neighbors?

Weak countries tend to be leery of strong countries, even those strong countries with which they have an alliance, lest they get squashed like a bug  in a rivalry between the strong, and I think the Philippines should be leery of the powerful on all sides.   

I agree with Anna Malindog-Uy, a geopolitical analyst in Manila, who says the Philippines must “prevent at all costs the possibility of becoming a pawn of any superpower to encircle another superpower.”





Arsean Is One Month Old

. . . And celebration is in order! Jheng's 19-year-old sister Mariel is proving to be a very caring mother, and Arsean (whose name is an amalgam of the names of Mariel and her boyfriend Sean -- see 2.16.20 on floor 8 for some discussion of Filipino names) is the proverbial darling baby.

The Javiers are taking Arsean to the home of Sean's family today and have been invited to spend the night there. I'm invited to the duplex tomorrow morning for a breakfast -- I'll contribute a couple of bags of warm pandesal  (a sticky, spiced, sweet bread) from the stand at the foot of my street.

The news just came in that back in the States, the Nevada U.S. Senate race has been called for the Democratic encumbent, Catherine Cortez Masto. Democrats keep control of the Senate! I voted for Republicans, occasionally, back in the day, but if you've read these postings for a while you know that I feel the GOP has grown toxic over the last ten or so years, and certainly over the last six years.

American reader, you may feel the same way. I hope you do. The four years of Trump saw record-breaking corruption in the American executive, outpacing anything seen in the administrations of Nixon, Harding, Grant. Republicans readily became Trump's enablers, even in the face of abuses that threatened the balance of powers, American democracy, etc. Jeez-Louise. Actions have their reactions, of course. The McConnell Senate's underhanded stacking of the Supreme Court led to the Dobbs decision, and the Dobbs decision became a major factor in the stemming of the "red wave." Continuing Republican support of Trump after Trump had lost for the GOP the presidency, the Senate, and the House enabled Trump to select many candidates for the midterms, candidates that often turned out to be unfit to lead, in the eyes of the electorate. Trump himself will be immersed in legal trouble probably for the rest of his life; what's on the docket, let's see, tax fraud, election fraud, the stealing of classified documents, rape . . . .  

The Senate is safe, but not the House, and as of this writing Republicans are closer to a House majority than the Democrats are: it will be a slight majority if they get one, however. The thought of Jim Jordan chairing the House Judiciary Committee turns my stomach -- but the midterms of a first-term presidency have historically skewed significantly to the side of the party in opposition to the president's party. This time the Geogia runoff may increase the Democratic majority in the Senate, and, if they gain a slim majority in the House, the undisciplined Republican Freedom Caucus will likely be at loggerheads with the more traditional GOPers, to the Democrats' advantage.

All in all, heartening news for democracy lovers.


Back in the Tricycle City

Up the Cagayan Watershed, across swollen rivers, over two stretches of highland, and down the Pampanga Watershed. Nine hours of driving without mishap and with pretty clear sailing almost all of the way, but with no cats to visit me in the driver's seat! I traveled on All Saints Day, a holiday in the Philippines, when so many Filipinos pack food in the early hours of the morning and travel to cemeteries where loved ones are buried to keep vigils at gravesites from sunup to sundown. Not so many vehicles on the Maharlika; not so many overladen trucks zig-zagging the highlands at 5 or 10 kms./hr. And I would have shaved a half hour or a full hour off the trip, had I left Cabagan at 8am instead of 10am. Just as I arrived in Munoz, two cities above Cabanatuan, folks started leaving the cemeteries, and in no time the Maharlika was chockfull of cars, pickups, tricycles. In the highlands above San Jose City, I had bought 8 kgs of fresh ginger as pasalubong, and dropped off 4 kgs at the duplex before heading home and handing over 4kgs to Don-Don.

The day before, my last day in Cabagan, I had driven to Tuguegarao for a last visit there. My passengers in the Avanza were Grace, Faith, Matt, and Crace's niece Marga. Tropical Storm Paeng was now spinning over the South China Sea, but its effects were in stark evidence on this stretch of the Maharlika, which in places passes close to the Cagayan River. In two places we crawled through road-flooding in which water rose to the tops of the Avanza's wheels.Tropical Storm Paeng killed 150 Filipinos; 36 are missing.

See the treeline in the distance? It marks the bank of the Cayagan River. No, not the far bank: the near bank. The river normally runs on the other side of those trees. We passed many flooded homes, and in places on the side of the highway makeshift sheds and tents housed families that had been flooded out.

The time at Robinson's Mall in Tug City was fun but bittersweet. Would I be seeing these fine people again? I had wanted to get closer to warm, funny, smart Grace during my stay in Cabagan, but I had made missteps in that direction. In addition to being warm, funny and smart, Grace is very (almost typed "intensely") religious. She crosses herself before car trips; more than once I've witnessed her whispering prayers under her breath. And of course she attends mass, usually with her children, every week. I'm not religious, though I'm not the strict materialist my scientist sons often appear to me to be. Aldous Huxley coined the term "agnostic," and despite the copout connotations of this moniker it probably suits me best. I don't want to get into the particulars of my "missteps"; suffice it to say they fall into the range of possible missteps committed by a man without religion toward a woman who is fervently religious. And I regret them. But could we have ever bridged the spiritual divide between us? Perhaps and perhaps not.

At any rate here I am now, catless in Cabanatuan. Say that three times fast. Grace and I are staying in touch online. Yesterday felt stiff all over, due to the long drive; today is much better. Hoping to hear some word from the resort staff about Bob and Cy.


Cabagan Blues

As you can see, the new editing platform I was inexplicably saddled with is still quite foreign to me. I somehow lost the border, and can't get it back now (hopefully, before long, I will get it back). Still have not heard from the SimpleSite folks.

Awaiting the arrival of Tropical Storm Paeng (int'l name: Nalgae) right now. The eye will pass to the south of both Cabagan and Cabanatuan, but this storm is massive, hundreds of miles in diameter, and pretty much all of Luzon will get a drenching along with gusty winds. Jheng in Cab City will be closer to the eye than I will be, and I checked in on her earlier today: the family is ready. The family, by the way, is one soul larger than it was when I departed for my month-long sojourn: Mariel and her boyfriend Sean are now the parents of a baby boy. Jheng texted me that the the birth was a very painful one for Mariel, and that the baby was robust and healthy.

I'll be leaving Cabagan for Cab City in a few days. It's been fun, restful. To this day, during my stay, I've provided transportation for a couple of happy and polite children to and from school. Have swum quite a bit in the pool at the resort. And each weekend  Grace and her children have joined me on trips to the malls up in Tuguegarao: above you see Grace helping Matt dress for such a trip while Lolo (Grandfather) watches his beloved fights; and there is a quick turnaround snap of Grace and Faith on the escalator at Tug City's SM Mall.

Next morning

The rain outside is steady but not yet very heavy; the wind is picking up. Already the storm has caused tragedy in southern Luzon and the Visayas: at least 72, so far, have died in flash floods and mudslides. Here is a Ventusky image of the storm at this time..

So the last week of my stay in Cabagan is punctuated by a national calamity -- one that is ongoing as I type this.

A calamity of a more more personal nature than Paeng is unfolding for me now: Cy has been missing for two weeks, and Bob has been gone for twelve days. Cy scooted out as I was talking at the door with the resort's manager, and Bob seems to have fled when I was away and a housekeeper was cleaning the room. At first I didn't feel upset. Cy was out overnight once during my first week; he showed up around noon the following day. "Cats have the homing instinct," I told myself, after a few days. "They'e getting fed somewhere, and that's where they'll hang out for a while." It's been a long while, and still no sign of the two.

My eyes are peeled now when I'm driving in the vicinity of the resort. A staffer here has led me to two strays on the premises, but neither was Bob or Cy. Will I be leaving without them? If it comes to that, I'll leave pictures of them with all the staff here. I'll ask them to try to get them into a room if one or both turn up, contact me, and expect my arrival within a day or two.

(The New Yorker)

(The New Yorker)

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The low pressure system with its dank, windy weather finally squirted out over the west coast of northern Luzon and into the South China Sea a couple days ago; good riddance to it. Grace, Faith, Matt, and I tomorrow will make another Saturday trip into Tuguegarao  for food and fun arcades that cannot be found in Cabagan. Also, we'll be searching for a gift for a young lad who turns three in another week. One of the staff at the resort, mother of the little boy, has befriended Grace and me, and recently she invited both of us to her son's birthday party.

. . . Although the journey between Cabanatuan and Cabagan by car is 320 kilometers, as the crow flies (there are no crows here), Cabagan is 230 kms. north-northeast of Cab City. I've noticed similarities and differences between the two places.


With regard to nature, the climate in Cabagan is a tad cooler than what one finds in Cab City. According to weatherspark.com, average monthly temps are 0 to 3 degrees F cooler up here, depending on the month. Both cities are situated on the east banks of large rivers: Cabanatuan's Pampanga flows south, and Cabagan's Cagayan flows north. To the east of each city looms the same mountain range, the Sierra Madres. Frequently seen in both cities are the Barleria bushes, with their small, fragrant white flowers, and the tall, wide-crowned acacia is the king of trees in both places. Interestingly, though, coconut palms, common in Cabanatuan, don't seem to grow here.  Plenty of areng palms and sugar palms here; and foxtail palms, native to northern Australia, are all over the place! Foxtails are considered "ornamentals" in central Luzon, but they seem to have slipped the bonds of that moniker up north. Oh: fewer lizards and more butterflies here than in Cab City.

Can't find the identity of this palm: there are plenty of these, too, in Cabagan!

Can't find the identity of this palm: there are plenty of these, too, in Cabagan!

On the streets of the cities, the most obvious difference is is in the variety of public conveyance. About only a third of the adult population of the Philippines is able to own a car, and the transportation business thrives in both cities. Taxis you will find in Manila, but not in Cab City or Cabagan. Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecars, rule in Cabanatuan, which is known as the "tricycle capital" of the Philippines. Flag one down or walk over to the nearest tricycle stand. If you are on the Maharlika and wish to get to another place on that highway, jeepneys are a cheaper way to travel, though they tend to get pretty crowded.

In Cabagan, the tricycles are interspersed with kalesas, horse-drawn carts with bench seats. These can be found in most, if not all of the cities of northern Luzon. Some citizens simply prefer them over the tricycle; I've seen these carrying only one or two people -- but if you are in a group of four or five people, one kalesa can carry what one tricycle cannot. As for jeepneys, there are no jeepneys in Cabagan. Instead there are large to very large three-wheeled vehicles powered by tractor engines. I'll have to ask Grace if Cabaganites have a name for them. I suppose they have fixed routes and schedules; I'm not sure but Grace will know.

Both shot from the Avanza.

Both shot from the Avanza.

Lazy photographer.

Lazy photographer.

Traditional Filipino houses are made of wood and have many windows. There are very few of these left in Cabanatuan; houses today are made of cinder blocks plastered with sealant, then painted. In Cabagan, more of the traditional homes can be found than in Cabanatuan. Are they still being built in Cabagan, or do Cabaganites just do a better job of preserving old homes than folks in Cabanatuan? Another question for Grace.

But the most notable differences between these two cities are the upshots of their difference in size: Cabagan has a population of about 50,000 and Cabanatuan has more than 300,000 residents. In Cabagan, the streets are less congested; there is less noise, less pollution, less grime than what one finds in Cab City. I'm more comfortable driving here than I am in Cabanatuan, for sure. Finally, Filipinos are generally friendly people, but they seem more friendly toward me here than in the big city. Maybe it's because fewer foreigners find their way up to this part of the island; maybe it's because life is simply less stressful here than it is in Cabanatuan.


Cabagan Days

I pulled up at Grace's home after a 9-hour drive, feeling pretty skanky. She managed to hug me without wrinkling her nose, and I greeted her children, parents, a sister, and two or three nieces and nephews. The drive had been relatively uneventful. I dropped off James in Solano and briefly chatted with his aunt Jasmine at her beauty shop there. Bought a rotisserie chicken in Santiago and shared it with the cats. . . . Bob and Cy, by the way, made it so loudly known that they did not like being stuffed inside a cat-carrier that I opened the gate early in the trip. They were quieter after that, and made occasional visits to my lap. Anyway, after I arrived Grace and I went together to Roel's Resort, introduced the cats to their new home, and  transferred my stuff from the car to Room I. Drove Grace home and began setting up the desktop pc, but sleep overtook me before I could finish that project.

Cabagan is close to four degrees of latitude north of Cabanatuan, but if there's a change in the climate, it's scarcely noticeable. I'm still in the tropics, and afternoon temps are in the high 80's and low 90's F. Early mornings and evenings feel a little cooler than they do in Cab City -- but that may just be my imagination.

I'm making myself useful here by transporting Grace, her son Matt, niece Marga, and nephew Noah to and from school. Matt and Marga go to Cabagan Science Elementary School, and Noah goes to a kindergarten down the street from Matt and Marga's school (Grace's daughter Faith has her own transportation to and from high school). There are four trips -- to school, back home for lunch, back to school, and back home again -- but this is hardly a chore. Grace lives about ten minutes from the resort, and the schools are between her and me.

Matt and Marga's wing of this very large school.

Matt and Marga's wing of this very large school.

Grace the volunteer.

Grace the volunteer.

Auditorium, veranda style.

Auditorium, veranda style.

Matt in his classroom.

Matt in his classroom.

After Matt's teacher arrives with the key to her classroom, Grace ducks into the room and pulls out a broom and dustpan. In the higher grades, students are assigned jobs that keep the classrooms and surrounding campus pristine. In the lower grades (Matt is in 2nd Grade), parents volunteer for these chores. Grace at the start of the school year volunteered to sweep the area in front of Matt's classroom, and this she does each schoolday morning while Matt reviews homework or chats with friends. Some of the classes have a song they sing each morning. Two doors down from Matt's class they sing a song about Jesus dying for our sins. Yes, American reader, this is a public school.

Tomorrow is Saturday; young and old alike will be free. The family and I will drive to Tuguegarao to check out the SM Mall there. I had thought Robinson's was the only sizeable mall in the largest city of northern Luzon, but discovered online a few weeks ago it also has an SM Mall with all sorts of shops and restaurants. On Sunday, after the Gatans go to mass, we'll have a pizza party in my resort room and then spend time at the pool.

Have had a fun and relaxing time during my first week at this home away from home away from home. Seems a good bet the fun and relaxation will continue!


Journey's Eve

I was relieved to see this morning that the sign proclaiming the bridge over the Pampanga River north of town was not passable had been taken down. Thanks to the typhoon, many of the bridges in central Luzon were not passable for a period of days.

Karding rapidly intensified shortly after my last posting, and remained a typhoon for the duration of its crossing of the island. The eye passed not to the north but to the south of Cabanatuan City; the province of Bulacan, just to the south of Nueva Ecija, was probably the hardest hit of all the provinces. There five members of a rescue team were swept to their deaths by a flash flood. Authorities are saying now that altogether ten lives were taken by the typhoon.

The greatest winds of the storm hit Cab City between 10pm of the 25th and 2am of the 26th. Over at the duplex, part of the roof was torn open, causing water damage inside. The roof is now repaired, but for the entire night Jheng, Luz, James, and Mariel were awake monitoring their shelter from the storm and applying makeshift remedies -- while the children slept on the dry side of the building. I must admit, reader, that I too, about a kilometer away from the duplex, slept through the worst part of the storm.

Roads of the city away from the river were passable the next morning, so I got in the Avanza to visit the duplex and check out damage. The severity of the damage around the city was not nearly what folks in southwest Florida are now coping with, thanks to Hurricane Ian, but I could see that it was causing headaches for many Cabanatuan residents.

The farther north one goes from here the less damage there is; good for me, because tomorrow I'll make the long trek north to Cabagan, where I be staying for the month of October. Will finish packing tonight and pick up James at 7am. Ten hours of Maharlika driving! But some very nice people are waiting for me up there.


More Heavy Weather

(Weather Underground)

(Weather Underground)

That's Karding (int'l name Noru), a strong tropical storm that is expected to cross central Luzon tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night. Nueva Ecija Province is currently under Signal 1 (strong winds (39 to 61 km/h), minimal to minor threat to life and property). The eye is expected to pass north of Cabanatuan, so the winds here should not get above 50 km/hr; just hoping this whirligig's rain does not flood half the city!

I had told Jheng's 19-year-old sister Mariel that she could use the Avanza to buy needed furniture and clothing for her baby tomorrow, as long as Jheng was the chauffer for her and her boyfriend Sean. She is about five weeks from her due date and these days often seems to be about to topple over when she is walking. Seeing the forecast this morning, I sent a text, along with an image of the storm, suggesting she might want to pick another day for this errand. She hadn't seen the forecast and expressed dismay; it had to be Sunday! Well, I went over to the Ventusky weather model and saw that the storm wouldn't be underway in Cab City until sometime in the afternoon. Texted this news to Mariel and she texted back that she wanted to get an early start, could I bring the car at 8 am? Eeew. I texted back okay see you at 8.

She has college classwork during the week, and she wouldn't have a chance to use the Avanza next weekend, because the Avanza will be way up in Isabela Province then. Yes, I'm driving to that little resort in Cabagan to spend a full month with that "family of the northland" with whom I could spend only six days back in July. If Grace and I come to believe our relationship has staying power during this visit, we'll make plans for the family to journey to Cabanatuan at the start of Faith and Matt's Christmas break, and they will spend Christmas and New Year's with me here.

I can tell you this is a big step for me. Over twenty years of teaching in America and five years of retirement in the Philippines, I have lived alone. In the U.S., after my divorce, I never dated. My life was a busy one; what's more, the psychic wound of my failed marriage was raw for a long time. I came to the Philippines to see Jheng, with whom I had struck up an online relationship during my last teaching years. She is now a trusted friend, my best friend here. But the love relationship came up a cropper.

So next Friday morning, early, I start the long drive back to Cabagan. Don-Don will not be at the wheel -- he is supervising construction at the house, and while he thought the job would be finished by October, they are behind schedule and so he won't be traveling to Cauayan in Isabela. Jheng's brother James will join me as far as Solano in Nueva Vizcaya. Bob and Cy are both coming. And this desktop computer is coming, so's I can keep up with American news and continue this blog. Apparently Globe Telecom has a tower somewhere up there in far northern Luzon . . . .

Update: it's now Sunday morning. Karding slowed a bit and intensified a good deal overnight. It's now a typhoon that will likely cause a good deal of havoc in parts of central Luzon tonight and into Monday morning. Nueva Ecija is now under Signal 3 (storm-force winds (89 to 117 km/h), moderate to significant threat to life and property).

Update: 2 pm. A Signal 5 alert just went up for Nueva Ecija. This is the highest signal level. Really? Winds in excess of 200 km/hr?


Homeland Thoughts

It's a term that became popular in America after the tragedy of 9/11 twenty-one years ago: "homeland." I didn't like it at first, feeling it had jingoistic connotations, an "us against them" feel to it. Two years after 9/11, agencies in cabinet departments that were tied in some way to the nation's security were yanked out of their departments and placed in a new cabinet designation, the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service and the Customs Service came from Treasury; the Immigration and Naturalization Service came over from Justice; the National Communications System came over from Defense. And so on. This consolidation was deemed necessary: the world was a more dangerous place than we had once thought it was.

The DHS regularly puts out the National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, and the most recent one, which came out in June, speaks of a "heightened threat environment" with regard to terroristic acts within the United States. And in that atonal government-speak one expects from such documents, the writer assures us that the threat comes from within. Acts of domestic terrorism are on the rise, and the actors in these cases are almost always white men.



Modern technology keeps me up to speed, here on rainy Luzon, with developments in the U.S.: I spend a good part of each morning reading and watching American media. My first four years here I followed closely the riots, the mass shootings, the impeachments. This year something seems to be unfolding that could end in a great deal of nastiness for all Americans.

"The continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence." Duh. And the source of the most pernicious of these "misleading narratives" is a mean-spirited, pathological huckster of a former prez. The 2020 election was full of fraud! Trump was the real winner, and by a mile! The former guy repeats the big lie again and again and again; as with any mantra, sympathetic listeners are lulled into belief. I've heard that 70% of registered Republicans believe Trump's lie. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

It's been an interesting summer. The FBI dropping by Mara Lago in June. The backstory of lawyers lying to the FBI during a previous visit. The piling up of lame excuses by Trump defenders. Trump's badmouthing of the FBI and DOJ. The picture of the seized classified documents. Trump's backhanded threats concerning what might happen, should he ever be indicted. I'm of two minds as to how this will play out -- and for that matter, as to how the other criminal investigations into the former guy will play out. My first thought is that he will be indicted, perhaps more than once, found guilty at trial, and have to spend the rest of his miserable life confined to one of his residences, with restrictions placed on whom he can communicate with outside that residence. My second thought involves militia groups with AR-15s in the streets; haven't had the will to pursue that thought to any logical conclusion.

How will the coming elections affect the widening split in American society? They're a source of hope for me. And of dread.





I'm Gonna Fix You, Cy

A few days ago I ran into Richard at the SM Mall, and chatting with him learned that he is not a happy man. The expat Aussie and his Filipina wife grow rice on their farm in Talavera, one town north of Cabanatuan, and he told me that for small growers rice farming was becoming financially unviable. I knew that the government's decision to waive restrictions on rice imports in 2019 had  brought down the selling price of unhulled rice. What I didn't know, but learned from Richard, is that he and his wife are facing a double-whammy: fertilizer prices have tripled since 2020!

Richard is an easygoing mate in his early sixties with long and wavy gray hair. He's thin and handsome for an older guy, and he dresses like a biker. Really, I feel more comfortable with him -- maybe because Eric's Norwegian accent makes him hard to understand? because Michael's politics are so repellent?-- than with most other expats I've met in the Philippines. Anyway, I said to Richard the government wouldn't let small farmers go under; they would tweak this policy, institute that policy. Richard said he hoped so.

Reading the East Asian news this morning, I learned the Philippine Department of Agriculture will soon subsidize small farmers 5K pesos for fertilizer expenses. Also read that very poor rice harvests are expected in China and India this growing season due to drought and severe heat; prices seem destined to rise. So how about that, Richard: your short-term prospects seem to be getting brighter.

Not much in the way of drought or severe heat here. The rainy season is finally acting like the rainy season, although the southern monsoon is staying away. We get one or two downpours a day, some lasting minutes, some hours. Here's some news: I won't be alone with the cats on the drive up to Isabela on October 1. My landlord Adonis (Don-Don) has a cousin he would like to visit in Cauayan, which is four towns south of Cabagan, and he's offered to do the driving to Cauayan. Also, Jheng's brother James wants a ride to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya (about the halfway point of my journey). James spent the first few months of this year helping his Uncle Sonny, who opened a second computer repair shop in Solano. Business must be going well for Sonny up there; he wants James's help again.

Speaking of the cats, it seems that Cyrus, the younger of the two, has started pursuing the ladies. Last week he spent a few entire nights outside. Robert was neutered at 6 months; I just haven't gotten around to bringing Cy in. Well, Cy, tomorrow you'll have a blood test, and a day or two after that, snip, snip. More strays are not needed in Cab City -- or in Cabagan!





China Wants Taiwan

(MIT OpenCourseWare)

(MIT OpenCourseWare)

The northernmost islands of the Philippines, the Batanes group off the north coast of Luzon, lie just 120 miles from the southern tip of the island of Taiwan. As you probably know, a few weeks ago a belligerent China took great offense to the visit paid Taiwan by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a contingent of American congressmen: such great offense that it sent its warships to points north, south, east, and west of Taiwan, and held live-fire exercises lasting several days.

Xi Jinping, president of China and general secretary of China's Communist Party, has repeatedly stated that it is China's policy to reunite Taiwan with mainland China in the not-distant future, by peaceful, diplomatic means if possible and by force if necessary. The position of U.S. administrations, for decades, has been to support democratic Taiwan with trade which includes weaponry for self-defense; on the issue of whether the U.S. would come to the defense of Taiwan militarily, should Taiwan be attacked by mainland China, the U.S., despite President Biden's recent claim that the country would militarily defend Taiwan, has maintained a stance of "strategic ambiguity." Which means, what? Maybe, maybe not? I don't think it's going too far to say that the positions of these two nuclear powers (with the two largest armies on the planet), vis-a-vis this island with a population of 24 million, have created a tinderbox in the region, with many opportunities for miscalculation on either side.

China out-invests the U.S. in Philippine industry, but news reports of Filipino demonstrations against the Philippines' growing reliance on China, as well as every conversation I've had with a Filipino about China, suggest to me there is a deep well of disdain in the average Filipino for their formidable neighbor to the west. Generally, the people here feel the Chinese government's economic designs outside its own borders are predatory, and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are outageous. President Duterte, trying to win investments from both China and the U.S. during his six years in office, maintained a studied neutrality concerning differences between the two major powers, and, beyond diplomatic protest, would not rock the boat when Chinese warships chased Filipino fishermen away from Philippines-claimed islands in the western sea. Whether President Marcos will maintain this "let's just keep an even keel" position has yet to be seen.

Will China invade Taiwan not in the not-distant but in the near future? No doubt the Chinese government has been observing closely the Western response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Unprecedented sanctions have been imposed on Russia by every NATO state, by other countries as well. Tens of billions of dollars in weaponry and other support is being funneled into Ukraine. This cannot be making the Chinese leaders sanguine. China depends on international trade in ways that Russia doesn't; and foreign assistance to Taiwan, after Chinese aggression, would much more likely lead to flashpoints and a wider conflict than it currently does in Ukraine. On the other hand, President Xi has publicised the issue of Taiwan, and "rattled the saber" in the Taiwan Strait, as no Chinese leader before him has. It is almost as if he is staking his reputation and legacy on reunification during his tenure.

If China does go in militarily, try to reclaim the island that was Chinese territory for more than six hundred years (before the 1949 revolution, and before the decades of Japanese control before that), how would this affect the Philippines? I guess that depends. Would the U.S. come to Taiwan's defense, and, based on a treaty made long ago between the U.S. and the Philippines, would it pressure the Philippines to allow the U.S. to use military bases on Luzon? Would the Philippines give in to such pressure?

For that matter, just what kind of hegemony is China seeking to establish in East Asia? The years ahead should be interesting ones (cough, cough).




Still Life with Tropical Storm

Well, the tropical storm-force winds are north of here, but it's been a pretty dark and dismal day in Cab City: overcast with occasional downpours. Florita (int'l name Ma-on) has been affecting most of northern Luzon since midday yesterday, and Grace's daughter Faith and son Matt, up in Isabela, got only a taste of school on Monday -- schools in the province closed at 11 am, and they are not open today. They are closed here in Nueva Ecija today, but Jheng's children got in a full day yesterday.

Grace and Faith had flu-like symptoms this morning; Grace just texted me they are both feeling better now (it is getting on evening). Up north in Isabela they're really feeling the storm and have been water-sodden for a day and a half. As for me, have been sedentary for two days now, reading Richard Flanagan's very good novel, Gould's Book of Fish (thanks, Mark!); watching Netflix movies; cooking; tippling into the night.

I guess it just took me blogging about how dry this rainy season has been for one of those whirligigs to descend upon us. Hopefully, Florita will be in the South China Sea by tomorrow morning.


Plan-Making in the Not-So-Rainy Season

It's my fifth rainy season in the Philippines, and this one is not playing out as each of the others did. Simply put, there hasn't been very much rain. Yesterday there was a furious downpour with a nice lightning display -- it did not last an hour. In years past, sunny afternoons at this time of year were a rarity; but these past few weeks have seen long lines of sunny afternoons with nary a drop of rain. And, while two or three circular storms have formed in the western Pacific over the past couple of months, I have a memory of these whirligigs forming with much greater frequency in prior rainy seasons.

I'm not complaining! On the ninth or tenth day of a southern monsoon, a malaise starts to overtake one's soul -- I call it the rain-grippe. A prolonged absence of sun does affect a person's mental space, I've learned since moving here. The rain-grippe has not been felt by me for many moons now . . . .


Faith and Matt will not have an extended break from school until December; at the start of this break, Gracelyn and her children will board a bus and head south to spend a couple of weeks with me. All right, but. As Grace explained how we could reunite, the selfish side of me kicked in. Nearly half a year away from these people who in six days had become an important part of my life? No, thank you. And the seed of a plan lodged itself in my noggin while I was still in Cabagan.

It took a bit of arranging, to be sure. Back in Cab City, I contacted Roel's Garden resort by email, lauding their accomodations before asking whether a stay of, say, a month, could be procured at a discount rate. After some back and forth, an online deal was made: the P1,200/night rate became P1,000/night for the entire month of October. Later, Grace visited the resort with a further request which I thought might require some personal finesse: could the American bring with him his two cats? They told Grace that they liked this particular American, and yes, he can bring along his cats.

Bob is not a killer. Cy, on the other hand, has brought into my room, through a hole in the bathroom windowscreen, a dead sparrow and more than a dozen dead mice. In a few weeks, he'll be introduced to new hunting grounds.

Bob is not a killer. Cy, on the other hand, has brought into my room, through a hole in the bathroom windowscreen, a dead sparrow and more than a dozen dead mice. In a few weeks, he'll be introduced to new hunting grounds.

Before the arrangements with the resort were completed, I sat down with Dondon at the big family table, told him I wanted to live in Cabagan for a month and not pay him rent for that month, then settled back in my seat for his response. I was a little uneasy: his family runs three or four small businesses, but my monthly 25k was a real help to them, I sensed. I was also a little worried that he would find an affluent couple or another foreigner to take my place, and my comfortable (even for that money) abode in Cabanatuan would be lost. But a deal was arrived at: if I left Dondon with 5k, I could leave whatever I wasn't bringing to Cabagan in the apartment, and the place would be saved for my return November 1.

So October will cost me 10,000 pesos more than my average monthly apartment expenditure in the Philippines, and 10k is about $180 American at today's rate -- the peso has fallen against the dollar. Much of my eating will be done at Grace's place or street-side, where vendors in every Philippine city provide savory, wholesome, and cheap meals: restaurant bills should not add up to much more than normal. There will be the gas money, and surely expenses unforseen. But a longer stay with "the family of the north country" is necessary for this old man. And a month at a resort? I'm in!


Daang Maharlika

The Maharlika Highway stretches 3,517 kilometers, from Laoag City in the far north of Luzon to Zamboanga City at the tip of a Mindanao peninsula.  There is a ferry service between Luzon and Samar, and another between Leyte and Mindanao; a bridge links the two islands of Samar and Leyte. It is the "great connector" of this country -- not just of four of the archipelego's main islands, but also of several linguistic groups and disparate cultures. You may know that two southern Asian countries in the last few decades, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, changed their names due to the strong association of their previous names to a colonial past. Well, in the Philippines, which was named after a Spanish king now dead for 400 years, there is currently a groundswell of support to do the same. It's a testament to the affection in which Filipinos hold their "great connector" that the new name for the country bandied about the most, in the last few years, is "Maharlika."

The Maharlika is less than 200 meters from the Raguindin house, my current home base, and the Roel Garden Resort in faraway Cabagan is actually on the Maharlika, so the how-to-get-from-here-to-there aspect of the trip was simple enough. Up Luzon's central plain to San Jose City. North of SJC, a wide "saddle" of highlands connect the Sierra Madres to the east with the mighty Cordilleras to the west -- switchbacks galore for about 30 kilometers. These highlands separate the watersheds of the Pampanga River, which flows south through Cabanatuan and into Manila Bay, and the Cagayan River, which flows north between the two mountain ranges and ends at Luzon's northern coast. Then the drive was up the Cagayan Valley for the length of Nueva Vizcaya Province. At the province's northern border with Isabela, the Maharlika winds up into more highlands before dipping back down into the valley. Once back in the valley, it is a straight shot up the length of Isabela Province to the city of Cabagan.

The Maharlika in Cabanatuan.

The Maharlika in Cabanatuan.

The Maharlika in the highlands. (WordPress.com)

The Maharlika in the highlands. (WordPress.com)

As the crow flies, The distance between Cabanatuan City and Cabagan is 232 km. The road distance is 325.7 km, or just over 200 miles. Now, 200 miles is almost precisely the same distance I traveled eons ago between my home in Cohasset, MA and Waterville, ME, where I attended Colby College. That trip of bygone days took a little more than four hours; the trip to Cabagan took nine and a half hours. 

Why? The Maharlika Highway is not the I95, to put it shortly. There is an expressway on Luzon, with overpasses and off-ramps, on the western side of the island, from Manila to the start of Kennon Road, which climbs the Cordillera to Baguio. But the Maharlika serves as the main drag of sixteen cities between Cabanatuan and Cabagan, main drags that are always, at least in daylight hours, congested with traffic. I probably spent a half hour getting through the downtown section of Santiago. In the highland regions of the Maharlika, a driver is more often than not stuck behind a gi-normous, over-laden, lumbering semi, or a column of semis, which can do no more than 10 km/hr on the switchbacks (and the Marharlika in the highlands is mainly switchbacks). You want to pass one of these trucks in the highlands, where there is never more than two lanes? I did, more than once, when there seemed to be enough clearance and visibility down the road -- always with a strong sense that I was putting myself into peril.

A sense of peril on the highway is not limited to passing in the highlands, though! In areas near cities, residences line the Maharlika; I screeched to a halt somewhere in Nueva Vizcaya (later thanking my lucky stars no one had been behind me) when a minivan suddenly pulled out of a blind driveway. The sheer variety of what moves on the Maharlika definitely adds to a sense of ticklishness on the road: cars, trikes, big trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, carts overladen with sacks of unhulled rice pulled by carabao (water buffalo) . . . . When to pass? When not to pass? When to yield? When to pass through? When to use the horn? When to blow a kiss? Questions pile up on the Maharlika.

Two hours after darkness fell I pulled into the XentroMall in Cabagan where Gracelyn Gatan was waiting for me. She directed me to the resort she had chosen for my home for the next six days and helped settle me in. Walking seemed unnatural and was a little painful. I fell off to sleep while watching a movie. The next morning Grace came to the resort with her children and introduced them to me. And within a couple of days I realized the trip had been more than worth the travel involved. The "great connector" had connected me with a lovely northland family.

For postings between January 22 and July 27, 2022 (and my actual stay in Cabagan), tap the "8" in the blue band at the top of this page. For earlier postings, descend farther!