|The long road to Pagudpud
|Author: Marc Anthony Reyes
IS there a summer hideaway worth a 17-hour drive? That’s what we endured just to get to Saud Beach in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Well, okay, take away, say, four hours for meals, taking pictures and having the car repaired. That was still 13 solid hours on the road, albeit well-paved but often desolate, for a total distance of 550 kilometers.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. The idea was for our young family—myself, my wife Vangie and our eight-month-old daughter Mavi—to bond while taking a long-haul journey to a place we had never been but had heard so much about. At the eleventh hour, we asked our friends, Alex, a dentist, and his girlfriend Jinky, a banker, to come along and help with the driving and babysitting.
At our starting point, the Valenzuela exit at the North Expressway, we reset the odometer to 0. We started our journey at midnight.
No one among us had traveled past Laoag City. All we knew was that Pagudpud lies on the northernmost tip of Luzon, as clearly indicated in our trusty road map.
In the dead of night, we negotiated the stillness of the expressway, passing the sleeping villages of Pampanga and Tarlac, and made it to Carmen, the first town of Pangasinan, in almost three hours.
We checked the car, visited rest rooms and changed drivers. There was no problem with the road because much of it was deserted, allowing us to make headway and avoid getting caught in the Monday-morning traffic.
La Union went by like a blur, and by the time dawn broke we were in Bangar, Ilocos Sur, where Vangie took the wheel. That’s when we sensed trouble. We heard a weird noise from underneath the car, which grew louder as we hit 50 km per hour and beyond. We decided to go slow.
Fortunately, the roads kept on getting better as we moved deeper into Ilocandia and passed rows of seemingly empty towns. There was no one by the roadside, behind us or up front, yet we could not go as fast as 50 kph because the noise grew increasingly and alarmingly loud.
We decided to have the car checked when we got to Vigan, Ilocos Sur, at 10 a.m. There, we also grabbed the chance to take a brief tour and have lunch.
Just as I suspected, it was the wheel bearing that was causing the trouble. It finally gave in to the torture it was getting, considering that I had been driving an average of only 50 km a day, and suddenly it went through 400 km in 10 hours. Otherwise, our seven-year-old car was in perfect shape.
By the time we hit the road again, it was already 2 p.m. and we still had about 150 km ahead of us—roughly the distance from Manila to the town of Moncada in Tarlac, which we passed around 3 a.m. At this point, I took the wheel again, refreshed by the extended stopover but very anxious about getting to our destination before dark.
The coastline started to show on our left, the waves frothing on rocky beaches, as we cut through cliffs outside Laoag. But the view shifted to thickly forested roadside to small town plazas to wide bridges for three agonizing hours.
It was gathering dusk when the famous welcome arc of Pagudpud—standing on the far end of a wide, concrete bridge spanning a river rushing to the sea—finally came into view. From that landmark, it still took us about 20 minutes to get to Barangay Saud, weary from the long trip and uncertain if it was all worth it.
Quickly, we surveyed the row of beach resorts, and decided to check out the big ones.
The first resort hotel we stepped into did not have an information desk. A group of "bellboys" in slippers tried to put us in an air-conditioned room for two worth P1,500. We were told that for each additional person, we had to fork out P100, and that an extra bed cost P300. The problem was, there was no electricity. An unscheduled outage hit the town just after lunch, and nobody knew when the power would resume. The hotel also did not have generators. "There is only one hotel here that has generators," said one of the bellboys.
That piece of information saved us time because we went straight to that hotel, which happened to be the most exclusive and expensive in town. And since we did not have much of a choice, we checked in and retired for the night.
We could barely make out the sun the next morning, yet the waves were growing increasingly strong. And though the vast stretch of beach still showed signs of the busy summer—multicolored flags stirring in the breeze, bamboo torches planted on the shores, and a forlorn volleyball net drooping on the sand—it was very evident that the beach season was over. We had the grainy, khaki-colored beach all to ourselves.
Windswept, we sipped coffee on a wooden table screwed on a concrete ledge a few feet above the beach.
The sea stretched out directly to the South China Sea, but a bellboy said that on a clear day, Batanes would be visible on our left.
We decided to comb the beach and check out the right end of the strip where a solitary tree stands atop a rock. We learned that for P150, you can hire a boat to ferry you to a nearby place with rock formations.
The beach has the color and texture of roasted sesame seeds. It is not in any way comparable to the talcum-powder-soft sands of Boracay, and it also does not have the calm waves to match it.
The water in Pagudpud is constantly busy. On that post-summer day it diligently rushed to the shore, leaving overlapping surf in its wake. And while it hardly allowed us to enjoy a leisurely swim, we frolicked, dipped and treaded in it. It also provided a perfect setting for taking pictures (no wonder it’s director Carlitos Siguion Reyna’s favorite location for his films).
We found Pagudpud a visual feast, although we were not sure that we would make a great deal of effort to come back. For one thing, cell phones are useless here--but on the other hand, that could be something visitors might like if they truly want to cut off lines with the big city.
At a portion of the beach where fishermen dock their boats, we met Aling Telma, who offered to cook lunch for us. It was actually what we had in mind—finding somebody to order fresh seafood from and cook it besides, to allow us an escape from the boring menu at the resort. We felt that there was something terribly wrong with eating beef mami or breaded pork chop while in a first-class beach like Pagudpud—or any other beach, for that matter.
We ordered one-and-a-half kilos of lobster and the same quantity of crabs, which Aling Telma steamed in 7-Up and salt. We asked her to choose the smaller lobsters that went for P250 a kilo (P750 back in the hotel). The crabs, which cost P170 a kilo, were the wild, hairy variety found in the deep sea. The aligi had sand in it but the arms were particularly robust and filled with sweet, luscious meat. But the insides were not as smooth as the cultured crabs available in Manila. The many chambers posed a challenge to the dedicated eater. We preferred the lobsters, whose thick meat easily slid through the shell. There was also plenty to nibble on from the large, thorny heads.
In a nipa cottage we set up banana leaves, and arranged steaming rice and our freshly cooked seafood on these. The famous sukang Iloco made the banquet complete. So that the hotel attendant would not object to our buying food outside—the practice is against the resort’s policy—we ordered beer, soda and a bowl of hot dinengdeng.
Our princely lunch cost us only about P700 (P550 for the seafood).
And if only for that, we reached a unanimous decision: Pagudpud deserves all the praise heaped on it. The postcard images of blue, unspoiled sea and clean, wide beach in Siguion Reyna’s movies and the "Aawitan" Kita specials were all there to see and enjoy
But to defy 17 hours on the road to get there? Well, it wasn’t exactly a good idea.