Something I haven’t done in a while: travel with my parents to Bicol to pay respects to our ancestors during the undas long weekend. In fact, the last time I made this trip was back in 2004, 15 years ago! (I technically also visited Bicol about 11ish years ago, but that was via a flight to Legaspi, Albay, and not to my dad’s hometown.)
My Dad’s hometown is in Daet, Camarines Norte, and that’s also where my grandparents are buried. But instead of heading there directly, we went first to Naga City in Camarines Sur, where we had relatives and family friends to visit.
10 Hour Bus
The overnight bus ride from Manila to Naga is longer than the one to Daet, at an estimated 10 hours. We booked a “lazyboy” Amihan bus, which meant we would be getting a ride at the Cubao Busport that was newly-opened a couple of years ago. My parents were super-impressed with the busport when it first opened, comparing it to an airport terminal. It was my first time using the busport, and I was mostly underwhelmed. I will say it’s nicer than other bus terminals in the country, but that’s a low standard and nowhere near an airport.
The 10-hour bus ride was expectedly miserable; I probably got little more than 2-3 hours of shallow sleep (Fitbit didn’t even register any sleep at all, although as if to compensate, it gave me an extra 4000 steps for the next day…). Comparing it to plane rides (which are also generally miserable), the bus ride had more legroom (yay!) but was way more turbulent (impossible for me to read anything). Level of discomfort with the seat back and difficulty sleeping was about the same.
Side note: I am generally pessimistic about bus rides, because growing up, these trips to Bicol were a lot more common, and I was lot more prone to motion-sickness while on the bus, especially as some of these Bicol roads are exceptionally curve-y. My mom often had to provide me with a barf bag, because me puking due to motion-sickness on these rides was the rule rather than the exception. Thankfully, I’m better able to handle it these days. That, and I have bonamine now.
My uncle picks us up at the Bicol Central Terminal in Naga, and we have a quick breakfast at the local McDonald’s. We drop our bags at his house and rest for a while, after which he takes on a few quick stops around the town. It’s my first time in Naga (or at least, the first time in adult memory), so everything is new to me. Apparently, the town is well-known for the Penafrancia festival, something akin to Quiapo’s Nazareno festival, a religious festival involving pilgrimage from one religious site to another. Except this one uses a water route somehow (?)
First stop is the Jesse Robredo Museum. Disclaimer: I’ve never met the former Naga City Mayor/DILG secretary or his wife, the current VP, but we are indirectly related through in-law-ness. My uncle here in Naga is married to Jesse Robredo’s sister, making him the Vice-President’s brother-in-law, I think? Is that how it works? Anyway, for this reason, the current VP is highly regarded on the father’s side of the family, despite the country’s divisive politics. The museum itself was ok, highlighting J.Robredo’s career highlights and accomplishments. It’s not super large (I can’t imagine that a museum dedicated to a single politician can be), and a visit is probably 30-45 minutes long (including a short AV presentation).
My uncle drove us around town a bit, pointing out this or that. One thing that struck me was that small-town feel of “everybody knows everyone”, since he would often point to a building/business as we drove past and say it was owned by the son of so-and-so and my dad would be like, “ah, the one who went to X school?” and so on and other stuff like that.
Lunch-time we visited this restaurant my dad liked, Jimmy and Tang’s (no relation, though jokingly they claim to be cousins). Given my peculiar dietary tastes, I’m not much for Bicolano food, but my dad loves it of course.
Afternoon was some free time, so I decided to wander around SM City Naga. Having a mall in Naga is not a new thing, I’m told SM City Naga has been there since the late 90s. Still, the mall was quite small, and there’s the distinct lack of dedicated stores that I like to visit: Comic book stores, gaming stores, bookstores (National doesn’t count!). I imagine it must be difficult to have geeky interests in the provinces. In the evening we had dinner at Robinson’s Place Naga, which was the newer mall in the area, and quite a bit bigger than the SM. After that we visited the house of my dad’s childhood friend and spent the night there. I pretty much just turned it early due to being tired.
Second day in Naga was more restful than anything else. Lunch time we visited the house of some of my folks’ CFC friends. They served some beef salpicao (among other things I wasn’t inclined to eat) that turned out to be quite good but also quite spicy. That’s Bicol for you I guess. After we got back we checked in at the CBD Plaza Hotel opposite the bus terminal where we’d be leaving for Daet the next morning. The hotel room was a bit cramped, but it was fine for sleeping (and also had wifi so that’s good enough for me.) We rested up at the hotel for a bit before I decided to go around and walk the early evening streets for a bit. Dinner was at the SM City Naga food court.
In the morning we had the free non-buffet hotel breakfast, then checked out of the hotel and got on a bus for Daet. It was a mostly uneventful two-hour ride, though I did see an “IPOT FOR SALE” roadside sign that I wish I had taken a picture of. My aunt who lived in Daet met us at the terminal and brought us to the Canimog Hotel where we’d be staying for the night. The owners of the hotel were friends of the family, which is why my folks chose this place to stay at, but we were the only guests for some reason. Apparently the hotel had seen better days, there was a bit of a creepy vibe lol. But also there was fiber internet (Converge), so all good I guess? During all of my other prior trips to Daet, we had stayed at my grandmother’s old house, but that was sold off a few years ago, so now we have to stay in a hotel.
After leaving our stuff at hotel, we immediately went out for lunch at a nearby place called KSarap (I had some yummy chicken cordon bleu), then headed straight for the cemetery afterwards, as it was already the first of November. My grandparents were buried at the Camarines Norte Chinese Cemetery, where each family had like a small mausoleum type thing to house their dead. Ours housed my grandparents, and also an uncle and aunt who had also lived in Daet. We paid our respects by doing the Chinese thing with the incense sticks and the bowing and the putting them into the bowl. My mom and I left earlier because it was blistering hot and wanted to rest. My dad and aunt and cousin stayed behind to man the mausoleum and greet any visitors and such. Because of that small-town “everybody knows everybody else” thing, there’d often be random people who knew the family coming in to visit and pay respects.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We met up with my dad later in the afternoon and then went and had dinner at the nearby SM Hypermart. (They don’t yet have a full-fledged SM mall in Daet, though I’m told one is underway.) Then rest and sleep at Canimog. The hotel room at Canimog was nice and a lot roomier than the previous one (though I wish they had more outlets for charging).
My eyeglasses stayed away from the sea
In the morning, we had breakfast at Jollibee before heading out to Bagasbas beach. Visiting the beach was often the highlight of my childhood visits to Daet, but during my last visit in 2004, I famously lost my eyeglasses to it. I still decided to take a dip this time, but wisely took off my eyeglasses before doing so. Nothing quite like the taste of saltwater and how it assaults even your nose. I don’t think I’ve been in contact with the ocean since maybe 2016, so this was a good time to commune with the sea and maybe demand it give back my eyeglasses. (Spoiler: they were not returned.)
There were quite a few people on the beach, presumably because of the holidays. I’ve visited a few other beaches in my lifetime, but none with waves as strong as the ones on Bagasbas. It’s actually gotten famous as a surfing destination during the past couple of decades. A lot has changed on the beach and the boulevard, which now claims to be the longest boulevard in the Philippines after they added some bridges to extend it to nearby municipalities. There’s also a lot more shops and restaurants along the boulevard than I remember, though most of them were closed in the morning.
After the beach, we went back to the hotel to clean up then headed out for lunch with some distant relatives, most of whom I’ve never met or don’t remember. I believe the house belonged to my dad’s aunt, which meant her siblings were my second cousins (?) is that how it works lol. Pretty big family too. Anyway, many of them remembered me from when I was little, but I had little recollection of them, though I tried to get along of course. I did enjoy their stories of Daet and how things have changed along the years, and there was more of that “everybody knows everybody else” feeling when they were talking about old neighbors or friends who had passed away, or what happened to old buildings or businesses in town, and so on. My dad also enjoyed the food quite a lot.
Anticipated mass, and more thoughts on Daet
After lunch we mostly rested up at the hotel and then went out for anticipated mass (it was Saturday the 2nd) in the early afternoon.
While I had visited Daet many times during my childhood, I find that I don’t really have a good “mental model” of the town, unlike places that I’ve visited as an adult. When I was young, we were mostly limited to my grandmother’s old house, and the beach, and maybe went out a few times to some other places, but never really enough for me to grasp the size or layout of the town. The big difference now is that internet is ubiquitous, which means I have Google Maps as a reference. The Globe signal can be spotty in some places, but still generally workable. This is a huge contrast to my 2004 visit where I had to go to an internet shop to do internet things. Even my aunt and cousin have fiber internet here. So now during this visit I at least know the major road names and have some idea of where places are relative to other places.
Everything feels a bit more modern now too. In my last visit, I complained about having to flush the toilet manually with a bucket. Not only is that a thing of the past now, but all of the places we stayed at now had bidets! Ah, bidets, the symbol of modern living. In general, Naga and Daet feel like they could be suburbs of Metro Manila; there aren’t any tall skyscrapers like in Makati or Ortigas, but looking at the streets and the shops and so on, it would be hard to differentiate from some of the more far-flung residential QC areas.
I also found it interesting whenever my dad would converse with other people in Bicolano. I don’t speak the dialect, but it’s close enough to Tagalog that I can often get the gist of what’s being discussed. (Closer than something like Cebuano at least.) It’s a weird feeling listening to a language that’s almost familiar but not. Maybe this is how Spanish people feel when hearing Catalan, or such.
After the mass, we had a fast-food dinner at Greenwich, then went back to our hotel to checkout and then on to the bus terminal. We would be taking a DLTB “lazyboy” bus from Daet to Cubao, a trip estimated at around 8 hours. The DLTB bus had a bit more legroom than the Amihan bus, but the seats were a bit slippery and any attempt to sleep led to me slipping down into an uncomfortable position. So again, miserable bus trip with little sleep, as expected. But I didn’t get motion sickness again this time, so that’s something. The bus trip was fairly quick as well - we arrived an hour earlier than I expected. When we got off the bus, we took a grab home and I was glad to be back in my own bed again.
The whole trip was worthwhile, it’s always good to connect with your roots, no matter how distant they may have gotten. And stepping away from Metro Manila and all its problems was a welcome thing as well (though I did miss my desktop PC). Given my parents’ age, there is a nontrivial chance that I never get to visit Bicol again; I certainly wouldn’t go by myself after all. So it was better to take this opportunity while it was there. Well, maybe I’ll go again next year? We’ll see.
More photos from the trip at the photo dump.