Beckoning, wide open spaces. The seemingly endless stretch of highway, and the contrasting, picturesque charm of back roads and byways. Destinations bearing the promise of adventure and exploration, ever closer, as rubber hits the road. Nothing quite compares to a road trip.
Barring the cacophony of “Are we there yet?” on loop from children in the back seat, road trips can be quite therapeutic. Back when I had a car, I looked forward to driving longish distances; favorite playlist – usually ‘90’s glam rock or torch songs with major chord progressions and dramatic, angsty vocalizations – blaring from the speakers, with me singing along at the top of my lungs. Now, I am happy to be a passenger on board someone else’s car, or on a bus. And it generally doesn’t matter what is blaring from their speakers. That’s what earphones are for.
My most recent road trip was in February this year, across Laguna, en route to Lucban in the province of Quezon. I tagged along with Norma – who was on holidays from Kamloops, BC – and her group of childhood gal-pals, many of whom are now semi-retired, but still extremely active. After a quick breakfast at a local fast-food chain (which, in the Philippines, is how many road trips begin) we piled into a rented SUV. This was quite the spur-of-the-moment adventure for me and another friend who tagged along, so seating arrangements had not been pre-planned. You know the ‘70’s “how many people can you fit in a phone booth” craze? That’s kind of what it felt like. Nonetheless, once we had figured out an “in-out-in-out” strategy for our rear ends, we hit the road with the excitement and enthusiasm of school graders on a field trip.
Light-hearted banter and the chatter that generally marks a gal-pal-get-together filled the car, as crooner music from the girls’ ‘50’s and ‘60s idols played in the background.
Laguna boasts many historical spots, old churches, heritage homes, yummy eateries, and quaint shops. First stop was San Pablo Church, in the town of San Pablo. I am a sucker for old structures, and this neo-classical stone church built by the Augustinian order in 1680 is no exception: I was officially on “oooh-ahhh” mode. The church, which was completed in 1714, has a fascinating structure of columns, a Romanesque domed roof and a four-storey octagonal bell tower adding to its beauty. Right outside the church, religious sundries are sold by peddlers, young and old alike. Of particular interest to me were the boy and girl shaped vigil candles, in assorted colors (each color representing a specific petition). I thought them interesting, and – I must say – a tad reminiscent of hoodoo rituals, albeit in pretty colors.
Back on the road, our driver (who had spent some time living in the area) asked if we would like to go to some shops selling native sweets. Though not part of the agenda, we gladly took him up on his offer. After all, what is a road trip without some unplanned stops along the way? Store after store of yemas, bucayo, pastillas, and other goodies greeted us, the all-too-willing sweet-toothed road-trippers.
Driving through the town of Poblacion in Nagcarlan of course merited a quick stop at the San Bartolome Apostol church. I absolutely loved the grandeur of its red stone exteriors, as well as the charm of its blue-tiled, Moorish inspired interiors. Three tableaus of antique santos featuring remarkable wood craftsmanship, stained glass windows portraying Christ and the saints, and a rather interesting rendition of Purgatory in a mural await inside the church.
Shoe-shopping was next on the agenda, for this is the thing to do when in Liliw, the “Tsinelas” (slippers) and shoe-capital of Laguna. A stretch of stores and mini-boutiques (Badong’s is perhaps the most well-known) selling all kinds of footwear dictated that we would be at Liliw for at least a couple of hours. This was a shoe-lover’s dream; hopping from shop to shop, getting intoxicated on that smell of new shoes; a heady mixture of leather, rubber, dye and glue. A few other things caught my fancy: sidewalk vendors of fresh veggies, fruits, Laguna cheese, snails, etcetera; heritage homes on the inner streets; a few odd-looking statues on a balcony.
While the rest of the group got lost in shoe-wonderland, I followed a narrow back road, which opened up to the spacious courtyard of the magnificent St. John the Baptist Parish Church. The church, which was built in 1605, is at once awe-inspiring and intimidating, as it is romantic and whimsical. Inside the church’s centuries-old stone walls: a grand altar with several tableaus; beautiful stained glass windows; high wood-carved ceilings; stone archways with intricately painted details; the occasional glass dome ceiling detail; and patterned, tiled floors. Outside, statues of patron saints; sets of footprints cast into a stone path; and other such touches of whimsy. Truly a sight to behold.
On the road again, this time for a bit of a stretch as we drove to Lucban in Quezon. What I thought were back roads were apparently the main roads by which to get to our next and final destination: the Kamay ni Hesus (Hand of Jesus) shrine. Of course, being the insatiable sight-seer that I am, I coerced the driver into stopping by the road side for some photos of a breathtaking waterfall, which we viewed from atop a small bridge. Dodging oncoming traffic to get back in the SUV was a bit tricky, as there were surprisingly more than a few vehicles for such a small rural road. All the same, the view was well-worth it, and we made it back in one piece.
Kamay ni Hesus was really quite the surreal sight: huge statues depicting the Stations of the Cross, positioned on different levels atop a hill, a giant Noah’s Ark Scene, and various other Biblical stories told in clay and stone. The sprawling, verdant area is a favorite destination of Catholic pilgrims during Holy Week. I am admittedly not very religious (being more the faithful type), and could not resist the urge for some wacky shots when no one was looking. All within the realms of reason and religious respect, of course. We capped the afternoon off with merienda at a restaurant within the complex, which proved the perfect spot for some of Lucban’s famous, super-tasty longaniza. Pity that I did not get to take a photo of these yummy meat sausages; I was too busy wolfing them down. In the midst of a sudden downpour (typical, in that neck of the woods) we sat and munched away, safe and dry, spirits un-dampened by the wet weather.
Back in the SUV, Manila-bound, the girls planned their next adventure. I drifted off to sleep, visions of road trips dancing through my head.
Some practical tips for your road trip
- Always have the vehicle checked prior to departure. Better safe than sorry.
- Make sure you have the necessary tools, spare tire, car accessories, flashlight needed for an emergency.
- Research your destination, including main and alternate routes. Know if there are any scenic back roads that are worth the detour.
- Pack a reliable road map.
- Make sure you are good on gas.
- If renting a car (or taking the bus), do so from a reliable company of good repute.
- Pack a first-aid kit with basic medication, bandages, antiseptics, etc.
- Pack eating utensils, snacks, sufficient water, paper towels.
- When travelling with kids, make sure to bring their favorite portable toys; take along engaging games, puzzles, activity books to keep them entertained. Never leave kids unattended in the car.
- Prepare your favorite playlist of songs.
- Buckle up!
- Never drive sleepy. Stop at a local inn or hotel if you must.
- Take turns at the wheel, on long drives.
- Have an agenda and itinerary, but do not push the time. Make your schedule lose and free-flowing enough to account for possible delays due to traffic, unexpected road conditions, etc. Factor in stops for sight-seeing, bathroom breaks, food breaks.
- Set expectations beforehand with those traveling with you: things to see and do, activities, etc. so that everyone is as satisfied as possible.