Trip Number JUAN: San Juan, La Union

Though I have traveled to other places because of work and family gatherings, I still consider this trip to be the one that began it all – my thirst for life.

Before this trip, only a few people knew what I was going through. My marriage failed, and while I never really felt pain because of the fact, I struggled to accept that I had made one mistake that cost me half of my freedom and happiness. So when my (ex)husband finally agreed to let me go (in all essence of the word – even legally), I went soul-searching with a long-time friend.IMG20141121223445

Pinky and I first met in college at Tarlac State University, where we worked together for the school publication. Those were the years of my teenage life. We had fun writing together and traveling to different places to compete and – wouldn’t you know it – win. This time in our late twenties, we worked together for the government and we were officially traveling buddies.

The first of our planned trips was in San Juan, La Union. This was from November 21 to 23, 2014.

The travel from Tarlac City to San Juan was over four hours by bus. The trip was expectedly boring. We actually planned on sleeping through it, but ended up chatting about everything we missed. After all, before this, we had a huge fight that made us avoid each other for a few months.

The first day was pretty much about the places where our feet could take us. Our guide – who was ironically a Canadian – had to go back to work. Firth let us off. We went to the famous Pagoda Hill, the viewing deck from the La Union Provincial Capitol and the flea market, all in San Fernando. Then we had Souvlaki Platter for dinner at Gefsies, a Greek Grill back in San Juan.

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Just after dinner, Firth met us for dessert at his mother’s house. I had real home-made yogurt then for the first time. And then slept soundly at Firth and his best friend Colleen’s place.

Second day was even more awesome. We met with one of Pinky’s friends – Reyn – and he took us around La Union. First stop, breakfast at Angel and Marie’s. Though I failed to take pictures of the food (since we were having fun chatting), I guarantee that they have the best-tasting omelettes.

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Second stop, La Union Botanical Garden plus Science Museum, where the traditional weaver showed us how to make traditional towels. Now to get to these places (located in Brgy. Cadaclan, San Fernando), we had to rent out a jeepney for Php500. The usual fare is only Php20 per head. But we wanted to go at our own schedule so we went right ahead and talked to one of the drivers.

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Next, we went to the famous Bahay na Bato (Stone House) in Luna, La Union. Luna is over an hour away from San Fernando by jeepney.

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Since we missed lunch, we went to have early dinner at Riverfarm Seafood, a floating restaurant in Bacnotan, La Union. Here, Reyn’s friend, Rhugs, met with us.

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Last stop for the night, back to San Juan’s Moonleaf for some dessert – cupcakes and milkteas.

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We woke up early for our last day so we could go surfing. San Juan is known as the surfing capital of the North and we wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride the waves. We were joined this time by Colleen and Mico, another one of Reyn’s friends.


Breakfast was still at Angel and Marie’s since we loved the omelettes so much. This time, I didn’t fail to take a picture. Below is also a picture of Reyn, Mico, Colleen, me and Pinky.

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The rest of the day was actually pretty much about food. Halo Halo de Iloko in San Fernando was one place to really dine in when in La Union. Here’s where we had late lunch. Food’s great. We had okoy (one with shrimp and one without, since Pinky’s allergic to seafood), squid, sinigang na isda in coconut, and palabok that’s topped with Ilocos longganisa. We didn’t order Halo Halo, though. Hmmmm. I wonder why.

Colleen and Firth were with us.

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We went back to the flea market right after our lunch and spent the whole afternoon shopping for almost nothing. You know that feeling of wanting everything you see and so you end up buying almost nothing? Well, that’s what happened. I was able to buy a plant for a friend, a scarf for another friend and a bracelet for myself.

Reyn, Mico and Rhugs are photographers and had agreed to help me shoot the sunset properly. After all, San Juan is also known to have the best view of sunset in the North.

I was supposed to meet Reyn and Mico at Flotsam and Jetsam Cafe at 5pm so we could chase after the setting sun. I ended up shooting it alone. I couldn’t recall what happened then exactly, but it turned out, Mico couldn’t make it and Reyn was at Seanymph, waiting.

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And we had dinner at Flotsam and Jetsam Cafe still. Nice cozy place, might I say. Bean bags for sitting, mattresses, mats over green grasses and overlooking the sea. Plus great food and drinks. You know that moment when you’re having too much fun and so you fail to take pictures? Well, this is one of them.

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At 1AM, Pinky and I took the bus back home to Tarlac City.

Overall, the experience was actually beyond what I had hoped for and imagined it to be. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as I had then, just talking to the new friends I gained. Pinky and I? We never discussed the issue that came between us before this trip. Everything went as smoothly – and more – as we had prayed it to be.

Traveling to new places is a joy and I couldn’t believe it had taken me 28 years just to realize this. Meeting new people is an even greater adventure. For you’ll never know what you’ll learn and what you’ll miss while you’re out there, chasing sunsets and sharing thoughts. And you’ll never know what life is while you’re not out there living it.

A friend of mine once asked me if I had seen my country. I haven’t then. Maybe I haven’t still now. But I swear to myself: I sure damn will.

Keep dreaming with me.



A House of Sweets

At the heart of Tarlac City is a family-owned restaurant-bakeshop that’s been serving its famous Chicken Barbeque, its undeniably delectable chocolate cake and mouth-watering pastries since the 1960s. 

Urdu Pastries


I grew up with Urdu Bakeshop’s pastries and cakes always gracing our family occasions. More than twenty years later, they still have the best-tasting sweets I have ever had that’s originally from my own province. 

Urdu Blueberry CheesecakeHave I ever mentioned I love Blueberry Cheesecake and Carrot Cake? 


Here’s me with the second-generation owner, Ms. Joy Urquico-Sariñas, and her husband, Mr. Xavier Sariñas. 

Definitely not gonna be able to maintain a diet with this baby in town! 


Wood Always Works

My team and I had been going around Tarlac the past weeks for our day job, which is rebuilding the province’s website, in search of treasures and gems. I can say we always have the most interesting finds. Sure, we aren’t always the first ones on the scene, but the great thing will always be that we find them.

In Sta. Ignacia is an exporter of handmade fashion accessories, home decors, keepsakes and trophies made of wood and bamboo. This family of designers named their business Woodinspirations Crafts.


Here’s Mykie doing his magic.

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I bought two bracelets made of bamboo and beads for Php 90.00 each. That’s $2 each. Not bad, huh?

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They have bangles, too. And since they have a lot of great designs to choose from, I ended up buying nothing from these.

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Here’s a decorative set – relaxing candles.


And some frames.

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So if you ever pass by Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac, visit Woodinspirations Crafts. Mr. Glenn Pascual and his wife, Mrs. Blesilda Pascual, are sure to entertain you warmly.


Steel Frames from Grass

In the quiet Municipality of Victoria are six men trained to build bicycle frames out of bamboo.

Bamboo Bike

They make all kinds of frames – from those of road bikes to beach bikes.

Bambike Philippines

The frames are of export quality, actually. Should the men encourage and train more builders from their village for mass production, I believe they wouldn’t have a hard time selling these babies. After all, foreigners have already purchased completed bamboo bikes and brought them back to their homelands.

Bamboo Bike Frame

That’s Angelo, our media team’s Marketing Specialist. He’s a bike enthusiast, always on the trails on his days off.

Angelo Simbol-2


If you want more information about these bikes, you may visit their homepage at



I So Love Japanese Food!

Izakaya Cowan

I visited Izakaya Cowan with two friends a few days ago and I must say I had never had that much fun eating. Everything about the place and the menu just feels and tastes so authentic!

Izakaya Cowan

Izakaya Cowan has been around since 2002, with Chef Nolan serving the best of what Japan has to offer our local taste. I had the pleasure to meet him and he shared some of his stories, being an expert of the cuisine for 17 years now. Here’s his salmon maki.

Salmon Maki Izakaya Cowan

To date, it stands as the only Japanese restaurant in the Province of Tarlac to originally be established by a true Tarlaqueño.

Off their menu are other Japanese dishes that sure are mouth-watering. I haven’t tasted everything yet, but I really plan to. The restaurant is really a great place to dine in. Of course, the price is not as low as those from other Japanese fastfood places, but it is definitely affordable. Besides, the taste actually compensates for the figures.

Izakaya Cowan

Notice how my friends are too camera-shy? LOL

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So we have Mykie, the Photographer, and Archie, the Basketball Player (non-pro. yet.).

And here’s the food-loving me, with Chef Nolan.

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Will be taking more pictures of the great food once I return. Which is soon, I hope. Been craving since I have too much stress lately. Hahahahaha



Shrine of a Thousand Heroes

Every Filipino knows what happened during the Bataan Death March of 1942. It was when the Japanese Imperial Army forcibly transferred about 80,000 Filipino and American prisoner-soldiers from Bataan to the Province of Tarlac during the World War Two. Characterized by various physical abuse and torture, the inhumane treatment of the Japanese army then resulted to thousands and thousands of deaths.

The 106KM Death March Marker

The 128-km march started in Mariveles, Bataan. In Pampanga, many of these Filipino and Japanese soldiers were loaded into boxcars and transported to Tarlac. At the 106km mark, a lot of them were already dead and buried right there in Sto. Domingo, Capas. An inverted-V marker stands proud to this day to remind the Filipinos of it.

At the bottom of the structure is a sculpture that depicts the Japanese forces’ inhumanity towards their prisoners then.

Death March Marker

Death March Marker Capas


In the 1980’s, a new shrine was built in Barangay O’Donnel in Capas, where Death March had ended. Bones of the dead soldiers buried under the Death March Marker were transferred to this monument so that every 9th of April, Veteran’s Day, all of the perished were commemorated.

Capas National Shrine

Inside the 90-hectare land are thousands of trees that represent each of the perished soldier and an obelisk that point to the heavens. Surrounding this obelisk is a three-segment black wall of heroes, where all the names of the perished may be read.

Capas Shrine Obelisk


Capas National Shrine




A little trivia. And this one is hair-raising. Standing on one end of the wall, I whispered something and my friend on the other end heard it perfectly. He answered me back and it was like he was standing right behind me. Our voices were clear and deep. Cool huh?

Wall of Heroes



One of the boxcars that transported the soldiers then still survives and remains to be a mute witness of what happened. It gives me the creeps just looking at its picture. Imagine how my friend and I walked beside it to take pictures.

Death March Boxcar

Death Boxcar


Also inside the compound is a museum called Hall of Defenders built by a group of Americans. The museum holds photographs of the actual Death March and paintings depicting the lives of the soldiers and the Filipino during WWII.


Near this hall is an area where tombstones for the perished Americans soldiers, whom they called “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” sit quietly. Other tombstones represent other foreign prisoners and officials who have fought for the liberty of the country.





So here’s a piece of my history.

When you visit my home province, the Province of Tarlac, be sure to drop by this historical place!

Wall of Heores





Home to Another Piece of the Heavens: St. Josemaria Escriva Parish

A lot of you must have already heard of Monasterio de Tarlac, where the True Relic of the Cross of Jesus Christ is housed within a very small chapel in the mountains of San Jose, Tarlac. But a new relic, the only one again in all of Asia, now brings pilgrims and devotees to Tarlac.

On February 14, 2014, over two thousand people visited the Municipality of Gerona in Tarlac to witness the blessing of St. Josemaria Escriva Parish, the only parish in Asia dedicated to St. Escriva, founder of the Opus Dei. Opus Dei is an institution of the Catholic Church, with laypeople and secular priests teaching others and everyone willing to open their hearts about the path to holiness.

St. Josemaria Escriva Parish

The church’s Baptistery holds a tooth of St. Escriva, his only relic displayed in all of Asia.


Relic of St. Josemaria Escriva Photo by KZ RimanRelic of St. Escriva Photo by KZ Riman 

The parish is being considered a Diocesan Shrine because of the many pilgrims and visitors it receives in a month from all over the country. To accommodate travelers who pass by Tarlac in the wee hours of dawn, when the church doors has already been closed, and the elders, pregnant women and handicaps who wish to visit but could not, a Drive-Thru Visit has been constructed.

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The Blessed Sacrament, which is always exposed at the altar, rests inside a tabernacle with both sides opened. All the visitors have to do is drive to the back of the church and stop right where they could view the tabernacle and pray. During the night, sensors activate lights at the altar as soon as a vehicle is detected.

The inside of the church is a must see. Local artists from Bicol and Concepcion, Tarlac hand-painted the walls, ceilings, and the framed religious arts.

KZ Riman

KZ Riman at St. Escriva Parish


I have been told that a certain miracle has already happened here, though the parish secretary didn’t want to disclose anything about it yet since the matter is still under investigation. But as I sat in the front line of the pews, I began to feel like this really is one place where people can come and visit to find the path to the Lord. I made three wishes again.

I was able to meet the local artist from Concepcion, Tarlac, Mr. Richie Palatao. He was currently painting the Ermita, the local term for a very small chapel, when my media partner, Sir Mykie, and I came to visit.



I wasn’t able to take a picture of the church’s facade due to on-going construction, but I am expecting myself to really return. After all, St. Josemaria Escriva Parish is just along the national highway in Magaspac, Gerona, Tarlac – 15 minutes away from Tarlac City by any north-bound bus and by private vehicle.


Construction of this church started in 2010. Through the efforts of the community, members of the Opus Dei and many benefactors, it became one place worth visiting. Reverend Father Alex Bautista, who was an architect long before he became a priest, designed it. I was also told that he knows everything there is about this church. I intend to visit him soon.

So if you ever pass by the Province of Tarlac, pay the church a visit! Who knows, you may find a miracle of your own there. I know I did. See you  in TARLAC! And keep dreaming with me. 🙂