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Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives

a travel blog by Joey Carlotta

As mentioned in earlier trips, I get to do a lot of traveling due to my job as COO of Century Asia. We provide triple play technology (wifi, voip and iptv) to hotels all over the country. On this particular trip, we needed to visit some hotels in Tarlac, Cabanatuan and Baguio. The game plan was to proceed to Cabanatuan via NLEX exiting at Sta. Rita as traditionally done. This is the road to Tuguegarao and the Cagayan Valley on the northeastern side of Luzon. After Cabanatuan, we planned to proceed north to Guimba, Nueva Ecija cutting west and ending back on the National Highway in Paniqui, Tarlac and then on to Baguio. We would stop in Tarlac on the way back.

Looking at the map, I realized that some of the roads we were going to take were not new to me as these were part of the alternative routes available while traveling between Manila and La Union or Baguio. When the traffic is light, travelers usually disregard these alternatives for fear of extending travel time. On the other hand, not much attention is given to the actual route when they are taken as travelers just tend to concentrate on locating the next signpost impatient to get back to the familiar old north road onto their ultimate destinations. With just a bit of familiarization, one will soon realize that these routes are a blessing considering that the roads are well paved although narrower, there isn’t the usual volume of lumbering trucks, slow jeeps and obnoxious tricycles, and the countryside very rural and quite scenic. They certainly bring back memories of driving on the national highway 40 or so years ago. Back in the days when packing food and drink for the trip was essential as the worthy stops were far and few in between.
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Plaridel, Philippines

The trip begins at 6:45 AM having woken Nina at 5:30 as she wanted to get dropped off in her office in BF Paranaque. There was the usual rush hour traffic on Sucat Road to get onto the SLEX which was mercifully smooth. I picked up my first passenger in EDSA corner Buendia at around 7:45 and met up with the rest of the team at by 8:15 along EDSA near the GMA station. We stopped for breakfast along the NLEX and exited at Sta. Rita at about 10:30.

The first town out of the NLEX Sta. Rita exit is Plaridel in the province of Bulacan and immediately we were met by slow moving traffic on a single lane road. And to think that this is the gateway to the Cagayan Valley! The area is densely populated and very commercial. A number of provincial buses stopping along the way to pick up passengers did not help. After Plaridel, you will go through the towns of Baliuag, San Ildefonso and San Miguel before entering the province of Nueva Ecija. The traffic gets progressively lighter and the countryside opens up more and more as to you travel further away from Plaridel.

permalink written by  Joey Carlotta on March 6, 2008 from Plaridel, Philippines
from the travel blog: Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives
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Nueva Ecija

Gapan, Philippines

The first town in Nueva Ecija is Gapan which is a major population center but not as heavy as Plaridel. Between Gapan and Cabanatuan are San Leonardo and Sta. Rosa. I noted several places selling cheap tilapia as well as fingerlings. Care must be taken driving this stretch as the asphalt on the road is uneven making steering difficult. Volume of traffic was still on the heavy side but overtaking was easy as there was very little southbound traffic.

While there is one notable major road, the route is poorly posted. We came across some forks and there were no signs indicating which led where. On the other hand, I made my first discovery in Gapan where I spied a sign with a left arrow indicating 45 kilometers to San Fernando, Pampanga. Referring to my map, I saw that we could have exited NLEX at San Fernando and gotten to Gapan through the towns of Mexico, Sta. Ana and Arayat in Pampanga and Cabiao and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija bypassing Plaridel, Baliuag, San Ildefonso and San Miguel in Bulacan. In fact you can even skip Mexico, Pamganga by exiting before San Fernando at San Simon.

permalink written by  Joey Carlotta on March 6, 2008 from Gapan, Philippines
from the travel blog: Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives
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Nueva Ecija

Cabanatuan, Philippines

We got to Cabanatuan around 12:00 PM. Cabanatuan is quite progressive. There are numerous car dealerships along the highway as well as high end subdivisions. There are plenty of small malls along the way and SM will soon make its presence in the area. After visiting the hotel, we had lunch at Rustica which is highly recommended. They have a branch in Tarlac City. The fare is Filipino. A must-try is the fish head soup.

There are quite a number of roads between Cabanatuan and Tarlac to its west. Without backtracking to Gapan, you can end up in any major town in Tarlac and Northern Pampanga. The roads are all well paved and the views very scenic. Unfortunately, road signs are very poor to almost nonexistent.

permalink written by  Joey Carlotta on March 6, 2008 from Cabanatuan, Philippines
from the travel blog: Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives
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Nueva Ecija

Guimba, Philippines

After Cabanatuan heading north you will pass the town of Talavera and then you come to the fork leading either to San Jose and further north on to the Cagayan Valley or west to Guimba where we were heading. Guimba is a nice rural town and sort of a crossroad. On the map it is on a major road that ends up in Paniqui in Tarlac via Pura and Ramos, which was our intended destination to proceed to Baguio. Unfortunately or fortunately, it was the town fiesta and the main roads of the town were closed and we got confused after a detour and ended up taking the road going to Talugtog immediately to the north of Guimba. Again, the few signs that were available were confusing. We backtracked to Guimba where we asked for directions but we once again took a wrong turn and ended up on a road practically adjacent to the road to Talugtog. There was some discussion going on between myself and my passengers and it was nearing 5 PM and I was getting tired so I made a command decision to push on the route we were on which showed on the map as ending up in Rosales and Carmen in Pangasinan bypassing not just the whole of Tarlac but a major busy portion of Pangasinan as well. The state of the roads was a major concern which turned out to be unfounded. Surprisingly the road was well posted with signs to Baguio which was very reassuring. Note that the road to Talugtog was not entirely a mistake. Upon reaching Talugtog, you turn left and end up on the road going to Cuyapo and onto Rosales. Turning right on Talugtog brings you back east to Munoz past the fork after Talavera.

After Carmen you just have Urdanta to contend with and then you are home free. There is an alternate route from Villasis that ends up as far as Pozorrubio but we did not want to get caught in unfamiliar roads in the dark. We stopped in Sison at around 5:30 PM for a leg-stretch and arrived in Baguio at 7 PM.

permalink written by  Joey Carlotta on March 6, 2008 from Guimba, Philippines
from the travel blog: Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives
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Mountain Province

Baguio, Philippines

Reviewing our trip, I would suggest the following route going either to Baguio or La Union from Manila:

At the end of NLEX turn right (not left going to Dau) going to Concepcion. This is a well posted alternate route going through La Paz and Victoria. After Victoria is Pura where you have a choice to turn left ending up in Panigui or right going towards Guimba. Shortly before Guimba you turn left towards Cuyapo and Rosales. At this point you have bypassed the roads of Tarlac. In Rosales you can turn left to Carmen or right through Sta. Maria, Asingan and San Manuel to bypass Urdaneta. In San Manuel, you turn left going to Binalonan. There is another turn that takes you all the way to Pozzorubio but my map does not show details of that area.

After taking care of business in Baguio, we left the following day for Manila departing shortly before 10 AM. We drove straight through to Tarlac and arrived in Luisita at 12:30 PM without taking any detours as the traffic was light. We left Tarlac at about 2:00 PM and had lunch in a stop along the NLEX. I was home by about 5:30 PM grateful for missing the traffic on EDSA.

It's funny how everything seem to get smaller as you get older and (hopefully) wiser. You wonder how your family fit in a small house that seemed so large when you lived in it as a child. Or a recollection of your grandfather as a tall and imposing figure when your mother tells you he was barely over five and a half feet in height. As a young boy traveling north, I used to get the impression that the plains of Central Luzon went on forever to the distant mountains far away in the horizon. This last trip has made me realize that the Philippines is not very big at all. More importantly, it has brought home the point that we must take care and make proper use of the land because there isn't too much of it. I wonder what my grandchildren will see of this land when their time comes to visit it.

Happy Trails!

permalink written by  Joey Carlotta on March 6, 2008 from Baguio, Philippines
from the travel blog: Baguio Via Cabanatuan & Alternatives
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