Ah, Naga City, the home of my youth. I was there three years ago, right before the pandemic. Anticipating another visit thrilled me. The 12-hour drive from Laguna to Naga was like a pilgrimage. Traveling in my nephew/niece’s (Chito/Benita’s) comfortable Grandia with great company and an efficient driver, the bumpy ride on the truck-trodden roads did not diminish the excitement of visiting a city that bears youthful memories for me. To boot, I so looked forward to seeing a dear aunt, younger sister of my Mama. Auntie Rosie Manuel Cruz was our generous host during our week and a half stay, a loving matriarch, a model of strength and benevolence, a warm source of family memories.
My Bicol trip was a journey in nostalgia. Seeing old places now changed, and new or revitalized features of the cities yielded to sentiments of gratitude for what was then, and appreciation for what has become and what is now. The Naga of my youth will always stay in my heart. Very special were the bonding moments with family members, relatives, old and new friends. While touring and sightseeing goad interest and excitement during travels, nothing is as gratifying as reconnecting with dear ones one hasn’t been with in years. For me, this is the heart of my travels to the Philippines.
An impromptu family reunion at Auntie Rosie’s home in Naga. (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
Watching sunset at Cymae Beach Resort at Pasacao, Camarines Sur. (Photo by Rorie Pandes)
Vista Point at Legazpi, Albay, Bicol. (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
My stint in Bicol started with a blast – a lively four-day alumni reunion at the University of Santa Isabel in Naga. Two of the four days were dedicated to our high school batch gatherings. The citywide celebrated event started with a 2-hour parade led by the oldest alumni batches, ours being one of them. We were the “diamond girls”, all dressed in attractive personally tailored blue blouses and black pants. We were the “crème de la crème” (my biased opinion), babyboomers who were advantaged. We didn’t need to walk or march with the bands contracted from neighboring schools. We were like “queens” seated in “padyaks” (tricycles) pedaled by strong males. We were applauded by onlookers. I would have wanted to be an onlooker myself – watching the contented babyboomers happily seated in tight contraptions decorated with balloons. The padyaks felt like our golden carriages. Absolute fun!
My batch gatherings proved to be journeys through memory lanes. Precious reminders of high school days flowed like water in our animated conversations, eliciting a great deal of laughter and girlish giggles that definitely made us shed decades off our years, even just during those reminiscing moments. Amazing were the dance moves on the dance floor, seniors shaking what were thought to be lethargic muscles and bones to execute cha-cha, boogie or disco steps. The not-so-brave ones ventured some gentle shimmies, myself included. The jam session floor was jammed with frolicking diamond girls. A merry repeat of two nights before happened on Dr. Elna Chia’s patio where a live band spurred more dancing and lively singing. I was delighted to find that many of my batchmates had wonderful voices and performed as band soloists. Perhaps, secret dreams were realized that day. When I was in my late teens, I secretly nurtured a crazy ambition – to be a famous crooner. I loved to sing then, and I still do now. But that day of our reunion gig, I wasn’t bold enough – I didn’t croon, much as my crazy secret dream begged me to.
One of the remarkable highlights of our Bicol trip was our stay in Legazpi, Albay, home of the world famous Mayon Volcano. Benita, wife of my nephew Chito, joined our travel purposely to experience the Bicol Region for the first time and see the legendary “Magayon” (beautiful lady). Much to our chagrin, Mayon hid her face behind thick gray clouds that brought light rain the whole time we were in Legazpi. There was just one message, we told Benita – she has to visit Legazpi again.
On the drive back to Naga, we climbed the hills to Highlands Park, a panoramic view of Legazpi and its neighboring areas. We didn’t mind the cold breeze and the intermittent drizzle. They didn’t stop my group from posing for numerous background shots of the breath-taking scenery sans the face of Mayon. Nonetheless, the vista point was spectacular – so glad for Benita’s first experience of Bicol.
Before we left Naga, we visited Cymea Beach Resort at Pasacao, Camarines Sur, a sprawling beach property featuring a line of dining stalls fronting the shore. It was near to sundown. While my brother and nephews braved the waters, we ladies stood mesmerized as we watched the dramatic setting of the sun on the ocean’s horizon. Sunset on the beach never fails to awe.
And yes, we couldn’t leave Bicol without having packages of candied pili, Bicol’s culinary flagship next to laing and pinagnat (gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk, and finely grated coconut meat wrapped in gabi leaves cooked in rich coconut milk).
From Bicol, back to Manila and then to La Union.