Where do you go when your friends want to go out of town- but not to a beach, nor to a difficult hike? Masungi Georeserve was first to come to mind, but due to popular demand, we weren’t able to book it with just 2 weeks lead time. Good thing Eliza discovered Minalungao National Park while searching online!
Our little group drove away from Manila on a rainy Sunday morning, praying the skies would clear when we get to Nueva Ecija. It was our first time to visit that province, so we let Waze lead the way after exiting Sta. Rita toll, Bulacan. I slept through most of the 4-hour ride but as we approached, I noticed that the roads haven’t been paved plus a herd of cows or goats would cross the street from time to time.
It was the perfect time to be away from the city, with no phone signal and mobile data to distract from the moment. When we arrived, we were greeted by gleeful children helping us park, and offering to tour us around. We asked how much they’d charge and they replied, “kayo na po bahala” (It’s up to you). Off we went with our two young guides, aged 15 and 10. They showed us around the bike trail and into a small cave, but since some of us weren’t equipped with shoes, we requested to go right into the river.
The park itself has no entrance fee, but with a small price of P600 for a maximum of 6 people, you get your own balsa (raft). The best part is there’s no time limit on how long you want to use it. We got on our raft, snapping away at photos, while two older men steered us along the river bed. When they parked it by a huge rock at a corner, we got off to swim. The water was very refreshing. But if you lay on your back for too long to relax, you’ll swiftly drift away with the current, so everyone is required to wear a life vest, or face the penalty of P250.
When I did swim away with the current, one of our guides, Mario, followed me and led me to a bunch of rocks to walk on to get back to where my friends were. Mario and Virano were very assistive in that sense, and of course supportive of our turista picture-taking tendencies.
We swam in the cool waters and took lots of photos. We played like the children we knew each other to be. This group of friends and I live on the same street and spent our childhood playing with dolls and playstations, choreographing dances and skits to perform at each others family gatherings, and really wanting to be spice girls. Now we’re all grown up, with Eliza making her big move to Canada in a few days, and Janella going to Japan to continue studying Nihongo.
We may have started to pursue different things, but the beauty is that we never lost touch and still act like the carefree kids we know each other to be when we are together.
Check out the view from up on this hanging bridge! You can get an even more thrilling one from their zipline.
It was another 2 hour drive going to Palaisdaan, Tarlac for late lunch, and our tummies were grumbling. Good thing we stopped by a reknowned ice cream parlour in Cabanatuan called Puno’s. Each cup was just 12 pesos each so we hoarded different flavors that were very Filipino! I’m a biased chocolate lover, so Chocolate with Cashew was my favorite especially since it tasted like Chuckie. Their cheese cashew macapuno was good too, and considered one of their bestsellers.
Isdaan floating restaurant is interesting to say the least. It’s a network of nipa huts on water, surround by statues of political people like Erap and Obama. What a quirk, right? They even have this pond with a cemented walkway in the middle, and if you’re able to cross that without falling, you win a kilo of fish. When we inquired about it they said that its more challenging than it looks because while walking, water would spurt out towards you plus there are shells that serve as roadblocks. Isdaan was also featured in the media for their “Taksiapo” wall (being Kapampangan, I know that word to be a curse word haha). Here, you can throw plates, bowls, ceramic and smash them on a wall to let out your anger. Some people even throw old appliances and TV sets.
Walked around a bit more, and boom, suddenly we were transported to Thailand 😮
Although they didn’t have the buffalo and lechon kawali that we originally requested, we had boats of sisig, kare kare, seafood and liempo shared amongst the 5 of us and I must say, everything was delicious! Especially when paired with ice cold beer.
As we were finishing our meal, the rain suddenly poured. We ran back to the car with just a few umbrellas and were thankful that it was sunny for the rest of the trip, prior. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we only spent roughly 1200 per person for everything!