one of my ultimate travel goals is to visit all 81 provinces in the country. ala-landbank (the only bank that has a branch in all 81), it would really be great to see all 81 diverse, equally exciting provinces that make up this archipelago. this is why this year, i aim to add more to my previously 33 visited provinces. my 34th was of course the land of the howling winds, catanduanes, where i had fun in january. the following months were another holiday (plus work) in familiar yet still exciting places such as cavite (tagaytay city), palawan (el nido), aklan (boracay) and quezon (lucban and cagbalete in mauban).
independence day weekend, long weekend. still undecided on where to go, i slept thru friday but finally fixed my sights on nueva ecija… the only other (apart from baler) central luzon province i haven't been to. of course, we've passed thru this province on our way to banaue but never really seen it. i've seen a lot of blogs talking about this national park in general tinio (papaya) called minalungao. so i swiftly prepared my stuff and pushed for an early morning bus trip to gapan, nueva ecija. the five star bus left pasay terminal at 6 am, had a quick stopover in san miguel, bulacan and before 8:30 am, i was already in bucana, gapan.
right after alighting in bucana, i was greeted by manong rene and told him that i wanted to go to minalungao and asked how much would the fare be. he said that it's about php 1,000 for the entire trip but since i did my research, i told him that 1k is too much and instructed him to just bring me to papaya town center where i'll get another trike to bring me to the national park. he then said, how about php 600 for the entire trip. did some addition and agreed to it. after all, the fare going to papaya is 150 one way and from papaya to minalungao, trikes charge 250-300 roundtrip. from gapan, we passed by penaranda and reached general tinio. the trip was almost 45 minutes, traversing unpaved roads but generally a safe one. i paid 60 pesos for the park entrance and trike parking and manong rene got me albert, my 10-year old would-be tour guide.
fixed my stuff and off we started with my minalungao adventure. albert first brought me to the park's caves and he flashlighted the nicest stalagmites and stalactites, most of which actually glimmer. the aging in me felt that i was not ready for the stretching brought about by this quick cave experience but really enjoyed it. we then glided along the rock formations once again. stopped here and there for photos. i didn't dip in penaranda river yet as albert said that we'll be going to the holy cross on the other side. we crossed the river via a bamboo raft (10 pesos) and started on "a 1000 step journey up the hill". once again, the lack of physical activity caught up with me… we were nowhere near the halfway mark but i felt like giving up. steps/stairs and i are really not friends! i asked albert what i will see up there and got a naïve response about "a cross and a triumph". soldiered on and stopped at the halfway mark where two ladies were chatting with a group of tourists. after a quick rest, steps and steps once again. another 3-4 flights according to the young tourist guide. the late morning heat of course made the trek even more difficult. finally, we reached the summit where a cross was erected and encased in glass panels. big gulp of water, photos and lied down for a needed break. we stayed there for about 20 minutes and went back to the river's edge.
lunchtime. the only restaurant in the park was serving chicken adobo, pancit malabon, arroz caldo and spaghetti. i had lunch with both albert and manong rene. after having our fill, walked around the park, glided once again along the side of remarkable limestone formation. cooled down by finally dipping and swimming in the river's shallow area. i stayed there for another 2-3 hours before asking manong rene to bring me back to bucana heading to cabanatuan city. in a little over 30 minutes, i was already exploring the biggest city in nueva ecija. nothing really great to see but it was still good to be there for the first time. i didn't feel unsafe walking around the city although finding yourself in sm megacenter was a letdown.
so there was my 35th province – nueva ecija! another 3-4 and I'm halfway through my goal. till the next adventure.