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Our New Year 2020 trip to Surftown in San Juan, La Union. We took our custom-built scrambler out for her first long ride out of town.

This year, guys. What a bummer. I started writing this in August and am just finishing in November 2020. In the horrible mid-quarantine months, Mao and I often thought about how we celebrated New Year 2020 in La Union, back when we were all innocent souls who hadn’t experienced, well, the rest of the year so far.

We’d taken a trip to Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union. Way up north, it’s half a day’s travel each way by motorcycle — at least, with our motorcycle. In the Philippines, motorcycles with engines below 400cc are not allowed on expressways. Four-wheelers and bigger bikes could save around three hours’ travel time, but we don’t mind. Sure, it’s slower and more tiring, but back roads are always more interesting. Besides, there’s such serenity in constant movement.

From where we live in Parañaque, the trip to Urbiztondo Beach took 11 hours 40 minutes, including 3-4 hours of rest stops. The drive home took an hour longer because we were just in time for the Metro Manila rush hour.

Since Elyu has become a pretty mainstream vacation spot, this post will be more about the journey than the destination. (Let’s face it, if you’re in Manila, either you or your cousin have been there, so…)

About our ride, Snek

In the summer of 2019, we were looking for our own mode of transportation. We live next door to Mao’s grandparents and borrow their AUV once in a while to run errands, but we couldn’t very well use it all the time.

A car was out of the question. For one thing, we couldn’t afford it and didn’t want a long installment plan. For another, the city’s already congested as hell. We decided to go for something below ₱100,000 (around $2,000), that we could pay for in one year.

Our first choice was actually a scooter, the Kymco Like 150. We must have watched Zach Lucero’s vlog about it around 20 times. But ultimately, it wasn’t the one. Mr. Lucero looks like he’s already maxing out the legroom, which meant that the Like was too small for Mao, let alone Mao and me together. In the end, we decided to get the slightly bigger, fully manual, carburated Rusi Classic 250.

So this is Snek, our brown steed:

Rusi Classic 250
This is our (no longer all-stock) ride!

Rusi tends to draw a lot of flak for producing cheap China-made clones, but this model has been great to work with. It’s cheap, but because it’s pretty much fully mechanical, Mao was confident that a little extra care would keep it in good condition. Also, there are Rusi outlets all over the country; if needed, we could get serviced in the middle of anywhere.

We were already fairly happy with the initial ride’s looks and performance. But no matter how low the budget, hey, these kids grew up watching Pimp My Ride! And it’s gonna show.

It’s been so much fun to modify. After just 500km, we went to JRG Kustomz where Maestro Jake Guerrero changed the seat frame to a café racer brat style in faux cream leather, a little longer and a little lower (for me, the back rider). We installed a custom rear tire hugger and raised the handlebars for a scrambler look. We added carriers to the sides for saddlebags. And my favorite update: we repainted from matte metallic brown to a solid, ultraglossy dark coffee color with a cream stripe on the tank (by Techne_Workxx).

The most recent additions

After this long ride to La Union, we realized we had a few key items missing: communication devices and additional storage space. So we bought Bluetooth radio attachments from Lazada for our helmets. We got a 60L SEC top box from Oniemoto Supply. Finaly, Ryan Blanco of The Workbench Fabrication made us a excellent custom carrier.

Grab and go

Our trip to La Union was our first long, long ride: 292km away from home, one way. Before that, we’d only been out of town as far as Tagaytay on December 21, 2019 (62km away) and Cavinti, Laguna on December 26, 2019 (94km away).

So we said, “why not?” We’d never been to La Union before. We went home to pack, and before midnight, we were on the road.

It was the afternoon of December 30, 2019, and we had nothing to do for the rest of the day. Mao had just wrapped up shooting our friends’ prenup video (where our bike is actually an extra). New Year was approaching, and we knew that if we stayed in Manila, we would have nothing to do on New Year’s Eve except stay home.

So we said, “why not?” We’d never been to La Union before. We went home to pack, and before midnight, we were on the road. It sounds like a super snap decision, and yes it is, but we weren’t 100% unprepared. As I said, we’d just come home from a couple of other shorter road trips, which we already prepped for with basic road maintenance and riding equipment. So it was really just grab and go at that point. (Except for the tire sealant situation — we hadn’t gotten to that yet, but we added that to the list of “fuck it’s” for the trip. Please do not do this.)

The ride north

You can browse through the map markers above for the locations and timestamps. For privacy, though, the start of the route shown is about twenty minutes away from our actual home.

There were no stopovers in Pampanga, where the ride felt endless. In the cold, cold air descending from the slopes of Arayat, we rode through what felt like nothing but empty fields in the darkness.

We left at 11:30 PM, December 30, 2020. This route would take us north through Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Pangasinan, into La Union. Our first stopover was at 1:30 AM in Malolos, Bulacan.

There were no stopovers in Pampanga, where the ride felt endless. There was a long, dark stretch from Mexico, Pampanga, through the town of Magalang, to the border of Tarlac. In the cold, cold air descending from the slopes of Arayat, we rode through what felt like nothing but empty fields in the darkness. Our hands were getting numb from the chill; it was a huge relief to stop over at the next McDonald’s in Tarlac.

Of course, driving by night meant we had to miss a whole night’s sleep. The sun was rising as we crossed Pangasinan. We hadn’t planned on any more stopovers, but I was falling asleep in my seat, which is obviously dangerous. So we stopped at another McDonald’s in Rosales, in the middle of Pangasinan, where I slept from six to seven.

Bukang liwayway! Timestamp: 7:13 AM, December 31, 2019.

(Yes, it was a McDonald’s kind of night for us. They just all happened to have good, well-lit parking spaces with guards.)

As we reached the foot of the Cordilleras, the fields again grew cold with dawn mists from the highlands. It was a rather magical sight, as if some god was slowly pouring fog like milk into the basin of farmland.

The sun was shining with all his might on that last day of 2019. The open road had that special early-morning crystal clarity. Soon we were zooming past the vineyards of Bauang. By ten-thirty, we were sipping our first coffees at El Union and asking around for a place to stay.

Finally, Urbiztondo beach. The right place to find food on short notice, but not the right place to book a stay on short notice — everywhere was full. Timestamp: 10:28 AM, December 31, 2019.
Eating at Tavern by the Sea, a relatively new food park type place (and hotel) at the Urbiztondo beachfront. This was the evening of our arrival; I was still super sleepy and wiped out from the trip. After dinner, we called it a night.

The heaven-sent Airbnb

We rented a room at a quietly beautiful beachfront property called Kai’ea. Stays can be booked there via AirBNB. It’s a rare gem of a place. The caretakers, Ate Ruby and Kuya Donald, were very kind. They took great care of the property and its family of cats. They would also patiently let us in and out of the gate every time we went somewhere (parking is inside the property), so we were careful not to stay out too late on our two nights there.

The common area. There was another group of guests at the time, but we didn’t run into each other, so it was almost like having the whole place to ourselves.

On New Year’s morning, I greeted the black cat in the kitchen and sat by the pool with some fruit juice and a bag of rosemary potato chips. Bliss.

8:07 AM, January 1, 2020. I didn’t know our AirBNB came with such a boss cat! 🖤

Our homestay was perfect: spacious, clean, secluded, with a pool and indoor parking. If it sounds too good to be true, goodness, yes, it was. We hadn’t expected to find such a great place with absolutely no notice.

Just outside our homestay.

Chilling like there’s no 2020

We didn’t do anything much, which is in my opinion the proper way to spend a vacation. It was an idyll of sun, sand, lattes, and all-day breakfasts. We lived from meal to meal, and in between, we played in the waves.

The main beach was fairly crowded since it was New Year. But it wasn’t a peak surfing season, so we still had a quiet little holiday. People started pouring in, though, the day we left.

The slightly expensive glitch

We were out in front of Flotsam and Jetsam in the late afternoon of January 2, when the waves whipped Mao’s glasses off his face. Why he was swimming with his glasses on, I don’t know. The next morning, January 3, we took a tricycle south to the nearest mall in San Fernando. The lady at EO Executive Optical told us this happened a lot.

One extra night

After two nights in Kai’ea, we weren’t quite ready to go home. But the house was fully booked for the rest of the week, so we spent our third spontaneous night in Urbiztondo, in KM 277 Tavern by the Sea.

The ride home

We ate at The Coffee Library more than once, because they have really filling all-day breakfasts. And their lattés are pretty good too.
Mao with his new glasses.

Before lunchtime on January 3rd, we were on our way. We had some unexpectedly good porkchop at our first stopover. Hours later, the fields around us began to glow a startling reddish gold. It was sunset. We stopped to respect it with answering stillness, and so did a few other riders. There we all were, somewhere between journey and destination, having found the thing all travellers seek: something holy.

Months later, I’m really grateful we followed our instincts and went on that random trip. There’s something cathartic about long, windswept journeys, and it’s just what we needed before the rest of this burning garbage truck called 2020 went down. We’ve literally spent all year reminiscing about this long ride and dreaming about when we could do it again. Now that quarantine restrictions are slowly easing, the possibilities are appearing faintly on the horizon once more. See you on the road. Stay safe.

2 comments
  1. HI Camille. I just read your La Union trip with Mao. I really liked and enjoyed the way you described (spiritual and earthly) your journey and destination. I also liked the bnb place you stayed at. I’ll try it this year 2021 during summer. Nice and chic bike helmets too. What brand, how much, and where can I buy it?

    Keep safe and God bless. Take good care.

    Ed

    1. Hello, Ed! Yes, I do recommend that AirBNB. Hopefully by summer 2021 travel restrictions will have eased. I forgot Mao’s helmet brand at the moment 😆 but mine is an LS2 open face I got on sale at a trade show. I think you can find similar ones on Lazada, same brand, in the Php2500-4000 range. I can’t use my helmet these days, though — only full visors are allowed on the road right now. Thanks so very much for reading! ✨

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