I pretty much had to be dragged away from north Luzon. I’d have been kicking and screaming but it’s unseemly, plus I had no fucking energy left from climbing up and down hills that could legally be defined as vertical. Germaine’s cousin portered our bags up the hill from Batad to the end of the road for us because we’re fragile tourists incapable of carrying more than a few bags of organic quinoa and kale back from Waitrose where we waited for the 9am jeepney. They’re extending the road. I’m not sure how far into the village they intend to go with it but they’re whacking down concrete at a fair rate, it’s good for the locals because they won’t have to carry their shopping down a hill for 20 minutes. From a somewhat selfish tourist point of view it’s really going to change the dynamics, but Batad is rapidly changing anyway. If you’re going to visit, visit now.
If you’re travelling on to Manila from here you’re going to have a day to kill in Banuae on account of the fact the only jeepney from Batad leaves at 9am and the buses onward to Manila are overnight. Ohayami and Codalines both run services and we opted for the latter, their office is literally around the corner from Tourist Information and they let us stash our bags there whilst we checked out a bit of Banaue. God I hope you’re not sick of the sight of rice terraces yet. That’s pretty much it. They’re beautiful of course but I didn’t feel the need to explore too much. We stocked up on our body weight in obligatory bus trip snacks and when the bus finally rolled up we settled in for the first leg of a disgustingly epic journey.
After our night bus pulled into Cubao at some god awful hour in the morning I went in search of a bus company that could take us to Naga. There are a few companies that ply this route including Raymond and Philtranco, but DLTB, their Aurora Terminal, had a bus leaving at about 6.30am and their ticket office opens at 6am so we hung out there, taking it in turns to do that attractive head back, mouth open half-sleep you do when sat on plastic chairs in a waiting room. You don’t have to worry about wandering around Cubao at 4am, it’s still as busy and hectic as it is at 4pm, probably on account of the long distance buses that leave and arrive 24 hours a day, and you’ll have no trouble finding all manner of food from the standard Filipino street food that’ll have your Western ideas of snacks on a stick recoiling in horror, to noodle restaurants, to standard 7/11 fayre that’ll sit in your stomach for three days refusing to digest. Oh, and fair warning, the AC on the DLTB bus is fucking brutal, you’ll need your Arctic clothing, we were sat near the front and I was worried I’d take the driver out with a nipple.
I feel like we were on that bus forever, seriously, that’s the thing with day buses, it’s like some manner of hell-loop interspersed with questionable food picked up from roadside stalls. Like this weird coconut… bready… thing… which sounds great on paper, but with cheese? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of fermented nipple juice, but the combination sent my taste buds on an emotional rollercoaster as they tried to work out if they wanted to spend the rest of their lives wrapped around this culinary anomaly or if they needed therapy. But we did eventually roll into Naga, way later than were we meant to because it turned out we caught the fucking slow bus, where we checked into the Hillary And Andrew Hostel.
It’s the perfect city for one of those dull and inconvenient but quite necessary life-admin days, is Naga. You know all those shitty little tasks you don’t really want to do because you’re too busy having a nice time but kind of have to do if you wish to remain a fully functioning human so you stock pile them until suddenly you have a whole day of general adulting to do? Laundry. Buying medication. Getting shit fixed. Posting stuff home which, by the way, will cost you two of your fucking limbs. There’s a big mall you can loiter around to take full advantage of the sweet, sweet air conditioning too whilst ticking tasks off your to-do list like the normal people do. We adulted the shit out of Naga.
It’s a piece of piss to get around too once you’ve learned the local jeepneys. It’s only ₱7 to get most places, a little bit more to get further, and the routes are painted down the side of the vehicles. If you’re unsure you can just flag one down and ask the driver, they’ll tell you if they’re going there and when to get off, then you just jump on and pass your fare to him. People jump on at the back and money is passed down to the driver who passes the change back, all whilst manoeuvering a largish vehicle through inner city traffic without ending up lodged in the back end of another jeepney. You don’t feel like a tourist here either, before you know it you’re passing fares to the driver and change back to passengers like a local.
Naga is also the jump off to Mt Isarog National Park. We had exactly zero interest in trekking up the mountain but we’d heard tell of a waterfall at the foot of it called Malabsay Falls. That sounded more like something we’d enjoy. We hopped on a jeepney to Panicuason, I think it was about ₱30 each, jumped off at the turn off and started walking the last kilometre to the entrance to the national park. Whiiiiich was closed. Oh you’re fucking shitting me. We should have checked this out before we even left Naga, it didn’t even occur to me that the whole place would be closed for maintenance and not just the trail to the summit. We were offered rides by local blokes to another waterfall called Secret Falls but we declined, not entirely sure about being scooted to some manner of unknown location by men we’d just met. There are hot springs here too but they’re pretty expensive for what they are and call me crazy but sitting in a vat of hot water when all of my pores were gushing sweat as it was sounded about as appealing as being set on fire.
I’m not going to lie though, we liked Naga, not as a tourist destination, but the locals are so friendly and helpful. It’s not a place we don’t need to return to ever again but it wasn’t an awful place, as nondescript cities go, to get our lives in order and chill for a day before carrying on to the next place.
Naga, Camarines Sur, Luzon, Philippines
Stayed at: Hillary & Andrew Hostel