Nueva Ecija: Unplanned Adventures and Off-the-Beaten Paths

Nueva Ecija is not a common travel destination in the Philippines. Prior to actually visiting the place during the 2014 Halloween celebration, I had no idea what this province holds. But, it turns out it’s keeping some wonderful secrets for people who prefer to go the roads less traveled.

I was with C. Our trip was unplanned. And we didn’t have any itinerary to follow during our 2-day trip. It was an attempt at an entirely random trip.

When we boarded the van and left Manila at around 6 am, we only had one place in mind: Gapan. I heard travel time is only around 2.5 to 3 hours, but ours took about 4 hours because of the heavy traffic. We reached Gapan past 11 am and went directly to Bill’s Inn, the place where we would stay overnight. We settled in, left for lunch at the nearby Rustica Restaurant, and simply asked the waitress for any tourist destination in Gapan. When she said there wasn’t much to see around the place except rice fields, we decided to travel to Cabanatuan to see the Pandanganan Dam.

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Hello, Gapan!

Bound for Pandanganan Dam

We waited for a bus bound for Cabanatuan and was dropped off at the bus terminal where there was a jeepney bound for Pandanganan. The problem was, the jeepney doesn’t leave until it’s full and all seats are occupied, and there were only very few passengers when we arrived (it was already 2 pm).

We asked around for other ways to reach the place and a tricycle driver offered to take us to another part of the city where we could ride another jeepney (instead of waiting at the terminal). So off we went, riding another jeepney bound for Rizal where we would hire a tricycle to the Pandanganan Dam.

Travel from Cabanatuan to Rizal was around 1 hour, and we got to chat with some passengers who were very helpful and who offered suggestions on how to reach the place. Someone even helped us find a tricycle to hire.

However, we found out from the driver that it wasn’t a good time to go to the dam because it was already late in the afternoon – the dam’s far and the road was rough. Instead, the driver offered to take us to another place in Pandanganan. And without knowing what that place would be, we agreed.

Of Unexpected Places and Unknown Destinations

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We traveled a long way. The road was paved, but there were areas where it got a bit steep. The air was very fresh and cool, though we were a bit worried about what kind of place the driver was talking about – whether it would be worth the cost and the long travel (we already spent most of our time travelling). Well, after about 45 minutes, we were surprised to see the ocean from afar. And, it turns out, that’s where we were going – at the end of Pandanganan.

We arrived at this unknown destination—grasses, some land, the ocean, the wind blowing… We didn’t know where we were. There were some groups of teenagers and couples, taking pictures and having picnics. It was a cliff, and then a long area of land extending out into the sea. There was also a bit of shore, and people taking photos beside a wooden fisherman’s boat. The area was… unspoiled, rough, unassuming. There were no cottages or huts, only stretches of grass where one could place a picnic mat or just sit to enjoy the breeze and the view of the sea.

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According to the tricycle driver, the place was being repaired, maybe to make it more visitor-friendly. We stayed for a while and just sat on the edge of the cliff, looking at the mountains across and laughing at the goat who was eating the junk food left by the picnickers and a pair of ravens who were stealing some of the chips.

We stayed awhile, left after a couple of hours, and we reached Rizal late in the afternoon. On our way back, we were talking about how we loved how cold it was in the cliff, when we passed a sign that says Karangalan. It was only when we found out it was Nueva Ecija’s Little Baguio!

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We rode a jeepney back to Cabanatuan and rode another jeepney back to Gapan. There’s a last trip for most jeepneys here, so it’s a good idea to ask what time the last trip is for those commuting. Great day 1 of our trip!

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