About a couple of years ago I moved to Bicol Province for a challenging work assignment. It was completely an unfamiliar territory for me. I had no relatives and relied on few office friends to get me started. The only way to get to places around Bicol is mostly on long drives or sail to the islands. Lulu (my car) became my instant travel buddy and held on to each other for nearly 2 years of living there.
After having exhausted the famous and frequented attractions in Bicol, I expanded my reach to far-flung areas, to where most wouldn’t choose to travel. Over one long weekend, I drove to the coastal towns of Jose Panganiban and Paracale in Camarines Norte. They are located on the northernmost side of the province, too far that they are not along the usual travel routes to anywhere.
These twin towns shared a long history of gold mining way back in mid-18th century colonial Philippines. The Spaniards led this exploration that elevated Panganiban and Paracale to excessive fame. They held a lustrous recognition for so long but the change in powers brought by the wars of the world pulled down its glory until its eventual inexistence. So many have came after Spain. The Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Syrians and Filipinos all took turns over several centuries of mining for gold. These capitalists all share the same pattern of conquest – they came, they amassed, they left.
Today, Panganiban and Paracle are sleepy towns lying by the quiet shores of Philippine Sea. There are no more gold, no investors, and no tourists. Food outlets, entertainment kiosks, grocery stores and hotels are modest. Everything around is just a little beyond basic comfort.
But despite all these, they are still never short of luster. The lifestyles are simple but its people find joy in whatever they have. Life starts just before the break of light. Flickering lamps usher the fishing boats to the wharf to begin the day’s trading. As it draws to an end, the plaza becomes everyone’s convergence for a jog, chitchats over fishball, a game of chess or just to lounge around.
Panganiban used to be called mambulao for its abundance of gold. Renamed to Jose Maria Panganiban, its local patriot who was part of the movement of La Solidaridad. Since the sea bound it, the beach is its default tourist attraction. Bulalacao is the most frequented among the beaches here. Island hopping in Calalanay, Calambayungan, Carol, Paduni, Parola and Tunao offer more than just its turquoise water but also other activities such as diving and camping.
More than its tales of gold, I was more drawn to visit the historical 17th century church of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria in Paracale. Built in 1611, this massive church was the center of refuge of the Paracalenos from marauding pirates. Unique to this town, it has the only image of the Virgin Mary carrying the sword depicting her as its benevolent defender.
Pulang Daga Beach used to be the playground of the rich when gold ores were at its peak. It used to have the country’s most prominent clubhouse. Today, Pulang Daga’s shore is unkempt with dried leaves and coconuts. However, its water remains beautiful and its expansive views still a relaxing escape.
On my way back home to Naga after this trip, I brought with me cherished memories of how to find happiness amidst nothingness. I vividly remember the shriveled fingers of Manong Jun who in his younger years was one of the town’s goldsmiths. He does not own even a single piece of gold anymore and he was just happy to say that somewhere in the world today someone rich is wearing what once passed his hands.
On that brightly lit day, I saw small-scale miners by the road, carrying shovels and ready to go down the pitch black crisscrossing tunnels in the hope of finding gold. It was a foreboding sight of hopelessness each time they descend to the muddy trails of death. But to them, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
HOW TO GET THERE
Via public transport, Philtranco and Superlines ply the Manila-Paracale/Panganiban route. Their terminals are located in both Pasay and Cubao. These are mostly non-aircon buses. Philtranco is a better option.
If you are driving, follow the Manila-Bicol route. Don’t miss the junction after Tagkawayan, Quezon. Go straight to Sta. Elena, follow the road that leads to Talobatib in Labo. It is a messy crossing in Talobatib, make sure you are heading the directions that will lead you to Panganiban.
The closest airport is Naga City.
From there, travel to Daet (capital town of CamNorte). It is approximately 2 hours.
From Daet, take the vans that travel to Panganiban/Paracale. This takes a little over an hour.
Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors.
I lived nearly half of my life in fancy suitcases, jetsetting between reality and fantasy... read more