In La Union where everybody knows your name

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 The author’s weekend by the beach.

The author’s weekend by the beach.

By Angelito Cabigao

It’s 9 a.m. “I feel good” by James Brown is playing in Chloe’s, Barista, Spotify playlist while I’m sitting on a wooden stool in my beach shorts reading “Pursuit of Happyness” By Tony Hsieh. I’m enjoying a nice cold Dirty Horchata at El Union, which is a coffee shop located just steps away from the beach. I put my book down and talk to another coffee drinker to my left, who is a family attorney who ditched the usual corporate attire and decided to wear a nice Hawaiian t-shirt. I look to my right and it’s a local celebrity promoting eco-friendly initiatives by having her coffee with eco-friendlier bamboo straws rather than single use plastic straws. You can pretty much expect the unexpected in La Union.

When I arrived in the Philippines, I was accustomed to booking flights to get to the beach in the Philippines from Metro Manila. The list includes Boracay, Davao, El Nido, Cebu, and Bohol. Beaches near Metro Manila are not commonly mentioned outside of the Philippines. However,

San Juan, La Union has been my favorite beach destination that is nearby Metro Manila through land travel. You can find that it is the destination of choice for many, who include: Metro Manila city residents, Students from Finland, Startup members from America, and Surfers from Australia. Why? La Union radiates the relaxing and fun vibes that you would usually expect when you go to the beach. Here is an overview of a usual agenda of my trips to La Union during the weekend:

11 p.m. (Friday night):
Ditch the passport

Most of my trips to La Union have happened as a result of last-minute decisions. One even happened as a result of browsing through Facebook during dinner and seeing a picture of the beach. Not needing a passport makes doing this a lot easier.

12 a.m.
$10 bus fare

It’s great to have a 24-hour bus operation. It’ s just as great to have a relatively cheaper travel option that averages to $10 for a one-way ticket. The highest fare I had to pay for a one-way trip to La Union was PHP540 for a recliner seat in an air-conditioned bus (bring a sweater as the bus ride can get cold). You can take the Partas bus from Pasay or Cubao, which runs pretty much 24 hours throughout the day and will drop you off right across the street from the bridge. I would advise going towards the later evening or early morning to avoid traffic. Alternatively, you can book van services for bigger groups or even a car service if you want more privacy.

Sightseeing tour bonus or catch up on sleep.
Aside from getting you to point A to point B, the bus ride can serve as a sightseeing tour. During the bus ride, I’m able to glimpse the provinces’ life, the farmland views near Pampanga, or the mountain ranges of the Philippines. Alternatively, if you happen to leave during the night hours, just catch up on some sleep.

Relax, listen to the waves, and watch the sunset.

Relax, listen to the waves, and watch the sunset.

Drinks and good music

Drinks and good music

8 a.m.
Coffee, Kaya Toast, vegan Kare Kare, and huts by the beach.
I always look forward to the culinary delights you can find in La Union. Here are the main places that I usually visit:

1. El Union- Aside from the “Dirty Horchata” in the morning mentioned above, you can end the day with their S’mores dessert to cap off the evening.
2. Clean Beach- Kaya toast and another “go to” coffee option from their award-winning baristas.
3. Barefoot- ShakShouka eggs poached in tomato sauce, water spinach, eggplant, and melted cheese
4. Papa Bear- Vegetarian or Bacon Kare Kare tops my list.
5. Chu’s Diner- Their fresh fish dishes are popular, but I’m a fan of their Aside Katsudon bowls

11 a.m.
Beach cleanups and “Surf’s up!”

After breakfast, I use the caffeine effect towards a “Plogging” adventure. “Plogging” involves doing a beach cleanup while getting a nice exercise cardio session. I would get a basket at Clean beach and start off picking up any plastics or litter by the shoreline first then work my way back towards the restaurant area. I would strongly encourage everyone to do this as it will not only impact the community, but the turtle nests around. After sweating it off, cool down by catching a wave. La Union is known as the surfing capital of northern Philippines. If you don’t have a board, they have ones for rent. If you don’t know how to surf, they have professionals to help teach you.

5 p.m.
Iconic sunsets

Get ready for some Instagram posts where no filters are needed. Relax, sit on the beach, listen to the waves, and watch the sunset.

8 p.m.
Local craft beers and dance on the beach.

There are two places that I usually go to for the evening festivities in La Union, and they both happen to be by the beach. Curious Creatures is a mini bar that serves great local drafts. Flotsam and Jetsam is where you will find the local community and visitors mingle over a few drinks and good music.

Head back by the evening or choose for an overnight stay
Huts by the beach

You can find a variety of places to spend the night at San Juan, La Union that ranges from air-conditioned bed and breakfast types in Urbiz Garden, hostel types like Z Hostel. I usually stay at the fan room huts by the beach at MonaLiza (cost is $20, good for two people).

The community keeps it real
If there is one key reason that makes me come back to La Union, it would be the people. Whether as a solo backpacker or traveling with others, the La Union community has always been welcoming. I have met and learned a lot of great lessons from a lot of great community members in La Union. I’ve been able to see how job titles mean little, as I see everyone in the team pitching in where needed. Phone and Wi-Fi are available in some places, but you will mostly see people in face to face conversations. Lastly, it reminds me of a modern-day episode of “Cheers.” Where everybody knows your name.

© The FilAm 2018

Kare Kare in a bowl

Kare Kare in a bowl

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