To Bulakan On Two Wheels

The prolonged quarantine has me itching to go out, which in turn has reawakened my love for biking. I’ve been riding around Valenzuela — sometimes I tag my brother along — and neighboring cities since getting a new bike a few months ago, and this has helped keep my sanity intact while scratching the itch to travel. Not to mention I get to exercise while still maintaining social distancing protocols.

Nonetheless, as the pandemic drags on and I’m starting to get tired of the usual spots in Metro Manila, I’ve been getting the urge to bike farther and farther. One time, my brother and I biked to Obando in Bulacan province, stopping at the Obando Church before returning. It was a short trip that ignited my curiosity and had me wanting to explore further: to be more specific, I decided I want to go as far as the next town, Bulakan. As I looked at it at Google Maps, I was intrigued: both Obando and Bulakan are coastal towns. It felt strange, since I don’t associate Bulacan province with the ocean. The province is more commonly known for its swimming pools.

This is the impetus for me to go one weekend afternoon.

Going to Bulakan via Obando takes one through a network of rivers that flow to the Manila Bay.
The municipality of Bulakan has a rustic vibe unlike its neighboring towns and cities, especially given its coastal location.

From Valenzuela, I ride my bike to Obando again, going farther from the church until I reach Tawiran Bridge. This is where it starts to really feel like you’ve left Metro Manila, as the wide Meycauayan River looks like ocean. Granted, the rivers are filthy and the smell is unappealing to say the least, but the salty breeze and the Sierra Madre mountain ridge in the distance make me feel like I’m traveling in some far-flung province again.

A couple of bridges later and I finally reach Bulakan. The coastal vibe is more pronounced here with the water splashing onto the main road. Women hang their clothes to dry along the shore while men sit with their fishing rods, patiently waiting for the catch. Which makes me wonder what kind of fish survive in these waters, which are considered among the dirtiest in the world.

The public market is a hive of activity even in a weekend afternoon.
The Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Parish Church is one of the oldest churches in Bulacan province.
The municipal hall serves as the political center of Bulakan.

After what feels like several hours, I finally reach the town center. It’s a typical Philippine town, except more subdued due to the quarantine. Only a few cars and tricycles ply the road, which makes it such a pleasure to bike around. I take a break and buy a bottle of water in the local branch of the Puregold supermarket.

Bulakan town is actually one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. It served as the capital of Bulacan province until the capital seat was moved to Malolos during the American occupation. The town was founded in 1575 as one of the visitas of Tondo and enjoyed regular trade with Manila, resulting in a flourishing economy.

When the provincial capital was moved to Malolos, Bulakan started to lose its prestige and has become an afterthought compared to the province’s more popular cities.

Gregorio del Pilar, a young general known for his last stand at the Battle of Tirad Pass, is commemorated with a statue near his birth home.
A shrine of Marcelo H. del Pilar, who was one of the leaders of the Philippine reform movement in Spain, stands in the former house of the del Pilar clan.

Nonetheless, the town is still known among history buffs as the birthplace of Marcelo H. del Pilar and Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar, two key figures in Philippine history. Marcelo was one of the leaders of the Propaganda Movement, along with Jose Rizal and Graciano Lopez Jaena, who called for reforms in the Spanish rule in the Philippines. Meanwhile, his nephew Goyo is remembered for leading the Battle of Tirad Pass during the American occupation. The suicidal stand delayed American troops and helped President Emilio Aguinaldo evade capture.

Today, the two figures are commemorated with a shrine each. Marcelo is especially popular, with his shrine occupying a lovely park where their family’s house used to stand.

Afterwards, I bike around the town for a few more minutes to enjoy the rustic and peaceful vibe before starting the long bike journey back to Valenzuela.

This trip was taken observing health guidelines provided by health experts and the government. Social distancing was maintained, and crowded places were avoided. This is not an endorsement for people to travel right now, and those who do should be informed of the risks involved and observe strict health protocols.

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