After my biking trip to Bulakan a few weeks ago, I started to have the urge to go farther to Paombong and Hagonoy, two Bulacan towns that I haven’t been to yet — ever.
I’ve been to most towns and cities in Bulacan due to their accessibilities from major roads from Metro Manila. But Paombong and Hagonoy, both coastal towns west of Malolos, have stayed off my radar, mostly because they’re not as accessible unless you’re in Malolos’ town center. In my case, that means almost never. Malolos itself involves a couple of transfers if you’re coming from Valenzuela, and given the transport situation this quarantine period, it can get really tricky.
But that curiosity over these two towns grew increasingly as I and a friend started exploring towns of Bulacan during the quarantine. As we went to places like Baliuag, Pandi, Santa Maria, and San Jose del Monte (not by bike, off course), I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I needed to visit these two towns as well.
That opportunity presents itself one weekday morning, when without anything to do, I decide to hop on my bike and — damn the distance and the heat — pedal my way again back to Obando and Bulakan.
The trip takes me back again to the rivers of Obando, but with a different goal this time, I don’t stop to smell the dirty waters. Instead, I keep on going, passing by the narrow road that meets the sea and eventually to the rice fields. I pass by the Marcelo H. del Pilar shrine and eventually reach the boundary marker between Bulakan and Malolos.
This is a significant boundary, considering that Bulakan was the former capital of Bulacan province before the administrative seat was transferred to Malolos in the American period.
The road traversing the two towns is decidedly rural, a stark contrast to the scene when going to Malolos via the McArthur Highway. Here, rice fields alternate with fish ponds and clusters of simple homes. Only the occasional Alfamart convenience store allows me to pause for refreshments.
Nevertheless, the scene becomes much busier when I reach the town center. Here’s where the famous Barasoain Church is located as well as other old buildings from the Spanish and American periods. I’ve been to the church before, but it’s just now I discover the charming streets farther from the church compound. One corner of the town even reminds me of Escolta Avenue in Manila, what with its Art Deco buildings and a former theater that now houses a secondhand clothes store.
There’s not much time to savor, though, since I have two more towns to go before sunset.
About three kilometers west of Malolos lies Paombong, a town whose name everyone associates with its most famous product — the nipa palm vinegar (locally known as sukang paombong).
The town is much sleepier than Malolos and, save for the church in front of the municipal hall, not much landmark separates it from the average Philippine town. Maybe it’s the quarantine, but the streets are practically devoid of souls, which is great if you want a place by yourself to bike around.
I eat my lunch in a 7-Eleven store near the church and use this time to catch my breath. I start to question the wisdom of this trip, but the thought of regret if I don’t see Hagonoy wins eventually. So I ride my bike again and push on for the next 6 kilometers.
The town of Hagonoy is divided by a number of river networks originating from Manila Bay, and so it’s regularly flooded — a reputation not lost on its residents. But this is a proud town, and the town’s roles in the Spanish and American revolutions as well as World War II are well-documented.
Not surprisingly, the main industry here is fishing, with about 75 percent of the town’s land area devoted to fish farming. This has helped Hagonoy become the eighth richest municipality in Bulacan, surpassing even municipalities like Bocaue and Balagtas.
I spend a chunk of my time here riding around the town center, where the municipal hall, the park, and the National Shrine of Saint Anne are located. The old town vibe can be felt clearly here, especially with a Jollibee branch featuring a facade made of bamboo.
I want to linger a bit longer, but it’s already mid-afternoon. I have more than 30 kilometers to bike home before it gets dark. Plus, my legs are starting to curse me. I take a last look at the park and then pedal back to the highway.
On my return home, I take a detour from the main road in Bulakan and pass through a narrow street that eventually leads to rice fields. It’s a beautiful sight, with rice farmers tending to their crops as the sun casts a golden glow.
Scenes like this give me hope for the day when the pandemic is over and we can savor the outdoors with much less worry.
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.