What was supposed to be a flawless trip to Minalungao, Nueva Ecija turned out to be a beautiful disaster. I'll explain why.
It all started one gloomy day when we decided we wanted to go out for a day trip to Nueva Ecija. At first glance, you wouldn't think it has anything to offer... if you know about Minalungao National Park, you'd know that the assumptions aren't so true.
Minalungao National Park
Minalungao National Park is a protected area and one of the few remaining natural environments in the region north of Metro Manila. Travelers love the picturesque sight the 2,000-hectare natural park. During summer, there are a lot of activities people can look forward to: river-rafting or kayakinng along the emerald colored Penaranda River, cliff-diving from the limestone formations towering over the river, hiking to catch a breath-taking view of the Sierra Mountain Range, trekking and exploring caves, zip-lining and enjoying the company of family, friends and fellow travelers in the designated picnic grounds.
My mom would talk about how beautiful the place was. I think she went there before during her "youthful" days (laking Bulacan eh, which is a few minutes or hours from Minalungao). Anyway, going back...
Just from photos, we knew that it would be a place that my boys and I would enjoy going to. It was just a 3.5 hour drive from Fairview (convenient!) so we made our way there.
We left around 11:00 AM and decided to take the more scenic route - going through Pampanga instead of taking the main highway (which was hella traffic that day btw). It was a bit cloudy, but it didn't rain.
On our way...
We saw Mount Arayat - the dormant volcano-slash-mountain you'd normally see when you take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Also, on the right photo are Jaja (my cool dancer bro) with her boyfriend, Judd -- both such talented dancers of Legit Status... and Yñigo's part-time yaya/yayo.
We also saw a dilapidated plane on the side of the road. Ohhhh, and we also saw a bunch of goats along the road. Like I think there were a 100 of them. No kidding.
Like this photo was taken after 3/4 of the herd passed our car. I think we were there for a good three minutes, just admiring the goats ~ how cute they were and how much they were.
We took an hour more than the actual travel time because why wouldn't you stop when you see these things. It's not everyday we see a bunch of goats, ruins of a plane, or get excited with the probinsya life booming in the area. But yeah, moving on...
When we passed San Miguel, Bulacan, entering Nueva Ecija, we were relying on Google Maps to help us get to wherever we needed to be. We turned right into this straight road, which looked like it was going to take us through the mountain route. Bobby said it was the fastest way to get there. I mean, why would I question it if Google was telling us to go through there? And mind you...
We've never been to this part of Nueva Ecija.
Google Maps has never failed us.
We went through a small town... I mean, there were a few houses, left and right. I knew it was becoming sketchy when a dirt road greeted us. Gosh, I wish I time-lapsed the whole thing or did a vlog about it just so you can see how things unfolded.
You know that thing you see in horror movies - where there's a group of kids who want to wander off into the woods... then they get lost, stranded, and it just so happens that a serial killer was on the loose? Well the difference was we had a two year old with us, but luckily, there was no serial killer.
The road disappeared, and there was so much mud, dirt and nature everywhere. Like the plants there looked like they were going to eat up the path.
So we checked the map again and it said we were about 20 minutes away if we get through this trail. I thought we were going to make it... but when we realized how scary it was (and note that this was already 4-ish PM -- it was getting dark and we could see that the sun was about to make its exit), we tried turning the car around.
I'm just so lucky Bobby knows how to handle himself through these things. Like he was able to make a u-turn on the very narrow path (see the left photo above). Ynigo was asleep at this point so I wasn't as worried.... but of course, this wasn't the roadtrip I had hoped for. Then it gets worse...
There was this mud trail that caused the car to get stuck. Well, more of like we'd skid if we even forced the car to make it through. Like Bobby was trying his best to make it out but we couldn't. Gahd. We didn't have signal so we couldn't ask for help or back-up, even if we tried.
At this point, I was just praying. I was praying that by some miracle, the car would get out. But both Bobby and I knew we couldn't just wait for that to happen. So here's what we, rather, they did:
Bobby, Jaja and Judd got out of the car - and they started picking up twigs, cutting off some branches, and laying it on top of the mud trail. It doesn't look that bad in the photo, but if you were there, you'd know how hard it was to maneuver through it. We'd slip, or our feet would sink into the mud... so imagine how it would be for a Fortuner?
The three have been doing this for about 30 minutes, but since they only had their hands and a Swiss knife, the time it would take to generate the right amount of stuff to cover the path will take hours. We didn't have that much time.
I was in the car with Yñigo trying to distract him, and documenting this sarcastically funny experience. But it was also hard work to keep the little boy chill 'cause he hates being in car stalled on the road. He would prefer it moving, or he'd rather go out - which wasn't an option.
An hour has passed and we had around 30 minutes before sunset. I was really nervous. Anxious. I honestly thought I was going to have a panic attack - but I couldn't show Yñigo that I was shaken by all of this. I had to be strong.
I heard something moving at the back of the plants towering the path. I first thought it was some animal, or a ghost.... or both. I mean, if you were stranded in a place like this, anything could happen.
A guy with a big itak emerges
He says, "Kailangan niyo ba ng tulong? Narinig ko kasi may nangyayari dito."
The Miracle Sent to Us by the Universe
OMG. I couldn't believe it. Well, I thought he was someone sketchy. I mean, I've always believed all people are kind but you never know, right?
His name was Marco. He was a local pastor, and also a farmer. He took his cows out for a walk when he heard murmurs. He wasn't suppose to check, but something in him pulled him to do so.
After explaining what had happened, he mentioned that normally, this road is usually taken by locals or those who have 4x4's. Also, during damp or rainy seasons, it's best not to take this route. A lot of people get stuck here and sometimes, it would take more than one person to help them get out.
So Bobby and Kuya Marco started gathering things to cover the mud. Kuya Marco would use his itak to cut whatever he could, while Bobby would be the one to place it on the trail. By this time, Jaja and Judd were in the car trying to get all the mud out of their slippers. One wasn't salvageable so we left it as an offering to the place. Haha.
In 15 minutes, Bobby hopped onto the car to see if it would work. And guess what, it did!!!
We couldn't thank Kuya Marco enough for trusting his gut, and helping us get out of this shit. We gave him a little something as a way of saying thanks - and for literally saving our asses.
moral of the story
It's simple, trust the Universe and it will make things work for you.
I'm not lying when I say this. In fact, an hour after getting out of that mess, we ended back on the National Highway and discovered one of our tires ripped apart. So imagine how L-U-C-K-Y we were to even have survived all of this.
But yes, some of the other things we learned:
Don't go to a sketchy path even if Google Maps tells you to do so. If you find it sketchy, try to turn around as early as possible... or ask a local if it's safe to go through. They would know.
If there's a narrow road with nature seemingly taking over, best if you don't go through especially when you're driving an automatic car.
Keep calm at all times. Try to assess the situation when you've gotten into a mess.
Before you leave, tell someone where you're headed so in case things get bad (or go down in flames), someone is informed of your whereabouts.
Be a boy / girl scout. Bring a kit with you that can help in emergency situations. Some things to include: Swiss knife, glow sticks, map, snacks and water.
Use what's around you to lessen the gravity of your situation. If you have nothing around you, you're fucked.
PRAYERS do come in handy. Just trust that the Universe will find a way.