Monday, November 12, 2012

*316. Gotta Travel On: MACARTHUR HIGHWAY

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD. The main road in Dau, circa 1915. By the the Commonwealth years, the Americans had built 220 kms. of concrete roads in Pampanga, ending in Dau., to accommodate Pampanga's motor vehicles, which ranked 5th in number, nationwide.

In the early ‘60s, before NLEX and SCTEX, the only way to travel to Manila from Pampanga was by the old Manila North Road—or MacArthur Highway, as it was more popularly known to motorists. Named after Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, Jr, the military Governor-General of the American-occupied Philippines from 1900 to 1901, the long highway stretched from La Union, to the provinces of Central Luzon (Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bulacan) and finally to the city of Manila. Under the American Regime, road-building was at its most brisk, and by 1933, Pampanga had over 220.1 kms. of 1st class roads, ending north in Dau.

As a child, I remember some of those trips so vividly well as they were moments to look forward to. After all, it was not very often that kids like us were taken out for long rides to the big city. So, every time our parents announced that we would be going to Manila, we knew the occasion would be something special—a family reunion, a fiesta in Blumentritt or perhaps, a visit to our cousins in Herran (now Pedro Gil St).

Our trips were always scheduled on weekends, and as early as Friday morning, our parents would already be preparing for the trip. Dad would be checking on and tuning up the Oldsmobile, while Ma would be looking for tin cans that would serve as our emergency “orinola” (urinal) or vomit bag, in case of motion sickness or incontinence. We always left in the early dawn, with most of us still drowsy and asleep--no later than 5 a.m. , as mandated by my ever-punctual Dad. With water bottles and half-a-dozen or so hardboiled eggs, we thus began our 99 km. journey to the capital city.

From our house in Sta. Ines, Mabalacat, my Dad would drive out onto the main highway, towards Dau and Angeles. Past those familiar places, we proceeded to the capital town, San Fernando, with Manila still 57 kms. away. We would just coast along till San Vicente in Apalit, the highway a bit dusty and bumpy at this point. Upon hitting the rickety bridge of Calumpit, I knew we were no longer in Pampanga—we were in the Tagalog province of Bulacan, home of my favourite ensaimada de Malolos. I knew, because we would always stopped in the capital town to buy these pastries, cheese-topped and overloaded with red eggs.

From Malolos, it was off to Guiguinto, a town with an intriguing name for a 6 year old—I had often envisioned it either overrun with salaginto beetles or sparkling with golden lights. I remember the tall electric posts that lined the highway as we approached Bigaa, Tabang, then Bocaue. I once overheared adults talking about the “kabarets”of Bocaue in hushed whispers, but I've never seen girls dancing on the highway! Fixing my gaze on the world outside through the car window, i would see early risers buying bread from bakeries, Mobilgas stations and their lighted signs wishing travellers “Pleasant motoring!, Baliuag buses picking up passengers, ricefields that stretched as far as the eyes can see.

I would already be impatient and bored at this time, even as the features of the bucolic towns of Marilao and Meycauayan (where are the bamboo trees?) loomed clearer with the rising sun. But all this fretting would stop as soon as we got a glimpse of this tall obelisk in the distance—the Monumento—a landmark that told me that, at last, we were in Manila. If we were going to Sta. Cruz, we would veer towards the Monumento, gawking at the sculpted images of the revolucionarios and the doomed Gomburza padres as we made a half-loop towards Manila proper. After some two hours of driving, we did it--the “promdis” have finally arrived!

No comments: