I knew I wouldn’t be having a party on my 18th birthday so I asked my parents if it’s possible we celebrate it at least at Max’s Restaurant; they laughed at me. My father just gave me a few hundred bucks to shut me up. It did, but it still made me sad. I promised myself that when I finally start earning my own money I would celebrate my birthday every year. I started by organizing a party on my 27th birthday just to make up for a childhood frustration. Years passed and I have quickly lost interest in balloons, booze, and karaoke. Now I just want to travel and the tradition began just last year when I rented a small island to celebrate my 33rd birthday. This year, I wanted to do it alone so on the weekend after I hit 34, I took a bus that goes to La Union.
At around 6AM, I went to Partas bus terminal in Pasay and paid PHP 665 (USD 14.29) for a seat on a first class bus that goes to Laoag. The price nearly gave me a heart attack considering the information that I got from my friend whose province is La Union. She told me that bus fare is only around 400 bucks.
Later on, I realized she may be referring to Partas Cubao station, in which case it would be understandably cheaper. When I saw the layout of the seats inside the bus—the seat is big, comfortable, with wide leg space—it made me feel okay that I had to spend a little bit more. At least I got my money’s worth. The bus started moving at 6:42 and I was happy to be seated by the window because it made sleeping easier. Travel time took 6 hours with three rest stops.
Flotsam and Jetsam
I booked an overnight stay at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel located at San Juan. You can see it on the side of the road along McArthur Highway. I assumed that the bus drivers know where it is based on some blog posts but it was not the case on the bus that I got on. Thankfully, my phone’s network works well in San Juan so I was able to rely on Google Maps. I suggest that you use it if the driver or the conductor is not familiar with Flotsam and Jetsam, or you can look on the left side of the street when you reach San Juan. Just watch out for the hostel’s signage.
Flotsam and Jetsam is called an art hostel and indeed there are some art pieces on display in their in-house restaurant, but to call it as such seems inappropriate to me. In my experience, party hostel is more a fitting description with all the noise that they made that Saturday night. This doesn’t mean I hated the hostel, well I won’t go as far as say that I loved it but it was okay. I liked the ambiance and the fact that it is quite close to the beach.
Check-in time is 2PM, I was about an hour early so they told me that I could hang out and wait in their restaurant. I did, I went ‘round the back and found the restaurant that faces the beach. My friend who went to La Union recently met new friends and hang out a lot there. He described the crowd as young and hip, the rich kids from the city. When I saw them I realized what he was talking about. They looked to be around their teens or early 20s, with beautiful skin, and speaking either in English or Taglish. Most of them drove with their own cars and they didn’t sleep in the kubo dorms but in the building with air-conditioned rooms.
I stayed at the kubo dorm (PHP 780 – USD 16.76) that has four bunk beds. Towel is provided and there is also a locker where you can keep your personal belongings. Each bed has a pillow, a blanket, and a mosquito net. There are also some mini fans to use if it gets too hot. It was comfortable enough for me that the only thing that ruined my sleep was the noise coming from the party that night.
If you stay at the kubo dorm you can only use the shared bathroom and toilet. I didn’t mind because they were clean and spacious. You can buy from the reception for toiletries but I suggest that you just bring your own bath essentials to eliminate unnecessary expenses.
There is free breakfast from 7-10 AM. It’s basically just coffee, banana, cereal with milk, and some toast or pandesal with different kinds of spread, such as butter, peanut butter, and fruit jam.
I didn’t buy anything from Flotsam & Jetsam’s restaurant because the menu is ridiculously expensive. I don’t mind indulging a little but this is not one of those times. I talked with some locals and they recommended this bulaluhan place that is cheap but offers delicious food. I went out some time in the afternoon to search for it.
Nice Eatery is a no-frills restaurant on the side of the road whose patrons are mostly the locals especially the jeepney and tricycle drivers. It offers home-cooked meals and there are a lot to choose from. I ordered bulalo because it’s what I came for. Admittedly, it was not the best bulalo I’ve ever had but for only PHP 50 (USD 1.07) I had a hot-filling meal so I’m not complaining.
El Union Coffee
There is a hip café in San Juan that the surfers frequent and it’s called El Union Coffee. The best thing about it, they serve specialty coffee so you can be sure that their coffee drinks are of quality.
When I came to the bar I saw a familiar face, it’s Chloe, a barista who was in the coffee cupping event that I attended recently. I went over to say hi and told him that we went to the same event. He was nice and warm though I bet he didn’t really remember me. I didn’t know which drink to order so I asked for his recommendation. I wanted a cold drink, he suggested dirty horchata.
Horchata is a cold drink with rice milk, cinnamon, almond essence, and vanilla extract. They call it Dirty Horchata when it has espresso. There is something unique to the taste of this drink that separates it from any of the iced coffee drink that I had before. It was nice but could use more espresso. Somehow the rice milk dulled the coffee flavor. But it was refreshing, which is just what I needed that hot afternoon.
The grilled cheese came with Sriracha sauce. Why would anyone put this red hot sauce in a cheese sandwich?! Beats me, but I tried it anyway to see if they are on to something and apparently, they are. For some reason it works, the sauce did something to enhance the taste of the sandwich that I finished the sandwich in no time.
At night I went back to El Union after realizing I didn’t want to get wasted at Flotsam & Jetsam. I ordered flat white and contemplated about buying their bestseller, s’mores but eventually decided against it.
San Juan Beach
After a restless night due to much noise that was coming from the all-night partying at the restaurant, I got up at around 6 for a morning stroll by the beach. The sand in San Juan beach is of dark gray, coarse grained, but not rocky. I spotted a few tents by the seashore, apparently, camping is allowed.
The waves, though not that strong had enough force for a sole surfer to play with. I watched him ride the waves several times, but the waves weren’t so impressive, it didn’t allow him to get that far. I tried surfing in Baler a few years back, it was fun but not something that I would want to do seriously. It was just one of those things I had to try at least once in my life. Hence, I was just happy watching the others do it, I had no plans whatsoever to go surfing in La Union.
There are a few cottages by the beach available for rent. It was still too early I guess for anyone to use it so I was able to stay there for half an hour without being required to pay. I like to describe myself as a beach appreciator than a beach lover in a sense that I just love staring at the sea and the waves, but not really swim in it. In those few hours I had the peace stolen from me last night by the party.
Before this, La Union, was just two things to me: one of the best surfing spots in the country and the province you pass by before reaching Baguio. Today, I have found a better appreciation of it; the kind people, the good food, and the quiet beach made quite an impression on me. All in all it has been a lovely birthday weekend.