Breakfast, packed and ready for a seven-hour ride back to Manila (with some luck) along the North Luzon Expressway via San Jose. We’d spend tonight back at Traders Hotel in Manila and then begin the next leg of our journey with a flight to Puerto Princessa on Palawan Island. The four of us had hoped to see and interact with the famed Ifugao in Luzon who had been feared head-hunters in the past. Authenticism appears to be long gone in Luzon. Their houses were once built on piles with a pyramid-shaped roof while a skull of a sacrificed pig was hung on outside the house to please the gods. The only house that even came close to that, even looking high up hillsides while driving, was a built for tourists native hut/antique shop along the highway. Something is certainly better than nothing especially since the huts had been built as exact replicas. All other Ifugao houses in Luzon were on stilts with tin roofs. An authentic Ifugao house (bale) is a one-room affair used for living, sleeping, kitchen and built without windows. Fun to climb the ladder inside and admire all the beautiful antiques for sale.
A roadside stop for a bathroom with a most unusual sign inside the immaculate toilet. “Please do not wash your feet here.” Huh? Do people usually wash their feet in a toilet? And then a pedi-cab, trike, putted by with so many people stuffed inside, one person rode on the roof.
Onwards until San Jose, Luzon where it was time for lunch. June took us into the Marquez Restaurant, the first local joint of the trip, that had excellent food. The food is displayed cafeteria style. Get in line, choose, pay and eat. The Marquez Restaurant had the best food we had a chance to sample in Luzon. Spring rolls, the national dish adobo (chicken marinateed in soy sauce), Kaldereta (that still reminded me of a bland beef stew), honey barbecued chicken, shredded green papaya salad that tasted like a sweet cole slaw, and sweet potato pudding (concensus was a big thumbs down). Unfortunately, when Marquez Restaurant runs out of a dish, that’s it. The honey barbecued chicken was scrumptious and gone when we went back to buy seconds.
Still on the road, a few lookouts before the driver stopped along the highway at Balete Pass. Balete Pass was renamed Dalton Pass in honor of General James Dalton II, who died of a sniper’s bullet during battle over this area in 1945. This mountainous, zigzag road was the only access between Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley and the pass was the scene of much bloody fighting during the final stages of World War II. Approximately 7,000 Japanese, American, and Filipino soldiers died here.
The shrine and commemorative markers stand by the road’s highest point. Japanese General Yamashita knew by 1945 that his country had no chance of winning the battle for the Philippines. He only hoped to pin down American forces in Luzon that otherwise would be used to invade Japan by concentrating his forces in mountainous regions with deep ravines and caves to maximize defenses. For me, enlightenment came while standing above Omaha Beach in Normandy. And now, looking up at the mountains where the Japanese were dug in. The magnitude of what those brave souls accomplished in the fight for freedom was overwhelming. We bow our heads in remembrance.