Do you know the way to San Rafael?

Do you know the way to San Rafael?
Classmate Marissa on the roof deck, where on a clear day one can see forever. —PHOTOS BY ELIZABETH LOLARGA

Getting to Barangay Lico in San Rafael, Bulacan, was half the fun. 

My batchmates at St. Paul College (now a university) of Quezon City, high school class of 1973, decided to meet at the home of Baby, our classmate until the fifth grade, then travel to the Central Luzon province in a convoy. 

The car I rode in had no Waze connection; we just had Baby’s SMS instructions on how to get to her place saved in our mobile phones. (Here’s a lesson painfully learned: Never travel without Waze during uncertain times.) We stopped at various gas stations to ask for directions, to no avail—until we happened upon a Grab delivery guy on a motorcycle gassing up.

We rolled down our windows, called out to him, and offered a deal: “Mamang Grab, tulong po! Hire namin kayo. Ihatid niyo kami sa subdivision na ito.”

It turned out we were his buena mano customers. He rode, we followed him. He got us to the exact address of assembly, and our Paulinian chauffeur handed him the fare for his guiding service, with a tip. We thanked him profusely. He was all smiles, perhaps thinking, “Oh, colegiala senior citizens!” The worst combination, maybe!

Danny Dalena

My two friends and I got off the vehicle as though we had covered hundreds of kilometers already. But my initial exhaustion over our loss of direction dissipated when I saw a portrait of the lady of the house. Even from a distance I recognized the style, and upon close examination the portrait turned out to be by Danny Dalena. I could’ve lingered longer in front of it, but then it was time to leave with the other girls, now assembled and tittering in excitement.

We queued outside the powder room to pee and freshen up before the journey to—yes, I know—a nearby province that is almost part of Mega Manila.

We divided ourselves into two vans: one for the classmates who’re still agile and have no knee, ankle. or hip problems and the other for those with some form of disability. Since I had my knees done not too long ago, I was in the second van, riding shotgun with Baby’s driver who let me set the radio to dzFE-FM, the classical music station, so I could breathe more comfortably and not be anxious about the trip.

There was one pitstop at a Shell gas station on NLEX for what I call the lahing makawiwi (those who have to pee every now and then) before we entered Bulacan. From my window, the view was one industrialized town after another with hardly little interruptions of Amorsolo-like rice fields and bahay kubo.

Before we approached Barangay Lico, we found, along the highway, pockets of bucolic vistas between commercial buildings housing roast chicken counters, vaping stations, lotto outlets, sprawling supermarkets, etc. My initial impression was that I might as well be in Manila.

Until we turned to the right, past an evangelical church and past the black gate leading to Vicki’s abode. There was a whiff of fresh provincial air as we got off the van to screeches of “Hello!” Straight we went to her dining room, ravenous as we all were from the journey and the lost-and-found adventure. We vowed that the next time we would venture out on a field trip like this one, we would leave Quezon City at 6 a.m., not 9.

‘Puto bumbong’

And on the long kitchen island worktop was a buffet, including a chopped-up lechon and platters of rellenong bangus, fit to feed a class of at least, uhm, 42. That was my estimate. Forty-two was the number of members of a typical SPQC class during our time. I couldn’t help wishing that more classmates had joined this excursion.

Our post-Christmas appetites sated, we still gravitated to the buffet spread for dessert like the buttery ube halaya or puto bumbong in a bilao, all ordered from town sources by the hostess. She wanted to be relieved of the stress of hosting and preparation so everything, except the rice, was ordered or delivered. 

About the plentiful puto bumbong, Maan observed that there would be no need for our customary scuffle for the tidbit when we do lunch at Via Mare.  

The hostess was a longtime resident of San Juan City in Metro Manila until a few years ago when the family house and business were sold, and she decided to settle in Bulacan with one of her sons and a daughter. She doesn’t miss the big city from the looks of it; she happily showed us around the house, especially the roof deck where, on a clear day, we could see forever. 

I explored the compound, but I was warned not to go past a fallen tree which, it’s believed, still harbors invisible inhabitants who may cause one to accidentally trip or get unexplainably sick.

In my mind I said, “Tabi tabi po (Please, let me pass),” as I took pictures of the plants and flowers which seemed to be thriving despite too much sunshine. 

San Rafael
Playing an updated game of dominoes.

Earlier we played a round of the card game LCR (for Left Center Right) wherein you pick a card, and if you pick a C, you put a money bill in the pot, until everybody’s out of bills and the pot is won by the last girl sitting with still some bills on her. The girl was me. The pot? Around P6,000, which we all agreed should go to our private fund-raiser for a classmate seriously ill.

We also played the white elephant game (one girl’s “trash” is another’s “treasure”). So generous were my classmates that they were willing to part with branded handbags and purses, among others. I went home with a Lanelle Abueva bowl, a donation from Marissa. I was on a lucky streak.

Bibit taught us the rudiments of a new kind of dominoes. Things were simpler in my childhood; this newfangled game was complicated, and I tuned out after repeated explanations of how it was played.


Paulinians race to record the moment before it gets dark in the farm in San Rafael, Bulacan.

Last on our short itinerary was a trip to the farm of Vicki’s son in neighboring Barangay Coral na Bato. We were in a rush to have our group pictures taken wearing our hats and sunnies because the five o’clock light was fading fast. We had to head out to QC before it grew dark.

Bitin? Yes, we were left a little hanging. We couldn’t find any more time to visit the centuries-old San Juan de Dios Church in San Rafael, or call on the nuns, especially the mother superior, at St. Paul University in the nearby town of San Miguel.

We reached our QC destination without incident. As our school hymn says, “Hark!”

Read more: On the way to Bayambang we drove north to Vigan 

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