When I hopped on a bus bound for La Union at almost midnight last Tuesday, I was literally just holding on to my few remaining bits of sanity. The last time I was there was over a year ago, and so much had happened since then.
I’d undergone an intensive and rather taxing year as a medical intern at an infamous government hospital, went on to graduate as a doctor of medicine, and then came the toughest phase after five years of post-grad: preparing for the medical boards. It really made me go crazy, those months of forcing myself to sit still in a library and through months of review classes! Thankfully, I earned the license to practice medicine in August 2014.
As if these were not enough “milestones”, I didn’t yet take my break after all that. I then proceeded to apply for a residency training slot at the same hospital and it took almost six weeks to prove myself worthy of getting in. By this time, I was mustering just about the last of my energy reserves already.
When I eventually got in and finished preparing for a conference with my new colleagues, I finally, FINALLY heaved a sigh of relief last week and only had one thing on my mind: GETAWAY!!!
So yes, I grabbed my backpack and trusty sundresses right away and prepared myself for the 6-hour bus ride home.
Home, for me, is the sunny province of La Union in the northern part of the Philippines. It’s now quaintly known as the Surfing Capital of the North, a fact I’m rather proud of. I love it when tourism slowly, gradually opens up a place. Kind of like how a rough diamond is cut and shaped bit-by-bit to reveal its true beauty.
So, I’d like to start my journey home with you by showing you little bits and pieces of La Union. I’m not a sporty, surfer chick so I’ll show you the quirky places, which are off-the-beaten-path.
Let me begin by taking you to lunch by the river I used to pass by every day on my way to school when I was a kid.
This is the Baroro River. If you happen to be whizzing by in a car or using public transportation and you come across this river via the Baroro Bridge, it only means one thing: you are nearing the town proper of Bacnotan. It’s the town next to San Juan (if you’re going further north), the now-famous surf country in the area.
If you want a “countryside” experience of eating by the river and feeling the breeze waft over your sunkissed (or sunburnt?) face after a day of surfing, this is the place to go to.
This is the Riverfarm restaurant, owned by the Ocampo family, namely Cesar and Malou Ocampo. I’ve known Tito Cesar and Tito Malou since my high school days at Saint Louis College. Their kids then also went to the same school, and my Lola became a good friend of Tita Malou, because they used to wait together for the grade school classes to end. My Lola would fetch my sister and Tita Malou would fetch her kids.
Back then, Riverfarm was not yet the Riverfarm most tourists know now. It was named Alvin’s Restaurant, after the youngest child of the Ocampos. I remember going to one of their family parties in the restaurant, which started then as one cozy, nipa hut structure, and marveling at the fish cages breeding black tilapias and golden tilapias! My most vivid memory was the ambience of sitting by the river, with my hair blown about by the wind. And eating grilled seafood all afternoon!
That was circa 2004 and now, ten years later, Riverfarm restaurant has come a long way since then!
Riverfarm expanded the number of huts so it’s not really just one big floating structure. It consists of small floating huts so each little hut can be a private dining area. This makes for a heartwarming family lunch, an interactive meal with friends, or an intimate and romantic dinner with a special person. I like that it’s very conducive to just savoring the moment and enjoying the food and the conversation.
Cruises along the Baroro river are also offered, and diners can choose whether to cruise in a cabana or in a wooden raft (if you’re brave enough). Of course, fresh seafood cooked to your liking comes with the cruise, along with healthy vegetable dishes (if you’re health conscious) or wonderfully grilled meat.
My family opted to enjoy a hearty lunch that day in one of the floating nipa huts. I was with a lot of grandparents, who were tired from a morning of touring around grape vineyards (more posts about that soon) and wanted to eat already.
I couldn’t take pictures of the whole spread, because we were all ravenous, but we ordered a set meal for a group consisting of a variety of seafood, vegetable and meat dishes. Their sinigang is a seafood feast with crabs, shrimps, squid and fish all in one soup. And their spring rolls are crispy and filled with crunchy veggies!
I definitely recommend this place. We paid a reasonable price for the food and for the refreshing ambience! The eldest son of the Ocampos was there that day, Cesar Jr., who was one of the topnotchers of the recent architecture licensure exams. He was very happy to promote Riverfarm and told us to try their river cruises next time. Kudos to Architect Ocampo for the close-to-nature design of the place and congrats to the Ocampos for a distinctive restaurant so close to home.
P.S. Riverfarm restaurant has been featured in Manila Bulletin (https://ph.news.yahoo.com/bacnotan-offers-floating-cabanas-river-cruise-170110852.html), and by the homegrown surfing champion Luke Landrigan (http://www.inflight.ph/places/luzon/la-union/surfing-la-union-2/).