Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stopping by Hacienda San Benito, Double Happiness & SBMA

Unless they boarded a Yangco launch/boat for Olongapo, Subic, San Antonio, San Narciso and Iba on set days of the week, this was how it was for the pre-WW2 generation travelling from Manila to Zambales: bus to Dinalupihan, Bataan and then the mountain trail to Olongapo. 

In December 1928, Walter Robb, editor of The American Chamber of Commerce Journal before the war, wrote about making a "felicitous decision" with his friend to "motor to Dinalupihan, in Bataan, hike over a stiff mountain trail from there to Santa Rita, Zambales, get from Santa Rita into Olongapo either by carretela or motor car, and back from Olongapo to Manila by a comfortable night boat."  The experience, he said, "is not too ardous or too prolonged to anyone in good health; on the contrary, it is invigorating."

Long before he hinted on his presidential ambition, we asked Sen. Richard 'Dick' Gordon in a chance encounter if his paternal family owned a farm in Santa Rita, and he confirmed they did.  J.J. Gordon, an old-timer, according to Robb, and we surmise, from the American forces that came in the early 1900s, owned Gordon's Chicken Farm, the landing place of hikers from Hacienda San Benito.  He could be Dick's grandfather.

“We left Manila about 11 o’clock Saturday morning and motored to Dinalupihan at pleasant speed in three hours," Robb wrote.  They checked in at Hacienda San Benito, which could have been the quarters of the monks that tended the Dinalupihan Estate of the Archdiocese of Manila during that time. 

“Next morning at five, when we were ready to start, hot coffee and three-minute eggs waited us. The brother who presides over the kitchen served them graciously and waved us on our way. Who makes this trip should not fail of visiting Hacienda San Benito and its hospitable monks. The thing to do would be to start from Manila in time to reach Dinalupihan about 9 o’clock and the hacienda about ten, and, after lunch, to tramp across the mountains to Santa Rita during the afternoon ..."

Aetas served as their porters and mountain guides.

“In going overland to Olongapo, the trail beginning at Hacienda San Benito winds westward over the mountains and debouches in the outskirts of the town of Santa Rita. The trail involves a hike of about five hours. Going up the mountains, the trail follows Crooked river; going down on the other side it follows the Santa Rita river and dispenses it in the shallows of the ford. As soon as one is up the opposite bank, he encounters a village road which leads him to the corner, turns him to the right and leaves him at Gordon’s place [Gordon's Chicken Farm]. At this cabaret the traveller may bathe, wet his parched whistle, lunch, and order a motor car in which to drive to Olongapo.

"After lunch we motored to Olongapo, spent Sunday afternoon and evening there, until it was time to go aboard the ss Masbate, which sailed for Manila at 10 p.m. and, affording a night’s sleep in clean cots on the upper deck, landed us back in town [Manila] at 6:30 o’clock Monday. ...”

Not very many people could have commuted to Zambales this way.  The Yangco launches could have been more convenient especially for tradesmen who transferred goods from Manila to some towns in Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales, and cheaper for the young who had the privilege to study in Manila.  There were daily trips to Pampanga and Bataan towns on the rim of Manila Bay, and to Zambales ports on Tuesdays (Olongapo and Subic), Thursdays (Olongapo, Subic, San Antonio, San Narciso and Iba), and Sundays (Olongapo, Subic and San Antonio).  The launches to Olongapo left Manila by day and returned at night, and the fare was P5.70 one-way.

That old mountain trail could have been widened and macadamized before the second world war--hence, the zig-zag and hair-pin curves of the concrete road--bringing the end of the Yangco transport by sea.  One war story we heard was of the bombardment of the zigzag while the Japanese were escaping from the liberation forces that landed on the beach in San Narciso, Zambales.

For post-war babies like us, it was a long Victory Liner bus ride along the Zambales provincial road, up the Zambales-Bataan mountain pass, then down to the Bataan provincial road until it connected to the McArthur Highway in San Fernando, Pampanga.  We knew we're half the journey once we passed through the Apalit-Calumpit bridge, and a needed break in Malolos was at hand.  Food was not a problem though; hawkers boarded so often between Guagua and Malolos.  We certainly had excellent bladder control and we knew relief was coming shortly after the air was cleared of the smell of tanning leather in Meycauayan and of brewing malt in Polo, and one saw Bonifacio with his flag and bolo in Balintawak. Disembarking was at Grace Park, which everybody now refer to as Monumento.

Then came the first stretch of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) from Balintawak to Tabang, a distance undisturbed by the trademark Meycauayan and Polo 'scents', then further north to San Simon and/or San Fernando, which some years later interconnected to the Olongapo-Gapan road. 

We were never aware that there was a Hacienda San Benito in Dinalupihan.  When we became a conscious traveller, the Victory Liner buses were already stopping by Cleluz, where the drivers and conductors enjoyed complementary meals for bringing busloads of paying restaurant and foodstall customers.  It had always been fifteen minutes for comfort food, leg-stretching and a trip to the wash/restrooms.

Cleluz later became Double Happiness. Pundits would say 'Triple' Happiness if they did something more to ease a body discomfort in the restroom aside from using the urinal.  We remember that Cleluz was fiesta-noisy when two busloads of us workers in the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant disembarked for the balut, the barbeques and the comfort rooms.

Recently, the Subic-Cubi-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) opened and became an alternative to the Olongapo-Gapan road.  This time, Victory Liner gives travellers a short relief break at the Dau central terminal, or they can wait until they reach the Subic Bay Metropolitan Area (SBMA) or Olongapo City within thirty minutes.

Travelling to Zambales certainly is no longer a problem, time and comfort-wise.  With the SCTEX, the hassle at the busy hub of Sta Cruz, Lubao, Pampanga is already a part of history.


P.S.  The picture shows fisherfolks of La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales hauling in the net, commonly called daklis, where they get and share among themselves one third of the catch; the owner gets the rest.


Kemlein, H. (1908). Kemlein & Johnson’s guide and map of Manila and vicinity; a handbook devoted to the interests of the travelling public. Manila:Kemlein &Johnson. Retrieved from

Robb, W. (1928, December). Olongapo: The Jewel of Subic Bay. The American Chamber of Commerce Journal. 8(12):5-7. Retrieved from

_______. (1928, December). Another Week-End Outing from Manila. The American Chamber of Commerce Journal. 8(12):7-8. Retrieved from

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