Surprises in Angat Dam Journey (Bulacan)

“Let’s go to Angat Dam.” It was not the first time we’ve traveled based on a spontaneous decision. It takes two to tango, so any answer other than an unqualified and spontaneous “ok” from the recipient of the “challenge” would nip the spontaneity. And the journey.

So after lunch of a long-weekend afternoon, after the “let’s go to Angat Dam” received an instant “ok” reply, the adventure started. No plans, no provisions, no maps. Just a full tank and a general direction to Angat, Bulacan. It wouldn’t be that hard to find our way to Angat Dam.

Or so we thought (ditto with our close friend Jane who we invited to go along, so there will be more of us, ahem, in case we get lost).

We’ve long wanted to explore this structure that shows man’s effort to harness the forces of nature — the Angat Hydroelectric Dam, found in Angat, Bulacan. It generates electricity and provides potable water to Metro Manila, yet it could also be a source of destruction in case of an emergency release of dam water during heavy rains and typhoons.

With the fresh air and environmental preserve surrounding the structure, it would thus be very interesting to go see it.

The Bulacan website describes Angat Dam in this manner: “One of the country’s largest dams. This dam supplies potable water and energy to Metro Manila and nearby areas. Surrounded by lush greens, this place is also ideal for fishing, boating and hunting.”

Yes, it could be truly a place for fishing, boating, hunting and other ecotourism activities. However, for our second surprise of that day, we discovered that Angat Dam is off-limits to the general public. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a step back and retrace the journey.

The first surprise: Angat Dam is really not near Metro Manila. We originally thought we’d be there in an hour, the reason why we left Metro Manila at around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Not a good idea because because the heavy canopy of trees and secluded location of the dam mean that darkness or night time is not something to look forward to. Driving is made more exciting by the heavy zigzag and occasional cliffs.

With 2 hours of driving, there was no more time to take a dip in the Bit-Bit River, accessible through the side road of the long bridge that marks the boundary of the off-limits area. Plus there was no more time to explore the Pinagrealan Cave (found along the way in Norzagaray, Bulacan, around 30 minutes from the dam), which served as the hideout of Katipuneros in the war against Spain and by General Emilio Aguinaldo during the Filipino-American war.

There will be short stops, of course, like buying pork belly chicharon at Daboy’s or cassava cake at Ralo’s, a few meters after turning right at the Bocaue exit of the NLEX, our entry point going to Angat Dam from Metro Manila. It’s the same road going to the intersection to Amana Waterpark, but going straight (instead of going left to Amana) going to the diversion road of Sta. Maria, Bulacan (left upon hitting the fork at PTT gas station) then passing through Norzagaray and Angat. Residents here are helpful when asked for directions — the Hilltop, where the dam is situated.

And what does crispy pata doing in a post on Angat Dam?

Food can be appreciated in a lot of levels. There’s a scientific field on food and emotions. Feel-good food. Stress-eating or stress-relieving food. While we’re not too concerned with the gory details, suffice it to say that food, crispy pata to be exact, completed our “unsuccessful” journey to Angat Dam in Bulacan. We have to get a permit from the National Power Corporation (Napocor), we were told by the security personnel manning the gate after the Bit-Bit Bridge.

Crispy pata would probably make us feel better, we thought, and JL-Jamie’s Crispy Pata and Restaurant, located down the road from the Norzagaray municipal hall, came highly recommended for the purpose. Crispy pata, for the uninitiated, is boiled and deep fried pork leg. And the verdict?

It’s a bit unfair for JL-Jamie’s Crispy Pata and Restaurant because we’ll always compare it with the residents at the top of the crispy pata world, Judy Ann’s (Malabon) and JIJF Lutong Bahay ni Inay (Quezon). If Juday’s, our shortened name for Judy Ann’s, is on the sweet side and JIJF is at the salty goodness side of the spectrum, JL-Jamie’s taste leans on the sweet side. The skin is beautifully golden brown and crunchy, with the meat soft to the bone.

It’s crispy pata that we would go back to and recommend to friends, but not if Juday’s or JIJF is available. If we’re forced to list down any downside, we would begrudgingly give two. First, the flavor does not seem to reach the bottom of the meat, with dullness in the taste nearing the bone. Nakakaumay would be an appropriate term, a description that we would not even imagine with Juday’s or JIJF. Second, service leaves so much to be desired. Only one service staff was present and we had to go around looking for her to take our food orders. But, hey, there’s always room for improvement.

In the end, it was a great trip notwithstanding the absence of permit to enter the dam site itself. Half of any travel experience is always about the journey and the discoveries made along the way. Reaching the destination is just a bonus.

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