The newly-launched Davao-Clark flights of Air Asia and Philippine Airlines gave Davaoeños fresher opportunities of exploring the province of Pampanga and other nearby areas in Northern Luzon. This might be a jerk of decongesting the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila and somehow intensified connectivity of the Mindanao-Luzon market. As a gateway to Northern Luzon, Pampanga has been considered lately as the next hub for industrialization, commercialization and tourism.
In a span of one month I was able to participate two major tourism events in Pampanga. The first one was the NorthPhil Expo held in SM Clark on November 18-20 and the other one was the Training Course on Tourism Marketing and Regional Branding as spearheaded by the Tourism Promotions Board and University of the Philippines-Asian Institute of Tourism in Quest Hotel, Clark. As a perk of the events I availed of free tours in key Luzon destinations such as Mt. Pinatubo and Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue. Other than these two main attractions I also explored Pampanga in my latest trip two weeks ago.
Staying in Pampanga for a week or more can be an earnest option for travellers who love culture and culinary. Angeles City, the capital of Pampanga, caters to a wider ranges of audience being the commercial centre that serves as gateway to other destinations.
There are three interesting things in Pampanga that impresses me much namely: Clark, Christmas and Foods. The Clark Freeport Zone is for me an excellent example of an independent commercial zone that provides Clark with economic opportunities. The entire Freeport zone is employing more or less 10,000 people with all the present investment areas locating in the place like commercial establishments, BPOs, tourism-related businesses, among others. The actual physical perspective of Clark is patterned after an American setting because the place was an airbase of the United States Military during the American regime. Clark is an epitome of better urban planning and the rest of those developing provinces in the country should look at Clark as a benchmark to follow and emulate.
Meanwhile, Pampanga has other definition of Christmas. On December 19 we travelled to the town of Magalang located more or less 40 kilometers from Clark to witness the famous Lubenas de Pasko. This is an occasion celebrated every December by the Cabalens as a strong manifestation of their belief of the birth of Christ. They have maintained this tradition which was started in the 18th century. A parade of star lanterns of different colors and sizes is being showcased in the event which is also associated with musical performances. The Cabalens value very much the crucial role of star guidance to their existence just like how the three wise men were guided by a star on their way to the birthplace of Christ. The entire perimeters of Magalang were surrounded with stars every Christmas which makes the town vivid and attractive. I was told by my colleagues that the City of Angeles also has the same celebration.
Lastly, the foods of Pampanga represents very well with the character of excellent Filipino culinary creativity. Being confined to Quest Hotel’s ration for three days I have lesser appreciation of the foods they served, not until I was able to go out and tasted the best Pampanga delicacies. First were the local kakanins served to us in Magalang, the appetizing Puto Bumbong and Hot Tsokolate. I guess there was a secret ingredient to the concoction which the Cabalens only know, making it very distinct and palatable. I also visited one of the best restaurants in Clark that offered authentic Kapampangan Cuisine, the Matam-ih Restaurant.
Our gastronomic experience in Pampanga was rounded off with a sumptuous dinner in Mila’s Restaurant, considered to be the most popular restaurant in Angeles City. In Mila’s we were treated with specialty food items such as tokwa’t baboy, fern salad mixed with salted egg, tocino barbecue and the mouth-watering pork sisig. We were also warmly accommodated by the owner Aling Mila herself who is very much hands on with the daily chores in the restaurant.