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Between Baguio and Vigan, the McDonald’s Sign That Led to Nowhere



At noon on Thursday, April 21, we left Baguio for Vigan. Although the shortest route is via Naguilian Road, Speedy chose to go via Marcos Highway because the condition of Naguilian Road is not always good and he wouldn’t subject his beloved Frontier Titanium to potholes the size of moon craters.

The drive was largely uneventful save for the appearance of thick fogs on the mountain tops which made us wonder if it would rain again. It didn’t.

We drove down to La Union via Marcos Highway and stopped near the giant statue of an eagle to get drinks from the trunk. It was a sweltering day, we weren’t sure where the next convenient stop would be so it was a good idea to have cold drinks beside us. 

If you’ve traveled to rural areas before, you would have probably experienced asking for directions from the locals. And you’d probably know that in the province, distance is relative.

Ask a farmer on a carabao which way to Town X is and he’d point and say, “Sa kabilang ibayo lang (Just yonder).” You’d have driven for hours before you realize that “sa kabilang ibayo” could mean anything from an hour’s drive to a night’s drive. We’ve experienced that before. But, on Thursday afternoon, we experienced another version of that phenomenon.

An ubiquitous rural scene: a closet loaded on the roof of a tricycle
An ubiquitous rural scene: a closet loaded on the roof of a tricycle

So, we had been on the road for about an hour and a half after leaving Baguio. We had passed San Fernando, the capital and largest town in La Union, and we were somewhere in Bacnotan.

It was close to 2.00 p.m., the sun was high and bright in the sky and, despite the heavily tinted windows and sunglasses, I still found myself squinting, feeling drowsy and, worse, there was the beginning of a bad headache.

We opened the windows so that the blast of wind could jolt me into wakefulness. And I told Speedy that we ought to stop at the first service station or fast food outlet that had coffee.

We passed one, two, three, four… gas stations, none of which had stores that sold coffee. They were just gas stations, really, and most didn’t even have rest rooms.

Cordillera Mountain Range
Cordillera Mountain Range

A few minutes after crossing the boundary that separated La Union from Ilocos Sur, we saw a sign on the side of the road. A familiar logo. The M with the rounded tops. McDonald’s. The sign said “straight ahead.”

We drove and drove, saw more McDonald’s signs that repeated the same “straight ahead” message. You know how a dog pants with its tongue hanging out when you show it a piece of treat but you withhold it so that the dog can see but cannot taste nor touch it? Okay, I felt that way.

But we saw no McDonald’s outlet — just stretches of tobacco and corn fields, a few houses, portions of the Cordillera mountain range in the distance, the occasional gas station with neither coffee nor rest room and the West Philippine Sea.

A view of the West Philippine Sea on the road to Ilocos Sur
A view of the West Philippine Sea on the road to Ilocos Sur

An hour later, Speedy was cursing about how the signs were all LIES. I supposed that, by that time, he needed coffee just as much as I did. And I wondered if the signs referred to a McDonald’s branch that had already closed down.

To make a long story short, we didn’t get to the much announced McDonald’s branch until after 3.00 p.m. in the town of Candon.

McDonald's at Candon, Ilocos Sur
I spy McDonald’s!

My goodness, I am no McDonald’s fan but there couldn’t have been a more wonderful sight to behold at that moment. And I made a mental note that in rural areas, signs that said “straight ahead” relayed the same message that the ubiquitous farmer on a carabao often does with his finger pointing to “sa kabilang ibayo lang.”

We parked, we had coffee and snacks, went to the rest rooms, stretched our legs… and we were off again. Vigan was waiting.