The camera got soaked into the salty water as I fumbled for her pink Havainas sandal that the crashing waves took off my foot. That was a good camera but it’s gone now. The memory card was all right however, so all our priceless memories were preserved. I consider such a thing a near-death experience.
Our destination was Anawangin, a secluded beach at Zambales. Chemae and I originally planned to go there together next year but changes were made during a seemingly ordinary Wednesday Starbucks coffee conversation. We don’t even remember how our conversation turned into planning a weekend in a beach but it did. In a matter of minutes, we were leaving the cup of coffee behind and rushing to the mall to buy a tent. The beach weekend was sealed when we handed over the money to the cashier at Toby’s.
The First Sign of Luck
We rode a cab to the Victory Liner terminal in Caloocan. There, we paid Php251 to get to the town of San Antonio in Zambales. The trip took three and a half hours, just like our reference travel blogs say. A bit sleepy, we were jolted into nervous wakefulness when the conductor suddenly boomed out, “O, San Antonio!”
Chemae left her wallet in the bus. The devil almost had us. Had I been a bit quicker to get off the bus and more nervous that we’re already in an unknown town, that wallet would have traveled to Iba without us; then a few minutes after alighting from the bus, we would have teared each other’s hair out and hailed another bus back to Manila. But I was lucky that day, so I saw the wallet and phase one was complete. I’d tease her all throughout the trip about it.
Tip: check everything before you get off the bus.
How to Get to the Boats and Other Challenges
The first problem of the day was getting the supplies we needed to survive. Our lunch in the bus consisted of Gardenia with liver spread. The bus stopped over in Olongapo but we didn’t get off because we were contented with our loaf of bread. We were going to eat that loaf of bread all throughout the next day, and I’m going to decide to not eat it for another five months when it’s all over.
Tip: bring your own portable stove so you don’t condemn yourself to chewing Gardenia all day. You can also buy charcoal in San Antonio if you want to cook in the beach the traditional way. Don’t forget to purchase food, water and toiletries in the town.
There are tricycles where the bus stopped at San Antonio. After a few minutes of nervous discussion on what to do next, Chemae proposed that we hire a tricycle to get us all the things we needed and get us to Pundakit, the town where we’re supposed to ride a boat to Anawangin.
Luckily, the tricycle driver I talked to has a brother-in-law who takes passengers to Anawangin. That man was the strongly built, very skilled and kind Mang Johnny. He lives in San Miguel, another town beside the shore. For Php1540, he agreed to take us to Anawangin and back, and a brief visit to the lighthouse in the island of Capones. The Php40 was for the cooler and ice that we also got from him. There was also the extra service later of taking a shower in his house and a meal of pancit and buko pie — for free. And since San Miguel was nearer than Pundakit, we thought it was the perfect deal.
We bought our rice, beer and dishwashing soap along the way. In a few minutes, we were facing the amazingly blue sea and hearing the crashing waves. A boat waits for us and we head for the place on our minds back at Starbucks.
The Boat Ride of My Life
My ears were almost split open by the unending roar of the motorboat. I’m not used to traveling so this was all new for me. I thought I’d be deaf by the time I get to Anawangin.
The view from the sea is so breathtaking however, that you soon forget little inconveniences like that. Mang Johnny’s boat was cutting through the waves and salty water was splashing on my face. The sky above was blue and the water beneath me looked as if it reached forever to the cores of the earth. I kept wondering at the unknown worlds below me.
Blame it on me being a newbie at traveling, but I really felt weird during that boat ride. I feel like I was transcending life with all these great scenes before me: towering rock formations, the red sun setting serenely on my right, waves just forever slapping against our blue boat, and the air whipping my cheeks. Chemae, 100 years more experienced than me at traveling, was just clicking my camera along the way.
Tip: hold on tight to the boat. Waves can be so strong that you can get off-balanced. Theoretically speaking, you can topple off the boat if a huge wave crashes against you. Relax, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride. Also, wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from the salty water droplets.
Awestruck by Anawangin
Mang Johnny told us it takes an hour to get to Anawangin, but the boat ride couldn’t have lasted more than 30 minutes. By the time the boat gets around this large cliff, Anawangin’s beach already comes into view.
It was getting dark when we reached the beach. Anawangin was mesmerizing. Pine trees grew like quills of a porcupine at the back of the beach. The sand scraped at my toes which were not used to beaches. It was quite painful walking with those pink Havaianas slippers I borrowed from Chemae.
The sky turned briefly to a bloody ruby red as we built our tent. The caretakers of the part of the beach that we chose immediately gave us a bamboo board or papag where we laid down our things. There were only about three camps there. The world there was silent save for the rushing waves, the wind, and the voices of other campers.
The volume turned up a notch at night however, as the people at the camp beside us started to get drunk. After eating rice and canned tuna and sausage, Chemae and I also drank our Red Horse beer. I brought Shirley, my acoustic guitar, so we just sang the night away. Maybe it’s because of the beer but her voice attained a whole new level of stunning for me that night. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and the hair on my arms rising up. Chemae is one of the most talented singers I’ve ever heard, and her enchanting voice masked my average guitar skills.
We sounded so good that the other campers kept on asking us to join them and even play a song for them. Well, we didn’t go there to get new friends. We went there to be with each other longer before the Christmas vacation sends us bleakly to our homes.
We lay down on the bamboo board and looked up at the sky. Stars were sprinkled in the heavens like minerals were sprinkled in the sand. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. If you can’t see stars in your place, they must be in Anawangin. You’ll never believe how many stars we don’t see because of the smog in our urban cities.
Tip: Bring a source of light. We were pressing my CD-R King MP3 player all night because we didn’t have a candle or a flashlight. Fortunately, my cheap player glows brilliantly.
Sun Shines on Anawangin
The night ended a bit early as my body complained of all sorts of stuff. When Chemae woke me up the next morning however, I peered from my tent to see dawn breaking at a paradise. Anawangin was even more fantastic in the morning. The rock formations and mountains to my left are just majestic. This place is indeed the purest place I’ve ever been to. I couldn’t believe the fact that my insignificant DNA is being spread on this piece of earth that has stood here for millions of years.
There were wash rooms built of dry leaves and bamboo scattered all over the beach. We also had two water pumps or poso in our area so water for taking a shower and cleaning stuff was not a problem. After a breakfast of Gardenia with liver spread again, we head for the water.
The sea was cold when we dipped in the morning. The temperature started to rise though as the sun rose up in the sky and bathed the place with a golden light. Chemae’s skin was shimmering gold as she played among the waves and walked on the beach. I had a fun time trying to stay still while the rolling waves hit my face.
Lunch consisted of, yet again, Gardenia, this time with Cheez Whiz with Hot and Spicy Century Tuna. It was Chemae’s idea to combine the two, and the resulting taste was perfect to say the least. We had no use for the tuna anyway because the rice we bought at San Antonio was already spoiled.
Tip: We didn’t wander too far off the shore because we’ve heard that the waves here can be dangerous (according to one friend, “nanghihila ng tao”). Unless you’re a really good swimmer, better not test your luck because chances are, you won’t be spotted by anyone if you drown in the deep water.
Raptures in Anawangin’s River
Our next destination was the river at the back of the beach. The river is just a short walk from the beach and you don’t need a guide because there’s a clear trail that leads to it.
The river is like a scene from a Disney fairytale movie. Chemae, dressed up in a white bathing suit, looked to me like a fairy spreading enchantments in this beautiful place. Endless pine trees line the riverside as dragonflies, frogs and fishes fly, hop and swim all over the place. Parts of the river are just a few inches deep so you can cross from one side to the other and take all the pictures you want.
Chemae told me that her sister bathed there. The water was very clear but the floor was slimy and muddy at parts, so we didn’t swim. Besides, it was already getting hot, so we left the place after we’ve taken the pictures we want.
Packing our Bags
The sand on my feet became hotter and hotter as the sun climbed high in the sky. We looked for a sheltered spot on the beach and we found one beside a cliff. That spot was the best in the entire beach, in my opinion, because you can lie comfortably under the shade of the tree and the cliff while watching the majesty of the sea and mountains. We drank the rest of our beer, swam once more, then went back to our camp to pack our bags.
Capones and the End of My Camera
Mang Johnny arrived to pick us up at about 3:20, too early for our 4:00 deal. It was fine however, because we weren’t sure if we can go back to Manila on time (work in an urban city far away was waiting for us with open arms). He helped us pack our tent and then we were off to the island of Capones.
The waves were choppy as Mang Johnny’s boat cut through the deep blue see again. We were both reminded of the Space Shuttle ride that started it all. I could see Capones’ beach from far away but the ride was long, so the island seemed to just stand there, refusing to get near our boat hard as we tried.
It probably took 45 minutes or longer to get to Capones. We were headed to a lighthouse atop a rocky hill. There are two ways to get to the lighthouse. One, you can dock at the beach but you will have to trek for 45 minutes around the island. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to alight at rocks and be hit by huge waves, which is very dangerous.
Second, you can take our way, which is to get off directly at the rocky beach below the lighthouse. This is a very dangerous way because you can injure yourself badly at the huge rocks on the seafloor. My slippers kept on slipping off my feet as the waves hit me and I tumbled along the rocks. The boat also can’t get too near the shore because the rocks would break it. Chemae and I managed to get off however, but not after many near-drown experiences.
Stairs leading to the lighthouse were made of cement but you have to climb up a few piled up rocks to get to them. After the episode in the boat, climbing up a few rocks seemed easy and safe. Soon, we were atop a hill and we could see the wide blue sea stretching infinitely on the horizon. We walked along a grassy trail and found the rusty gates of the lighthouse in the end.
The lighthouse was an abandoned building. It’s clear that a fire burned that place some years ago. We took some pictures there and started to climb up the top. I’m afraid of heights but I managed to reach the top anyway because I wasn’t going to let Chemae tease me for the rest of the day. The view from the top was breathtaking and was really worth all the effort I put into climbing that far.
We headed back to Mang Johnny’s boat because I was afraid that the waves would get more monstrous as the day drew to a close. It too about 20 minutes for us to get to the lighthouse and back to Mang Johnny’s boat.
And then, as I tried to get in the boat, the slipper I borrowed from Chemae slipped off my foot again. The camera got soaked into the salty water as I fumbled for her pink Havainas sandal that the crashing waves took off my foot. That was a good camera but it’s gone now. The memory card was all right however, so all our priceless memories were preserved. I consider such a thing a near-death experience. It was near death because all our precious memories were almost swallowed by the sea.
Almost. I was lucky so our memories were fine.
Tip: if you want a safe route, go for the 45 minute trek. I do not recommend our way except if you’re all males with strong legs and you can swim. Do not risk it. Boats don’t even normally go there. Mang Johnny was just a bit daring. Also, if you have a camera, place it inside a plastic bag to protect it from the water.
The boat roared one last time across the waves as we rode to San Miguel. After about an hour, we were in Mang Johnny’s beautiful house, taking a shower, and then eating their pancit and buko pie. The hospitality of the people here is the stuff of my old elementary Filipino textbooks. Wow, Filipinos are indeed hospitable. The same tricycle driver we rode to get to San Miguel was already waiting for us outside. Mang Johnny helped us carry our bags to the tricycle and we were leaving his house in a matter of minutes. Only tricycles went back and forth on the roads here. I didn’t see one single car.
We paid Php50 for the tricycle ride, even less than the Php60 he charged us last time. Travel blogs said tricycle rides to Pundakit were worth Php100. Again, we were awestruck by the people’s kindness.
After about 10 minutes in San Antonio, we were able to ride a minibus to Olongapo. There were no double seats left but the conductor and a passenger agreed to let us have a seat in the front of the bus. The passenger stood for us. At this point, we just didn’t have the words to describe the people here in Zambales. We were overwhelmed at their beautiful character.
The ride probably took an hour and 30 minutes. We got off Olongapo and Chemae asked for quick directions to the Victory Liner terminal. After a short walk, we found the terminal and rode the bus to Cubao. We paid Php200 each.
Tip: You can wait for a Victory Liner bus in San Antonio but it doesn’t pass by too often. Minibuses seem more frequent in town.
Memories of Anawangin
The place still haunts me as I write this unnecessarily long travel blog here in the concrete city. I’m glad I agreed to go there with Chemae even if it meant shelling out some money. Well, I was so satisfied with our trip that I probably became a beach buddy over the weekend. All in all, we probably spent just a little over Php1500 each. I also lost my camera but that’s replaceable anyway. All of that is cheap considering I get to go home with memories of Anawangin and Chemae. I get to go home with memories to keep forever.