Our trip to Nagsasa Cove, Zambales was a test of our will to never give up. From the moment we headed out to the streets to wait for a cab to the bus ride homeward, we plodded through a plethora of challenges we thought would ruin our vacation. But I watched her back, and she watched mine, and because of that, I can smile here and say, “The trip was purely awesome.”
Cab and Camera: The First Challenge
127 Days to Go. The landlady thought something tragic had happened when she saw Chemae carrying two pillows and a huge backpack behind her back. She thought we were going to a hospital to visit someone who had an accident. As sad as that thought was, going home and postponing our trip to Nagsasa ’til tomorrow morning was more depressing to me that night. Chemae and I were just waiting for a taxi cab to get us to the Victory Liner terminal at Caloocan City. Our plan was to buy tickets for an 11:00 bus to San Antonio, Zambales, but as usual — we were late. It was nearly 11:00 and we were still walking along the dark streets of Pag-Asa, Quezon City ironically losing pag-asa (hope). She said that if we can make the 12:00 bus, we can still go for the cutting trip to Olongapo, and then to Zambales. The problem was, every taxi driver we flagged down had his own alibi why we can’t snug in his stinkin’ car. So we kept on going, walking and walking, dragging our stuff like a homeless couple looking for alms around SM North.
About 10 or so minutes ’til 11:00, an angel dressed and moustached like a taxi driver held his heavenly door open for us. We went in still not believing someone finally agreed to my line “Caloocan — Victory Liner.” But we were in, and we had to cling on to hope: maybe we can still make that bus. But that was just stage one of this epic struggle to get to Nagsasa. Next, we had to make a detour to our house so I can wake up everybody sleeping just to get a camera in my bag, which we weren’t even sure was there. If that camera wasn’t there, then we’re going to Nagsasa camera-less; which basically meant we’re going to a trip without saved digital memories. In today’s world of facebook reality (if it wasn’t on facebook, it didn’t happen), such a thing is equal to having sex with a tree in my opinion. Nonsense and stupid. And painful.
So we made the detour. I banged on our iron gates like a desperate knight and an aged wizard (well, my lolo) opened them for me as our hounds barked at the nighttime intruder. I briskly walked to our house, zeroed in on my bag, rummaged inside, and — hell yeah! That sly and crooked camera was there, silvery housing maliciously glinting at me like Frodo’s One Ring. LOTR metaphors aside, Chemae shrieked when I handed it to her.
Standing Room Only — in a Bus
It was past 11:00 when we found ourselves inside the surprisingly crowded Victory Liner Caloocan Terminal. My heart dropped and broke on the floor like eggshells when I saw the closed ticketing booths. Every goddamn bus was already fully booked. All buses from 11:00 to 12:00 already had their timely passengers and ready to leave for Zambales without us. Hope and life draining out of me, I shook my head at the futility of our efforts to get there. But it was time for Chemae to show off her well-honed bus-riding skills.
I couldn’t understand her plan at first because, well, it didn’t make sense. She was clearly going for “chance passenger” opportunities, but I just couldn’t believe she’s still trying to ride a bus when every last one of them were “standing room only.” What? Ride a bus for more than four hours, standing? Are you friggin’ kidding me? But she refused to explain it to me. Her face was just as hard as stone — as if I’m pathetic if I didn’t go through it with her. I guess her extreme determination to do something so foolish in my opinion back then propped me up. With her leading this last ditch effort to make our Nagsasa trip come true, we pressed forward against the equally violent and desperate crowd of chance passengers blocking the bus’ door.
Chemae elbowed her way through the crowd, pillows tucked inside her armpit. Through sheer frightening effort and boundless energy from such a small woman, she managed to put her foot on the steps, shaking from the pressure all around her. The lady beside me could only say, “Si ate oh!” in pure disbelief and amazement, I took it. Roused by her display of heroism, I pushed my way forward, too, and voila – we were inside, standing.
The long weekend must have made everyone desperate for a vacation, because the bus was just overflowing with passengers, many of them standing like us. Luckily, in front of us, there was a single empty seat, which no one seemed to have any plans of taking. Chemae sat on it while I stood and held on to bars and seats for balance. At first I was swearing in my head for even agreeing to continuing the night trip, but as the bus finally started to move, I slowly warmed up to the idea of just enduring the challenge. Besides, there were girls also standing inside the bus, the chauvinist that I was, I couldn’t let girls beat me — and guys, too, who looked of high school age. Yeah, it was pride that finally set my decision in stone.
I rode the bus standing, occasionally sitting on the floor, rocked by side to side all night. 127 Days to go.
The Crowd at San Antonio’s Plaza (Anawangin Bound?)
126 Days to Go. My back muscles were just getting used to the feel of the soft cushion of a newly emptied seat when the conductor announced, “O, yung mga San Antonio dyan!” We alighted from the bus and found ourselves in a familiar sight: San Antonio’s plaza, which locals call “munisipyo.” To our surprise, many people were already gathered there in the dark. It was amazing that we made it to San Antonio despite the difficulties we went through.
The trip was a lot shorter than we expected, just a little more than three hours., so we arrived in San Antonio at 3:00 AM. People wearing jackets, carrying backpacks, tents, camping gear — just like us — were chatting with each other at every corner, smoking, waiting for the market to open at 5:00 AM to buy their supplies. We thought we knew where most of those people were headed to: Anawangin. Anawangin is the most famous of Zambales’ coves — not that it’s the most beautiful, but just because more people have gone to see it. It’s also nearer than Nagsasa in terms of the boat ride. The thought of all those people sharing the beach with us had we gone to Anawangin filled us with relief. Fortunately, Nagsasa was still quite unheard of and we could expect fewer beach buddies there.
Chemae and I needed to buy drinking water and coals, and since it was too early, we just decided to sleep in front of the municipal hall in the plaza. Literally, in front, on the ground, since no one seemed to care. We laid a towel on the ground, arranged the pillows, lay down and caught some Zs.
We woke up at about 4:30 and told our contact to come fetch us. I made my way to the marketplace, which was situated right there in the plaza and bought some coals. When the tricycle came, I asked for the driver’s help to get us some bottled water because the stores were just opening up and I didn’t know where to buy those. Fortunately, he returned with the goods we wanted since he knew his way in the market and had some contacts. The cool wind blowing hard against our faces, we were finally off to Pundaquit — the fishing town of Zambales famous for its trips to Anawangin, Nagsasa, and other stunning coves in the province.
Our Contact: Manong Randy
Our contact was Manong Randy. Chemae found out about him during her Web research. Manong Randy is a darkly tanned man with a heavy built. His arms looked like they were made of the same hardwood they use to build those mighty boats that carry passengers day-in, day-out (and also nights) across the tricky waters of Zambales. He charged us Php 1,500 for the boat ride to Nagsasa but he wasn’t the one who took us to the cove. Apparently, Manong Randy was just the operator, and another guy was tasked to be our bangkero. We bought more coals and, of course, beer at a small store in the town. Once we had everything we needed, we walked toward Pundaquit’s shores and was greeted by the big dark blue sea, its waves gently crashing in the morning darkness.
The boat’s engine began to rumble as Chemae and I settled on two monobloc chairs inside the narrow wooden boat while wearing our life vests. The salty air filled my nose and the familiar chill at something vast and naive, trying to swallow our thin boat filled my consciousness once again. From this point on, I thought, our lives were in the bangkero‘s hands. If he slacks off at his job for a minute or a second, the great Zambales sea will devour us like nothing.
But all this was part of the epic challenge to have the best beach getaway possible.
(To be continued…)