The horizon was still hazy at a little past 5:00 in the morning but four or five boats carrying passengers wearing orange life vests were already speeding toward the famous shores of Anawangin. I looked on and remembered our memorable trip there in December 2009. Chemae and I had just been together for a month back then. This time, we have more than a year’s worth of memories with us as we zoomed forward to a less known cove in Zambales — Nagsasa.
The boat ride from Pundaquit to Nagsasa Cove took about 45 minutes, whereas our trip from San Miguel to Anawangin before took only 30 minutes, and the town of San Miguel is farther away than Pundaquit. Unlike my trip to Anawangin, I didn’t feel like the ride took forever and the boat’s engine was defeaning this time. I was just too mesmerized with the majestic dark rock formations that line the shores of Zambales. I kept thinking that a bangkero without focus could easily veer too near such jagged limestones and wreck his thin boat, his passengers toppling down to the bottom of the hungry sea. But in boat rides like this, you just have to trust your bangkero with your life, so it’s crucial to get a trusty contact who have a soild experience traversing these waters.
Nagsasa VS Anawangin
When the boat hit the shores of Nagsasa, Chemae had already decided which cove she liked more. Nagsasa is three times bigger than Anawangin and its waters were also noticeably calmer — so calm, in fact, that high tide still offers gentle waves that pose no danger to anyone who swims near the shore. And the shore is amazingly shallow, too, kind of like Boracay’s without the pristine powdery white sand. The shore isn’t littered with jagged rocks of any size, just pure white minerals and black volcanic ash that’s soft enough for your feet. Had Nagsasa cradled pure white sand, you would clearly see the bottom of the water because of its fascinating clarity. Kids can also safely play and practice their swimming strokes here because the shore gently slopes downward for several meters and there are no sudden steep spots, at least in the middle of the cove where we set camp.
Apparently, our decision to push forward with the night trip was right on the money because we arrived early at the cove, and there were still a couple of free nipa huts to avail of for Php 100 per person per night. A nipa hut in the cove consists of a long table and two benches made of bamboo. There’s also plenty of space where you could put your stuff. While you can camp virtually anywhere on the cove, it’s useful to avail of a hut because it shelters you from the heat of the sun, which grows incredibly hot during midday. In fact, this is one of the possible drawbacks of Nagsasa (and Anawangin, for that matter), that their sand can bake your foot if you’re not wearing any footwear during midday. I suppose the extreme heat that comes from the ground is caused by the makeup of the cove’s sand, which is grey, so it absorbs the heat instead of reflecting it, like a white sand beach would do.
The mountains surrounding the cove are truly a sight to behold. Swimming in the sea with those golden slopes towering in front of you is an experience you will find hard to forget. Further away from the shore are coniferous trees, possibly pine trees, and swaths of shrubs and grass. We learned later that there were so many people in Anawangin, that boatmen were bringing tourists to Nagsasa instead. Well, if people only knew what they’re missing, they would have gone straight to Nagsasa instead of Anawangin.
Building a Fire
Since the sand of Nagsasa is gray, there is no danger of sand discoloration, so you can build any fire you want, small or large, as long as you build it far away from the coniferous trees which easily catch fire, and also from your camping neighbors. If you want to drink with your friends in the light of a bonfire, you can buy large pieces of firewood from a store in the center of the island, which also sells everything from candies to Coke at higher prices, though we’re not sure if they also sell alcoholic beverage.
Chemae and I didn’t have a portable stove, so we tried to cook using small pieces of firewood scattered in the area. For my part, I thoroughly reviewed for my duties as the cooking man of our tag team, visiting a number of How-to sites to know exactly how to build a fire. For our first rice-cooking challenge though, I decided to use the coal we bought instead of firewood, which disastrously resulted in an extremely long cooking time and a ton of physical stress for me. I also accidentally stepped on a splinter of wood. I thought the pain would prevent me from doing any more walking, let alone swimming for two whole days in the cove. Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad, and I learned my lesson and wore my sandals all the time after that.
When our rice was finally edible, I vowed never to rely on coal again. Since we’re not grilling anything, we needed tongues of fire, not hot coals. For our next meals, I collected pieces of firewood and tinder (dried grass) in the area to cook our danggit and sauteed canned tuna. There are plenty of stones in the cove, which have been used to insulate fire before. You can use these to protect your fire from the wind and also support your cooking pans and pots. Eating in front of the awesome beach view was so good and building a fire was so hard, that every scoop of food and mouthful were tastier. When we went home, Chemae and I realized we’re already addicted to danggit.
Nagsasa’s Lake and — JELLYFISH
Nagsasa’s large lake was just a short walk away from our camp site, to the right of the cove if you’re facing the sea. Like its Anawangin counterpart, the lake is home to some small types of fish and tadpoles that you can catch jumping on the surface of the shallow waters. The bottom of the lake is filled with moss and algae, but the water itself is very clear. Winding like a small river, surrounded by pine trees, shrubs, with majestic golden mountains in the background, the lake truly inspires awe. We took several pictures there while pretending we were in New Zealand at a set of the Lord of the Rings.
The lake’s water grows really hot durring midday to the point that you can’t dip your foot in it. As the sun was setting, a strip of orange red light lit the surface of the water, making for some truly stunning pictures of Chemae in a bathing suit. I just love it that she’s not afraid to pose beautifully in front of the camera. Well, like I always say, I’m an extremely lucky lad to have a really hot rockstar girlfriend. I know that really, really well.
Earlier, as we bathed in the gentle sea, Chemae suddenly complained of something painful in her arm. “Syet, jellyfish!“ I immediately looked around, splashing the water like a madman. Jellyfish? Here? She must have made a mistake. There wasn’t any jellyfish in Anawangin, so why should there be here?
But as she held up her arm, there was clearly a patch of red skin there that could have been caused by only one nasty sea creature. Later, a few more people complained of itchiness and pain in their arms and legs.
Jellyfish. There’s jellyfish in Nagsasa, probably the biggest drawback of this fascinating place. I talked to a boy from Pundaquit and he told me he saw one the size of a dish. Fortunately, I was able to bring home a photographic evidence of the major weakness of this paradise tucked in the mountains of Zambales. Although I can’t say Nagsasa is “crawling” with jellyfish, I can estimate that the risk of a jellyfish sting is 1/15. And although the boy I talked to said he saw a big jellyfish, no one swimming in our area ever complained of a really disastrous attack. Just minor itches, which didn’t prevent them from staying in the water and having fun.
As darkness covered the vast cove of Nagsasa, Chemae and I opened our bottles of Red Horse grande and started drinking. I laid my head on her legs and looked up at the night sky sprinkled with all the stars in the world. Despite all the obstacles in our way, we’re still having the adventure of our lives in this spellbinding beach. We talked of philosophy, social theory, our physical appearances, friends, Canada, Nagsasa, how Anawangin must be like a marketplace right now, and how much we never want to come back to the city and to our normal everyday lives ever again. But, alas, that’s impossible.
We scurried to our tent we named Janno (from Janno Gibbs) and collapsed drunk on our pillows. We had one day to go in Nagsasa.
I had 126 Days to go before she leaves me.
(To be continued…)