126 Days to go. There was no time for our hangovers when we woke up to our second morning in the alluring cove of Nagsasa in Zambales. I immediately got up, breathed in the fresh air from the sea, and got ready to collect firewood to cook our breakfast. But first, there was the task of toothbrushing and washing last night’s dishes. This brings us to a possible challenge in Nagsasa: securing water.
Get Ready to Line Up for Water
First, let’s put this into its proper context. Chemae and I went to Nagsasa in April 9-11, a long weekend due to a holiday, so we’re talking about the summit of the peak season. And with the El Niño phenomenon, we can probably assume all the beach buddies in the Philippines were just itching to go to local beaches and frolic in the cool waters. Plus, since Anawangin was already overflowing with campers, Pundaquit’s boatmen decided to bring some of their booked clients to Nagsasa instead. This explains why there were so many people in Nagsasa, more than 40 camps in Chemae’s estimate, scattered all over the long stretch of beach, with some camping in the area of pine trees further to the back of the cove.
This clearly wasn’t the case when Chemae and I went to Anawangin December of 2009. Even though Anawangin was already popular, we shared the entire cove with just a single camp, so we never had any problems with water.
In Nagsasa though, we had to line up every time we had to wash our dishes, take a bath, or — you guessed it — take a poop. And that was bad, especially for me. My bowels are very unpredictable and if I feel like going, I have to go, anywhere, anytime. It’s just impossible for me to hold my brown Hershey’s in. So one time in Nagsasa, my alarm suddenly went off and I just quickly emptied our styrofoam ice chest, ran to one of those nearby plastic drums they use to hold water, scooped five dippers full, and raced to the concrete bathrooms in the middle of the cove, my feet sinking into the sand because of the weight. A small crowd was gathered there, filling up their pails with water. It’s a good thing they didn’t know there was still water in the drum where I collected mine, otherwise, I’d have more competitors. I thought I wouldn’t make it because all three of the bathrooms were occupied, but just when I was a couple of meters away from the bathrooms, one of them opened up. Without thinking if someone else is lined up to occupy the bathroom, I just dashed inside, shut the door, and dropped my brown bombs in a flash.
Well, the point of my little disgusting tale is that you have to be willing to hold it in and wait for your turn in Nagsasa if you’re going there during peak season. There were even a couple of times when water in the middle of the cove literally stopped flowing, and people in line had to wait for the hose to start spurting water again so they can fill up their pails. You don’t have to bring your own pails or water containers because these are all provided in the cove. Also, another piece of advice: if you want more water, camp at the left side of the cove if you’re facing the sea. According to a local old woman there, the water in the hoses that run through the cove comes from a waterfall, and this water comes from the left side of the cove, so campers there get to use more water than us who were camped in the middle.
Positioning Your Tent
We devoted the rest of the day to just relaxing and taking in the spectacular views in Nagsasa. Chemae and I decided to have a little picnic in the shelter of our hut while watching the more avid beach buddies brave the burning heat of the sun. A girl forgot to wear her slippers after coming out of the water, and her daddy kept yelling, “Where are your Crocs? Where are your Crocs?” Because of the extreme heat of the sand, the girl couldn’t utter a reply. She just ran to their hut as fast as she could while crying. It was so cute!
Later, at about 4:00 PM when the sun was already bearable, Chemae worked on her tan on the shore while I bathed in the water once more for a final feel of Nagsasa’s sea. I just wanted to bring every bit of memory home with me. That there are always heavenly sanctuaries like these in the Philippines where you can run to every time stress is about to break your sanity gives me real comfort. I didn’t care anymore for the possible sunburn (which I didn’t develop, by the way) or the thought that a sneaky jellyfish might finally get me (which also didn’t happen). I just splashed around and let go of all my worries in the clear salty water all around me.
At night, Chemae and I ate our delicious sauteed canned tuna and danggit. We didn’t drink on the eve of our departure because we were scheduled to be fetched by our bangkero at 8:00 AM and we had lots of stuff to pack. After watching other campers get really drunk and wild (Seph and Deng, whoever they were, kept us awake and entertained ’til they were gone), we zipped our tent close to sleep.
Then we noticed the lack of wind, which increased the temperature inside the tent. All night I kept waiting for the wind to come from the sea, but it didn’t come. We never noticed the temperature inside the tent the other night because we were too drunk. But that night, it was hard not to notice we’re getting sweaty. It was only later that I found out about our mistake. A couple of girls beside our camp were still drinking and our tent began to shook because of the wind. The girls said it was really getting cold — what? How? Then the tent shook a couple more times. Then it hit me: our tent was facing the wrong way. Apparently, in Nagsasa, at night, in April, the wind comes from the mountains at the back of the cove, not from the sea. Our tent was positioned in the opposite direction, so no wonder we lacked air inside. If you want to catch that cool air at night, make it a point to position your tent facing the mountains and you’ll never have a problem with the temperature.
The Final Challenge: Bus Leaving Without Us
125 Days to go. Our boat left the beautiful shores of Nagsasa at around 8:00 AM just as planned. Our bangkero had earlier advised us to leave anytime except afternoon because the sea becomes treacherous at this time. To make it back to Manila early and to have enough time to rest before the regular boring workday tomorrow, Chemae and I decided to leave early.
When we arrived at Pundaquit, we paid Manong Randy P1,500 as agreed upon. He then contacted the same tricycle driver who drove us to Pundaquit to fetch us. Each of us was charged Php 45 for the nighttime tricycle ride to Pundaquit, but going back, the fare was just Php 30 since it was morning. All in all, each of us spent just Php 2,300, which was very cheap considering that there were just two of us and we had to share everything equally, including the boat and bus fares (I believe in gender equality, so each of us must give his/her due contribution, haha). After a few minutes, we stepped outside the tricycle and said hello to the now very familiar plaza of San Antonio. Buses going straight to Manila and Olongapo pass by here, and a couple of foreigners were waiting with us.
The tricycle driver had not even left us when, luckily, a quite empty Victory Liner bus headed straight to Caloocan arrived. We hurried inside and sat side-by-side, looking outside at the peaceful sceneries of Zambales bidding us goodbye. We really thought we’re going home and the adventure was all over.
It was not. When the bus stopped over at Olongapo, we went outside to buy some food because we knew there was a KFC branch near the terminal. We didn’t notify the driver nor the conductor (who wasn’t there anyway) when we left, but we ran to KFC just to make sure we’ll make it on time. We found KFC but unfortunately, our order of Snackbox B had to wait for 4 minutes. When we finally got it, we ran to our 1220 bus, thinking that it was still there since we were just gone a very short time.
It was not. My heart pounding and my head spinning around to catch a glimpse of that 1220 sign, I began to feel absolute doom. We asked a guard where the heck our bus was and he answered, “1220? Ay umalis na. Kaaalis lang.” That was it for me. I was so shocked I wanted to drop all that KFC on the ground and trample all over it. All our stuff and tickets were now speeding along Zambales’ roads, going back to Manila without us. Our camera filled of priceless memories was also there, too. I kept thinking: was all of it nonsense after all? After all the seemingly insurmountable challenges of this Nagsasa trip, are we going home without memories? Without anything? Won’t we have a facebook reality? Did I just have sex with a tree? It’s the worst nightmare a traveler can have.
Panicking, I talked to the Dispatcher what we’re supposed to do since our bus with our stuff and tickets left us. The old annoyed man kept shaking his head. I thought he couldn’t do anything. He told me they couldn’t contact our goddamn 1220 bus because they didn’t have their number. After a few minutes, he finally instructed us to just ride another bus on the terminal that was headed for Cubao. We didn’t waste anymore time and just ran toward the bus.
Chemae later told the conductor everything about what happened since I just couldn’t open my mouth due to massive shock and shame. The conductor was noticeably annoyed, too, and rightly so, because we weren’t paying a friggin’ penny for this. Luckily, this particular conductor had a contact at the next stopover at Bataan and he called him to instruct bus 1220 to wait for them because they forgot us. We were scolded a bit by the conductor when he learned we didn’t notify the bus driver or the conductor at the other bus that we were just going to buy some food. I argued they should count the passengers first, but he said there is no way to remember all the passengers’ faces because of all the people who come and go. Next time, he told us, we should notify the driver or the conductor no matter what. Of course, he was right. The same thing in the same terminal also almost happened to us when we went to Putipot beach in July 2009. He said buses at that stopover in Olongapo only stay there for a maximum of 5 minutes. 5 minutes! We waited for that doggone Snackbox B for 4 minutes! No wonder we didn’t make it.
I was overjoyed to see bus 1220 at the Bataan terminal with all our stuff still in it. Apparently, this is the real stopover where everyone can go outside and get some chow because buses stay longer here. I wanted to buy some drinks, but due to the immediate trauma of what happened, my feet just refused to leave that bus ever again. Conductor 1220 said sorry to us but I had no words to say to him. I was just as ashamed of ourselves as indignant over their carelessness. I just waved my hand as if to say, “Ok, we’re here,” and leaned on Chemae’s shoulder. The most important thing was that our memories of Nagsasa were safe.
And so ended our very eventful trip to Nagsasa Cove, Zambales. I can’t imagine how we could have survived and accomplished everything we did if we were two different people — if she wasn’t Chemae and I wasn’t Marvin. Like I said, I watched her back and she watched mine, and this was the key to the trip’s success.
I guess Nagsasa was splendid because we made it so. The destination was indeed memorable, but not as memorable as our journey.
125 Days to go.