by Sheryn Alvarez
Most people spend their Friday nights in a bar or on the dance floor. I prefer spending mine in a bus, traveling north from the city.
All I have with me is a backpack with a swim suit, an extra change of clothes, a travel pillow, a sarong, and a one person tent. There’s $100 in my wallet and that’s more than enough for a weekend escape from the city.
The bus travels all night, until billboards disappear from view; concrete highways turn to roads, roads to asphalt, asphalt to dirt, and finally, dirt to sand. I have arrived in Zambales.
The bus stops right before sunrise and a short tricycle ride takes me to Crystal Beach in San Narciso, where, for less than $4 a night, I can pitch my tent on the shore and call it home for the weekend.
Fishermen arrive just as the sun rises behind me and I linger for a while until the sky is bright enough to reveal the vast sea stretch out into an unobstructed horizon, without which you wouldn’t be able to tell where the sea ended and the sky began.
I snap a few shots with my phone camera and rent a board for $5. I walk along the beach to “Forestry” where the wild waves curl toward the shore. I take my board, paddle out to meet them, and spend nearly the entire morning there.
Domingo’s Grill and Restaurant (on the beach) serves my favorite inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly), which is best enjoyed with about half a liter of ice-cold Coca-Cola. I order an extra serving to-go and ride a jeepney to the adjacent town, San Antonio, where Pundakit serves as a port to three spectacular nearby islands you can tour in a day: Capones, Anawangin, Nagsasa. You can hitch a ride with any tourist group looking for one or two extra people on their boat to lessen the trip cost per head (you’ll spend around $20 for the roundtrip) or rent a boat on your own (this will set you back around $35-$45). Personally, I prefer hitching a ride with the tourists; it’s safer and cheaper, although it may take more time to cover all three islands.
Capones is the nearest island and is home to an old Spanish lighthouse on its cliff-side and a pristine place to swim near its shore. The original architecture that survived decades of weathering still stands, sturdily I might add, and only the lighthouse tower was restored for visitors to enjoy a crow’s nest view of the whole island and the surrounding seas.
Just a few clicks from Capones is its more famous neighbor, Anawangin. This island is known for its camping grounds and the untamable surf spot called “Magic Left.” Due to its fame, Anawangin is almost always crowded with campers, surfers or both. So unless I’m traveling with friends, I usually skip visiting this island.
Last, but certainly not least, is the mysterious Nagsasa Cove. Less explored than the other two because of its distance from Pundakit and large land area, Nagsasa is my favorite among the three. It has a longer shoreline, the beach break has calmer seas more conducive to leisurely swimming, and there’s a 2-3 hour hike across an intriguing landscape to a spectacular waterfall with a 20-foot deep pool of cool freshwater.
After a long day of island hopping, try to hurry back to Pundakit and climb the small mountain on the shore. If you’re not afraid of heights, sit near the cliff and watch the sunset—best view in the house.
Before going back to Crystal Beach, stop over by the church in the town center. There’s a small eatery beside it that serves a delicious noodle soup dish called lomi (thick fresh egg noodle soup with vegetables, mushrooms, shrimp, shredded chicken, and diced pork). Buy some snacks at a sari-sari store (local convenience store) to enjoy and share back at Crystal Beach where you can catch a bonfire and music jam session. It usually starts after dinner, and depending on the crowd, can go on until the early hours of the morning.
By the time you get back to your tent, the crashing waves will just lull you to sleep until the heat of the next day’s morning sun wakes you up. You’ll have enough time the next day for another surf session and delicious lunch at Domingo’s Grill. You can share a few more laughs and glasses of Coke with your new found friends before you pack up your stuff and head to the bus stop.
Roads are usually clear on a Sunday afternoon; you watch from your window as the clear skies are covered by treetops, treetops make way for telephone posts, telephone posts to billboards—and you’re back in the hustle and bustle of the city by dinnertime.
The day after will be Monday, the start of another hectic work week. But at least now you can look forward to the weekend, and another escape from the city to Zambales.