Zambales… is More.

Written September 8, 2012.

“Zambales tayo!” Riz, my seatmate back in the old test team, said to me sometime in late 2011. We were enjoying our usual afternoon chitchat about food, and we had somehow ventured into sea foods again -ihaw-ihaw, ensaladang mangga and all that shiz. The last time we indulged in this idle talk, the whole team ended up splitting a 6K-plus tab at Seaside near Daang Hari (no regrets, by the way).

I was already warming up to the idea – I’m putty in anyone hands at the mere prospect of traipsing around sand and surf. But when she added, “It’s a virgin, isolated island so we’ll have it all to ourselves,” I was already packing my swimsuits and sunblock in my mind.The team spent a few weeks saving up for it, clogging our emails with teasers and cartoons of us in summer get-ups and finally counting down the days til we can get off for the much-awaited weekend.

It was January 27, 2012. There were twelve of us all in all: AJ, our line manager; Aclo, the team’s clown and AJ’s personal stress-reliever; Riz, the aforementioned teammate who also happened to be schoolmates to our connection at the island; Hernie, the all-important photographer with the DSLR camera; Abie, who was eager for some me-time away from mommy duties; Ranil, our machong dalaga; Honey, the import from another process and unofficial mother hen; Red, one of our two managers for ops; Iela, our adventurous little pare; Trixie and her husband, Robert. I believe Brian and Chelai, our other teammates, regret not joining up to this day (since this was also the last time the team went on an out of town). Kasi eh!

We all prepared PHP 1500-2000 budget, and with the help of some team funds, bought some necessities at the grocery and off we went to Pasay after shift to the Victory Liner terminal. Fare to Iba, Zambales cost about  PHP 360 and we left at around 10PM. We were about to leave when we got texts that the salary is in so we all made mad dashes to the ATM and fortunately were not left by the very efficient driver and conductor.

Picture taking at the terminal.

The ride was comfortable and we arrived in Zamba around 1AM. We met our contact there and we stayed at their home until around 3AM, after which we rode a jeep to the port. We were expecting to leave at 5Am so we can maximize the time at the island; unfortunately, our bangkero didn’t arrive until before 7AM. We whiled the time away playing Pinoy Henyo using Honey’s phone, caught snatches of sleep at the carinderia seats, ate and also bought fresh seafood and vegetables at the bulungan (which is what they call the palengke/bagsakan of newly-caught fishes and sea foods). I can’t remember the prices since I left Honey and the rest to haggle but I believe we were able to score them dirt cheap.

We waded into the murky shore water that smelled strongly of spoiled fish entrails, to meet our bangkero. The boat was just a few planks sturdier than a raft and we managed to load all our bags and food, then squeezed in whatever space was available. The ride cost around PHP 2000 and this would be the same boat to bring us back, so aside from the bangkero, he had a couple other guys, his wife and two kids, I presume. The whole contraption looked precarious, but everybody else seemed at ease and not thinking of any Titanic-esque scenarios even with the absence of life vests or any safety paraphernalia so I just uttered a silent prayer for our safety.

The trip lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes, and since the sea was calm, we were able to enjoy the early morning view of the ocean. I was still a little nervous all throughout the trip – deep, dark waters have always been one of my fears – and since I was 28 days into my self-imposed month-long alcohol embargo, I must’ve smoked almost half of my pack of ciggies while I tried to distract myself through music. (I’ve completely quit smoking now, by the way.) However, all jitters vanished when we caught the first view of the island. It was so serene and calm, just a little pocket of white sand, clear water, lush pine trees and greenery and jagged mountain rocks tucked in some corner of Zambales. I think it’s called Sitio Sampaloc.

Here’s where we got off.

While we squealed in delight and marveled at the beauty of the place, we unloaded our stuff and proceeded to the nipa huts at the far end of the beach. It was very simple, not really set up like a resort. But there was running freshwater, relatively clean but dark toilets and bathrooms (there is no electricity in the island, after all) and plenty of bamboo seats and tables.  We started preparing lunch since most are already hungry and eager to start the whole beach adventure.  Hernz took on the “manly” role of chopping firewood, Aclo and AJ cleaned the sea food and Honey just about took over cooking everything else. The rest of us chopped veggies and took pictures, nyaha!  The result was an impressive spread that far exceeded Riz and my afternoon sea food cravings:  kinilaw na tuna, inihaw na pusit, sinigang na hipon, ensaladang mangga and salted egg with bagoong, ensaladang inihaw na talong,  inihaw na bangus, hinalabos na hipon and lots of ice cold Coke and fresh mangoes and watermelons afterwards.

We rested a bit then started the hike to the water falls. It was about a 30-minute gentle sloping hike, and the view was again, so worth the sweating. The water was cold and very clean, we drank it! There were several naturally-made pools and even rock formations that looked like water slides. There were other visitors, by the way, probably from the other side of the island or just docking for the day, but we pretty much did whatever we pleased.

On the lower left photo, that’s dry cow dung Aclo is holding out. Why? That’s just like him.

After the hike, each of us just plopped down everywhere and dozed off til about 6PM, when we groggily realized it would be completely dark soon and we had to start taking baths and cooking. Dinner was leftovers and some of the hotdogs saved for the bonfire later.

We lit the branches and wood pieces we had gathered earlier in the day and started roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. We laid mats just a few feet away from the water. It wasn’t terribly cold, and the starry night was just perfect for hanging out on the shore. What followed was one of the most fun, revealing and thought-provoking talks I’ve had in a long time – and I was 100% sober! Can’t say the same for the others who hit up the vodka that night but thankfully, nobody did the usual “panawan.” After a “liberating” play time sesh with the millions of planktons lighting up the shallow waters, we decided we were either too sleepy or too tipsy to walk back to the cottage so we just decided to sleep right there on the shore.

The next morning was spent frolicking on the beach, taking pictures and tanning ourselves with beer. Three of us had our period then but that didn’t stop us from enjoying! For more pictures, you can check out Hernie’s album of our trip:

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and we started rinsing and packing up around 11AM. We bid the island goodbye under a  sun so sweltering, you’d think it was summer. Red, who spent so much time and beer tanning himself, opted to sit at the front of the boat while we all scrambled under the trapal shade and caught some sleep. We arrived at the bulungan again around 3Pm, and it smelled twice as bad as the day before.

We rode a jeep to The Coffee Shop, one of the famous eateries in the area, famed for their giant tacos and American diner-style food. I had been here before with my sister’s family, who lived in nearby Balanga, Bataan. The place was simply furnished, if a bit rough on the edges, but their delicious fare and relatively cheap price (I mean, compare it to Manila standards) belied the sparse surroundings. Their giant taco shells are actually made from what looked like fried spring roll (lumpia) wrapper, same goes for their taco salad bowl. I personally recommend these two, as the whole thing cost only about PHP 110 and are chock-full of beef and vegetables and cheese. Their banana split, fruit and milk shakes, calamares, club house sandwich and onion rings are also must-tries. Their washroom is clean and there’s free Wi-fi too.

Exhausted, sleepy and full, most of us slept soundly on the way back. We caught a little snafu at the Zamba terminal, because the cashier gave us tickets to a bus that’s already full so we had to get off it while it was already pulling away from the lot. Fortunately we were able to snag seats on the next trip and were home hours later.

This little piggy’s so tiiiiiiired.

As simple and fast as the trip was, or how koboy or skwating we seemed during our time there, this was to date, one of my most memorable, fun and relaxing beach sojourns ever. There weren’t any posh hotel rooms, no alcohol-induced high, no fancy buffet or drinks or amenities. No crowded bars or loud blaring music. Just good food and conversation enjoyed with great friends, and Mother Nature just doing her thang. Solb!

When’s the next one?

P.S. Here’s proof that while we all enjoyed the trip, someone just enjoyed it waaaay too much. Ayiiiiii!

Aclo carrying Riz from the boat to the shore.