Monday, October 10, 2005

Hundred Islands - A Quick Tour

More for the nature lover than anyone else, this group of islands is a sight to behold. More appropriately, I can say that this group of 124 islands is sure to offer you at least one sight to behold!

Yes, you can easily find a group of another 124 islands (or more) anywhere on the globe, even right here in the Philippines. But the allure of the 'Hundred Islands' is like no other. For one, the islands are relatively close to each other that roaming around (and in them) is truly exhilarating. Not that the place is great like Boracay or Coron, but the beauty of these group of islands is perhaps what is not in Boracay or Palawan… “solitary confinement”! Yes, you can wallow in an island of your choice alone.

Where are they?
From many a website, we learned that this place is up on the north-western part of Pangasinan province. It is just a few kilometres (by boat) across from the city of Alaminos. And there are two main approaches to Alaminos – one being the usual route from Manila via Pampanga and Tarlac, then onwards to the Pangasinan province where Alaminos is; while another route is via Pampanga heading left to the coastal towns of Zambales that runs north through a picturesque panorama of the South China Sea.

But here’s my story:

Just to break the monotony of our “usual” weekend in the metropolis, ten of my friends and I took the “adventure” to see the hundred islands and the sights along the way. No, we did not have a lot of money, all of us! The main draw that we all decided to go there was that one of our companions has a family friend (in Manila) that maintains a house in the city of Alaminos. And that house (their vacation house actually), we were allowed to “borrow”. So, without the accommodation expense, everyone thought this “escapade” was cheaper.

This means I won’t be able to share anything about accommodation prices. We got it for free!

After too many a discussion – even debates – over lunch, the idea of driving to Alaminos prevailed. I lost in the arguments here via the natural phenomenon called majority wins! All the six feet of bones, flesh and fats that is me prefers riding the big buses on long trips. But cut the long arguments short, my bus-ride proposition was voted out in favour of a van and a car. Oh well!

So here again, I cannot share anything about bus fares and bus experiences! Sorry hehehe!

Going there
Departure time from the metropolis was set at 4AM of one rainy Saturday. The plan was to drive the entire length of the now improved North Luzon Expressway, commonly called NLEX, that traverses the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga then make our way to Camiling in Tarlac and onwards to Mangatarem in Pangasinan and proceed to find Alaminos City. Those were the landmarks that we had to watch out for. I thought I should not have been bothering about those if I were on a bus! I even had to print maps from the web. Gosh!

Filipinos that we are, we did depart that morning, but not until it was already about 5AM or so – the infamous Filipino way of interpreting ETD: 4AM! So EDSA was already starting to build-up on traffic heading north for the weekend. But it was not that heavy when we entered the NLEX. One of our companions brought some kiddie walkie-talkies that we used principally to banter as the convoy of two vehicles moved on.

First stop was “to pick snack food and some little things like gums and cigarettes” at the famous Shell Gas Station along NLEX (5 kilometres after the Bocaue exit). The quick stop became a more than an hour-long breakfast at Burger King and some other fast-food inside the complex!

See?! If I were on a bus, I would not have been allowed to indulge in that hour-long of eating and lazing around. So there would have been no delay!

The drive along the rest of NLEX was actually a real cruise. And we cheered like little children when the vehicle would pass along those little strips of white bumps on the highway near the approach of the tollgate. I hear it is a warning for drivers to start on the brakes lest they screeched into the toll gates too fast!

Our chosen way being via Tarlac, we went to the end of the NLEX then found our way to Tarlac City, then Camiling, then Mangatarem, then some hesitation at some point of the national road devoid of directional signs. But we lightened up when we chanced upon the town of Sual. That meant the next town was our destination – Alaminos City.

At Alaminos
We entered town at about 1125H – at least still on this particular Saturday – thank heavens! That was more than 6 hours from the time we actually departed. See?! If I were on a bus, I would have been in this town as early as 9AM or even earlier! Oh but the joys at being able to shriek or tell kinky stories inside your private vehicle prevailed. And I actually enjoyed it with this group. At least the vehicle could stop anywhere anytime like when any bladder attempted to burst or any godforsaken tongue suddenly craved for those “dirty-ice-cream” being sold by ambulant old men!

Our first destination in this city was the Nepo Mall where our host (the caretaker of the house) would fetch us and guide our convoy to the house. Traffic approaching the mall was like negotiating the front of SM North EDSA – not really dead heavy vehicular traffic but just enough to irritate my impatient royal blood! While in the traffic crawl, our host in his motorbike even already spotted us since we gave him our plate numbers via txt msgs.

Being midday and with some stomachs starting to grumble into a riot, we were unanimous to forget about seeing the house ASAP. We opted to find lunch at the mall. As we entered the mall, somebody commandingly declared “if anyone dares to suggest McDo or Jollibee or Greenwich, I will kill him twice”! And we laughed but agreed to the proposition. This is one of the “principles” that the group adheres to. An “unwritten law” amongst us really! The rationale is, when on a rare travel occasion like this, unless it was inevitable, no one shall eat at a fast-food or restaurant that anyone can have in Metro Manila. That makes the traveler become more adventurous!

So we roamed the Nepo Mall and discovered that the main door actually leads to a wet-market. A literal palengke not “right next” but “right at” the mall! Wow! And as if the angels were clearing our path, the eateries or “turo-turos” were the first ones we saw. It was even confusing! Did we “enter” or “exit” the mall to find a palengke? Interesting set-up this Nepo Mall really! The building seems to be just a little part mall – meaning it has shops you can see in Metro Manila Malls – and a bigger part wet-market where all the fish and the meat and the chicken and the longganisa and the gulay and cooking oil and coconuts and uling and everything else are displayed in rows and rows of stalls! Ahh back to lunch!

Well, after all those ladies rendered a cacophony of ear-popping invitations for us to eat at their stalls, the headache of a chorus ceased when we finally chose a stall selling everything that we liked. We were seated in two little mono-block tables that were joined to become our banquet and the staff quickly gathered little mono-block stools to seat our royal asses! All these were on the middle of the aisle or walkway inside the palengke. And you can imagine how narrow those walkways are, right?

So we had bistek tagalog, pinakbet, gulay-na-langka, menudo and of course sinigang! Others in the group savoured the papaitan but not me. No, not yet! Hmm, palengke as it was, many of us ordered another cup of rice each! I even had two bottles of the 12oz Coke! Was that proof that the food was great or was that proof that we were hungry?! Ahh whatever! I just know that I liked it there!!

After the meal, we decided to hit the road again and go settle in the house that was already waiting for us.

Right after we got off the main road, every street we passed on was laden with palay spread to dry on the bare pavement and under the heat of the noon sun. On the first such encounter, our driver hesitated to move and let her van trod upon the “grace of our lord”. But people on the roadside plus those of us who are familiar with the provincial kind of life in the Philippines, told her to just proceed as if the palay were the road. In fact it was! She even exclaimed “my goodness people, this is food we eat and I am supposed to pass the van over it?” I just said “shut up and go on… fact number one: there is no other way… fact number two: the rice-millers would probably thank us doing the initial work for them”! As our van slowly trampled upon the palay, came fort via the walkie-talkies a similar question from the other driver in our convoy. My reply was “no you can’t do that cuz you have such a dirty car, just wait there and we’ll come back for you tomorrow”! The reply was “bwiset ka!” then came their car following us! Well, I submit, if we rode the bus, it would not have been this crazy fun & kulitan!

We finally reached the house. But soon as we were inside, I sensed danger! The tour of the hundred islands was in great jeopardy! Everyone was hitting the beds, the sofa, the rocking chair, couches, etc! And it was about 1PM already! See?! If I did not have the luxury of my own vehicle, I should have been already moving about the hundred islands!

But I knew better! Without telling anyone, I started preparing on my own, for things or wears that I might need to tour the hundred islands. Of course I was loudly talking to myself like “hmm, I probably need a plastic container for my wallet so it won’t get wet”, then I start asking around or looking for a plastic container – even rousing those who were already starting out on a slumber. Before I knew it, everyone followed suit and was ready to hop into our vehicles and head out to the islands! So off we went again in a convoy guided by our host riding in his motorbike. But this was already about 2PM and I thought it was too late.

Lucap – the jump-off point
Well, as described in many a website, the usual departure area to the islands is a barangay called Lucap. But don’t put too much attention to the word “barangay”. Riding a tricycle or anything else, you will not even notice where a certain barangay ends and where another starts. The thing is it’s just a short ride from the city proper to this barangay that is by the sea and facing the hundred islands.

You will know it is barangay Lucap when the road ends upon an imposing marker that looks like a monument which actually is some kind of viewing deck. The ground level serves as offices of the tourism authorities and the upper level some kind of a view deck. Not sure if this was local or national tourism office. Whatever, this was a very welcoming tourism office just the same. And behind it is the sea that you’ll need to ford going to the hundred islands already in your view. This office has a jolly lively tourism officer who will be more than willing to help you with just about anything. He will even give you tips on who amongst the t-shirt hawkers in the area sell them cheapest. We tried it, and it turned out really true! Oops, you can’t quote him here! The advise was supposedly private and confidential hehehe! Got good souvenir T-shirts for only P100 each!

Good we had someone (the house caretaker) to guide us through, so he was the one who talked to the boatmen. We learned that the going rate was P900 to an island and back. And we add P200 if it was an island-hopping trip. Maximum load of our boat was 20 persons! But there were only 11 of us, plus the crew. So there was enough room for “kulitan” as the boat travelled.

In this busy pier, there was no crazy haggling as in the ugly Batangas Pier! While the boat operators and the t-shirt vendors are ambulant and are all over the place, at times we were even the ones who had to approach and talk to them – unlike in the ugly Batangas pier where the boatmen will literally tug or push you and the pasalubong hawkers will shove their wares to inches from my nose!

Oh the crew! There were quite a lot of them in our boat! AS IN too many of them – composed of 1) the engine-man cum captain cum navigator (the father probably in his forties) AND 2) the boat’s deck-hand, helper, assistant cum steward (the son, old enough at just about 10 years old). That’s it! Interesting, right? Oh really so! Grabe! I had mixed feelings at this encounter with a father-and-son boat operation. Yes, the 10 year old is out of school.

As we started out, the deck-hand, the little boy who dropped from 3rd grade to serve as assistant to his father, was helpful enough to answer our questions. First off, we were cruising on a fine calm afternoon (we couldn’t sense any roughness in the waters). The boy told us it could be as rough that when the boat climbs a wave, everyone wouldn’t see the shore or any of the islands. But that is for the rainy and monsoon days! As for now, everything was calm. The place looked like one big island from afar. But as we drew nearer them, they were actually a merry mix of so many big and small islands.

Governor
First stop was at the Governor’s Island. As we approached, we could see the big marker amongst the rocks that announced the island’s name in big bold letters. I asked the boatman (the father) what was in there for us to see. He casually told us that this was the island with the highest peak where we can climb up to take a bird’s-eye-view of the other islands. This was also the only island that offered “better” accommodations. And he said it also had a good white-beach. So we hopped out of the boat to the beach – which did not feel inviting enough for even just a short dip! But we proceeded up to some kind of platform or eating area with tables and benches made of concrete.

We saw the many steps that led up to the top of the hill and we all started for it, digicam on one hand and bottle of SanMigLight in the other. Oh there were Japanese visitors who were just coming down from the peak. And of course there were some 8 or 10 Korean visitors enjoying picnic in the area (where in the Philippines wouldn’t you find them Koreans anyway hehehe)!

As we climbed into the first few steps, we realized that the “good white sand beach” the boatman was referring to was actually not where our boat docked! Shame on me! It was to our left as we started to climb. The other side of the island actually, which was just a few feet away. And yes, the beach was good enough!

This hill or rock (whatever) on Governor’s Island is really nothing by geological standards. It is really not a height enough. But if the “barely exercised” bodies and lungs of all eleven of us were to judge, this must have been Mount Apo! My goodness all of us were already panting even before we reached the rocky peak! And one must be careful since the concrete steps fade into just an ascending slippery earth path. We went for the top just the same!

The climb was compensated for at what we saw from the top. The panoramas are excellent. Small islands, big islands, islands with caves, islands with white beaches, etc., Great views! But we had to slowly clamber down as we were reminded this was just the first island. Time was not on our side! Oh the way down from this vantage point is trickier than the climb. One little dumb foot work could send anyone hurtling down sharp rocky edges to the base of this hill!

We just glimpsed at, and never even went near the “cottage”. They call it the “governor’s cottage”. But we had to ask our boatman to proceed with the tour as it was already getting late.

Onwards, the boatman and son did not have to keep telling us what might be the name of each island (at least those that have names). Those names are painted big on some kind of a board that readily tells us what the island is called. So we just cruised along the serenity of this place. Only sound I could hear was our giggling and I wished the boat’s engine could have been hushed. I wonder if that should be a good legislation to allow only boats that don’t sound like helicopters hehe. The noise spoils the tranquillity. Nasisira ang drama! There are engines that whirr silently than the boat’s takatakatak that surely could be heard miles away. We even had to speak louder just to hear ourselves. And, yes, at times I knew our noise (people and boat) was stirring some birds on many of those islands!

Anyway, our boat proceeded onwards passing little islets and bigger islands. Our ohhs and ahhs were continuous as we came upon new sights. And there were quite a lot to remember. One islet was too small it could only contain a single person standing. We wondered if that one was included in the count! Many islands and islets were wider on the top than at water level – so they looked like gigantic flower vases! At one such island we marvelled at, we could not see any “entry way” to visit it other than probably throwing a line and clamber up mountain-climbing style! No we did not actually want to go into it – we just discussed how one who wanted to be on that island should approach this task! Some islands had caves, some islands were all rocky we thought nobody probably goes to visit them. Some islands had white sandy beaches. The white sand in each seemed to be a different shade of white and cream. Some had names others apparently didn’t.

There were even two big rocky islands with lush plant growth and they were joined together by a bare white sand strip! Most fantastic sight, we thought. From where we were (not landing on the island) we could see that the other side of the narrow sandbar was also the waters behind these islands. So our imaginations flew – like we thought it might have been cool to drive a jetski or wave runner at full speed smack into the sand which would send it flying up and out into the other side of the sand bar. Whew! Until now, some of us are not discounting the possibility of doing that exciting feat! BTW, the pic here is not mine. I just grabbed it (with permission) from the flickr photo stream of laz'andre and i don't know what is meant by "link back" so here is the URL to that page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrecawagas/124540913/

Soon we came near Marcos Island.

Marcos
The island is rocky at both ends but the mid-section has a fine white-sand beach. And the people we saw in that island were just about to depart. Thus, we requested the boatman to bring the boat to shore so we could probably dip or just laze in the sand for a while. Ahhhh, the “for a while” almost became the rest of the day!

The little strip of white-sand (only about 50 meters long or even less) was soft and fine enough. Not as fine nor as white as that in Boracay but good enough for us. All hurriedly jumped unto the sand and laid out a blanket to put our chichirya on! The coleman chest box full of soda and beer remained in its place (the front of the boat) as no one cared to be lugging it down since all were excited to dip into the waters!

As the hurried disembarkation and stripping into swim gears ensued, I did observed the departing boat that seemingly gave way so that Marcos Island was ours solo. A bit touchy scene but none of us caught this on digicam or video. Anyway, there were only two passengers on that boat. A Caucasian man probably in his 30s and a Filipina probably in her late 20s. The boat crew was just the engineman (the father) about the age of our boatman and the “deckhand” – a fragile-looking young girl of 9 years old (the daughter). I silently giggled that this must have been unique to the place – where I see boat crews to be “father-and-child” tandems.

First to hop in was the father and he took position at the rear by the engine. The Pinay passenger was helped by her companion up the boat (no planks or ladders). This, while the little girl was at the beach, tugging at the boat’s rope to make it still as their passengers climbed in. Then with such an effort, the Caucasian man clambered unto the boat looking like a little boy climbing to the top of a concrete wall. He finally made it and stayed there face and stomach flat on the boat’s front section! Then with all her tiny might, the little girl tried pushing the boat out into the water as the man’s body (about 6’3”) made this section of the boat sink into the sand. This time the father was getting ready to start the engine. Little mighty girl was able to push her boat out with three adults in it! I exhaled triumphantly as if to cheer her or as if I was the one pushing that boat!

But as the boat moved out, the water naturally got deeper so that the girl had a higher distance to climb between the sand and the boat. Call it unfortunate or careless, this was the very same time that the big white man stood up to join his friend inside the boat – which all the more shifted the weight of the boat to the rear and harder for the little girl to climb in. I saw her struggling and the engine had already started and the boat was now moving forward and out parallel to the beach. My goodness this scene made me hold my breath. With arms clinging to the front of the boat, she threw one foot up to anchor it near her arm then pulled the rest of her body up to finally be on top of the boat’s front section – exactly like how the man did. But upon climbing on to the boat, the girl readily stood, got a long bamboo pole to steer the already moving boat farther out into the sea and avoid the rocky portion of the island.

Following the boat with my gaze as they moved away, all I could do was silently murmur “oh God, why is my country like this?” But then I had to drop out of this drama to avoid ruining the pleasure of the rest of my group in this island. Caught one of my companions also deep in thought and gazing at the just-departed boat. We talked hushly for a while and discovered we were both observing the same sad reality unfolding.

Now back to Marcos Island! From where we landed (the sandy part of course) and facing it, the island curved outwards to the left while the sandy portion extended a few meters more to end on the right end of the island. Apart from the sand, all shrubs and bushes seemed to be growing on a rocky base that covers most of this island. We estimated that Marcos Island should be a fairly big enough island but we never entertained the thought of circling it as the rough and sharp rocky edges were all over it save from the beach!

While swimming and snorkelling around, two of our companions ventured way left to the rocky edge that seemed to be an outsized coral rising to about the equivalent of a four-storey building. I asked our boatman if it was a safe area where they were going. He told me it was. He even shared that there was a natural opening there that led into a cave. No sooner than the boatman has casually mentioned this to me, we hear excited shouting from our two companions calling on all of us to join them. We were surprised their voices echoed and seemed to be coming from a hollow space. Imagine standing outside a church with someone yelling at you from inside – that is the type of echo we heard.

Not wanting to miss whatever fantabulous thing it was that made them too excited, almost all of us rushed to the area. Some swam the way our two guys went there; some waded through the corals in the shallows from knee to waist-deep; while some even walked the edge of the island to reach that portion where they were. And for many an urbanite like all of us, what we found was really one of nature’s amazing art pieces.

The “side-opening” is a circular hole in that massive rock where the base seems to have been purposely cut to give way to sand. But this is underwater at probably 6 feet deep. So at least a third of the circular opening is submerged in water – at least during the time we were there! Upon entering the circular opening, we stumble upon a round vertical hollow that rises up to about 30 or so feet. Almost a perfect tube actually and about 10 to 15 feet in diameter! The ground portion is all white sand submerged in sea water from 6 to 8 feet deep while the top or dome of this formation has another round opening of just about 4 feet diameter that allowed sunlight to wash through!

Quite confusing? Well, this is how I described the area to two of our companions who did not bother to go there because they were doing our sandwiches! Get a 30-foot-tall tin drum with a diameter of about 15 feet; make a round cut on the side/rim about 8 feet diameter and so that there’s a gape or cut of about 3 feet; invert it; submerge the thing into about 6-feet deep of water but opposite your 8-foot-cut, dig the ground to 2-feet deep; then cut a little round hole (4-feet diameter) on the top of the inverted drum. That’s it!

Still unclear?! Ahh look at the illustration! If still it is unclear, go to Marcos Island!

But that was it? We just saw some interesting little hollows on a rock and everyone should chill? Actually yes, but there was a bit more! We found that the sides of this hollow little cave on the sea had portions smooth enough for the hands and feet (with beach sandals on) to climb upon. So for those of us who could, we’d climb up to as high as we could, then jump to the middle of this “cave” where nothing but 6 to 8 feet of salt-water and sandy base would catch us! Ahh we had a grand time here! It was just like having your own big private Jacuzzi that you can dive into from as high as 10 feet or even more!

Not only that! Some of us climbed all the way up to the opening at the dome of this little paradise chamber and found ourselves walking amongst the foliage near the top of the hill down to the beach area where we were camped! Cool, really cool! Did we say cool? Well, as we were all inside that chamber, everyone marvelled at the fresh cold water from tree roots that cascaded down or dripped unto the round Jacuzzi. At times, just for fun, we would all keep silent closing our eyes and marvelled at the drip-dropping cold freshwater from above as if perfecting a chorus with the gentle lapping of salt-water waves from outside. It was indeed soothing to hear those “plik-plak-plok” sounds reverberate inside this chamber of a paradise!

Splendid as it was, the chamber though had a little eerie issue – as far as we were concerned! Opposite the side-opening (that means the inner portion of the circular chamber) was yet another opening about 2 feet wide but way down at ground level, therefore submerged. We could see that it led into somewhere. Probably deeper into the island or probably just a few feet inside. It was too pitch dark in there! Added to the fact that it was all underwater, we started verbalizing our imaginations that scared most of us – which started to be the source of our shrieking and laughing and running about. Plus running and wading and climbing the walls then jumping back to the water again. And shrieking and laughing and shouting and giggling and so on! No one dared go near, much less “explore” that hole either bare or with snorkels!

Just the same, we had a fun time in that place where most of the time we were just inches away from that “dreaded dark hole”! And the most popular “kathang-isip” was: there could be a shark or salt-water crocodile or some other monstrous being lurking or hiding in that dark crevice that could pounce upon any of us if we dared explore it! Oh the “kulitan” never stopped! One of the girls in our crazy pack was even such a “positive-thinker” who imagined it was the home of mermaids and fairies and other cutesy characters the likes of Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian (little mermaid) or Nemo, Nemo’s father Marlin, the Tank Gang and Dory (finding Nemo) and gosh even Tinkerbell! But when any of the boys shouted “ayan na”, she was first to shriek and dart in every direction! Of course we all could spot who was genuinely frightened in all those kulitan-asaran! But am not telling!

Everyone got out of that little chamber only when one of the guys who went up the chamber >> down to the beach >> and “back to the cave” came to call us that it was time for some last minute pictorials as the sun was racing down the horizon! Oh well! All were in a frantic rush to the sandy area for that rare photo-op!

As pictorial here and there was in progress, one happy soul amongst us who was wading on a “salbabida” thought of crossing to the other island – which was not that far really – at just about a hundred meters away or so. We were glad there seemed to have been no water current in the area (is that possible?). He was able to cross while seated inside the hollow of that black tire interior and wading with his bare hands. Upon reaching that other island, he was even able to climb onto the rocky ledge and excitedly called and waved at us. We could hear him! Then he jumped from the rocky ledge to the water, climbed back up the ledge, and shouted and waved at us again (as if he was the only one in paradise) and dove back into the water.

So the rest of us were getting ready to swim across to join him. But just as we were about to start that, our boatman exclaimed “sir/mam, di na po tayo iikot sa ibang islands ha?! Wala na kasing araw”! Oops, we hesitated before responding! But he further explained that the boats in this place have no lights as they are normally for day-use-only. Besides, he told us, the waves do start to rumble at night time. That did it! All the girls hurried everyone to board the boat so we could at least get a glimpse of whatever else we can before heading back to Lucap! Who’se afraid of the waves?! Hehehe, almost all of us – including the boatman!

Our little adventurous friend came in from across just as we were about finished tidying the place up and loading the empty bottles of coke, sprite, sanmiglights and trash on to the boat. Yes, we are responsible roamers. No one of us would have left that island with any “non-bio-d” lying around.

I helped untie the boat’s rope from the rocks. Yes, our boat was not anchored on the beach but tied by a long rope to the rockies! How? The rocky formations have little rounded holes so that it was convenient to use for securing the boat in place. Some of us even used the other rocky holes as towel holders or shirt hangers!

Oh, boarding our boat was relatively easier than our predecessor! Our “deckhand” of 10 years old was wise enough to have one monobloc stool in his boat. He would plant the thing firmly on the sand for us his passengers to step on while boarding or disembarking. Ingenuous! I never even saw this kind of convenience in the busier beaches around the country. Later during the boat ride, this kid shared with us that the little girl on the other boat was his schoolmate and that both of them (and many others) have stopped their studies to help their parents earn a living. Oh Marcos Island! Thou hast made our day!












The rest of the islands
We headed for the Quezon Island, one of the three islands that had “human fortifications”. When we were approaching the island, everyone threw a barrage of questions to the boatman and his son! Was it the biggest? Are there cottages? Where do they get drinking water? Does anyone maintain cleanliness in the area? Is there any policeman around? Are there life-guards? Why was it called Quezon Island? Are there water sports equipment like jetskis or speed boats or surfboards? Is there a restaurant? And so many more questions!

We did notice that though mostly were about ready to depart from Quezon Island, this was the only island where we saw a lot of humans. It was like the “center of commerce” in the islands. Perhaps it is! That noted, we unanimously told out boatman to skip landing the boat into Quezon Island. Much as it had a wide white-sand beach and a wide eating/picnic area, we knew we were not doing any of those there as it was late. So our “pilot” banked away and headed for us to get a glimpse of the Children’s Island.

On reaching Children’s Island, we noticed there were also people and little cottages. Plus there was a spacious barbeque and eating area with concrete flooring, balusters, tables and benches. Nothing much that invited our interest here! I thought that was a natural attitude for anyone who had “owned” Marcos Island for at least a few hours! But we did step into Children’s Island after we caught a glimpse of some areas good enough for souvenir shots. Oh this island even has a tiny little structure that is made to look like a tiny little wharf. Well, probably an attempt to make everything convenient for the visitors. Then we headed back for Lucap.

As we were about to depart from Children’s Island, I did notice some people (probably crews in the “restaurant”) asking our boatman if it was a regular “commuter boat” – or something to that effect. But our boatman answered it was on a private tour. So I surmised that there must be regular commuter boats plying the area instead of each individual or group commissioning a whole boat for about a thousand pesos or more! Then again, maybe the commute part might only be for workers on the habited islands. That, I failed to further investigate!

On the way back to Lucap, we could see that the sun was way down but the skies were still a darker orange giving enough light for our boat to navigate. The islands around are so nice to look at during dusk. They looked very serene and solitary with nary a sound! But hmm, my group was a bit more silent than usual. Consuming the last views of the islands? Exhausted? Apprehensive that we could now discern some up and down motion of the boat courtesy of the waves? Well, perhaps it was even everything combined. But the ride back to Lucap was just as smooth. Even from a distance, we could see that houses along the shores of Alaminos were already flickering with electric lights. Even cars and tricycles had their headlights on! Ahh night time!

We hopped out of our boat illuminated by street lights and assisted by a flashlight from our host who was already at the pier waiting for us. They call this pier the “Pantalan”. We all tried to use the “for–a–fee” showers and comfort rooms just across from the tourism kiosk. It was not so much to relieve ourselves or rinse out the salty sea-water in us. We were just curious how true the big signages that said “clean shower and comfort rooms”. And we discovered that yes, they were clean enough and spacious and properly maintain by janitorial crews!

We raced through the evening traffic of Alaminos City and headed back to our house where food was waiting to be cooked as we promised to be the ones to do the cooking. Grilled pork chops, grilled liempo, grilled tilapia stuffed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, pepper, etc etc etc…

Dinner was a blast! But the drinking, singing and anything after that, was probably disorganized or without everyone’s participation! Why? I for one did not realize I actually slept a few minutes after dinner! Many of us just dropped to sleep after the whole day’s escapade!

Sunday was going home day and no one seemed eager to be experiencing this reality! Who would want to go home anyway?! After the hundred islands? After the great cookout last night? Bitin! Were we not supposed to see things further north of Alaminos like Bolinao and the rest of the area? But alas, some of us slept way too much that we had no more choice but head back home. Most of us woke up at about 8AM and the plan was to head back for Manila at noon.!

Going Home
Anyway, we left the house about 10AM and swooped like bees down Nepo Mall for pasalubong! The longganisa was everyone’s target. Some hauled in the white “garlic-flavoured” variety (white/pale color), others opted for the sweeter kind (red color). Well, for me who does not like lugging pasalubongs along like I just came from a palengke (and there we were in a real palengke), I got 3 kilos each of the white and red longganisa! Of course we did not miss the famous boneless bangus. We even spent a lot of time marvelling at the vendors as they showed us how they de-bone bangus in just a few strokes with the aid of forceps. Some of us even bought fresh shrimps (most were still alive!), as it was sold very cheap compared to metro manila prices. We even got a tip from one stall vendor that the best place to shop for dried-fish was at Sual. It’s a town next to Alaminos on the way back to Manila!

Leaving Alaminos, we decided to pick lunch somewhere along the way. We thought we’d probably run into some dainty little sea-side restaurant or another palengke. We did not!

The dried fish in Sual are best had not actually inside town but somewhere on the side of the national highway where a lot of them vendors are pitted side-by-side in a long row of stalls. Our best buy here was the “dried espada”. Of course we bought many other kinds like my favourite breakfast fare, the “tuyo”! Well, it was not all dried fish in this area as we even found ourselves buying watermelons, giant guavas, guayabano and mangoes! I even bought two packs of “tupeg” (or is that tupig?) – which all of us later thanked me, myself and I for doing so!

Midday, on a hot sunny Sunday, we were cruising our way back to the metropolis and on the lookout for any place where we can settle to have lunch. We found nothing that looked inviting enough. So we appeased our already grumbling stomachs with the tupeg that I bought from Sual. Again thanks to me, myself and I. Otherwise we might have started munching on the raw longganisa! Yuck! At Mangatarem, still no sign of any eating place that appealed to us. We still tried to stand on the “unwritten law” – no Chowking, no Jollibee, no KFC, no McDo!

Finally, at about 3PM, when all tempers were already rather volatile, I suggested we rest at the Luisita Mall Complex outside of Tarlac City and grab food at whatever fastfood place that may come our way – inclusive of McDo, Jollibee, KFC and Chowking! Even Greenwhich and Starbucks were now options! When you’re hungry, you are just hungry hehe! So upon entry at the complex, we were quick to agree that Max’s was it! And lunch was finally had at about 3:30PM! Whew!

After an hour of kulitan inside Max’s, we proceeded home in a leisurely drive, watching out for nice views along the way and bantering ceaselessly! Uneventful ride, beautiful sunset views along farms and tree-lined roads.

That was until we were about to exit NLEX, when the fan, yes that little fan facing the radiator near the van’s engine opted to disintegrate! No, not the fan-belt, but the damn bloody fan itself! Oh heaven on earth! Just when we were near Manila! After some tinkering by our companions in the know, and after dousing the thing with water, and after many of us urinated on the side of the highway, we found our royal selves on the way back to Manila!

Well, yes I thought, I should have taken a bus…. Then again, I would have missed the fun… and that fan incident!

4 comments :

  1. Getting ready to go, so I read every word of your post.

    The only thing you didn't cover and that I hope you can answer are 1) whether or not you could find drinking water, and 2) are there restrooms on any of the islands?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. at least 3 of the islands (quezon, governor's and children's) have drinking water, that is they have bottled water for sale and the restrooms can also be found in those islands.

    elsewhere... its either you hold and keep the urge or dive in the waters and release :))

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow great, Yeah, you're write there a more beautiful island in philippines, like, cebu, bohol, palawan, puerto prinsesa, and many more just like what you said....



    Tanya Gemarin

    ReplyDelete
  4. Surely if there is 128 islands, the most probably people can like few of theme.
    Now a days people want to go the in mountainous, islands, forests and snowy area.
    In the world faster is growing metropolitan cities so when people get faded then move for sometime to get refreshed in remote from the these cities.

    ReplyDelete