Saturday, June 21, 2008

Setting Foot on Potipot

Hah! Your PinoyTraveler finally made a go at this alluring little island one hot weekend. I realized the fun was not only at the island but also during the ‘going to’ and ‘coming from’!

What and where is this Potipot anyway?
Potipot is a tiny island where there’s nothing but creamy white sand, some little rocks and stones, trees, grass, bushes and shrubberies. That’s it! No one lives there but tourists have started frequenting it. The island offers a spectacular view of the Zambales coastline & the China Sea plus a tranquil environment you will want to make sure that your ‘quickie nappie’ or ‘serene siesta’ does not progress to a deep slumber well into the night hehe!

It’s about a mile off the shores of Uacon, Candelaria, Zambales. If you want to get technical, the island is at 15° 40.700N and 119° 55.410E! That is after you cross from mainland via a motorized banca that takes just about 5 minutes or less. Uacon is almost 250 kilometers from Metro Manila on your way to Sta Cruz, Zambales via Subic. And hey, if you ever get lost, just look for the kilometer marker that says 248, ask anyone around and you should be in Barangay Uacon!

How did we go there?
I really wanted to hop on a bus (as I mostly do) but I was outvoted by a great majority of 4:1 so we commandeered a friend’s CRV, leaving the Metropolis at 3AM on a trip where I suddenly wanted to pass by everything.

Uneventful dawn trip and quite a breeze at NLEX but when we entered SBMA, we were flagged for a minor traffic violation hehe! Driver was on a turn-left lane when everyone suddenly craved for breakfast at McDonald’s. So we swerved to the right heading for Olongapo’s Magsaysay Avenue… and voila - the traffic enforcer! But charm and a little acting did the trick. In a very courteous and even subservient stance, we all pleaded for the enforcer’s indulgence as “we did not know our way” and we were “first timers” in the area and that “we just arrived after a very long drive from Ilocos” (I knew the enforcer would check out the plates and I knew too that it started with a letter A)! Enforcer obliged but with a stern-like “okay, but let this be a warning” and so on. Nope, he did not ask for, nor indicated he wanted to ask for any “lagay” or monetary compensation – and for me, that is what sets Subic apart from the whole country! When we were finally free and having breakfast, the joke amongst the five of us was… “LIARS WE ALL!”

On the way
After the heavy breakfast, we were back at SBMA driving towards Kalaklan gate so we could exit to the town of Subic and head westward to our destination. Memorable exit! Just as we emerged from the gate, an elderly Caucasian dude came speeding from up the road in his jeep and for some reason slammed his foot on his brakes to make a noisy screeching sound on that quiet morning. I could see him muttering wildly with what looked like he was cursing us. But we were not in his way (yet), so I just thought bahala sya sa buhay nya hehe. Then we climbed the road with a very good view of the Bay on the left and that amusing cemetery by the hillside to our right. All this time, our windows were down so we could smell and feel the cool early morning breeze.

We passed by the real Subic town. Barrio Barretto still quite populous but not as busy as in the past where girly bars virtually lined the main road! Did you know that? Well, now you do! The resorts along the bay’s coast are still there, some even new… but those that are inside SBMA overshadow the existence of these resorts on many a tourist’s eyes! Yes, White Rock Resort is still alive. Hey, before we leave Subic, just for added information for those who don’t know it, the “town” called Subic is about 10 kilometers away from the usual “Subic” that you know (SBMA) which is in the vicinity of Olongapo City! As we moved further, I pointed to my companions the road intersection that leads to Club Morocco, as we had no time to go there.

At Castillejos, I expected to get a glimpse of the Magsaysay Ancestral House, as I knew from past trips that it sits by the main road. And yes we did see it! But we didn’t stop even for a brief photo-op as we must be at Potipot early as can be! What is that house you say? THAT is where the ex-President Ramon Magsaysay lived in his younger years. It now is some kind of a museum. Hey, did you know that Blackdyak – that pinoy reggae singer – is also from that town? Ah no, we did not see him! We don’t even know or care where he is now hehe! We just heard about it from some friends. Oh, I have long been wanting to see the “tudok-tudok” that this town is famous for. But no, we did not go looking for it in Castillejos… not during this trip to Potipot.

Passing by San Marcelino was a breeze with great Lahar vistas, though we never stopped even if the singkamas by the roadsides were inviting us to salivate! San Antonio was already bustling at early morning and I was on alert to make sure we never missed that sharp right-turn going to San Narciso. If we turned left on that corner we would have reached Pundaquit, the jump-off point to the Capones/Camara Islands… but not this time. We all knew San Antonio is the cultural hub of the province, but no, we couldn’t pass by Casa San Miguel. Potipot was our only goal and objective!

At San Narciso, the noted and notable beaches of Zambales started to appear and they’re supposed to wow us all the way to the north. We saw snippets of many a beach or resort, but no we didn’t pass by any! We were fixated to set foot on Potipot – only! We also breezed through San Felipe, a town whose streets seemed to be already broomed clean very early in the morning. More lahar views, beaches and endless farmlands, then we reached Cabangan. I know there also are resorts in that town and many little things lahar-made… but our eyes were only set on Potipot! So onwards we moved!

Next town was Botolan – the miracle town where even the Aetas worship Mama Mary and where the old church is supposed to be a fine one to visit… but no, not this time… Potipot, Potipot and Potipot was our only agenda! Then our eyes met Iba, the capital of the province. Whoa! So many signs inviting us to this and that resort by many a roadside. This is the province’s resort town anyway. But we forged on! Fortunately Palauig is off the main highway so we did not have to go through the town’s main arteries and we breezed through a lot of mango plantations on to Masinloc! No, we did not pass by the famous resort and its share of white sandy beaches. Potipot was it!

Finally, we were in Candelaria – the mother town of Barangay Uacon! Syempre, we slowed down to watch out for a store that sells ice. Loaded up the coleman and styopore chests with tube ice, sodas, water and beer! Plus we loaded our laps with lots of chichirya, yosi and just about everything else we thought we might need at Uacon. And off we went to look for our resort! Hey, Uacon is still a bit of distance from the town center of Candelaria, so if you’re going there, move on and be patient.

Dawal, Uacon, Candelaria
Going Potipot, you do not actually set your target on the island for accommodations. There is nothing there, remember?! It is usually had at Barangay Uacon where a number of resorts have sprouted just by the beach. By a mobile phone call the previous day, I reserved for us a “good-for-five” room at Sun Bloom Resort (P1200). On arrival at the resort, we admired its trying-to-be-rustic tone. The rooms are quaint looking with a conscious attempt to fuse the native look and modern elegance. But one of us thought it was way too cramped for 5 people. So we walked to nearby Dawal Resort to check if anything else was better. We found one on the 3rd floor at P1500 a night good-for-4, plus P200 on the 5th person. Not bad, so we transferred. Though we apologized for whatever inconvenience caused, the Sun Bloom staff did not seem disappointed, annoyed, irked or anything like that. They even graciously accompanied us to the parking lot.

Now listen to this… Dawal is the more “upscaly” resort on this strip of beach. It costs just a little bit more but it has conveniences that you won’t find in the others. This resort has the only restaurant in the whole area and it’s of good standard. It also has the only swimming pool(s) – a big circular kiddie’s pool; and a pea-shaped adult pool. There are waterslides on both ends of the adult pool – one plunges you to the 7-foot-deep end of the pool while the other will splash you unto the 4-foot-deep side. Hey, these pools were made from ground up – meaning they’re not carved unto the ground as usual. So, you go “up” the pools to dip or dive. That means, take extra watch of the kids as you won’t clearly see them if you’re lounging in the cabanas!

Dawal Resort has uniformed, attentive and very courteous staff. This is not your run-of-the-mill family-owned resort. They are pros from the guards all the way to the waitresses and gardeners. But being a pro place, everything is pricier than at other resorts – it’s really like being in any professionally run hotel. Just google them for more!

Trivia: local folks in Uacon would usually refer to the whole beachfront area of the barangay as Dawal. So live with it – even if you’re staying at Sun Bloom, Isla Vista, Puerto Del Mar, Trinidad, etc., In fact, if you walk along the whole beach strip, you’d notice that the other resorts like Trinidad are already in another barangay beside Uacon! Just the same, locals refer to this area as Dawal.

The other resorts are not to be shunned by the way! They’re not Dawal, but there are good things for not being Dawal. Example? An ice-cold SanMigLight at Sun Bloom costs P24 a bottle. At Dawal its 11 pesos more expensive hehe! Yes, that’s 46% more expensive and it’s only a few steps away! So beer drinkers tend to have a propensity for Sun Bloom! AND hey, the “in” thing at this beach strip is that guests (usually families and barkadas) buy and cook their own food. Thus, resorts designate cooking areas and cooking implements. The one at Sun Bloom is so spacious many can cook all at the same time. Plus, the eating areas are clean and wide you’d think it was a restaurant. It actually is – but without the food (yet) hehe! And there is a karaoke machine where you drop 5-peso coins to sing! At Dawal, the cooking area is… good luck! And you pay to use a kiosk so you could eat – unless you bring them to your room! Sun Bloom has a very nice concrete terrace (actually the roof deck of the eating area and it has nice vistas of Potipot and the nearby beach areas. That terrace is a beautiful place to be during late afternoons. Oh the sunset! Hey, whether you’re bunked at Dawal or elsewhere, you can still visit Sun Bloom and have drinks or snacks at their “eating area” since it is the most convenient resting place with a very sunset view.

On Saturday nights (plus Friday nights during summer), Dawal Resort has bands to entertain you at their very own entertainment square adjacent to the restaurant. Well, if there is no band playing, you can “rent” the whole place – for a minimum order of just P500 and you can sing videoke style with your songs flashed to a giant white screen up the stage. And you can keep croaking till your throat hurts or till the sun rises – whichever comes first!

If you think that’s not your kind of nightlife, they have pool tables and darts and some board games. Remember though that beer at Sun Bloom is cheaper so you might want to get it from there hehe! If still you think those are not your kind of nightlife, go out to the beach, prop a recliner lie flat on the sand and marvel at the stars – with beer from Sun Bloom. If, even that, is not your kind of gig… go sleep after watching CNN, NGC or Bloomberg! Argh!

Potipot Island
Now… Potipot! This little island is reason why Dawal and other resorts have sprang open on the shores of Candelaria. A “cream-to-white” sandy beach encircles the Potipot as opposed to Uacon’s “brown-to-black”. You can walk the Potipot circumference in 15 minutes – but an hour or so will probably be most practical since the natural sights and sounds (or silence?) will beckon at different parts of the island! We rounded it twice!

You can play on the soft fine sand or even snooze under the shades of big trees with nothing to disturb you. I slept for more than an hour! No dogs here like in other beaches all over the country! Less human noise (as of yet anyway) since this is still off the beaten tourist map! The soft lapping of little waves on the shore, the faintly audible brushing of leaves against each other at every gentle blow of the wind, the occasional bird sounds would be your most prominent lullaby!

At this island, you will truly be away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. I always say, nothing begets nothing… so, since there’s nothing on the island… you can opt to do nothing! But yes, that’s too much of a cliché hehe! If you did absolutely nothing there you’ll pass up on other great things.

Oh, there will at times be some teenagers playing their ipods with loudspeakers. Just settle some distance away from them if you don't like it. There's plenty of space. Then there might be the occasional barkada singing with a guitar. Join in if your wish!

Yet of course, you’d punish yourself if you didn’t bring any camera (phone, P&S or SLR) to capture and document your scant escapade on this little paradise. Just keep clicking and edit your pics later. Don't miss the rocky part on the southwestern beach. Wear slippers or anything like it if your urban soles are sensitive to coarsier sand - they call it coraline sand! Don't worry, your "fake havaianas" or "crocs by crooks" won't break here! You can catch a glimpse or two of little fishy-fishies by those rocky crevices. Too many good areas for photo-op especially with those big dead tree branches and roots by the water's edge that am pretty sure won't be easily gone from where they are at the moment!

Now, now… you don't have to try to swim... YOU MUST! The waters here are clear green to dark blue and soothingly salty! If it’s the bright emerald you're wading in, the bottom is fine sand. If you venture out to the blue and deep blue part, there will be sea grass, other marine plants, corals, nemo, his cousins and friends! So don't forget your snorkeling gears! Oh, on some parts of this island, this interesting experience with marine flora and fauna starts at as shallow as sheen deep!

Lest you forget, visitors rent motorized bancas for a round-trip ferry to the island – like we did. These boatmen are easy to catch, as they’d usually be waiting on the beach near the resorts. Yep, after you disembark at Potipot, boatman will go back to mainland but he will surely return to fetch you in the afternoon or whenever you wish. We got the mobile number of our “skipper” just in case we wanted to return early.

We were told people had pitched tents on the island - and that is allowed. Remember to bring everything you’ll need there so you don’t spend more by asking the boatmen to fetch this and that for you across the waters. Actually, it’s not really “absolutely nothing” on the island! And here are some facts I wanted to share with you but late in this article by purpose:

A group of caretakers “manage” the day-to-day business in the island. I think those men are a family and probably some friends. They’re the ones who will approach you to collect “toll” hehe. Don’t worry, it’s just something like P10 per head (I hope I remembered that correctly). This is a privately owned island anyway, so be thankful they’re charging just that! Then there are two ladies who have erected some kind of an open hut (more like a kiosk) and they sell “halo-halo” – delectable by the way! I think they’re wife and daughter of the manong who collects the “toll”! They have “monobloc” chairs and tables plus the big umbrellas that you can rent from them if you think you have forgotten how to picnic on the ground/sand (a.k.a = “ang arte mo!”). Talking to them, I learned they are planning to put up at least a single comfort room – least those of you who can’t keep the urge be splattering your “miracles” everywhere on the island. I think that’s a nice plan – a little realistic convenience especially for the females. The manongs and manangs (I counted about 5 of them – 2 women, 2 men and 1 bading) do go back to mainland during the night, so I learned. But they say at least two of them would stay for the night if there are campers. Where would they sleep? At that open hut where the two manangs make halo-halo!

Hey take note that the boats here are rather small than you’d see elsewhere. Looking at the boat we took, it probably can carry a maximum of just 8 people or even less. I could be wrong – but they really look small!

We were told to ensure we returned to Uacon before sunset since the waves grow bigger during that time of day – and so we did – only to discover that sunset is nicely viewed from Uacon where Potipot Island shows prominently on your pictures! Truly a sight!

A final word… AND AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS… I did notice that the island has a scattering of used plastic bags, empty bottles, chichirya wrappers and the likes. Yep they were few but that could get worse if not kept in check. The manongs told me they constantly roam and pick trash but they can only do so much. I wonder thought, do they carry those trash back to mainland and dispose them properly? I haven’t seen any evidence of that. My hunch is they probably just bury those glass bottles deep in the sand and let those plastic wrappers float unto the waters. Solution? Well, instead of letting those manong ensure they gather trash and bring those back to mainland… why don’t we tourists do it?! My proposition: when you go to the island, bring a plastic bag or any container to dump your garbage in and bring that to mainland. If you dump those at the garbage bins of the resorts, I am hoping that at least they’d go somewhere inland like a landfill or something similar – but not on Potipot. Please get this message across to all who visit the island.

Okay now.. that’s Potipot for me and my companions plus everything else on the way and out of there!

Next hop… these terms keep ringing: Pundaquit, Capones, Camara, Casa San Miguel, Anawangin, Talisayin, Sapatos Island… they’re all in Zambales and nearer than Potipot!

Oh well… c ya around?!


  1. Hello Pinoy Traveler, I've been enjoying your blogs and pictures. I'm visiting the Philippines in mid July. How would I get to Potipot by bus from Manila? (I don't have a car). How long is the thrip? Thanks!

  2. No sweat! Just hop in to the Victory Liner buses (they have a website) and tell them you're going to Sta. Cruz, Zambales. On board the bus, tell the crews to drop you at Uacon (pronounced oo-wuh-kon) in the town of Candelaria. An option is to go to Olongapo City (also via Victory Liner) and from the bus station hop into the smaller mini-buses or baby buses that ply the route to Sta Cruz.

    That should take from 6 hours to even more (depending on your luck with bus schedules)

  3. I enjoyed reading this blog post! Thank you so much for all the helpful info that you provided. :)

  4. Hi! how much is the boat trip to potipot? how long from subic the town to candelaria?

  5. always check the weather before you embark on a trip to an island. The beauty of Potipot was obscured during our stormy one-day island living.

  6. It is good to see great reviews about new travel destinations this summer. I discover another destination that I can line up into my list.

  7. I'm so excited to get to Potipot next weekend. Thanks to this review! keep posting :)

  8. my pleasure Jaymie. you will love the place!

  9. so true!! I posted a blog entry on this too =) nakapag muni-muni pa ako sa island HAHA

  10. good you did Jaymie and congrats on your new slide experience ;P