Tag Archives: beaches

Except Surfing: A Retreat to La Union

We boarded the 11-pm bus, rain heavily sprinkling on one side of the bus while the other side was dry and shielded by the wide roof overhang of the bus station. I wasn’t worried about the rain or about not being able to surf on the waves of La Union. All I had in mind was finding a nice local café and great local grub.

Silly. People go to La Union to surf!

Big waves tryin to pull you in 🌊 #beach #launion #philippines #rainydays #travel

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To be at the beach, away from the metro, the central source of all that’s mundane and stressful, was the primary goal. Even if it was raining, I couldn’t say the weather was bad. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t go into the water and stand on a board with a shark fin underneath, but it wasn’t that bad. It was just different.

You face the rage of the ocean, stand right at its jaws. It taunts you to enter the water, and you taunt it back, your feet right where it can snatch you away. You think it can’t, but it can. The next wave pushes on your feet and pulls back harder, and you stagger and struggle to stay up on your feet. You know you can’t go into the water because then it’s never going to give you back to the land that once owned you.

It’s not a scary thought. Just exhilarating.

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There’s something about simply being by the beach, even when you’re not soaked and swimming in it—I didn’t have to. It was just the perfect environment that I needed. It was enough that I could dip my toes in the subsiding ripples of water and bury my feet in the soft and squishy black sand in every step, while listening to the sound of the waves and feeling the breeze that came with them. It was titillating.

We stayed at Puerto de San Juan on our first night. It was a little far from the surfing area, but that was okay. The beach at Puerto de San Juan was more secluded, so it let us have a long peaceful stretch of walk. The hotel is age-old and has maintained its retro interiors. It felt like we were in an old mansion. The facilities provided enough comfort for the duration of our stay.

That night, the hotel held an acoustic night at their restaurant, which redeemed me from the displeasure of the day’s indecision and bad choice of restaurant for lunch. Our dinner was great.

We had a mouth-watering serving of sinigang with kimchi in a big palayok (clay pot). It was the first time I encountered this concoction, and it was perfect. The kimchi contributed to the sourness of this sour Filipino delicacy and added a very mild spicy taste. I also enjoyed the grilled tuna, beautifully presented on a wooden plate, with vegetables and, of course, kimchi on the side.

I just sat there, on a table nearest to the swimming pool, watching rain pepper the pool. It was dark out there, in the ocean, but I could hear the waves from where I was seated. The waves were so strong  that, even if I couldn’t see them that night, it felt like they were thrashing on my chest.

The light of day let me find the waves.

In the morning, I left our room and went back to the restaurant for some brewed coffee and pancakes. Again, I took a seat near the pool. Beyond the pool, even if I couldn’t see the shoreline, I could hear and see the tall waves. I held my pen and wrote and doodled on my journal. It was a great time to be alone.

With the persistent and fitful downpour, we left Puerto de San Juan to get closer to the main surfing spot, Urbiztondo beach. We knew we couldn’t surf. We just wanted to be there.

We found and got settled in Sebay Surf Central hotel. The beach was just a few steps away from our room. But then again, I could only get as far as the shore, content with staring far into the horizon while breathing in the ocean breeze.

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Cafes and restaurants were also just a stone’s throw away from Sebay. The best part of the (second) day was finding The Coffee Library just across the road. It’s a two-storey Vietnamese restaurant and café with Asian-inspired rustic interiors. I was, once again, deeply satisfied with a spot in one corner of the café. I stationed myself at a small wooden table, unconsciously listening to crowd murmurs that served as background music to the local café scene while I reviewed my journal.

diz Pho Ga is purrrrfect for the bed weather‼️

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The pho ga of The Coffee Library served as a great complement to the chilly downpour outside. I was happy to be sheltered in a cozy restaurant enjoying a mildly flavored Vietnamese noodle soup.

I also enjoyed their pan grilled porkchop! It was, as far as I remember, the first time that I could actually do away with gravy and just enjoy the chops. Every bite was tender and flavorful.

Other restaurants that we tried that afternoon (what else could we do but to go on a food crawl!) were Surf Shack and Olas Banditos. In the rainy afternoon that we came, Surf Shack was a sleepy little food corner with a few diners, but this place is known as a chill and musically charged hangout for foodies and surfers alike. Olas Banditos meanwhile is an airy Mexican diner with colorful graffiti walls that serves mouth-filling burritos.

The rest of the night (our last night) was pretty much uneventful. I just went on strolling around nearby establishments before grabbing some beer from the hotel bar to serve as a finale to my mellow out-of-the-metro vacation. I spent a few more moments contemplating while looking out to the once again dark sea. All I could hear was the roar of the waves. They were fierce and relentless, but nothing could be more comforting.

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2 Broke Girls: Sassy in Nagsasa

Exactly one year ago, in the same month of April, I was in probably the most stressful job I’ve ever been in – in the field that is in fact notorious for high demands and long hours of work. Sleeping in at the office was the norm. We often went home past midnight or past the hour that I should’ve been eating dinner at home.

Without the time for a refreshing sight of family and friends, having companionable colleagues was a great solace. One in particular was even game for a bit of spontaneity and self-indulgence.

With the hopes of temporarily escaping all the work and heart-related stress, two broke girls went on an unplanned escape trip to Zambales in April last year.

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The 2 broke (but sassy) girls in Nagsasa Cove

I won’t go into detail about the itinerary or the expenses as this is not what it’s all about. This is about the best memories of two sassy girls and a proof that sometimes unplanned trips have a greater chance of materializing. All I can say is that it was supposedly a really cheap, budget-friendly trip to Nagsasa Cove, which two splurging girls couldn’t manage.

I remember well that it was a Saturday, and it was a national holiday. And we refused to answer any work call or any “request” to come in for weekend work. It was crazy right from the start. Since the trip was mostly unplanned, we came to the bus station without reserved tickets. Many buses were fully booked, which we didn’t expect, and we had to wait for about two hours to board. What was expected to be a 9 AM trip turned into a sun-struck 12 noon trip.

Since we were unfamiliar with the route, there were moments of panic when, for instance, we found out we were in Bataan and doubted if we rode the right bus because we thought Bataan was a place on the other side of the world (it’s not!).

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Seeking shade in Pundaquit while waiting for boat-mates
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A bonus: met a handsome new friend!

When we arrived at Pundaquit port, we were clueless about how to find a boat after failing to get a hold of our contact person. In our attempt to save money by splitting the boat fee, we made two new friends. We practiced our social skills and said hello to two newcomers and asked if they’d like to share their boat. They agreed—how could they say no to cost-cutting?

We got to the beautiful innocent beach of Nagsasa Cove late in the afternoon and immediately got ourselves busy with setting up our tent before going for a swim. There are no hotels or fancy amenities in Nagsasa Cove. Everybody goes by with a tent and a bonfire at night.

The time was perfect to get soaked in the water because it was already late in the afternoon; there was still light from the sun yet it wasn’t scorching anymore. I lay on the fine volcanic sand of Nagsasa Cove, a by-product of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in the ‘90s, and relished the waves that rippled through my body.

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“Can’t believe someone left trash swimming around,” I uttered to my friend as we approached what looked like a plastic bag underwater. Another step closer and we shrieked and swam for our lives—it was a giant bluish jellyfish! And then we saw another one. Eeek! I was traumatized.

In the evening, we invited our boat-mates for a little drink and bonfire. A bonfire could be set up by the shore with a small fee, which again we divided among the four of us so it was much cheaper. Our two new friends, who were obviously awkward to us at first, got a bit more comfortable and spoke up more. I and my friend also learned more about each other. The night was lit up by bonfire and laughter.

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Resting on calm water

On the next day, I and my friend woke up early to catch the sunrise and take some pictures while the beach was still empty. It was also a perfect time to appreciate the place. It was a view surrounded by trees and mountains. The fine ashen sand sparkled as the first sunlight hit it. Fishing boats were resting on the shore while fish were wide awake.

We ate canned goods, which we bought prior to the trip, for breakfast. We packed them partly because we knew there were no restaurants in Nagsasa, partly because we didn’t want to carry a portable stove in our bags and partly because we were skimping. We were on a very tight budget that we seriously debated whether to buy two cups of halo-halo that only cost Php40 each. In the end, we thought screw this, it’s a hot day and we’re going to enjoy halo-halo by the beach.

There’s a small hill on one end of Nagsasa Cove where visitors could go on a hike to get a bigger view of the beach. I left my friend behind (she’s not in good terms with the sun) and went for a short hike with one of our boat-mates. It wasn’t really high; it was only steep and dusty on some parts. But once we got to the top, we could feel the wind and take panoramic photos of Nagsasa Cove. From above, the water looked perfectly blue, embraced by a crescent bay. This was not Boracay or Puerto Galera where people went for an exuberant vacation. This was a modest place, with scenery I could enjoy without it being tainted by banana boats and jet skis in the water or a bunch of people tanning on the sand.

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After we got down, it was very hot so we soaked in the clear and cold water near the hill. I told our boat-mates about our scary encounter with jellyfish and they, too, got caught in the paranoia. We were moving around in the water so it caused some air bubbles to rise, and seeing a bubble startled us every time because we mistook it for a jellyfish ambush!

Our boat came back for us in the afternoon to take us back to Pundaquit. The sail back was another unforgettable memory for me. The waves were a bit fiercer now than it was the previous day. And one thing I realized was that it’s scary for the boat motor to die down and the boat to stop parallel with the waves because it felt like the water was going to knock us over. I love swimming but am not enthusiastic about swimming with big waves, so I didn’t want us to get knocked over.

I was thankful for reaching land alive, but the predicament didn’t end there. I and my friend were then confronted by the possibility of not getting home because we didn’t have enough money. At this point, we regretted buying that halo-halo at Nagsasa Cove. We failed to properly keep track of our spending.

We checked every corner of our wallets to no avail. Pant pockets—nope. Backpack compartments—nil. Kitty coin purse—nada. We looked at each other with awkward, panicked laugh. “You must be playing a joke.” “No, but you are. Take the money out now.” It was a few seconds later that nobody moved to take out money that we started freaking out.

So, we found an ATM to check each of our cards, knowing damn well they were empty. But who knows? She inserted her card—empty. I checked one of mine—hopeless. I desperately tried another card and, lo and behold, we squealed and jumped and it had money in it!

Two broke girls could miraculously go home.

Baler, Aurora: No photos. Just the sound of the waves.

I thought two days and one night wouldn’t be enough, but our trip was prime.

Baler, Aurora felt so bucolic. The bus station was small and rocky with tricycles on the side waiting for tourist passengers who would go for a ride around the town. The streets were small but not congested. Houses and establishments were small and mostly rustic.

It’s not a very remarkable town. Baler is very rural there’s not one shopping mall in it. No fancy restaurants. Not much night life at the beach. It’s simply laidback. And I love it.

It offers more than enough exposure to nature, particularly water—river, waterfalls, beach. And you know how soothing the sound and touch of water is. The icy waterfalls tickled me to the bones. The heavy flow of water sent cold sprinkles to my face which is much better than looking up at rain clouds on a humid rainy day in the city.

The sea was just a little bit warmer. Low waves. Big waves. Whopping waves! Who wouldn’t love to surf? But even when we had returned the surfboards we rented, the fun was far from over. Jump up the big waves. Dive under the bigger waves. Sometimes, we spun our arms and let the waves bring us along. That’s what we did until the sun got tired of watching and made its descent to the horizon.

When the day was over, I lay myself on a hammock and just looked up the sky. Not much noise, just the sound of my mind’s restless thoughts. A perfect time to just contemplate.

 

BICOL Summer Spree: DAY 2 – Whale Shark Interaction

Read first about DAY 1 here.

There had been much anticipation of the beach that morning. What I hadn’t anticipated was the surge of butterflies that increasingly brushed my stomach as I road the boat, held back and waited, and finally jumped and glanced at the gentle giant swimmer of under the sea.

We registered at the Tourism Office, waited for other tourists to share the boat with and watched a video on proper whale shark interaction. We were ready with the snorkel and diving fins that we rented the day before. I and my companion met two law students and a foreign couple. I noticed a lot of rashes on the foreigners’ legs and back, and found out they had been stung by jellyfish when they swam by the shore. I was so happy to have chosen the resort pool. (Whew)

Friendly foreigners on the boat
Friendly foreigners on the boat
My dear companion on the look out
My dear companion on the look out

Three hours. We only had three hours to find it (or them, if we’re lucky). Excitement and anxiety gradually filled me as our boat sailed farther off shore. We were alert. As soon as the BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) told us to, we had to jump.

It all happened quickly. I jolted when I heard a shout and the next thing I knew, I was racing in the water towards where the BIO pointed us. I struggled to catch up. I became so nervous. Maybe it was fear of being on the deep part of the water. Maybe it was the anxiety of knowing that there’s something huge beneath me. Or maybe it was the anxiety of like meeting love for the first time.

I submerged my head into the water. At first, I saw nothing. Then, like a matchmaker, the BIO pulled me towards it. My heart thumped. I smiled, and I felt my heart did, too. It was swimming right beneath me. A whale shark slowly, gently swimming away from the surface. I said, “Hi.” With my head underwater, all I heard was the slow ­blob-blob-blob of the water until the creature faded out.

It’s ironic how this ocean creature is so huge and physically intimidating yet it swims so softly that it drags time slowly along with it. When I was looking underwater, it felt like time ran slow.

For a period of three hours, we only saw two whale sharks—each just for a brief moment. It was enough. Afterwards, we were given a short while to just swim.

Much up-close with the whale shark!
Much up-close with the whale shark!

Whale shark interaction is the main attraction of Donsol beach, though the Tourism center also offers island tours and firefly watching by boat on the river. The whale shark peak season is from November to May. So, in other months there is no whale shark interaction, and some beach resorts are also closed since there are much fewer tourists in Donsol. When the whale sharks come back, life consisting of tourism and livelihood, also returns to the beach.

BICOL Summer Spree: DAY 1 – Donsol, Sorsogon

It was a fun jeepney ride with the townsfolk—women with large bayongs, parents with children on their lap, men hanging on outside the back. There were vendors, too, from whom we bought local sweet treats as snack during the long ride to Donsol beach.

Woodland

 

We’d made a reservation in advance to make sure we didn’t run out of affordable rooms. We took a very! reasonable ₱1,500 room at Woodland Beach Resort. It was big and cozy enough for the two of us. We enjoyed the upstairs room with the scenic view of the beach outside the huge glass panel.

Outside closer to the beach are the bar and the pool which we really enjoyed. We had a sumptuous lunch with the gust of warm salty air from the ocean and the striking noon sun. At night—a relaxing seat at the bar with a glass of cocktail while listening to the mellow bar music and faint ocean waves. After dinner, we went out to the shore and literally watched the galaxy gleam above us. I was lost with the countless stars. After a long moment of snug silence, we headed back to the pool and had a swim. I actually like swimming at the pool better than the beach. I’m too anxious about jellyfish and sea urchins.

Woodland bar

The following day, we got up early to catch the sun come awake in the horizon. You know how beautiful sunrise is at the beach. Then, we were there at the shore, looking up, searching, but found no sun. Just the colors of the breaking dawn. We realized we were at the wrong side of the world, and the east was blocked by tall trees near and far. Nonetheless, it was still nice to wake up this early to catch the daybreak and the morning breeze.

I looked in the distance, into the sea, filled with anticipation for something hiding deep under. Read about it here.

Anticipating something BIG
Anticipating something BIG