The bus ride to San Antonio in the province of Zambales took three hours. We had expected it to last two more as advised by Travel Cravers, but the roads must have been empty after midnight.
In San Antonio, we bought ingredients for our meals from the public market. Only a few stalls were open at 3:30 in the morning, but fresh fish and meat were already available. Our ‘cook’, the only male in our group, expertly selected bangus (milkfish), tilapia, chicken, pork, vegetables, itlog na maalat (salted egg), mangoes, and rice. The food, charcoal, and disposable cups set us back by just P380 each.
We carried our stuff in front of the municipal hall, where numerous groups of tourists waited for their contact in Anawangin to fetch them. My heart started to sink as I realized there would be hordes of people in the cove that weekend. I never liked traveling to crowded places. But I resolved to have a good time anyway and enjoy the company of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Our tricycle arrived and we made the P120, 30-minute trip to Barangay (village) Pundaquit, the jump-off point to Anawangin and to Zambales’ other coves and islands. It was past 6:00 in the morning when our boatman asked us to get inside our boat. We had a good laugh when we saw our ride.
Boats like this were mostly used by local fishermen. I wondered if we would all fit in. There were the four of us, two boatmen, and the wife and son of Kuya (older brother) Rico, our Anawangin contact, plus our backpacks and food. By the time we all got in, half of the boat was submerged in the water. Exciting!
It felt good to be at sea again, and to watch our boat cut through the calm waters. Since the sky was just beginning to wake, the sea hadn’t quite picked up on the colors yet and appeared to be black.
We passed by parts of Mt. Pundaquit—gently rolling hills that looked like they could be scaled in less than an hour. Jagged clumps of rocks littered the sea, just beyond the mountainous shores. It was a landscape unlike any that I’ve seen in the country.
Tourists already occupied half of the campsite by the time we arrived in Anawangin, but there was still plenty of space inland. I marveled at the unusual sight of pine trees, whose seeds were transported here by the volcanic ash from Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption. I soaked in our almost deserted surroundings as I knew this would change in a few hours.
We set up camp. Our 50-gallon drinking water, leaking tents, cooking utensils, and round-trip boat ride (including Capones Island) were part of Travel Cravers’ P750-per-person deal. Not bad. Their Anawangin staff made sure we had everything we needed, too.
Our friend, whom we christened ‘Chef Papa’, began to prepare our big brunch of adobo, grilled fish and eggplant, mango-and-tomato dip, and rice. We ‘helped’ him out, of course. I’m sure he couldn’t have managed without our ingenious rice-stirring technique or our inspired method of washing and handing over ingredients to him.
After gobbling up our delicious meal and helping wash our plates, I decided to check out the beach.
As the morning wore on, the sand became warmer. Aside from the pine trees, Anawangin’s shore sets it apart from other Philippine beaches. It is made of white sand and volcanic ash and easily shifts with the strong currents.
I made my way back to our camp as it started to rain. By then, close to a hundred campers had settled beneath the trees.
What began as a drizzle developed into a downpour. I snuck into one of our tents, intending to take a nap like the others. But the chance to relive a childhood memory had me going out again and standing in the rain. A silly smile tugged at my lips as I watched the tops of the pine trees welcome the cool shower. A large group of campers, employees of a liquor company, began to cheer.
I walked towards the beach, sat on the sand, and watched the raindrops hit the sea. All’s right with the world!
When my friends woke up, we took a dip in the beach. I didn’t dare try the strong currents alone as my swimming skills were close to none. The water felt absolutely refreshing. In all my orange-life-vest glory, I floated worry-free amid the restless currents.
Just before sunset, we decided to climb the hill on Anawangin’s south side. I thoroughly enjoyed the easy trek going up. The views were fantastic.
In the evening, we feasted by candlelight on Chef Papa’s tasty nilagang bangus (milkfish soup) and grilled pork chops. We sucked on the yellow mangoes that my friends called tsup-tsup as we swapped funny stories triggered by the way the campers around us behaved. One group kept a chorus of, “Happy birthday to you!” every time the celebrant–a woman with a shrill voice–squealed, “Birthday ko (It’s my birthday)!” I think it was also someone from her group who repeatedly cursed “Punyeta” while another from the liquor company swore “Mother fucker” in Tagalog accent. It was easy to imagine that we were stuck in an alley in Manila instead of being surrounded by pine trees and rolling hills.
The campers became rowdier as the night deepened. People played loud music and later, someone began videoke-singing. How they managed that continues to be a mystery.
We looked up and beheld the moon in awe, and got excited when fireflies skittered across the trees. It turned out they were disco lights coming from the jejemon-looking group and the ‘Happy Birthday’ gang near us. Did they miss the bars in the Metro? What was the point, then, of coming to the cove for the weekend? If there were fireflies in Anawangin, they would have left a long time ago due to the intrusion of people who didn’t seem to appreciate the cove.
As I used one of the four (bucket) shower rooms, I discovered that the campers also didn’t know how to dispose of their trash properly. The toilets were strewn with tissue paper, shampoo sachets, and sanitary napkins. There were no garbage bins inside the toilets, but there were two right outside. If people couldn’t do it for the environment, then at least they could have cleaned up after themselves out of courtesy to the next person in line.
It was the same in the beach the next morning. I took a stroll at dawn and felt horrified at all the plastic cups on the shore. Many were buried halfway in the sand; some still contained juice (or booze?). The surf caused a plastic bag to tangle around my feet. I threw it in a store’s garbage bin and snatched another one from the sand. This I filled with all the cups and wrappers I saw while walking. It reminded me of Benguet, when a fellow volunteer and I found our hands full of plastic trash as we hiked up from a vegetable farm. Could we be really this careless and uncaring? I wanted to kick all the campers awake and demand that they leave Anawangin if they could not spare it from their sloppy ways.
Back at our camp, the rumbling sound of the wind as it hit the treetops brightened my mood. The sound had awakened me before dawn, and I had groggily concluded that there was a tsunami crashing through the campsite. I zipped open our tent, thinking that if people were running for their lives, I would wake my friends up so we could run for our lives, too. Thankfully, I was wrong.
My friends’ attitude also cheered me up. It’s heartening to be with conscientious travelers who were mindful about preserving the environment.
Anawangin is an idyllic getaway. But whether future travelers will get to enjoy this cove depends on how much those that came before them respect its natural beauty.
If you’re planning an overnight stay in Anawangin, Rico of Zambales can arrange the boat, drinking water, cooking utensils, and tents for P650 per person. Contact him at 0928-9308980. Come on weekdays if you want to avoid the crowd.
This story was published by Rappler on 21 April 2012.