I finally got to go to the beach this summer! It took me a month to find the time, but I finally did it. Fuck yes.
One time over lunch with my colleagues, I brought up the fact that my mother’s family is from Pangasinan. So they asked what was there to see or do in Pangasinan. “Beaches, mostly,” I answered. “There’s Bolinao, and Burgos. Oh, and the Hundred Islands.”
The name intrigued my colleagues, and right then and there, we decided to plan a trip. The Hundred Islands is known mostly to schoolchildren studying geography, spouted off when asked by their teachers to name a popular landmark in the Philippines. It’s highly underrated, and hardly anyone I know has visited it. When you look it up on travel blogs, all you’ll see are people who’ve been to far more exotic locales such as El Nido complaining about how commercialized it is. But the Hundred Islands National Park has a certain beauty, an enchanting appeal which is both distant from the city and yet easily accessible.
Because I have a car (UGH THANK YOU MOMMY – I’m sorry, I’m sure you had no idea how much having a vehicle would contribute to my lakwatsera ways when you decided to get me one for my 21st birthday) we didn’t have to catch a bus heading to Alaminos, where the Hundred Islands are located. All we had to pay for was gas and toll fees, which ended up being hella cheaper.
(Of course, I ended up paying for it in other ways by having to drive six hours to Alaminos while my wonderful friends napped. Then again, they made up for it by splitting the bill for food and booze amongst the four of them instead of including me, so it’s all good.)
We arrived at Lucap Wharf just before noon. It was nothing like I remembered from my childhood. Back then, Lucap Wharf was a hodgepodge of boats, stalls selling everything from snorkeling gear to ice cream, children milling around and hawking souvenirs. As I parked my car (inside a paved parking lot!) I beheld a tourism office, with a tarp pinned to the wall showing the going rates for boats, environmental fees, and activities like banana boating and ziplining.
I am a terrible travel blogger, so I didn’t take note of the costs at all. All I remember is, we talked down the fees to seven hundred pesos per person, due to all of us being government employees, and also because my family are locals and I know how to ask, “Can we have a discount?” in Pangasinense.
The ziplines (from one island to another!) and the banana boating looked fun, but we didn’t want the weekend to be about adrenaline-inducing activities. We just wanted to ride a boat, swim and snorkel, lie down on the sand, and get drunk. We stopped first at Governor’s Island so we could hike up to the observation platform at the top and take pictures, but after that we asked the bangkero to take us to the islands that had little to no people. (In our defense, our jobs involved dealing with people day in and day out, and having to be polite and diplomatic to boot. We deserved a weekend of bitching and aloneness.)
View from the observation platform on Governor’s Island
We visited around five or six islands – I can’t recall which at the moment, although I remember we had Old Scout Island to ourselves – and spent the rest of the day swimming, having a late lunch on the beach, and napping on the sand. Oh, and taking pictures, naturally.
After we’d gotten our fill of the islands, we headed over to Lopez Island to set up camp for the night. Lopez Island is not a popular place for overnighters, and really unless you’re a particularly hardcore outdoorsy person, I wouldn’t suggest it. There aren’t any facilities, so it’s either dig a hole (“Start digging, bitch,” as one of my colleagues quipped) or hold it in. When we were done swimming, we could only wash up by scooping water from the ocean into a big pail, lugging it over to a hidden outcropping of rocks which provided some coverage, and soaping up right there on the sand. (Don’t worry, we made sure that we were far away from the water, since soap and shampoo can poison fish.) Talk about your dalagang bukid feels.
We pitched our tent behind some rocks so it wouldn’t be buffeted by the wind. Then we spread out a blanket on the sand, built a fire in a grill we found somewhere (sorry to whoever owns it – we put it back where we found it!) because you’re not allowed to build a fire directly on the sand, and had dinner. And by dinner I mean s’mores. We drank beer and bottled sangria by the light of the setting sun, talking about anything and everything from life goals to the Philippine elections. It’s moments like these where you instantly click with people and forget that you met a measly few months ago.
The thing that I like the best about the Hundred Islands is that life just slows down. Wherever you look, there’s nothing but cool, clear water and islands rising out of the horizon. The signal’s there but pretty bad, so you can’t check your emails or your Facebook. Literally the only way to get around is by boat. There’s nothing to but swim, sail, or sleep. Maybe read a book, sketch, listen to music, or play frisbee. It’s the ultimate “get away from it all” destination.
The Hundred Islands National Park was a playground for me during the summers of my childhood, and I’m so glad I took the time to revisit that this summer. I delighted in recognizing the structures of the island, seeing rocks and trees and beaches I’d played amongst as a little girl, delighting in what was new. Coming back to these waters was like coming home.