I’d been driving since 4am, and it was just half an hour shy of noon. I was hungry, and the only one left in our little group of six who was still awake. Despite the AC being on full blast and my skimpy attire of teeny shorts, a shoulder-baring tank top, and canvas sneakers, I was sweating like a pig in the early May heat.
I was having the time of my life.
The moments before a trip are always the best, aren’t they? Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t better than the actual trip itself. The sense of pending adventure, the excitement for what’s to come, the slight fear of the unknown. It’s a heady, powerful emotion that almost nothing else can replicate.
So there we were, six bone-tired millennials who were momentarily sick of their jobs, the city, and just life itself. What is it about our generation that we get so burnt out so easily? Bitter baby boomers might say it’s because we’re spoiled and don’t want to work hard. I think though, it’s because we know that it’s important to have balance, that if you don’t take care of both your physical and mental health, your quality of work – and, consequently, the organization to which you belong – will suffer.
Off the coast of Palauig, Zambales is a secluded slice of paradise called Magalawa Island. Zambales is more known for its surf spots and coves, so the island was relatively deserted. Also, we were there from May 1 to 3, and most tourists would be out and about during the ASEAN Summit + Labor Day long weekend of April 28 to May 1. There were only the locals (absolutely great, friendly people who love to joke around with the weary travelers visiting their little haven) and a handful of other tourists who similarly reveled in the lack of people.
From Luan Port in Palauig, we took a five-minute boat ride to Ruiz Resort on Magalawa Island. There are actually two resorts on the island: Ruiz Resort and Armada Resort. With my Google-fu, I learned that there was bad blood between them thanks to a land dispute. We decided to stay at Ruiz because a ton of blogs said that Ruiz was the rightful owner of the island, since they have the certificate of title and a court order. There were also loads of reviews saying the staff at Ruiz was friendlier and more accommodating.
Once we’d settled in and had lunch (chicken and roast beef sandwiches courtesy of ourselves – traveling is honestly so cheap if you know how to cook!), we decided to hit the beach. The sand was fine and creamy, a pale flawless beige color that could give more well-known beaches in the country a run for their money. The water was varying shades of turquoise and deep blue, and mere feet – feet! – from the shore were a wild variety of corals and fish. We easily spent the whole afternoon exploring the water and sunning ourselves on the sand. To our delight, we also discovered a volleyball net behind our cottage. Four of us rented the resort’s only volleyball and played an intensely competitive game, from which we returned sweaty, muddy, and tired but happy.
Our dinner that night was grilled sweet potatoes, handmade beef patties (because it was cheaper to buy ground beef and make our own rather than buying pre-made patties), and rice painstakingly boiled over a charcoal fire. In a cooler we’d borrowed from one of the caretakers (like I said, super friendly locals!) we’d left two six-packs of beer, three bottles of wine, a bottle of gin, and a bottle of some kind of local margarita made with kalamansi instead of lime. It was a far cry from our usual fare of cocktails and finger food at the newest trendy bar in Aguirre, but it seemed more genuine somehow. Instead of sitting around listening to remixes of music that was perpetually on the radio, we had 90s and early 2000s R&B jams and the Hamilton soundtrack playing on repeat. Instead of on-trend outfits carefully curated to make us look alluring and approachable (all the better to score free drinks and phone numbers with), we were in shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops. The conversation flowed freely, covering anything and everything under the sun. We got drunk and rowdy, at turns crying and laughing, one moment cursing each other out for a losing hand at poker and the next embracing one another and tearfully proclaiming that we would be best friends forever.
We woke up early the next morning, thankfully not hungover (the secret is to hydrate, people), and had a quick breakfast of hotdogs, more beef patties, and the leftover rice from the night before fried up with garlic and Star Margarine (waste not, want not). As we were discussing what to do for the day, a bangkero came up to us and, hearing our conversation, offered to take us to a nearby sandbar with a resthouse in the middle of it for a measly 200PHP each. We agreed, and off we went.
I eventually learned that this was the Bacala Resthouse and Sandbar I read about in another of my favorite travel blogs. The boat ride was a quick one, and to our dismay, there were tons of people inside the house, having lunch. Still, we had great fun on the sandbar. There were schools of pufferfish wandering around, and tons of starfish. We took photos, swam, tanned, and had chicken-fights.
We headed back to Magalawa a little past noon, hungry for lunch. We were too tired to cook, so we went to the nearby fishing village, where there were several small sari-sari stores. We bought halo-halo and pancit canton, which we ate with cans of tuna paella we’d brought from Manila. We also arranged for one of them to cook a dinner of inihaw na bangus and liempo for us, all for 300PHP. Not bad!
We’d finished all our drinks in our drunken spree the night before, so instead we played more poker on the sand and stargazed. The skies were so clear, we could see constellations. This was the first time in my entire life I’d ever seen the Big Dipper.
Which, of course, led to another existential crisis about the stars and the universe and life outside of earth, but that’s another story for another time.
Our third day on that beautiful island we decided to rent kayaks and explore the water around the island. We’re just a big bunch of cheapskates, so we rented one kayak for all six of us. Two of us rowed the kayak, while the other four hung on to the sides and allowed themselves to be towed out into deeper water. We took turns clambering out from the water, with at least one person in the kayak at all times. The water where we went was about thirty feet deep, I think? So we definitely had to keep our wits about us if we didn’t want to sink and drown.
We spent the whole morning out there, then returned to the beach at noon and had a light lunch of whatever food we had left over. Sadly, our time in paradise was drawing to a close. With heavy hearts, we packed up and got back on the boat to the mainland, feeling a little like how Diana must have felt when she left Themyscira.
(On that note, have you seen Wonder Woman yet? If not, go see it now. It blows every single last DC movie ever out of the water so hard.)
Unlike Diana, however, we have the option to return to paradise. It’s comforting to know that no matter how stressful things get in the city, there will always be places to run to, places to hide, little slices of heaven to retreat to, pockets of sunshine to bask in, and a clear blue ocean to marvel at.