Monday, April 28, 2008
It's hard to imagine a place so idyllic and untouched so close to the city, but Anawangin Cove is all that and more.
Once a well-kept secret by the hardcore outdoor enthusiasts and dedicated shutterbugs, it seems to have exploded into the Manila crowd's consciousness, all through word-of-mouth advertising and blog buzz. All of a sudden, this little patch of paradise just 3 hours outside Manila - most of it great driving or an easy commute on very good roads plus a 30 minute boat trip - has become one of this summer's must-see destinations.
Jean and I weren't immune to the lure of the gorgeous photographs and the enthusiastic narratives published on-line by previous visitors. So despite having nil camping experience and unfazed by the prospect of being just two women traveling alone, we set off last weekend to see what the fuss was all about.
Fortunately, my sister and her boyfriend were gracious enough to let themselves be dragged in the wake of our enthusiasm. Being an outdoor savvy couple with several visits to Anawangin under their belt, their presence definitely made the trip much smoother than it might have been.
While Pundaquit, in San Antonio, Zambales is just one bus ride away, my sister decided to bring a car instead. The commute coming from Manila would be easy enough by bus, but getting a ride back home the next day would be a different story. My younger brother and his friends, who had been to Anawangin just the week before, ended up on their feet for the entire bus ride on the way home.
We left Manila at around 430 am and were soon flying down the North Luzon Expressway. After stopping for breakfast at one of the gas stations on the freeway, it was smooth driving all the way to San Antonio, where we made another pit-stop to buy drinking water and provisions at the public market. And let's not forget the other beach essential beer - and an ice chest full of ice.
We parked the car at one of the pay parking lots near Pundaquit Beach (overnight charge PHP 100), and found a boat to take us to our destination. My sister, being a frequent visitor, was able to make arrangements with a boatman she knew ahead of time, and we had a boat waiting for us on the beach. Without much ado, we were off.
The boat was smaller than the one we used for our island-hopping in Caramoan, and the seas were more choppy as well, even if this is the height of summer. It made for a very wet ride, but exhilarating nonetheless. However, the waters going to Pundaquit can become quite rough during storm seasons, so plan your trips during those months with caution.
As we approached the cove, we were greeted by the sight of white sand under the mid-morning sun and the unusual sight of pine trees instead of the palms we are used to seeing on a beach. At first sight, it was obvious what the buzz was all about. After unloading the boat and making arrangements for the boatman to pick us up the next day, we went into the campgrounds to set up camp.
It was a bit of a disappointment to see the campground dotted with tents already, but we were expecting the crowd. Even while we were still in San Antonio, we had already seen several groups of backpackers waiting for tricycles to Pundaquit. Besides that, it seemed as if many friends of friends were descending on the beach this weekend. Jean calls it "The Six Degrees of Anawangin." Inevitably, we would all end up running into someone we knew, someone who we didn't know was coming that weekend. Anawangin is becoming that popular.
All this despite the fact that there are but two makeshift toilets on the campgrounds and two deep well pumps to service a campground teeming with weekend tourists and mountaineers.
Luckily we were still able to find a good spot among the trees, shaded from the noontime sun. After setting up camp and cooking and eating lunch (I will never laugh at Survivor contestants making botched sinaing [steamed rice] ever again), we settled in to take advantage of what any beach had to offer - an afternoon of utter indolence. A bit of exploring and picture taking here and there, then it was time for a long afternoon map in a hammock under the shade of the beautiful pine trees that are part of this cove's mystique.
There isn't a lot to do in Anawangin in terms of sports activity. There is some snorkeling that can be done by the rocks, but the rips on the sides of the cove can make this dangerous. Swimmers should also approach the beach with respect and caution. While the bottom is sandy and the water amazingly clean, sudden drop offs and undertows influenced by the tide have taken the lives of even strong swimmers caught unawares. With no life guards and minimal warning signs, you must be responsible for your own safety.
What Anawangin is perfect for, aside from watching the world go by, is drinking in the beauty of Nature at its finest. Aside from the beautiful beach, the woods just behind the camping grounds are such a novel sight. Framed by mountains in the background, it looks like a something from on European postcard. Hard to imagine that the sun-kissed tropical beach is just a heartbeat away.
Photographers abound here, toting their SLRs and tripods, running to and fro along the beach to find the perfect shot. Who could blame them? My heart bled for my own SLR camera to capture the utter gorgeousness of this place. I've been to a number of beaches in my career as a wanna-be beach bum, and I must say my vote for prettiest dusk (even if the sun sets behind the mountain) definitely goes to Anawangin.
It was too warm for a bonfire, and the stars were blotted out by the clouds from the summer rain shower, but we still had a nice, quiet evening under the stars, still-cold beer in hand. One of our former interns and his friends joined us with a half-finished bottle of tequila, but since they were already way more wasted than we were, we didn't have the heart to challenge them to finish the rest.
We woke up early the next morning and took a morning walk along the beach. While the serenity of the beach and the water was calming, our walk was marred by the sight of waste from the previous night's revelry scattered on the beach - an empty bag of chips here, plastic cups here and there. It was so sad to see how irresponsible visitors to this idyllic wonderland were being, instead of making an effort to preserve its beauty and cleanliness.
After a quick post-breakfast morning swim and a makeshift shower at the campsite using a five liter mineral water container filled with deep well water, it was time to pack up and wait for our boatman. We were supposed to stop by Capones Island on the way back, but due to the bulk of people also going home that day, our ride was late, and we left Anawangin past 1:30 in the afternoon still teeming with people enjoying the sun.
Based on the number of people going there this summer, Anawangin is obviously no longer a secret. I just hope that the influx of people will not turn the pristine, untouched state of this cove into a lost memory because of carelessness.
If you want to go there to get away from the maddening crowd, it's best to come on a weekday when you'll have this wonderful place all to yourselves - or off-season, if you're brave enough to face the rough waters. Still, it's definitely worth at least one visit to see this paradise so close to home, regardless of when you'll make the trip.
I hope to be back, too, someday... maybe with an SLR camera at last.