Rebirth is part of Mother Nature’s cycle. But often, this aspect of the cycle can be so subtle that it evades human perception. Indeed, Mother Nature’s rebirth can take years, decades, or even centuries to become evident. Often, it is necessary to travel far and wide to see how she heals herself after being ravaged by humans or after being a victim of her own uncontrollable temper.
We found a stunning place where we witnessed Mother Nature’s rebirth and healing process in action. That place is the secluded Nagsasa Cove situated at the coast of province of Zambales in Luzon, Philipines.
After a harrowing 45-minute boat ride on choppy waters from Anawangin Cove, we finally entered the embrace of Nagsasa Cove. In contrast to the temperamental attitude of the open West Philippine Sea, the water in the bay fronting the grayish-white shore was calm and serene.
At last, we set foot on sandy Nagsasa Cove. If you somehow get lost here, don’t worry. There are signs that point to where you came from. Hehehe!
Colorful tents lined up the sandy, shady spaces beneath the canopies of Agoho trees. Tents can be rented for an affordable price at either Nagsasa Cove or at Pundaquit Beach. However, they come in very limited numbers, so we suggest bringing your own.
Our boatman led us to a vacant table where we can finally put down our bags, check if the contents are wet, unpack our supplies, and eat the packed lunch that we bought from San Antonio.
Our boatman set up our rented tents (we decided to rent tents to lighten our load and to make most of our payment) and assured us that he’ll be back early in the morning.
Because it was Holy Week, Nagsasa Cove was loaded with beachgoers just like any other popular beach in the country. Thankfully, it was not as crowded as Anawangin Cove, and the whole place still exuded an airy, free feeling.
One of the things that allow you to breathe a sigh of relief is this sari-sari store at the beach, a store in the middle of nowhere actually. Here, you can buy cigarettes, simple ingredients, noodles, candies, toiletries, and other stuff that you may need during your stay. The store also has electricity, so you can charge your phone for a relatively hefty price. Best of all, they sell refreshing ice-cold softdrinks!
The bad thing is that all merchandise is sold twice to thrice the normal price. Thus, we suggest you buy everything you need from the mainland.
After having lunch and re-organizing our things, it was time to hit the waters. The tide was slowly receding but that did not stop us from taking a dip in the warm waters of Nagsasa Cove.
Just check out that spectacular mountain scenery! It makes swimming in an idyllic beach an even more awesome experience.
A long stretch of powdery golden sand fronting a small forest of Agoho trees make up half of Nagsasa Cove’s stretch of shoreline. Also, check out the shore. Do you notice that the sand on Sweetie’s feet is gray?
Well, that’s because it’s not just pure beach sand. The grayish color comes from ash deposits that settled on the land after the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo many years ago. As decades passed, with the help of the sea, the ash crystallized into sand-like particles that give this part of the shore its distinctive gray color.
The sand of Nagsasa Cove is somewhat like coarse powder partly due to the blanket of volcanic ash that covered the beach many years ago.
The southern part of the shore is home to Kamp Bira Bira, a resort within Nagsasa Cove. You see, the whole stretch of Nagsasa Cove is divided into resorts. But unlike the shores of Lapu-lapu City in Mactan, Cebu where we live, no ugly sea walls have been erected to demarcate the properties. The result is a long, continuous, beautiful sandy shore where you can walk freely from one end to another.
Outrigger boats of different sizes line, bring and fetch beachgoers. They got really busy during this time of the year. Those boats may look flimsy, but they’re actually tough and very stable. They are available for rent at a relatively affordable rate.
Well, on a hot afternoon like this, who can resist not having fun in the water? No one!
The underwater landscape is pretty much sandy for a mile or two from the shore. Thus, there aren’t many features such as rocks, fields of sea grass, or corals. However, the gentle waves that lap the shore do form the sand into small, long dunes.
In this desert of underwater sand, there are still tidbits of life. We saw this nice, stingless jellyfish swimming around.
Oh yes, if we could only live the rest of our lives like this without worrying about responsibilities! While others enjoyed the beach, I took a very relaxing nap on our hammock.
At around 5:00 PM, our chefs Sir Jigz and Sweetie, prepared our traditional Filipino dinner. We were about to buy firewood at the store (which was pretty expensive) to light up the grill when a local kid passed by. He shook his head after seeing us desperately trying to start a flame. He led us to the back of the beach where we found piles upon piles of dried Agoho branches, which can be used to light up a fire.
Sir Jigz and I were talking about mountaineering stuff when Sweetie suddenly let out a squeal of delight and told us to grab our cameras. Sure enough, she saw the magnificent, orange sunset of Nagsasa Cove. Sir Jigz and I raced to the shore and took photos of one of Mother Nature’s greatest artworks.
The serenity and beauty of Nagsasa Cove’s sunset filled our souls with peace and wonder.
We were treated to a picture-perfect moment of the setting sun. Actually, this was one of the few times in our adventuring career when we saw the entirety of the sun’s disc as it bids farewell to a day. It was simply fantastic!
Doesn’t that traditional dinner look mouthwatering? We prepared grilled pork; salted eggs with tomatoes; sautéed bagoong (pieces of garlic and onions sauteed in shrimp sauce); fresh vegetables dipped in very hot and spicy vinegar-soy sauce and rice.
Bon appétit! After finishing our simple but sumptuous dinner, we cleaned up our plates, chatted for awhile, and went to bed. We were dead tired; it took us only a few minutes before we drifted to unconsciousness even though the rest of the beach was still very much alive and kicking.
We woke up to a gorgeous morning scene of golden mountains and blue skies. Sans the throngs of people, it is definitely paradise here in Nagsasa Cove.
According to some locals we talked to, Nagsasa Cove was originally a barren, sandy shore that was dotted here and there with bare rocks. Then, a few years after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the ash has settled down, Agoho trees and other vegetation suddenly sprouted in this otherwise barren shore. Indeed, Mother Nature finds a way to breathe life.
While Sir Jigz and Ma’am April went up the hill to take photos of early morning scenes, Sweetie and I prepared tocino (sweetened pork slices), scrambled eggs, and tuna for breakfast.
When the duo returned an hour later, they brought with them a few guests, an old Aeta woman together with her grandchildren who came all the way from their mountain village in the province of Pampanga to sell their wares. She told us stories of her life, tales of local culture, and even amusing jokes.
We bought some of her merchandise which includes a sponge made from the bark of a tree and seeds of some sort. She said the sponge can be used for the hair to remove dandruff, and the seeds can be brewed into coffee that can cure stomachaches, headaches, sore limbs, jaundice, and other discomforts. Amazing!
After breakfast, Sweetie and I decided to climb up a nearby hill at the southern bend of the cove. Yesterday afternoon, we saw this hill from the shore and thought that we could see an encompassing view of Nagsasa Cove at the top.
The soil on the hill has a reddish tint, which means it is full of iron.
After passing a “tunnel” of vegetation, we came to a very exposed, grassy part of the trail. Even at an early 7:00 AM, the sun was already searing hot, and we were drenched in sweat.
Going up the hill’s summit involved a short 15-minute but steep climb up a trail of loose soil. Oh, don’t worry about getting lost. You can’t because the trail is clearly marked.
After a little while, we reached the hill’s peak, which offered no shade from the burning sun. Check out the reddish soil and the ragged red rocks.
The red soil and rocks as well as the golden hay-like grass give the hill and the surrounding mountains of the Pundaquit range a distinctive golden, reddish brown color. From afar, we thought the bare slopes were the results of years of deforestation. Upon closer look, the bareness was actually natural. Nature is simply amazing!
At the hill’s summit and with a cloudless sky, we can see the vast expanse of the West Philippine Sea. Suddenly, we felt so small and insignificant while we stand enthralled by Mother Nature. At the same time, we felt special and needed; it is up to us, humans, to preserve paradises like these.
The top of the hill offers an excellent vantage on the bay that sheltered Nagsasa Cove from the unpredictable temper of the West Philippine Sea. As you can see, the bay is quite deep as evidenced by the deep blue water.
The magnificent, golden brown Pundaquit Range acts as a wall that keeps the coves of Zambales secret treasures. At times, we thought of them as the Himalayas of this part of Luzon, and they are great venues for mountaineering and trekking.
After having our fill with the breathtaking sights, it was time to get back to the shore. It was time to pack up and get ready for the journey to Pundaquit Beach.
As we went down, we could see the entirety of Nagsasa Cove. Just look at how well protected this beautiful cove is.
Near the bottom edge of the hill, some jagged rocks break down the monotony of the seemingly endless fields of sand under the sea.
After 15 minutes, we were all packed up and ready to depart Nagsasa Cove. The girls took refuge at a shady area provided by an awning’s shadow while Sir Jigz and I kept a lookout on our outrigger boat.
(Photo credits: Jigz Santiago)
Yes, for the past two days, we were mountaineers turned into beacheneers. Hehehe!
At 9:00 AM as agreed with our young boatman, our boat arrived at the shore. After waterproofing our packs and covering them with life jackets to protect them from sea spray, we were ready to depart and begin the next stage of our Holy Week adventure.
(Photo credits: Jigz Santiago)
Goodbye, Nagsasa Cove! May you stay as beautiful and magnificent as you are. May your visitors accept the crown of responsibility in keeping your shores, mountains, and waters pristine. May the government keep a diligent eye in forever protecting you from man-made degradation and destruction.
On our way out of the bay, we had another clear glimpse of the slopes that surround Nagsasa Cove. As you can see in the photo below, the rebirth continues as evidenced by the small patches of Agoho trees that grew many years after Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption. Agoho trees are not supposed to be endemic here in Nagsasa Cove.
The sea cliffs that line up the coast of Zambales are truly stunning wonders of nature! And because we sailed close to them on the way back to Pundaquit beach, we were able to see them clearly in all their glory.
We spotted this sinister-looking rock outcropping at the entrance of the bay.
Just look at those gorgeous cliffs! If they’re solid, they’d be perfect rock climbing venues.
A fisherman’s boat passed by one of the lonely, uninhabited rock islets off the coast of Zambales.
Here’s another nearby rock outcropping with a lonely patch of green. We wouldn’t be surprised if this serves as a vantage point for fishermen who harvest the bounties of the West Philippine Sea.
Here’s a cliff that is around a hundred or more feet high. Tall cliffs like these make perfect homes for gulls, terns, and other seabirds.
Rock climbing, anyone?
We cruised by Anawangin Cove, kept secret by the same wall of magnificent mountains that protected Nagsasa Cove. It’s not every day and every place where you can see mountains meeting forests and sandy shores.
These boats filled with tourists were on their way to either Anawangin or Nagsasa Cove. We silently envied them because they were protected by roofs.
In some areas, the transition from mountain to sea is immediate but imperceptible. Here, a mountain slope dips into the sea.
But in some places, the mountain abruptly ends as it meets the sea. Check out the photo below. It looks like a giant cleaver chopped the mountain in half. Also, notice the unusual rock slabs.
As we neared Pundaquit Beach, our boatman expertly maneuvered his boat between a massive cliff and a gigantic outcropping. We held our breath as he eased the boat between the natural features with only a few feet to spare. Not only that, he had to make sure that the outriggers don’t hit the sharp submerged rocks under the tiny channel.
We clapped and gave a thumbs-up after safely getting through the channel. Great job!
After an hour-long boat ride, we finally saw and approached the crowded Pundaquit Beach where the next stage of our journey begins.
We may be living in a third-world country, but we have first-world ways to put joy and laughter in our lives. Filipino humor never fails to make us smile.
After a 15-minute tricycle ride back to San Antonio, we boarded a bus to Olongapo City where we plan to take our lunch and take another ride to the source of this destruction and rebirth.
Despite our misgivings due to the fact that we planned this trip in the middle of Holy Week, our Zambales island hopping trip was definitely a great success. We were treated to awesome views and memorable adventures. We were in the company of the coolest fellow adventurers. And most importantly, we were able to witness how Mother Nature healed herself, and that rebirth was perfect.
12:00 AM – depart from Mactan Cebu International Airport, head to Manila
1:00 AM – arrival at NAIA 3, take taxi to Pasay Victory Lines terminal, buy bus tickets
3:30 AM – board bus and depart for Olongapo City
6:00 AM – arrival at Olongapo City Bus Terminal, take bus to San Antonio
7:00 AM – arrival at San Antonio
7:30 AM – breakfast, shopping for packed meals, ingredients for dinner and breakfast, water, drinks, snacks, etc.
8:00 AM – register at San Antonio Tourist Information Desk, wait for tricycle
8:15 AM – ride tricycle to Pundaquit Beach
8:45 AM – arrival at Pundaquit beach, waited for the guide to secure a boat for us
9:15 AM – start of island hopping trip, boat ride to Capones Island
9:45 AM – arrival at Capones Island, explore the island, climb the Capones lighthouse
11:00 AM – depart Capones Island, boat ride to Anawangin Cove
11:45 AM – arrival at Anawangin Cove, swimming, explore the cove
12:15 PM – leave Anawangin Cove, boat ride to Nagsasa Cove
1:15 PM – arrival at Nagsasa Cove, set up tent, organize stuff, lunch
1:30 PM – swimming, explore the cove
5:00 PM – cook dinner, watch sunset
6:00 PM – dinner
7:00 PM – wash up, prepare to sleep
8:00 PM – lights out
5:30 AM – wake up, prepare breakfast
6:30 AM – breakfast
7:00 AM – break camp, pack up
7:30 AM – climb the hill, enjoy Nagsasa Cove’s view
8:45 AM – go down the hill, wait for the boat
9:00 AM – depart Nagsasa Cove, ride boat back to Pundaquit Beach
10:00 AM – arrival at Pundaquit Beach, freshen up, wait for tricycle
10:30 AM – ride tricycle back to San Antonio
11:00 AM – arrival at San Antonio, wait for bus to Olongapo City
11:15 AM – ride bus to Olongapo City
1:00 PM – arrival at Olongapo City Bus Terminal (heavy traffic at Subic)
1:30 PM – lunch at Jollibee
Budget (per person)*
- P 300 – taxi fare (shared by group)
- P 218 – bus fare from Victory Lines Pasay Bus Terminal to Olongapo City Bus Terminal
- P 44 – bus fare from Olongapo City Bus Terminal to San Antonio
- P 30 – tricycle fare from San Antonio to Pundaquit Beach
- P 399 – island hopping package**
- P 400 – boat rental***
- P 50 – day tour in either Anawangin Cove or Nagsasa Cove (covered in our package)
- P 100 – overnight rate in either Anawangin or Nagsasa Cove (covered in our package)
- P 30 – tricycle fare from Pundaquit Beach to San Antonio
- P 40 – bus fare from San Antonio to Olongapo City Bus Terminal
* Except where indicated, all prices are in a per-person basis. We did not include our expenses for meals, snacks, souvenirs, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, and sharing scheme from us. Note that all figures are subject to change without prior notice.
** We bought a 2 day/1 night island hopping package online. As indicated in the voucher, our purchase supposedly includes the following:
- Island hopping (Capones Island with lighthouse tour, Anawangin Cove, and Nagsasa Cove)
- Overnight camping in Nagsasa Cove
- Complimentary mineral water
- Tour guide
- Clean bathroom and fresh water
- Sharing cottages for free use
- Entrance fees, overnight fee, and guide fee
But during the actual trip, we weren’t given any complimentary water and cookware. The “cookware” that we used was an old grille, one of several that are lying around the beach for anyone to use. Thankfully, we brought our own cooksets.
No guide was provided; it seemed that our boatman was the so-called guide. There was a bathroom with fresh water for washing, but that’s the common public bath and toilet in Nagsasa Cove. All guests, even those who didn’t avail of the package, can use the facility. The “cottage” turned out to be a simple bamboo table.
As it turned out, we just paid for the fees and the tent rental.
*** The boat fee is not included in the package; we thought it was part of the package due to the “island hopping” inclusion in the voucher. No fine print whatsoever. We only knew about the exclusion when we bought the package online. After we paid, the travel agency then sent an email saying that the boat fee is excluded. We really don’t want to say this, but we felt it was a deception. So be wary when purchasing packages online.
1. Manila taxi drivers are notorious for offering fixed prices, even those that park outside the airport. The one that we got quote us P300 for a 5-minute ride. If you want to save money, go outside to the highway and flag a passing taxi. Always insist on turning the meter, and pay the driver with the exact amount on the meter. Many drivers keep the change.
2. We bought an island hopping package online, swayed by the promise of an 87 percent discount; we’d pay P399 rather than P3,000. But we were very disappointed on how the package was implemented (see above).
Thus, we strongly advise to get a package from reputable travel agencies, those with positive reviews, or go for a DIY trip. We are not sure about the rate, but we believe you can save more and experience better service if you go the DIY way. Negotiate with the locals at Pundaquit Beach, or ask assistance from the San Antonio Tourist desk.
3. We recommend you bring your own tent. There are only a limited number of tents for rent, and you’d be sleeping on the sand if there are no more tents available. We’re not sure how much the tent rental is, but if you bring your own tent, you’ll save money.
You can rent a tent in Pundaquit Beach or at the makeshift stores in Anawangin Cove or Nagsasa Cove.
4. Alternatively, you can bring a hammock. There are plenty of trees where you can set up a hammock.
5. Purchase food, drinks, charcoal, and other stuff that you need at the San Antonio Market. No restaurants or eateries are available in the coves. Sari-sari stores in the coves offer merchandise at extremely high prices.
You don’t need to pay corkage if you bring your own food and drinks.
6. Charge your phone and camera batteries fully, and bring extra batteries. You may also want to bring solar power chargers or power banks. There is no electricity in the coves, and everything electrical is powered by generators or batteries. Stores may offer charging services, but you have to pay an exorbitant price for a 15-minute charge.
7. Bath and toilet facilities in the coves are rudimentary but clean. Please save water and don’t linger too long when using these facilities. There are other people waiting in line too.
8. Most likely, your boatman will not stay overnight in the cove with you. Thus, before he leaves, arrange your preferred pickup time with him. Get his cell phone number (if he has one) so you can follow him up in the morning.
9. Aetas roam around the coves to sell wares and souvenirs. Buy from them. Not only you will be helping their livelihood, but the items they sell are handmade and are of very, very good quality.
10. Waterproof your pack and the contents inside. Wrap the contents of your pack in plastic bags. Then before boarding your boat, put your pack inside a large plastic garbage bag.
11. Pack light but bring the following:
- water (at least three liters)
- umbrella, hat, or sarong
- swimming attire
- extra clothes
- mosquito repellent
- snacks and softdrinks
- packed meals or ingredients for your meals
- charcoal for cooking
- fire-making tools (matches, lighter, flint-and-steel, etc.)
- eating utensils
- burner and butane canister (you can buy a butane canister in San Antonio)
- personal medicines
- plastic bags/garbage bags
- extra money for emergencies
12. Preserve the beauty of these coves. Pack up your trash and bring them back to San Antonio for proper disposal. Do not throw your garbage at the garbage pits at the back of the coves.