|View of Islands from View Deck|
The last time I’ve been to the Hundred Islands in Alaminos City, Pangasinan was way back March of 2005, Holy Week with son Jandy and 2 lady friends, and we only got to explore 3 of its islands, camping overnight at Marta Island. I considered this a poor batting average considering that there are 127 of these granite and scrub-covered islands and islets, a number of them having white sand beaches. Again it was Holy Week and this time I, together with Jandy and daughter Cheska, found ourselves in Pangasinan, staying at El Puerto Marina Resort and Spa at the provincial capital town of Lingayen. The resort offered day tours to the islands and we decided, especially Cheska who was a first-timer to these islands, to join the tour. Our group included Fil-American Ms. Katrina Nogoy and Malaysian-American Ms. Janet Jun Siew Loh, both visiting school teachers from Japan. Our guide was resort employee Mr. Viramel “Ram” Velasco.
The trip, via a van driven by Mr. Nixon Fernando, to Brgy. Lucap, take-off point to the islands, took all of 1 hour. Again, it being a long holiday, the wharf and every island with a white sand beach was packed with tourists. Although I brought a 5-pax tent with me to Lingayen, camping on an island was out of the question. However, we decided to explore beyond the normal tourist boat route which only included the partially developed Children, Governor’s and Quezon Islands, this time including the other outlying but interesting islands, paying a hefty PhP800 to do so. While waiting for our boat, I made a short visit to Lucap’s Marine Museum which has a collection of corals and other marine life. This 1,844-hectare national park, declared as such on January 18, 1940 through Proclamation No. 667, is believed to be the second largest marine reservation in the world with 2,000 species of marine life.
|Lucap Wharf Marine Museum|
The whole park can be readily covered, even by a slow banca, in half a day. Most of the islands we passed are small (the smallest being less than 20 sq. m.), heavily-undercut at the base and have an elevation of 20 m. . Many do not have trees to shade you from the sun and do not carry a name. Some that do carry names are fancifully named after luminaries in the country (Marcos Island, Romulo Island, Quezon Island, etc.) while others are named after plants and animals that they resemble (Mushroom Island, Turtle Island, etc.). An interesting photo opportunity was Cathedral Island, so named after its cathedral-like, fruit bat-inhabited cave with domed rock formations.
|Cathedral Island and Cave|
Our first stop was Governor’s Island. The island had white sand beaches on both sides but lolling around at the packed beaches wasn’t yet in our agenda. Instead, all five of us decided to climb up the top of the island which, unlike 5 years ago, now had paved stairs and roped railings leading to a concrete view deck with railing (and packed with tourists). What hasn’t changed, though, was the magnificent and panoramic view it afforded of this mini-archipelago said to have been formed from the tears of a prehistoric lovelorn giant who pined for his lost lady love. The island also has a not-too-deep, sea-sculpted cave.
Our next and longest stopover was Marcos Island. Marked by mermaid statues, the island consists of 3 mounds, a 70-foot drop-off, a nice white sand beach (difficult to land on when the waves are high) and a helipad on the smaller dome. From the beach, a well-marked trail, on the left, leads to the top of the island where its chief attraction is the bat-inhabited Imelda Cave which can be peered down from a blowhole above. Here, the adventurous and brave could climb down a wooden stairs to a ledge where they can cliff dive to the sea below.
|Cheska taking the plunge|
It was now noontime and, after this exciting but adrenalin-sapping exercise, we were visibly hungry, our previous meal being an early breakfast at the resort. We got back to our boat and proceeded to Quezon Island (at 25 hectares, the largest in this mini-archipelago). This most frequented island was truly packed to rafters with tourists as it had, aside from its white sand beach, a pavilion for guests, stores (where one could dine) and toilet and bathing facilities (for a fee). Again, it being a holiday, prices of goods bordered on the cutthroat but, hungry as we were, still ordered cooked Spam (at PhP250, twice that in Manila) plus rice (at PhP25 per cup) washed down with half-liter bottles of water (at PhP60). The island also has a nursery for giant clams (locally called taklobo), a demonstration site for 300 clams dispersed here and at Children’s and Governor’s Islands, and all monitored on a regular basis. These, as well as the corals and mangroves, were rehabilitated through a program called “Marine Biodiversity Enhancement,” a project of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA), the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) and the Marine Environment and Resources Foundation (MERF).