Arrival at Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club (Morong, Bataan)

Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club

Last Saturday, I was invited by events organizer Bernard Supetran to again cover (the first time was last year) the first leg of the Philippine Kayaking Series, the longest running kayaking series in the country, held at Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club in Morong, Bataan.

Gen. Manager George B. Cadhit (center)

Joining us was Bernard’s wife Lally; Mr. Amadis Ma. Guerrero of Philippine Daily Inquirer; Ms. Kara Santos of Sunday Inquirer, with husband Mr. Art Fuentes; and photographers Mr. Edwin Tuyay, of Bloomberg Now, and Mr. Mike Policarpio.

Members of media touring the resort

We left Manila, via a van, by 8:30 AM and reached Anvaya Cove in Morong in Bataan, after a 145-km. drive via NLEX and SCTEX, by 10:30 AM.  Upon arrival at Anvaya, we were all welcomed by Gen. Manager Mr. George B. Cadhit.  As the 32-km. kayak marathon was still underway, we still had time to explore the facilities of the resort and George gladly toured us around.

Check out “Resort Feature: Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club

Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club: Brgy. Mabayo, Morong, Bataan.  Tel: (02) 793-9000.  Fax: (02) 793-9088.  E-mail: reservations@anvayacove.com. Website: www.anvayacove.com.

Puno ng Pandil (Morong, Bataan)

The next day, Saturday, was family day and what better way to spend than a day of swimming at the beach.  However, the nearby beach was heavily-crowded with Holy Week revelers and so we decided to look for our own secluded spot by hiring a motorized banca for this purpose.  The long stretch of black sand beach was lined with a number of beach resorts, notable of which are the upscale Strand and Waterfront Resort.

Puno ng Pandil

There are also a number of private beachfront residences.  Just when we thought we would never find our own private cove, we espied the picture-perfect and postcard-pretty scene of an unusually white sand beach backed up by a sugar loaf mountain.  Locally called Puno ng Pandil, we finally found our own private nook.  Here, we swam to our heart’s delight with the cool feel of the white sand beneath our feet.  It was truly something worth returning to.

Hike to Pintong Alipi Falls (Morong, Bataan)

Morong River

We arrived at Sitio Kanawan in Brgy. Binaritan by 11 AM. A very short hike led us to a pastoral scene of the moderately flowing Morong River fringed on both banks by dense forest and crossed by a hanging bridge of wood planks and steel cables.  Two in our party went ahead to prepare lunch at the Aeta Resettlement Area.  We, however, couldn’t and didn’t resist a cool dip at the river’s inviting waters.  That done, we crossed the bridge and proceeded, along a well-marked trail, toward Kanawan, pausing only to rest at Mang Kit’s mango tree farm.  Kanawan’s 147 households have a mixed population of lowlanders or unat (meaning “straight-haired”) and resettled Aetas or kulot (meaning “kinky-haired”).  The Mt. Pinatubo-displaced Aetas were resettled there in 1987 (through Pres. Corazon Aquino’s Proclamation No. 129) and an Aeta kapitana (captain) currently heads the village.  Every 5 May, the Aetas perform a kabikin or marriage ritual.

Hanging bridge

We arrived at the village just in time for a tinolang manok lunch.  This we attacked with gusto, and justly so as we would need the energy to tackle the long hike ahead.  Laden with water containers, we also secured the services of 48-year old Mr. Iglezerdo “Guilling” Alejo of Task Force Kalikasan as our guide.  After a short hike through rice paddies, our band soon entered the cooling shade of the dense forest.  And dense it really was as about 70% of Morong town is included in the SBMA reservation, with 9,694 hectares identified as watershed primary growth forest area.

The trek begins …..

The hike, through an often well-marked trail strewn with dried leaves and rocks, entailed some dry streambed crossings and quite steep and strenuous mountain climbing.  At the end of this very tiring, almost three-hour hike was the rewarding vista of the well-hidden, 80-foot high Pintong Alipi Falls which is fed by numerous springs sweeping along the mountain.  We relaxed our visibly tired bodies at the cool, refreshing waters of the fall’s shallow pool, as well as enjoyed a back massage underneath the falls itself.  It was truly worth the long hike.

Pintong Alipi Falls

Recharged, we began our return trek to Kanawan, meeting two Aetas gathering honey along the way.  We arrived by 5:30 PM.  After a short rest and some sustenance, we groped our way back to our jeep, our path lit by flashlights.  Our progress back to the town was somewhat stalled by the Good Friday parade of carrozas.   Instead of fretting, we just curiously watched the parade pass us by.  Back at Mang Kit’s house, we hungrily gorged ourselves at supper.  I was just too spent to even walk the short distance back to Vener’s house, collapsing instead to a blissful sleep at Mang Kit’s living room sofa.

Bataan’s Vietnamese Connection

It being Good Friday, we fittingly made plans for a self-imposed, late afternoon Calvary-like hike, up Mt. Agalis, to the remote Pintong Alipi Falls.  Bienvenido “Kit” Nazareno, Vener’s 55-year old uncle, volunteered to drive and accompany us there.  The 30-min. jeepney trip to the jump-off point included passing by the 380-hectare, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)-managed Bataan Technology Park in Brgy. Sabang. Now being developed as the “Silicon Valley of the Philippines,” this place used to have a humanitarian beginning, it being the former site of the Refugee Processing Center (PRPC), a refugee processing camp for Vietnamese “boat people.”  

A Vietnamese relic at Bataan Technology Park

It was said that the PRPC was among the most comfortable refugee camps in the world.  No barbwire fences and no border soldiers to accost the refugees coming in and out of the camp.  Set up in 1979 under the United States Repatriation Program, it served as a temporary home and transit center for the relocation of Indo-Chinese refugees (Vietnamese, Khmers and Laotians) victimized by the American war in Southeast Asia.  Here, they were trained in English, American history and vocational skills.  The center housed 18,000 refugees at one time and more than 100,000 have passed through here.

Remains of the first Vietnamese refugee boat

Today, the PRPC is no more as it was closed in 1994.  All we saw during transit was a shrine and the rotting remains of the first refugee boat to arrive there.  Vietnamese cuisine, however, has left an imprint in the town.  Near the town hall is a store serving hu-thieu, a soup concoction consisting of sotanghon noodles, sliced hard-boiled eggs, spices and bean sprouts.  We sample this before we departed Morong for Manila.  We, however, missed out on the bun-mi, another Vietnamese-inspired favorite which consists of grilled bun stuffed with pipino, tomatoes, onions and sliced meat with spices, mustard and mayonnaise added.

Holy Week in Morong (Bataan)

Napot Point

After our Dambana ng Kagitingan pilgrimage, it was back to my car again for the final drive to Morong. Along the final 23-km. stretch from Bagac to Morong, we passed the controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, situated 18 m. above sea level at Napot Point.  Morong was the chosen site for this “white elephant,” which was supposed to be the first nuclear power plant in the country.

Begun in 1977, it was constructed by Westinghouse (allegedly under a “conspiracy of corruption”) and was expected to generate 620 MW of electricity when completed.  After much delays (construction was stopped in June 1979 due to the Three Mile Island incident in the U.S.), it was finally completed in 1985 at a cost of US$1.95 billion (its initial budget was US$1.1 billion).  However, cause-oriented groups staged a number of “No Nukes” rallies.

They protested its potential to life and property, and its being built on a major earthquake fault line.  The Chernobyl nuclear plant accident in the former Soviet Union in 1986 was the final nail in its coffin as Pres. Corazon Aquino ordered it mothballed that same year.  To this day, it has not been decided what to do with this overpriced but unsafe complex and the sophisticated equipment already installed there.  In the meantime, the country is left with the problem and an incurred US$2.2 billion debt.

Sunset at Morong

We finally reached Morong late in the afternoon and stayed at Vener’s house, located near the town’s Spanish-era church and a few hundred meters from the beach.  A soothing and well-deserved cool afternoon dip at the beach, augmented by a beautiful fiery sunset, relaxed our tired bodies. Early morning of the next day, Good Friday, provided an opportunity to observe, up close, the countrywide Holy Week ritual of self-flagellation.  I first encountered this shocking and bloody ritual when I was still living in Malibay (Pasay City).  Here in Morong it is called pagbubulyos.   This is performed mostly by men, both young and old, who wish to fulfill a panata (vow) of public atonement for one’s sins.  This panata is done for a minimum of 10 successive years and is reflected in the bulyos, a whip consisting of bamboo strips tied to sturdy cord.   Each strip represents one year of atonement, its number being reduced every succeeding year until he completes his panata.  Each strip should be secured properly.  If one is detached during his rounds, another strip (and another year) is added to his bulyos.

Before the actual flagellation, the flagellant’s back is prepared by beating with stick and paddles until swollen and numb.  Numerous small cuts on the back are then made with razors, with vinegar or salt sometimes applied to the cuts.   Only then is the raw back whipped continuously by the bulyos.  The flagellants, most with heads covered, walk barefoot along the town’s streets, stopping by the church to pray, then continuing on until they reach the sea where a healing noontime dip awaits them.

Dambana ng Kagitingan (Pilar, Bataan)

The Memorial Cross

Come Holy Week, I was invited by Jandy’s teacher Ms. Veneriza “Vener” Trillo to vacation at their home at Morong in Bataan.  That being the case, I also planned to make a stopover at the Dambana ng Kagitingan in Pilar.  Its giant cross, on the 553-m. high Mt. Samat, stands as a mute symbol of the heroic World War II resistance put up by Filipino-American forces against the invading Japanese 60 years ago.  A visit to Bataan is certainly meaningless without seeing it.  On this pilgrimage, I brought along my son Jandy, his classmate Jeff Agtonong, teachers Mr. Erwin Vizcarra and Mr. Ronnie Boy Lansangan plus Ms. Marianne de Guzman,  Ronnie’s friend. 

Mt. Samat

We left Manila very early in the morning (4 AM) of April 17 (Holy Thursday), taking the longer (150.40 kms. from the Balintawak flyover) route along Bataan’s east coast instead of the shorter Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) route.  Normally it would take 3 hrs. tops to travel the said distance, but hey, this is Holy Week and heavy traffic is the rule and not the exception.  It was everywhere, from the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), then being widened, all the way up to Lubao in Pampanga.  The Lubao section (then being rehabilitated) was the worst, with over an hour wasted.  After Lubao, it was smooth driving all the way as we entered Bataan, the Roman Superhighway and the Angel Linao Highway, to Pilar town. Along the way, we passed the entrance to Dunsolan Falls, located along Mt. Samat’s western slope, and Mt. Samat Inn.  Upon reaching the Mt. Samat turn-off, it was a steep drive up a 7-km. long winding asphalt road.  We finally reached the shrine by 10 AM.

The colonnade of Dambana ng Kagitingan

The shrine, at the end of the road, is located just 70 m. below the mountain’s peak.  It was built at a cost of PhP7 million (including access roads) and was opened on April 9, 1974, the anniversary of Bataan’s fall (Araw ng Kagitingan).  Our pilgrimage to the shrine was done nearly 30 years after the fact. Today, the Araw ng Kagitingan held at the shrine usually features wreath-laying ceremonies, remembrance of the Death March and tributes to World War II veterans, whether dead or still living. 

The base of the cross

Immediately above us, reached by a long flight of stairs, is the shrine’s marble-capped colonnade.  It has an altar, an esplanade and a museum.  The shrine’s 12 relief columns, done in marble, depict historical events and important battles that took place in Bataan. The altar, used for religious services, has a stained-glass mural behind it. There are also statues of war heroes, two bronze urns (symbolic of the Eternal Flame of Freedom) and 18 bronze insignias and flagpoles with colors of USAFFE division units.  What struck the eye; however, were the two huge panels on the north and south walls inscribed with accounts of the Battle of Bataan in relief.   The colonnade’s basement museum, reached by a spiral stairway, displays an array of authentic World War II American and Japanese weapons (rifles, machine guns, mortars, shells, bayonets, etc.), uniforms (helmets, boots, belts, etc.), old photos, news clippings and, in the center of the dimly-lit hall, a scaled 3-D model of the Bataan peninsula indicating important battle sites.

The museum

Upon finishing our museum tour, we crammed our necks up to look at our ultimate destination: the towering Memorial Cross.  From the colonnade, we made the long but leisurely walk up the 14-flight zigzagging footpath (paved with bloodstones from Corregidor Island) on the mountain slope to the cross.  Once up, I found out that we could have drove all the way up to a parking lot beside it.  Some exercise (in futility?) it turned out to be as I later walked down the winding road to fetch the car.  The cross was huge, 91.8 m. high to be exact. Built in 1968 with steel and reinforced concrete, it stands on an 11 meter high platform capped with nabiag na bato slabs sculpted with bas reliefs depicting significant battles and historical events.  Above this base, the cross is finished with chipped granolithic marble. Its 30 m. wide arms (15 m. on each arm) rise 74 m. from the base and can be reached by an elevator. 

View of the shrine from the Memorial Cross
We failed to make it to the last morning trip up the viewing gallery at the cross’ arms as it was now lunchtime.  We had to wait another hour, becoming the second batch up that afternoon.  The 18-ft. by 90-ft. viewing gallery has a 7-ft. high clearance. It was pleasantly cool and windy up there, quite a different scenario from 6 decades ago when the area reeked with smell of death and the intense heat of battle. The views, nevertheless, were spectacular.  From the gallery, we could view the sea, mountains, forests (somewhat denuded at certain areas) and distant Manila, located 126.34 kms. northeast.  The cross is finished with luminous material and can be seen on a clear night as far away as Manila across Manila Bay.