The Famous Salt Beds of Dasol (Pangasinan)

The famous salt beds of Dasol

After our lunch and ocular visit of Dasoland, we again boarded our van to finally make our way back to Manila.  Its been a very busy and educational three days in Pangasinan. However, we haven’t traveled far when we espied the famous salt beds of Dasol.  We therefore stopped along the highway to take pictures of these fascinating man-made creations.  The  province’s name was derived from the word panag-asinan (“place where salt is made”) and Dasol is one of only four Pangasinan towns (the others are Anda, Bani and Bolinao) that produce salt.

Baskets of raw salt

These salt beds, glistening whitely in the late afternoon sun, have sluices that are opened to allow about 3 inches of sea water from  the incoming ocean tides of Dasol Bay to pour into and be trapped in a checkerboard of shallow ponds lined with grayish-brown clay and paved with shards of clay pots, similar to inland rice paddies.  The impounded water is allowed to naturally evaporate in the sun for a few hours, after which thin crusts of salt crystals would form on the surface and sink to the bottom of the pond.  The resulting encrusted salt is then raked, gathered into small neat piles, scooped into baskets and then transferred to a bigger pile in a hut.  The raw salt is then brought to the cooking sheds to be washed, boiled and condensed into pure rock salt. During the rainy season, the salt beds are converted into fish ponds.

Church of the Holy Child (Mabini, Pangasinan)

Church of the Holy Child

The Church of the Holy Child, already in existence in the 19th century, has withstood several natural and man-made calamities over the past decades.  In 1832, a great flood submerged the convent and, in 1852, the church was struck by a lightning. It was repaired by Fr. Mariano Torrente (1858 to 1872) and, after a flood in 1881, by Fr. Epifanio Vergara (1893 to 1898).

The church’s Early Renaissance facade

A strong earthquake on December 12, 1999, destroyed the 1830 church, collapsing the stone walls, facade, and the altar but leaving a few structural components and the foundation intact. In 2005, the church was restored and blessed and, in 2006, the old convent and the parish office were transferred to the other side of the church which used to be a chapel before the restoration of the church.

The altar retablo

The church’s Early Renaissance facade has tall, paired Doric columns on pedestals reaching up to the pediment and flanking the semicircular arch main entrance.  Above it are semicircular arched windows while the pediment has a statued niche flanked by circular windows.  The bell tower is a later addition.

Plaque commemorating the quadricentennial of the parish

Church of the Holy Child: Sto. Niño St., Brgy. Poblacion, Mabini, Pangasinan. Feast of the Holy Child: Third Sunday of January.

How to Get There: Mabini is located 322 kms. from Manila an 54.5 kms. (a 1-hour drive) from Lingayen via the Olongapo-Bugallon Rd..

Balingasay River (Bolinao, Pangasinan)

The clean, multi-awarded Balingasay River


On the way back to the Tourist Center from Enchanted Cave in Bolinao, we made a short stopover at a bridge to photograph the 7-km. long, pristine and now fishpen-free Balingasay River (Brgy. Balingasay),  twice winner of the Gawad Pangulo sa Kapaligiran Award for inland bodies of water in the Ilocos Region and a recipient of the highly prestigious Wetlands Conservation Award in 1994. Set aside as a protected seascape, this river, noted for its scenic beauty and biodiversity, has 15 hectares of century-old and new growth mangroves areas, 30 hectares of of attap palms (used for nipa hut roofing), wild ferns and balete trees hanging into the water.  These protect the river from erosion and pollution.  Different species of wild birds (locally called kiaw and pagaw) also make their home atop the trees and wild ducks, lizards, monkeys and wild boar also make their home in the forest.

Some boats parked at the river mouth

The Balingasay River is fed by Quibuar Spring, Bolinao Falls and several other springs and creeks. Fresh water meets the sea water of the South China Sea toward the middle of the river,  a perfect environment for unique fish (malaga, lapu-lapu, etc.) and shellfish (crabs, shrimps and oysters) species to flourish.  Boats from the bridge can be rented (PhP500) to explore the river which connects 5 villages to the town proper, located 5.5 kms. from the mouth of the river. Aside from regular outrigger boats, some boats that ferry villagers are made, through Filipino ingenuity, from discarded wings of World War II airplanes secured from the former U.S. Naval Base in Subic.  The wings are fitted with bamboo and wood as “balancers” and then wooden seats are installed for 12 people.

Enchanted Cave (Bolinao, Pangasinan)

Enchanted Cave

After our Solomon’s Paradise sojourn, we next proceeded along the road to Enchanted Cave, one of three caves (the others are Cindy’s Cave and Wonderful Cave) in Brgy. Patar in Bolinao.  Located in a private property it is, however, open to the public (in early 2000) but, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee of PhP30 if you’ll just look at the place and take pictures, and PhP40 if you’ll swim.  This was to be my second visit to the cave (the first was in March 2005).  The owner allowed us entry into the premises and, as we were in a rush, skipped the usual orientation by its staff. Along its paved walkway amidst a lush garden and huts, we noticed, mixed with the garden landscape, fossilized remains of giant clams discovered in the hilltop, 2 kms. from the cave, and estimated to be about 2-3 million years old.   The fact that it was a cave made of coral limestone is evidence that the place was under water for millions of years and that the beach head of Bolinao extended almost a kilometer from the current beach line.

Fossilized clams

We then carefully went down, through a small opening with paved steps and railing, to the cave’s 30-m. freshwater (which some say is unusual for a coral cave) pool with cool and crystal clear water. Adequately lit, it was very humid and musty inside.  According to the caretaker, the pool, connected to an underground river, has depths of 3-6 ft., during low tide, and 3-10 ft. during high tide.  Swimmers are restricted by management from entering certain areas clearly marked by ropes.  Some scenes in the 1996 movie Ang Pinakamagandang Babae sa Balat ng Lupa (starring Ruffa Gutierrez) and the popular 2008 GMA 7 telenovela Dyesebel (starring Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes) were shot here.  Actor Piolo Pascual was also said to have visited the cave.

Enchanted Cave: Brgy. Patar, Bolinao, Pangasinan.

Abrac Beach and Solomon’s Paradise (Bolinao, Pangasinan)

Abrac Beach

After our Cape Bolinao Lighthouse tour, we proceeded to nearby Abrac Beach for an ocular visit.  This white sand beach, open to the public, has no entrance fee but has native-style picnic huts for rent (PhP150-300) and a number of souvenir shops selling snacks, T-shirts (promoting Bolinao of course), shell handicrafts and other souvenirs.  The Treasures of Bolinao Resort can be seen to the right of the beach.  Going down to the beach from our picnic hut was via a steep berm.

Solomon’s Paradise main building

We next moved on to the 3-km. long Patar Beach where we visited Solomon’s Paradise Bar Grill Resort.  Operated by the nice and friendly Australian Brett Solomon and opened last March 2008, the place truly lived up to its name, being located in a short but very private white sand cove between towering, wave undercut rock formations. Both rock formations have two sea-sculpted caves and each had small huts on top where one could do quiet contemplation while enjoying the invigorating sea breeze and admiring the huge South China Sea waves crashing against the rocky shore, a scene truly reminiscent of the movie “Wuthering Heights.”    

Native-style accommodations

The resort has a main building with roof deck (where you can watch the sunset or dine al fresco) and a well-stocked bar.  Behind it are accommodations for guests consisting of a native-style rowhouse with 3×4 m. fan-cooled rooms (PhP1,600-2,000 for 2 people and PhP2,500-2,900 for 4 people) with common verandah.  In front is a beach volleyball playing area.  Common toillets and baths for guests are located at the main building.  The resort is a 3-min. drive from Cape Bolinao Lighthouse.  Though we arrived at the resort during high surf, during calmer moments guests can swim at private coral-lined “bathtubs” and explore the sea caves.  Maybe next time we could make that happen.

Solomon’s Paradise cove
Solomon’s Paradise Bar Grill Resort: Patar Beach, Abrac, Brgy. Patar, Bolinao, Pangasinan. Mobile numbers: (0905) 398-1470 (Globe) and (0928) 474-8845 (Smart). E-mail: solomonsparadise@yahoo.com.  Website: www.solomonsparadise.multiply.com.

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse (Pangasinan)

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse

After our visit to Bolinao Marine Laboratory, we were invited by our host for lunch at Bolinao‘s Tourist Center.  After lunch, we next drove up a 107–m. (351-ft.) high promontory in Brgy. Patar called Punta Piedra Point. On top was the century-old Cape Bolinao Lighthouse, built by American, Filipino and British engineers in 1903 and one of 5 major lighthouses in the country. The original apparatus was made in England and its lantern, with three wicks and chimney, was imported from France.  This 30.79-m. (101-ft.) high lighthouse, the second tallest lighthouse (after Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte) in the country and 1 of 2 in the town (there is another small lighthouse in Guiguiwanen, Brgy. Luciente 1), guards the entrance to Lingayen Gulf and its light, could be seen 44 kms. (26 miles) out.  It is operated by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Destruction wrought by typhoon Emong

During the lighthouse’s first 80 years of operation, it was fueled by kerosene . When the Pangasinan I Electric Cooperative extended its power lines to Patar, the lanterns were powered by electricity.  Just like my first visit in 2005, I wasn’t able to climb its 134-step winding stairway as its gate was locked and the caretaker nowhere to be found.  It was also depressing to see the destruction wrought by Typhoon Emong which unroofed its administration building.  Solar panels which recharged its two beacon lights, set up via a 1999 loan package extended by the Japanese government, were also destroyed.  Just the same, the lighthouse still remains an attraction by itself. Spectacular sunsets and the deep blue sea can be watched at its view deck.  

Bolinao Marine Laboratory (Pangasinan)

Bolinao Marine Laboratory

After our brief rest stopover at El Pescador Beach Resort, we proceeded to the Bolinao Marine Laboratory (BML), the official marine station, started in 1983, of the Marine Science Institute (MSI), University of the Philippines.The BML, located 2 kms. from Bolinao town proper, has a main laboratory building (with research lab and classrooms), administration building, staff houses, dormitories and a land-based hatchery.  A venue for research work, BML also aims to be a focal point for extension activities involving the municipality and the various communities inhabiting the coast; serve as an educational exhibit center for research activities on marine science; to offer direct service to the local community in the form of environmental education programs and; to assist in the formulation of coastal management plans for the municipality.

Giant clams

At BML, we observed the laboratory’s propagation of the endangered giant clam (Family Tridacnidae),  sea urchins and certain species of sea cucumbers through grow out culture and sea ranching.  The sea cucumber Holothuria scabra, one of the most expensive if not the most expensive in the market, are, once bred, are then planted in research pens in Santiago Island.  Sea urchins (scientific name: Tripneustes gratilla), locally called uni, have been overharvested by fishermen in the 1980s and 90s for the Japanese market. These too are bred, fed with processed sea weeds (sargassum) in a hatchery and re-seeded.  BML also does habitat restoration (e.g., coral transplantation) and sets up marine protected areas for coral and sea grass conservation. 

Bolinao Marine Laboratory: U.P. Marine Science Institute (MSI), Brgy. Luciente 1, Bolinao, Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 541-8022 ext. 102. E-mail: chin445@yahoo.com.

Church of St. James the Great (Bolinao, Pangasinan)

Church of St. James the Great

After an early morning breakfast at the Capitol Resort Hotel in Lingayen, we again boarded our van for the premier tourism town of Bolinao, a major destination during our 3-day (April 4-6, 2011) Pangasinan Media Tour.  Here, it 69,568 townspeople speak the unique Bolinawen dialect.  This wasn’t my first visit to this paradise place, having gone there during a 2005 Holy Week break with my son Jandy and two friends at Patar Beach. Four years after my first visit, on May 7, 2009, super typhoon Emong (international code name: Chan Hom, packing winds of 150 kph with a gustiness of 185 kph) made a 7 PM landfall in Bolinao and, in less than an hour, damaged 80-90% of its houses, blocked roads with fallen trees, destroyed 95% of its aquaculture industry and killed at least 20 people (with 4 missing), mostly fish cage caretakers who stayed on their makeshift huts.

Municipal Hall

However, nothing could really bring a good town down and, through the cooperation of its townspeople, the town has somehow recovered.  We arrived in town in the midst of a high school graduation in front of the town hall and first visited its venerable Church of St. James the Great. This solid, stone church, built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1609, used to double as a fortress against attacks by pirates, the English, Japanese and Americans.  Today, this church (as well as 25 other churches) is listed by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure. 

The church interior

The church’s roof and ceiling were damaged during the typhoon but its roof and its trusses (now steel) have since been replaced though still ceiling-less. However, the impressive High Renaissance façade, with its weathered wooden santos in the niches, the bell tower and the beautiful, intricately carved retablos and pulpit remain intact.

Fr. Odorico Marker

In front of the church is a memorial marker which challenges the accepted historical fact of the March 31, 1521 first Mass held at Limasawa in Southern Leyte. Instead, the town claims that, in 1324, an Italian (from Friuli) Franciscan Fr. Odorico, en route to China for missionary work, encountered stormy weather and sought refuge at Bolinao Bay.  While on land, he celebrated a thanksgiving Mass and also baptized the natives, making him the first evangelizer in the Philippines.  The marker was donated by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Malamocco, 62, also from Fr. Odorico’s hometown of  Friuli, Italy.

Agew na Pangasinan (Lingayen)

Street dancing parade

After our visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag, we proceeded to the capital town of Lingayen and made a courtesy call on Provincial Information Officer Mr. Orpheus “Butch” Velasco at the Provincial Capitol.  We arrived in time for the Parada na Dayew, a grand parade of floats that was part of the celebration of the province’s 431st founding anniversary dubbed “Agew na Pangasinan,” now on its second year.  With the theme “Aliguas na Baley, Aliguas na Luyag,” the parade featured 22 participating local government units (LGU) and 12 colorful floats that showcased the various products and development programs and projects of participating LGUs.

The Lingayen float

The float parade, which included a colorful presentation of street dances with contingents clad in local costumes and accompanied by drum, lyre and bugle corps., commenced at the Narciso Ramos Sports and Civic Center, then followed a fixed route to Artacho St., Poblacion Area, Maramba Blvd. and ended at the Capitol. The floats, decorated with indigenous and recyclable materials, provided a glimpse of Pangasinan’s best products such as the sugpo (prawns) and malaga of Binmaley, the delicious and sweet tasting mangoes of San Carlos City, the savory corn of Sto. Tomas, the famous bagoong (fish paste) of Lingayen, the walis tambo of Bautista, the puto of Calasiao and the tupig of Laoac.

A drum and bugle corp
Provincial Tourism Office: 2/F, Malong Bldg., Provincial Capitol Complex, Lingayen, Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 542-8007 and 542-6853.  E-mail: tourismpangasinan@yahoo.com

Museo de Nuestra Senora de Manaoag (Pangasinan)

Image of Our Lady

Last April 4-6, I was invited by events organizer Mr. Bernard Supetran to cover the Agew na Pangasinan Festival (the provincial foundation anniversary) of Pangasinan. Together with my photographer daughter Cheska, we met up with Bernard, Mr. Amadis Ma. Guerrero of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mr. Vince Lopez of Manila Bulletin and travel blogger (http://mvlnunez.blogspot.com/) and good friend Mr. Mark Vincent Nunez  at MacDonalds near De La Salle University along Taft Ave. in Pasay City.  Along the way, we also picked up Lakbay Norte 2 colleague Ms. Kara Santos of Sunday Inquirer at Quezon City.   Our first destination would be the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag.  The trip took longer than expected as we made a wrong turn at Urdaneta City, reaching as far as Calasiao before we realized our mistake.  We backtracked and made it to Manaoag and the shrine by 1:30 PM.  

Museo de Nuestra Senora de Manaoag

I have been  to the shrine many times, the last time just 70 days ago during the first leg of my Lakbay Norte 2 tour, visiting its newly inaugurated Candle Gallery.  Time constraints then made us miss visiting its Museo de Nuestra Senora de Manaoag.  Now the opportunity presented itself.  The museum, first opened on May 10, 2000 (incidentally Cheska’s 10th birthday), was recently renovated and inaugurated again last April 21, 2010.  Its display includes an old carroza used to transport the image during her procession, an earlier pedestal, a collection of embroidered, pre-Vatican II chasubles, capes and a dalmatic (possibly dating back as far as the 17th century); a collection of monstrances, chalices, ciboria, patens and communion plates; silver candelabras with the unmistakable markings of the Dominican seal; an old wooden statue of St. Dominic; golden crown, staff, rostrillo, aureola and embroidered cape that are used to embellish the image; perfume bottles and pieces of jewelry.that adorn the statue of Our Lady.  

The “Church on a Hill” exhibit

One panel on the wall, “The Church On a Hill,” narrates the history of the town’s church. Another interesting display are the letters of the devotees who are seeking divine assistance for the many concerns of life, such as success, cure, enlightenment and relationship. At the center of the hall is a beautiful 3 ft. high ivory statue of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag mounted on a huge, carved wooden bulk of clouds from which three cherubim heads pop out. A visitor can write  prayers on pieces of paper  provided on a console table at the right side of the image.In front of the image is an antique wooden bench.  A mounted flat television on the wall depicts the history, the miracles and personal reflections related to Our Lady of Manaoag.  

Museo de Nuestra Senora de Manaoag:  Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag, Milo St. cor. N. Garcia Rd., Manaoag, Pangasinan.  Tel: (075) 529-0249 and 519-2547.  Fax: (075) 529-0132.  Website: www.ourladyofmanaoag.org. Open Mondays to Sundays (except Tuesdays), 8 AM-4:30 PM. Admission is free of charge but donations are welcomed to augment museum maintenance and education program.