Church of St. Monica (Botolan, Zambales)

Church of St. Monica

This impressive coral limestone church was built in 1700 and finished at about the last quarter of 19th century.

The one-level Baroque facade

The moss-covered, one-storey Baroque façade has semicircular arch main entrance, flanked by two semicircular arch statued niches (with the statues of St. Augustine and St. Monica).

Statue of St. Augustine

Statue of St. Monica

Both main entrance and statued niches are flanked by flat pilasters and topped by curved arches and small, centrally located occoli.  

The left side of the church

The right sie of the church

Above the triangular pediment is a bell tower with semicircular arch openings and three bells arranged in a row.

The modern interior

The altar and retablo

Church of St. Monica: Olongapo-Bugallon Road, Brgy. Danacbunga, Botolan, Zambales. Tel: (047) 810-1207. Feast of St. Monica: May 4.

How to Get There: Botolan is located 192.3 kms. (a 4-hour drive) from Manila, 7.9 kms. (a 12-min. drive) and 71.6 kms. (a 1.5-hour drive) north of Olongapo City. Coordinates: 15°17’19.68″N 120°1’30.72″E.

Potipot Island (Candelaria, Zambales)

Potipot Island (Isla de Potipot))

After a lengthy 7.5-hour drive (we left Manila at 3:30 AM and made stopovers at Jollibee Subic or breakfast, and at the Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo in Iba), we arrived at Brgy. Uacon at the town of Candelaria and parked my Toyota Revo at the residence of Mr. Joel Gonzales (mobile numbers 0977-2044869 and 0947-3218687), a friend of Bryan.

 Check out “Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo

Car parking at Uacon

As it was already lunchtime, Bryan prepared a lunch of pork tocino, hot dogs and fried fish with steamed rice.  This done with, Joel loaded our gear on his tricycle, with Cheska and Kyle on board, for the short drive to the beach where our motorized outrigger boat to Potipot Island (or Isla de Potipot) awaited us.  Jandy, Bryan and I just walked the short distance.

Overcast skies at Uacon Beach

Boardng our 6-pax motorized outrigger boat along Uacon Beach

The closest island from mainland Zambales (about a kilometer away), we can actually see how near Potipot Island is from the beach of Uacon. The boat trip (PhP400/two-way) getting to the eastern side of the island (with its huge and colorful “Isla de Potipot” sign) just took a little over 10 minutes.

On our way to Potipot Island

It was already overcast when we arrived at the island. From the shore, it was just a short walk to the reception center. Visitors to the 7.5-hectare, privately owned Potipot Island are charged PhP100 per head for a day trip and PhP300 for overnight.

The huge and colorful Isla de Potipot sign along the beach

Boat docking area

There are no hotels or inns available on Potipot Island. As it was a long weekend (August 19-21), the island was brimming with tourists (it easily gets fully booked during weekends), many camped in tents near where the boats dock.  Tent rentals are also available but it is not a regular service on the island. 

Reception pavilion

Campers can eat their meals at a pavilion with tables, without having to pay an additional fee.

Picnic tables

There is also a grilling area where they can grill their own food but they’ll have to bring everything, including the charcoal.

A 10-20-pax nipa cottage

An array of nipa and bamboo cottages

Others stayed in nipa cottages (PhP1,500, for 10-20-pax, and PhP2,000 for 5-10-pax) and more modern cottages on stilts (PhP2,500, 5-8-pax).

Tent city

Cheska and Bryan start setting up the tent with Kyle looking on

We opted to stay in the latter with our tent set up beside it for Kyle to experience his first camping. Jandy and I stayed at the very spartan, treetop height cottage on stilts which had a double bed with mosquito net.  We also had a table with 4 chairs (all are available for free around the island on a first come, first serve basis).

A modern, tree-height cottage on concrete stilts

The cottage interior

For cooking, we brought our own butane gas stove (we have to be careful not to burn any tree as we could be fined). Nearby is a citadel-like tree house said to belong to the island’s owner.

The citadel-like treehouse cottage

Normally, at day’s end, visitors are treated to a stunning sunset along the beach but, as a low pressure area was in the day’s forecast, it was already starting to rain.

Dusk at Potipot Island

This small but pristine and breathtaking beach bumming paradise, also known as the Little Boracay of the North, has shores surrounded by creamy white sand (the island’s name is derived from the native words puti po meaning “it’s white”), and turquoise blue water and offshore coral.

Potipot’s white sand beach

A good beach camping destination, it also has a lush array of trees to provide much-needed shade.  The different kinds of trees found here include mahogany, talisay, coconut, kamachile, guava, mango, duhat, suha, kamias, etc.

Grassy area at the center of the island

The center of the island is a grassy plain with another huge “Isla de Potipot” sign and a children’s playground.

Second Isla de Potipot sign

Children’s playground

There’s no potable water source in Potipot so we bought our water supply at the jump-off. The island has a number of clean and decent public shower rooms and toilets (one conveniently located just across from our cottage) so freshening up wasn’t much of a problem.

Public toilet

However, the water supply can lose pressure if a lot of people are taking a bath at the same time. Lighting on the island is provided by a generator so it is not totally dark at night. They also offer charging services, via solar panels, for any electronic gadget.

Early morning breakfast.  L-R: Cheska, Bryan, Jandy and the author

Kyle sleeping in a hammock we brought and slung between the concrete stilts of our cottage

The stay-in caretakers were friendly and more than willing to help you if you ever need anything. For a minimal fee, we could also ask them to cook our food.

“Leave No Trace Only Footprint” sign

They’re strict about cleaning up and bringing your trash with you when you leave (“Leave No Traces Only Footprints signs are everywhere). Segregated (plastic, leftovers and other waste) waste bins can also be found.

Segregated waste bins

Also nearby is a small sari-sari (convenience) store where we can buy bread, soft drinks, coffee, noodles, bottled water, snacks, canned goods, etc. as well as souvenirs, goggle and other knickknacks. Some vendors also sell foodstuff.  However, to avoid inconvenience, it is still advisable to bring your own food and water when you go there. Liquor or alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

Convenience store

It was sunny the next day (I missed out on the beautiful sunrise) and, after breakfast, we were supposed to hop over to Hermana Menor Island, a 2-hour boat ride away.  However, heavy waves made this impossible.  Instead, Jandy, Bryan, Cheska and Kyle went swimming along the nearby shoreline.

Kyle, Bryan and Cheska savoring the warm, crystal clear waters of the island

Though calm, the crystal clear, warm waters here can get, within a few steps, from knee deep to neck deep.  At the back part of the island (the part not facing the main shore of Zambales), you also have to be careful with sea urchins. Later, Cheska, Bryan and Kyle went kayaking around the island (PhP300/hour).

An array of tandem kayaks for rent

Bryan, Cheska and Kyle try out kayaking

Or my part, I decided to circle the island and my leisurely walk took about 30 mins. On the opposite side of the island, facing the West Philippine Sea, is another campsite for those who want peace and quiet. The sand seems to be finer here and the waters clearer.

Pre-nuptial photo shoot atop a sea wall

A photo booth for couples

Along the way I passed a couple having a pre-nuptial photo shoot. There are also rock formations on the other side of the island (where the sun sets). The famous, iconic driftwood, located in a slightly rocky portion of the beach on the southwestern part, is the site of an obligatory photo shoot for tourists. At the northern side, sea grass are clearly visible underneath the clear waters.

The iconic driftwood, a site for obligatory photo shoots

The feel and ultimate charm of this relatively unknown and undiscovered little gem of an island was like Boracay during its pre-development years. Here, every now and then, you can bathe in its turquoise waters and stroll under its arboreal ceiling without bumping into boisterous tourists.

Hermana Menor Island as seen from Potipot Island

We left the island by noontime, again boarding Joel’s boat for the return trip back to the mainland.  After a late lunch, gain prepared by Bryan, at Joel’s place, we left Uacon by 2:30 PM and proceeded on our return trip back to Manila, making stopovers at the Church of St. Monica in Botolan, a viewpoint in Subic and dinner at a Pancake House outlet along NLEX.  We were back in Manila by 10:30 PM.

Check out “Church of St. Monica

Isla de Potipot: Brgy. Uacon, Candelaria, Zambales. Mobile numbers: (0905) 456-7243 (Globe) and (0920) 499-9134 (Smart).  Look for Arjay, Jamie or Flor. E-mail: isladepotipotmarketing@gmail.com. Instagram: www.instagram.com/isla_de_potipot. Facebook: www.facebook.com/isladepotipothotelandbeachresort.

How to Get There: To get to Brgy. Uacon, Candelaria by car (a 5-6-hour drive), take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) all the way to the Dau/Mabalacat Exit. For speed and ease of travel, travel the length of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) to the Tipo Exit (the shorter route, through San Fenando – Lubao in Pampanga, passes through narrower roads and congested town centers).  Upon exiting, pass through the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), on to Subic town and then take the national road all the way to Candelaria, passing the towns of Castillejos, San Marcelino, San Narciso, San Felipe, Cabangan, Botolan, Iba, Palauig and Masinloc before Candelaria. 

Sta. Cruz-bound Victory Liner buses also pass by Candelaria, the town just before Sta. Cruz). Get off at the Uacon Barangay Hall and, from there, take a tricycle (or even walk) to the nearest resort or the beach where you can get a boat to Potipot Island.

Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo (Iba, Zambales)

Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo

This coral and limestone church was built in the 1700s by the Augustinian Recollects.  On August 28, 1901, the 2nd Philippines Commission, headed by William Howard Taft, convened at the cathedral and declared the establishment of Zambales Province.

The four-storey, Baroque facade

The four-level Baroque façade has a semicircular arch main entrance flanked by statued niches and four pairs of superpositioned coupled Doric columns on pedestals, each set apart from the others and rising symmetrically up to the pediment (unifying the section of the façade into one dramatic composition).  The two central pairs of columns end up in flame-like finials. The seal of the Augustinian Recollect Order is at the arch of the main entrance and lateral doors.

Buttresses on the left side of the church

The top of the undulating pediment is designed like a small temple with three semicircular arched niches, a triangular pediment and a pair of superpositioned columns. Below, at the central niche, is the statue of St. Augustine of Hippo.

The right side of the church

The sides of the church are supported by buttresses.  The five-storey octagonal bell tower, on a square base on the church’s right, has semicircular arch windows and a domed roof.

The four-storey bell tower

The retablo (altar backdrop) has three niches – the Crucifix in the middle, the image of Ina Poon Bato (Patroness of Zambales) on the left and the image of St. Augustine of Hippo on the right

The church interior

Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo: Brgy. Zone V, 2201 Iba, Zambales. Tel: (047) 811-1563. GPS geo-coordinates: lat: 15.3260, lon: 119.9799.  Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo: August 28.

How to Get There: Iba is located 210.2 kms. (a 2.5-hour drive) from Manila and 82.2 kms. north of Olongapo City. The cathedral is located adjacent to the Provincial Capitol Bldg..

Casa San Miguel: Zambales’ Center for the Arts

The Pundaquit Virtuosi in concert


Upon the culmination of the 3-km. Novice Race, Bernard, Lally, Kara, Art, Amadis and I left Anvaya Cove in Morong (Bataan) to attend the concert of the Pundaquit Virtuosi at Casa San Miguel (CSM), in San Antonio in Zambales as guests of internationally-acclaimed violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata.  Bernard and Lally’s 15-year old son George, a violin student at CSM, went there earlier. CSM, the CCP of Zambales, is the province’s sole center for culture and the arts and is the venue for the annual Pundaquit Arts Festival. The concert, held at the Ramon Corpuz L. Concert Hall for intimate performances, was already at its closing stages when we arrived in the evening, just in time to witness its final number and, after heartwarming applause, its accompanying encore.  After that performance, we joined in on the dinner prepared for guests by Coke.     

Casa San Miguel


Casa San Miguel, a 45-min. drive from Subic, is set amidst a mango orchard between the mountain and the sea, a setting which encourages and inspires artists to hone their skills freely as they play harmoniously with the sounds of the surrounding scenery.  It started out as a seaside family retreat built in 1921. In 1993, Coke, after returning from his studies at the Julliard School of Music in New York and the University of Indiana, established an art center there after the old house burned down. To start up the center, Coke offered workshops designed to identify and develop potential talents in classical music, theater, shadow play and visual arts. He even taught the children of farmers and fisher folk for free. The center is committed to exposing the community to different cultural forms, particularly classical music, as well as to the continued development and support of the Filipino artist and to the development of the new artist and audiences for the next generation.

 
Ramon L. Corpus Concert Hall


This art center, now a playground for the music, theater and visual art prodigies of Zambales, has a grand 3-storey brick building that serves as the home of the Bolipatas’ protégés. The airconditioned, 300-pax Ramon L. Corpus Concert Hall (named after Coke’s grandfather), on the ground floor, has a 7-ft. grand piano and crisp, clear acoustics.  It houses several chamber orchestra concerts, theater plays, operettas, and ballet productions.  Celebrated Filipino classical pianist Cecile Licad performed here during a recent concert.  

Casa San Miguel bedroom


Upstairs are separate concert halls for intimate performances and music lessons while at the third and attic floors are 7 bedrooms with views of Mt. Pundaquit and Mt. Maubanban on one side and the South China Sea on their other.  The 2-storey Anita Gallery (at the center’s western wing), whose wide spaces and translucent walls are a blank canvas for creativity, was named after the modernist/genre painter Anita Magsaysay-Ho, a native and niece of Ramon L. Corpuz.  This gallery has exhibited the works of brilliant artists such as Carlo Gacubo, Don Sanlubayba and Borlongan.  A coffee shop, called Kapepe, serves light snacks, dinner and refreshments using organically grown vegetables harvested from the Casa San Miguel farm and the nearby sea. Outside is a 1,000-seat, circular outdoor theater that serves as an alternative venue for productions  that require more space such as full-orchestra concerts and elaborate theater and dance performances. There is also a sunken terraced garden, with a miniature stage (where masses are held on Sundays), designed to offer visitors a meditative retreat while waiting for the beginning of a performance.

 
Pundaquit Virtuosi rehearsal with Coke Bolipata


Every 3 months, CSM regularly holds classes for violin, cello, viola, visual arts, theater production and shadow play with young and talented students attending classes given one-on-one by Coke and assistant teachers every weekend. To date, the center has 150 scholars (1,200 since 1996) who are provided with free board and lodging.  In exchange, they are required to devote a portion of their residency period to lecturing, giving demonstrations and workshop-seminars; or to teaching skills to the surrounding communities as part of their development and enhancement. The artists also have the optional opportunity to present their products, finished or unfinished (as a work-in-progress), at CSM’s different venues.   Classes culminate with a performance or exhibit held at CSM. Some of CSM’s graduates make up the Pundaquit Virtuosi which is divided into Quadros (those skilled in arts) and Cuedras (those skilled in music). Last June 6, 2007, in Makati City, the Pundaquit Virtuosi had the honor of performing with the famed New York sextet of Juilliard School, violinists William Harvey and Frank Shaw, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. In collaboration with various organizations and the community, the Pundaquit Chamber Players, CSM’s resident ensemble, performs at the Pundaquit Festival which is held yearly, between October and April. 

L-R: George Supetran, the author, Lally Supetran, Coke Bolipata, Bernard Supetran, Amadis Ma. Guerrero  and Kara Santos


Casa San Miguel Center for the Arts: Brgy. Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales.

Water Fun in Subic (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

The popular and entertaining banana boat ride. 
That’s me up front


Aside from our relaxing overnight stay at Lighthouse Marina Resort at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, members of our Lakbay Norte 2 media group were treated to a round of watersports activities courtesy of Networx Jetsports along the Subic beachfront.  While the others opted to just watch or swim, a number of us, me included, dabbed on a lot of sunblock lotion and donned  life vests to try out what was on offer.  While others eagerly jumped into the jetskis, a number of us (Nina Fuentes, Melissa Dizon, Karlo de Leon, Ivan Mandy and yours truly) hopped on the popular and entertaining banana boat ride.  The boats, pulled by a powerful jetski, could accommodate a maximum of 10 persons.

Returning to shore after our dunking


Once on board, we all held on to the bar in front of us and tried to balance ourselves as the jetski  slowly pulled the banana boat. We all bent down to maintain our balance and when the boat turned left, we leaned to the left, when it turned to the right, we leaned to the right.  The jetski tried to catch the us off guard (and off the boat) by going fast and slow and succeeded on two occasions. It was fun for me but distressing for Karlo and Mel as they both irretrievably lost their expensive shades to the sea (luckily mine was hooked to my ears).  Getting back on board the boat was also difficult for some (including me).  I’ve tried banana boating before in Boracay but that ride was tame and uneventful compared to this one.  Rates for the banana boat ride are PhP250 er person, minimum of 4 and maximum of 10.


Jetskiing is addicting


Next on my itinerary was the addicting jetskiing, a first for me.  It is said by many that by riding the waves, it quenches the need for speed and gives one a feeling of power.  Upon climbing the jetski, a safety strap was attached to my wrist to ensure an automatic stop in case I should fall off, thus avoiding possible injury.  After basic instruction on how to operate the jetski, I was off and on my way, riding the waves standing up but making sure to get back on my seat as I made a slow turn.  I avoided places where people were swimming. Jetskiing was truly what it is hyped up to be.  Too bad there was no one to record my moment, either on film or video.  Jetski (Yamaha VX 110, 4-stroke engine) are  rented for PhP1,900 for 30 mins. and PhP3,000 for 1 hour. 

A Hobie Kayak Tandem

Karlo and I also tried out the Hobie Kayak Tandem.  The clear, calm waters surrounding Subic make it an ideal kayaking site for novice and experienced paddlers.  Our kayak was different from the kayaks I’ve tried before as this one had a kick-up rudder system and a hand-controlled steering system at the rear (where I was seated).  The Hobie Kayak Tandem rents for PhP500 for 30 mins. and PhP800 for 1 hour while the single rents for PhP300 for 30 mins. and PhP500 for 1 hour.. Networx Jetsports also offers parasailing (PhP1,500 per person, 10 mins. airtime), speedboat cruises (XR 1800-2001 models, maximum of 5 riders, PhP10,000 for 1 hour) and Pelican pedal boats (PhP400 for 30 mins. and PhP700 for 1 hour).  Networx Jetsports was established in 1997 by Emmanuel “Dong” B. Arcilla, an avid jet ski racer.  

Networx Jetsports: Waterfront Road, Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales (beside Gerry’s Grill).  Tel.: (047) 252-3469 .  Mobile number: (0922) 812-9832.  Email: jetsportssubic@yahoo.com.  Website: www.networxjetsports.com.ph

The Lighthouse by the Bay (Subic, Zambales)

Our special Victory Liner media bus approaching 
Lighthouse Marina Resort
After our very filling, 2-restaurant food tour in Clark, it was now time for some R&R for our Lakbay Norte 2 media group at Subic Freeport Zone.  We left Clark for Subic around 12:30 PM and we arrived at Lighthouse Marina Resort just before 2 PM where we were welcomed by members of the Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau. Considered as the number 1 hotel among 17 in Subic, the 3-storey Lighthouse Marina Resort, owned by the Avecilla shipping clan, is a sleek and ultra-modern 34-room boutique hotel capped by a 20-m. high lighthouse. Designed by the architectural firm Palafox Associates in almost austere Italian architecture, it has an elegantly simple facade.

Our assigned suite

We checked into a warmly appointed airconditioned suite with king-size bed, a 42-inch, wall-mounted LCD cable TV, minibar, fridge, coffee/tea facility, IDD phone, writing desk, DVD/MP-3 player, in-room safe and electronic door lock.  The bathroom, similar to the one I’ve seen at the Marriot Hotel in Manila, has glass walls (with electronically raised or lowered curtains for privacy).  A novelty, though, is its free-standing tub reminiscent of Old World baths.

The resort’s icon

The white and maroon lighthouse, the resort’s icon and the most photographed landmark in the port, was done in surprisingly detail very faithful to naval architecture specifications.   Fronting the swimming pool, the tower is home to the 720 London Music Bar, its counter, which accommodates 15, is shaped like a ship’s bow. Lighthouse Resort sales representative, Ms. Jozen Curva toured us up the lighthouse to admire the stunning, panoramic view of Subic’s harbor.The grand, high-ceiling lobby has huge floor-to-ceiling clear glass windows, an ensemble of Citterio-inspired lounge furniture and a grand piano, all done in beige colors. Sands Al fresco, where we had breakfast the next day, offers sumptuous grilled food, seafood, Mediterranean and international cuisine.  Wi-fi service was great here. 

Lakbay Norte 2 Media Group

Lighthouse Marina Resort: Subic Bay Moonbay Marina Complex, Waterfront Road, CBD, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales, Philippines.  Tel/Fax: (047) 252-5000 and (047) 252-7545.  Toll Free Manila Number: (632) 711-0019.  Manila Sales Office Tel:(632) 892-3534 Fax: (632)815-8296.  E-mail: marketing@lighthousesubic.com. Website: www.lighthousesubic.com.

Pinatubo: Scratch This from my Bucket List (Zambales)

Our 4 x 4s  traversing dry lahar fields and small streams

Mt. Pinatubo was prominent in my Bucket List of places to visit and I readily joined the 5-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) and Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 Tour as it figured prominently in the itinerary.  We were now in the third day of the tour and we left Microtel Inn & Suites Luisita  (Tarlac) very early in the morning, eating our packed breakfast on our special Victory Liner bus along the way.  By 7 AM, we arrived at our jump-off point for the trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s 2.5-km. wide Crater Lake – P.D.C. (Pull Travel Destination Corp.)  Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas in Tarlac.

The Trek Begins….

Normally, trekking via the Capas Trail (the easiest route to Mt. Pinatubo), passing by lahar deserts, would have taken us a grueling 6-8 hours on foot. However, five 4 x 4, 5-pax (including our driver) all-terrain vehicles, a mix of short wheelbase land cruisers and homemade jeeps, were made available for our use.  These were to negotiate some of the watery and rocky paths across Crow Valley, unreachable by other kinds of vehicles.  The drive through the valley, though at times bumpy, was exhilarating, with spectacular views of the Cabusilan Mountain Range.   After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain, the jump-off point of our trek.  From here, it was to be all 2-3 hours (dependent on our fitness and ability and the size of our group) of footwork, through the valley and up a mountain path, to the Crater Lake. Normally, a very hot trek, especially during the summer months (when the light gray volcanic ash reflect the rays of the sun), we were fortunate this day as it obviously rained the day before and it was quite windy.  Just the same I applied sun block lotion and wore a cap, shorts, sturdy rubber  sandals, plus my a comfortable light blue and white MNTC-supplied T-shirt.  

A surreal but serene landscape

The trek, though very tiring, was truly exhilarating as we traversed sometimes fairly flat and dry lahar riverbeds and oftentimes rocky ground and crossed numerous small creeks and rivers by jumping from boulder to boulder or, in my case, I just getting my feet wet under the cold water (truly a different kind of experience).  After a short, final hurdle up paved steps, we reached our destination – viewpoint for observing the magnificent crater and it turquoise-colored lake created during the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.  The viewpoint was developed to cater to us tourists.

Boating at the Crater Lake

After a few minutes of rest and quietly admiring the beautiful scenery set before us, most of us went down the paved steps down to the lake where a number of us rode boats, in two trips, and were rowed to the other side of the lake by an Aeta boatman.  The others, including me, contented themselves with dipping our feet in the cool lake waters while two others (Karlo de Leon and Melissa Dizon) took to swimming its deep water. Upon the arrival of the second boat load, we all made our way back up to the rest area, bade farewell to this magnificent creation of nature’s fury and made our way back to our respective vehicles.  The return hike was easier and done in half the time it took to get there as it was mostly downhill. The uphill climb to our vehicle’s parking area was the most strenuous.  As soon as everyone was accounted for, we all returned to our assigned 4 x 4s, too tired to even take pictures, and made our way back to P.D.C. Spa Town.

Calicoan Island (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Talisay Beach

One of the 2 reasons why Jandy and I dropped by Guiuan (the other was the town itself) was to visit Calicoan Island.  Called the “Sleeping Beauty of Eastern Samar,” this island is blessed with long stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches; limestone cliffs (tempting for rock climbers); alien abstract rock formations (great for camera buffs); dive destinations (Pearl Island, Binabasalan Island and Baul Island); crystal clear blue waters; numerous, cathedral-like caves for spelunkers (the large Buro Cave is accessible during low tide) with stalactites along the seashore; 20 isolated and romantic coves; 6 huge and unexplored saltwater lagoons and nature trails inside tropical virgin forests (50% of the area).  

Causeway to the island

Come morning, after a hearty Filipino breakfast at the Calicoan Surf Camp’s restaurant, we opted to burn calories by exploring the island on foot (for me still the best way), bringing along resort staffer Mr. Marcial Orocay as guide.  From the resort, we cut across the 3-km. width of the island, to the western side which faces the calm waters of Leyte Gulf, its 8-km. long beach ideal for swimming, snorkeling, picnics and watching magnificent sunsets.   The forest along the way is said to be home to mischievous monkeys, monitor lizards and colorful birds.  Though we didn’t get to see any up close, we did get to see a snake crossing our trail.

Sulangan Beach

Skirting the western coast, we visited Sulangan Beach, the habitat of the world-famous and rare Golden Cowrie (Conus gloriamaris) shell. These shells were being sold (at a whopping PhP1,500 per piece) at souvenir shops at nearby  St. Anthony of Padua Church, also a notable pilgrimage site.  With its schools of multi-colored fish, Sulangan Beach is also an ideal site for scuba diving.

The original 3149 Base flagpole

Caliocan Island, a low coralline island in Brgy. Ngolos, 23 kms. from the town was, during World War II, the site of the U.S. Navy’s 3149 Base.  The base’s original flagpole still stands.  The late U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy, a PT boat commander during the war, was also stationed here.

Guiuan Airport runway

The runway of the former U.S. Navy airbase, located on the eastern edge of the town, was once one of the biggest U.S. bases in the Pacific and was also used actively until the Korean War.  Its 60 m. wide and 1.9 km. long runway was built, during the liberation, by U.S. Army engineering battalions in December 1944.  Here, the B-26 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan (August 6, 1945), was launched.  Disused for some time after its turnover to the Philippines, it is now undergoing a PhP142 million rehabilitation (its runway, now with an overlay of asphalt, is now 2.134 kms. long) and will opened this October as a feeder airport for chartered or regular flights.  Its opening would be heaven-sent as it would make Guiuan easily accessible by plane (cutting its dependence on Tacloban City’s airport), thus supporting the commercial and tourism industry in the region, most especially Calicoan Island, an upcoming island resort which boasts of miles of white sand beaches as well as powerful swells rolling in from the Pacific over the 10,000 m. Philippine Deep, making it a surfer’s paradise. A PhP38 million water system that would supply the island resorts’ operational requirement is also nearing completion. All these aim to promote Guiuan as the next eco-tourism hub in the country, a place that offers visitors a lot when it comes to cultural and historical heritage sites, natural beauty plus the warmth and hospitality offered by its 38,694 Guiuananons.

Zoobic Safari (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

 

A tiger bathing in a pond

After an overnight stay at Subic Yacht Club with my son Jandy, we proceeded, after a Chowking lunch and duty-free shopping at the Freeport Exchange, for a short-haul drive to this sprawling 25-hectare Zoobic Safari theme park and zoo located deep in the old Naval Magazine at the Jungle/Forest Adventure zone.  Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Gen. Manager Ms. Delia C. De Jesus who assigned to me the affable Mr. Noel Caneda to guide me on this 2-hr., 5-part tour. He explained to us the different species that can be found inside the park, extolling their virtues as well as their deadly qualities.

Noel Caneda feeding a camel

At the reception area, we already got to see adult and baby tigers in large cages, all crossbred from Bengal and Siberian varieties in Residence Inns’ tiger cub breeding facility.  A joint venture with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), the PhP80 million Zoobic Safari was opened to the public on November 2004 and is part of Residence Inn’s chain of zoo cum resort businesses. The animals here may not be all originally from the Philippines but the place was still developed with a Filipino theme in mind.

Our first stop was the Petting Zoo a path through a forest with different animals stationed on the both sides of the walkway.  Here we saw exotic animals such as deer, temperamental and territorial cassowary, bearcats, monkeys, mini horses, several rabbits, plus some farm animals such a number of goats, sheep, carabao, pigs and a pinkish albino cow, all roaming and frolicking about in their natural habitat. Jandy and I had a wonderful time petting and feeding dried leaves to a camel.  A close encounter with an Asiatic black bear (or moon bear) named Nicholas, the only one in the zoo (and thus lonely), was a highlight. Other stops include the Serpentarium, the only one of its kind in the country.  Housed in one of the former ammunition bunkers, it showcases a variety of reptiles including a Malaysian water monitor, blood pythons, a Burmese albino, reticulated python, the Philippine monitor lizard, iguanas and turtles.  The star here was “Biggy,” a 15-ft. long, 10 year old female Indian python.

An Asiatic black bear named Nicolas

The highlight of the tour was the Tiger Safari.  Here, we boarded a customized “safari” jeepney colorfully painted in tiger-inspired golden stripes and enclosed with one inch, open wire mesh which covered the windows and doors.  It was driven by a professional Aeta who drove us, through a gate, to the well-kept Ilanin forest (although a number of big trees were uprooted due to typhoon Milenyo) where four full grown, 500+ pound tigers, with their trademark rust orange and black stripes, were roaming around.  Most lazed about in a large pond, their deep-set, golden eyes staring back at us, probably wondering why we were “caged” inside our vehicle while they were roaming freely in the open.  During the ride, one of the guides inside our vehicle dangled a dressed chicken from a small window. On instinct, one of the tigers ran over to the vehicle and grabbed the chicken, an encounter so close you can really see his teeth.  Another tiger jumps on the roof.

Tiger’s Den

After the Tiger Safari, we all dropped by the “Tigers Den” where we got up close and personal, along a narrow aisle, with tigers inside their cages, barely two feet away from these awe-inspiring beasts christened with such cute names as Cynthia, Gimo, Jana, Krishna, Nasha, Nico, Sharon and George. The last named, a mammoth Alpha male and the oldest at 16 years, is the acknowledged leader of the pack and king of the harem, with all of the female tigers his for the taking. Noel explained that a tiger’s urine smell marks his territory.

A fleet-footed ostrich

Adjacent to the Tigers Den is the dusty Savannah Trail.  This we traversed via an open, red and blue Zoobic Safari train (with 20-30 seating capacity), watching 50 long-legged ostriches from Africa and Australia as well as potbellied pigs, swift mountain goats, wild boar (from the USA, Vietnam and the Philippines) and 200 guinea fowl (from Papua New Guinea) glide past our vehicle.   Next stop was the Animal MuZOOeum, housed in another former ammunition bunker.  This interesting and educational tour features a rare collection of real stuffed animals and skeletons.

Croco Loco

Our last stop was the Croco Loco section.  Here, we trekked, via the Aeta Trail, to an Aeta Village where a group of Aetas performed, to the delight of the tourists, the dragonfly dance and a war dance, both accompanied by an Aeta guitarist. Of course, we also went to the 3,000 square meter Crocodile Farm, again seeing up close and personal, in their carefully designed natural habitat, 200 of these thick-skinned, long-bodied carnivorous saltwater crocodiles from Palawan. In the future, Zoobic Safari has plans to expand with Elephant World, Honey Bee Farm, Alligator Land and the Rice Wine Brewery.

Aetas performing a war dance

Zoobic Safari: Group I, Ilanin Forest, Subic Bay Freeport Zone.  Tel: (047) 252-2272.  Fax: (047) 252-2272.  Website: www.zoobic.com.ph. Entrance fee is PhP295 (Monday-Thursday) and PhP395 (Friday-Sunday).  Manila booking office: 3/F, Yupangco Bldg., 339 Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Makati City.  Website: www.residenceinnresorts.com.

Le Mans Go Kart Track (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

Ready to burn the track


Prior to our checking out of the Subic Yacht Club, I decided to check out, with my son Jandy, the Le Mans Go Kart Track just across the street, beside the Bicentennial Park and next door to the Magic Lagoon Park Grill and Bar.  Go karts are smaller version of race cars that are much closer to the ground.  Still, they are  exciting enough for someone wanting the feel of a quick-turning, fast moving vehicle without risking your life. 

Jandy


They have various types of go-karts that can be rented at different rates.  The single and double (perfect for parents to supervise their kids, PhP400 for 10 laps) seat go-karts, safe enough for children, are generally just for fun rides or test runs. For experienced kart racing enthusiasts, there are really fast racing kart models (PhP600 for 10 laps), ideal for annual racing competitions, that can run one 420 m. (1/4 mile) long track lap in a quick 10 seconds. 

Frank and Gelo burning rubber


There were still a number of racers using the track when we arrived.  However, it wasn’t long before they left, it being near noon and lunch time, and soon we had the track all to ourselves.  We opted for single seaters and were only allowed to go around 10 laps for a fixed rate of PhP250 per person. Jandy and I were both first timers at this and, thus, we were both excited.  My son had first crack at it and, after a short lecture on how to operate the steering wheel, brakes and accelerator and donning his helmet, was soon on his way, warily at first, then more confident later on.  Upon my turn, I got my frustrated-racer anxieties out on the paved track, pretending I was Mario Andretti.  Later, my brother Frank and his son Gelo came out and joined us on the track, making it a true Layug family fun run.


Le Man’s Go Kart – Rizal Highway, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales. Tel: (047) 252-2272. Open 10 AM to 7 PM.