Soul-searching trip to Nagsasa Cove, beauty from disaster

When I finally decided to lift the bandage from a wounded past, I went on a solo trip. I knew where the silent mountains and the welcoming seas waited for my coming.

Manong Resty, the boatman, and his youngest daughter, Chona, carted to the boat some supplies – a camping tent, a bundle of bonfire wood, a jug of water, and a few kitchen utensils – to be brought to the island.

Minutes after, the wooden boat started to dance in the current of rough seas in the dry mid-morning of November. The salty spray of hovering sun told me that I was finally here in the quaint coastal barangay of Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales.

Residents source their income from the bounty of the waters. That day, fishermen were already docking their boats on the blackish powdery sand after a long day in the water. Some went home with empty buckets while some had a small catch, just enough for their waiting families.

My memories brought me back to a conversation with an acquaintance I met in Manila a day before I decided to make this unplanned trip to Zambales. It was a Friday night while we watched the bottleneck traffic of the Metro.

“Maganda ba talaga ang Anawangin? (Is Anawangin really beautiful?) I asked him as we sobered ourselves with stories of our wanderlust. Anawangin Cove is one of the most popular spots in Zambales.

“Hindi ko alam kung ano na ang standard ng maganda sayo. Para sa akin, maganda na ang Anawangin para ma fall in love ka,” he said, smiling.

(I don’t know what’s your standard of beautiful. For me, Anawangin is beautiful enough for one to fall in love with.)

This vague memory brought me back to my present state. I was ready for surprises and to fall in love again – to sail away from the comforts of the land and go to an island where no one knew about the indescribable ache that was taking a toll on me. I was ready to connect the dots, to solve the missing pieces of my puzzle.   

As we ventured against the angry seas, I looked at the beautiful landscapes that greeted me in the morning heat. There are patches of islands in different sizes dressed in cogon grass and agoho trees.

There are inhabited islands surrounded by black boulders. We passed through many coves like the popular ones – Anawangin, Talisayin, Silangin, and Camara, to name a few.  

Two decades ago, an angry Mt. Pinatubo spewed a great amount of ashes that enveloped Zambales, among other provinces in Central Luzon. The once abundant coral reefs, once blooming with diverse marine life under the seas, were covered with volcanic ashes, and the slushy lahar blanketed the lush vegetation of the province, specifically the coves.

"It was a nightmare," the residents told me.

According to Manong, it was the mountaineers who “discovered” the coves of Zambales after the eruption. The coves can also be reached by a 6-hour trek from Subic, Olongapo City crossing Mt. Pundaquit.  

“Nangingisda lang kami dito noon. Hindi pa naliliguan. Sobrang layo pa ng dagat dito, he said, as he continued to maneuver the boat.

(We used to fish here. No one can even swim its waters. The waters used to stretch a few more meters.)

That was 20 years ago. Through the passing of time, the coves seemed to sprout like new mushrooms in the seas of Pundaquit. The coves, in its second life, are magically painted with ash-gray shorelines and adorned with needle-like leaves of agoho trees.

It has also created a new beach which stretches to a few hundred meters beyond. According to the elders, these weren't there before the eruption. “A miracle of a new life,” as they say. Traveling to these hidden gems is indeed a treat to the adventurous soul and a feast to the hungry eyes. (READ: Breathtaking Nagsasa Cove, beauty from destruction

On an outrigger boat, visitors can see before their eyes the beauty – the glorious mountain slopes – from Mt. Pinatubo's destruction. Campers can pitch their tents at Anawangin cove. But I told Manong that I wanted to spend the night at Nagsasa cove, the farthest among them.  

The inviting waves and the salty fresh air whisper in harmony, like a spell imploring every visitor to fall in love over and over again. As what Manong said, no one leaves Pundaquit without being awed by its beauty. Green. Brown. Gold. These are the colors of Nagsasa – the beauty from disaster. 

Upon reaching Nagsasa, I was welcomed by the sight of busy campers preparing for dinner. Compared to Anawangin, Nagsasa Cove has fewer campers, fewer noisy tourists. It’s a perfect place away from the crowd.

The souvenir vendor smiled at me when she noticed I was alone. The beach was empty, an unusual sight for a traveler to see. The island has no electricity, no source of potable water, and no mobile signal. This is best way to spend the weekend, I mumbled to myself, as I was ushered to the camping site.

“Bakit ikaw lang mag-isa? Mas maganda ang Nagsasa kung meron kang kasama. Romantic kasi ang lugar na ito, (Why are you alone? Nagsasa is even more beautiful if you are with someone because it is romantic.),” the lady vendor asked me, as I started pitching my tent.

Before sunset, I was getting ready to cook my dinner. I looked for 3 big stones and wooden sticks. A friend of the sari-sari store owner helped me make fire. A camper also graciously offered her grilled bangus and lechon kawali, which the 3 of us – two souvenir vendors and I – shared over talk about Nagsasa.

“Sabi nga nila nga maraming nabubuo na pag-ibig dito sa lugar namin. Siguro pag-uwi mo meron ka ng dalang bagong pag-ibig,” a newfound friend said as she giggled.

(As they say, new love blooms in our place. I think when you leave for home, you will find your love here, too.)

I laughed under my breath while they continued teasing me with stories of finding love in the island. “Maybe. I am still hopeful,” I said.

After dinner, I took a stroll and visited the only store in the island. The mountains were sleeping. The sea was singing. The night was still young.

Some campers chose to sleep by the shore. Some were already drunk after sharing their misadventures on love and life. I, on the other hand, chose to comfort myself with the spell of the stars above me. They seem to talk to me in different languages. Just magical for a traveler’s endless longing for answers.

The faint voices of the current and air passing through the trees made me a listener of my own thoughts and a messenger of my own emotions. I slept, with the tent still open, with hopes that I might find in the silver shimmer of the stars what had been lost in me. 

In the morning, I climbed Nagsasa. Nothing beats the picture-perfect view at the peak. Strong winds. Thin agoho trees lined up like hidden galleries in the mountains. When you reach the top, one can see the 360 degrees view of the cove. You can hear the whispers of the air as it brushed against your face. Life slows down at the top, I promise.

When Nagsasa embraces summer, its grass and bamboo turn golden brown, like rice fields ready for harvest. The tiny black beads of minerals in the sand glow in the morning dew. The shore can stretch far and wide during low tides greeting the shallow sea of rippling sand dunes.

There’s nothing much more to do in the island than to live in the moment. Walk around. Swim in the morning. Trek to the falls. Talk to the locals. Relax at your tent. Eat the fresh catch from the sea. Mingle with other travelers. Recharge yourself. Look for the missing pieces of the puzzle. Find the lost love.

Nagsasa shows that there can be something beautiful after a disaster – new beginnings, new hopes, and new reasons to fall in love again. I bet I nursed whatever was broken inside me. I know I have found the lost answers in Nagsasa. – Rappler.com

For boat rental at Pundaquit, you can call Chona dela Cruz: (+63) 927-7125029 for the rates and packages.