A weekend in Pangasinan: The Hundred Islands

Lima lang po kayo, ma’am,” (“There will only be five of you, ma’am,”) the tour driver, Paul, said as I climbed into his van and asked how many were taking the Bolinao-Hundred Islands tour. It was a little past 10 PM when he picked me up at McDonald’s in Blue Bay Walk in Pasay. Apparently I was the only one there, and we’d be picking up everyone else at QC. Traffic was a bitch on the way there and Paul was obviously livid, which I tried to ignore by napping to Bon Iver. Between this and Pangasinan were hazy, sleep-filled events like Paul taking a wrong turn somewhere, picking up the other four passengers, and stopping at Bridgeway Travel and Tour’s office to pay the balance and we were on our way.

I fully woke up about four hours (4AM?) later with the van parked and the ignition off. We’d reached Alaminos ahead of schedule so it was still dark out. Apparently, we didn’t hit any traffic, so the estimated travel time of six hours was whittled down to four. (I’m pretty sure driving like a maniac had something to do with it, too.) Seeing as there were no breakfast places open yet save for a 7/11, Paul drove us to Lucap Wharf, hoping to find one. We didn’t, so we passed the time as best we could. My legs were getting restless so I took a walk in the dark neighborhood. Surprisingly, a handful of fitness-savvy older folks were already at it, taking slow strolls around the open space in front of the water. When I got back to the van, the driver decide to take us to a hotel called Island Tropic, where we could watch TV, have coffee, and sit tight until they open the kitchen for breakfast.

While waiting, I headed for Lucap Wharf to wait for the sunrise. Already people were setting up their own cameras, hoping to capture the spectacle despite all the clouds. After having exhausted my phone, I went back to Island Tropic, where everyone else was already having breakfast. I didn’t want to make anyone wait, so I just asked for a sandwich to go.

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Finally, Paul herded us to where boats were waiting to take us island hopping. After everyone else rented snorkel gear and aqua shoes (I brought my own), we all climbed aboard a boat manned by a Kuya JR and his young sidekick, strapped on our life vests, and sailed off. It had been cloudy most of the morning, but as the morning wore on, the skies became clearer, letting us really take in the view. It was an ooh and ahh moment for me for a while since it was my first time seeing the islands, but soon enough the novelty wore off and I couldn’t wait to get out of the sun and into the water for some serious swimming.

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Kuya JR and his trusty ward
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Approaching Governor’s Island

First stop was Governor’s Island, where various activities were waiting for tourists. The most popular is the 546-meter zipline, a Php250 ride that would take you from the highest point of the island to the neighboring Virgin Island. I wanted to explore a little bit so I went on foot. The heat was pretty unforgiving, though, so I only lasted a little bit on the exploring part before deciding to cross the floating bridge to Virgin Island.

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Getting to the main beach was a long walk all over a paved path, which also allowed you to view the islands. It’s also rather shaded in parts, which I took advantage of multiple times before I finally reached the beach.

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On the shore were tables and chairs where you could hang out, which I gladly did and finally got into that sandwich. I couldn’t take the heat anymore so I decided to take a dip. There were a lot of people coming and going and I was worried about my stuff so I wandered off in search of a secluded part of the beach. I found a spot under a rock where people weren’t really passing through, so I could leave my things safely while swimming. A little while later it was time to go.

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My personal corner of the Hundred Islands

Next up was Quezon Island, supposedly the most popular of the 123. To be honest, there wasn’t much for me to see here, so I just had a short trek and took some photos. They do have a shorter zipline here, though, and several picnic tables. It was too hot to even sit in the shade, so I decided to wait for the next leg of the trip on the boat, where it was cooler because of the sea breeze.

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Later on, we headed for Coral Garden for some snorkeling. Water here’s deep and the actual snorkel site is far from the floating raft where most of the boats stop, so if you’re not a strong swimmer, you’re going to need a life vest. At the snorkel area, the water’s not too clear, and I spotted the usual kind of fish and giant clam shells, so I was ready to go. Final straw was getting bitten by some things (I wasn’t sure what; the boaters later told me these things come out when there’s a disturbance in the water, like rain or throngs of trigger-happy tourists).

Back in the boat and on the way to Cuenco Cave, Kuya JR pointed out Children’s Island, Marcos Island, and Bat Island. I was hoping to do the cliff dive at Marcos Island,  but for some reason we didn’t stop there and I didn’t want to make a scene, so I let it go. At Cuenco Cave, all there is to do is take photos of the cave and take their version of a cliff dive: dropping about 10 feet from a man-made platform and into water. I just sat and had a snack and watched other people do it until it was time to go.

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Back on land at about 2:30, we finally got to check into our hotel, Vista De Las Islas (I was supposed to check in at Island Tropic, but more on that later.), where I dumped my stuff and showered. I hadn’t had a proper lunch yet, so I left the hotel to look for a place where I could grab a bite. Ultimately, I went back and asked for room service and watched some cable. I was planning on taking a tricycle to check out what I could in the town proper, but exhaustion got the better of me, so I just set my alarm for 8PM and took a nap.

When I woke up, I ventured out in search of a restaurant for some dinner (it was cold, so I was thankful for my cardigan), but it looked as if most establishments were closed. I headed to Lucap Wharf once again, where I found a place that looked like a dry market. There was also a row of carinderias so I went ahead and took a seat at one of them, had some dinner, and went back to the hotel for more TV until I finally zonked out.

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Part two of my trip is coming soon.

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