After yesterday’s island-hopping tour, Day Two in Pangasinan was spent hopping across Bolinao to a few of the city’s main attractions. I set my alarm for 5:30 for the obligatory sunrise photo, and went back to Vista De Las Islas Hotel at 7 for a complimentary breakfast of Alaminos longganisa (which I found tasty enough, but made me long for Lucban longganisa even more). By 8AM, the other tour joiners and I were at the lobby to check out (so we could head straight back to Manila after the day’s tour), and Paul the tour van driver came to whisk us away to our first stop: the Cape Bolinao lighthouse.
Paul informed us that the drive from Alaminos to Cape Bolinao would take about an hour. That was fine by me; the sun was shining, traffic was practically nonexistent, the van was cool… what’s not to love? I plugged in my earphones and watched the beautiful scenery pass by to some indie folk. (If you’re interested, you can click here for the Spotify playlist I put together that I listen to pretty much every time we go on a road trip. I usually listen to classic rock, but there’s something about the twangy guitar and hollow clapping that just feels right when you’re rolling down an open road. Go ahead and listen to The Head and the Heart or Fleet Foxes and tell me I’m wrong.)
We got off the van to the sight of the 101-foot lighthouse and around 20 other tourists who were already there, snapping away. Located in Patar, the Cape Bolinao lighthouse is 110 years old and is the second tallest lighthouse in the Philippines. (Okay, so I had to look that up for this entry, but at least you won’t have to, right?) According to Paul, tourists can usually go up the tower to take in the view of Bolinao but on that day, it was locked, so we had to be content with taking photos of the towering giant and the ruins standing next to it.
Next up was a few minutes’ drive to Patar White Beach. Paul set us loose with a reminder to be back at the van after an hour. It was a Sunday, so the beach was understandably crowded. But I wasn’t up for fighting the throng for a spot in the ocean, and unlike the Hundred Islands, I couldn’t find a place to call my own private Bolinao, so again had to settle for a walk on the powder-like beige sand and under the angry sun for some panoramic shots. On my way back to the van, I was soaking in my own sweat so I took refuge under the shelter of a convenience store, where I also bought mais con hielo to combat the impending sunstroke.
Once everyone was back in the van, Paul asked us how we wanted the next legs of the trip to go. Basically, he wanted to know if we still wanted to go to Enchanted Cave or head straight to Bolinao Falls 1. He had to ask because according to many of the people he’s carted around for the same tour, the Enchanted Cave wasn’t really that, um, enchanted. As a group, we decided it was part of the tour anyway, so why not? (Oh, the entrance fee for this isn’t included in the tour, by the way.)
When we got there at around 11, we forked over Php 150 to see… nothing. Not a damned thing. True, there were pretty interesting coral formations all over the park, but the Enchanted Cave itself was a just a small, murky, underwhelming version of the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Do yourself a favor: save your money and just take in the photos below.
Before heading to Bolinao Falls 1, we went to have lunch at 12 at this place called Giant Taklobo, which is supposedly a hit among tour groups. Big ones, in fact, as servings are pretty massive. Imagine paying Php 200 for a pot of sinigang that includes an entire bangus. That’s what I had (they didn’t have any meals small enough for one), and I had to take the rest of it with me back to Manila. I wasn’t about to waste it after I barely made a dent on one slice of fish. I tried, I really did. I even passed on the feast the other tour guests kept offering me. An hour later, we were on our way to Bolinao Falls 1.
To reach the waterfalls, you have to walk down a flight of rocky, uneven stairs. It’s a long way down, so make sure you’ve got everything you need with you when you descend, unless you plan on using it as a Stairmaster for a workout. At the bottom are tables where you can hang out, as well as a sort of stall for renting life jackets. I don’t think you’ll be needing one if you plan on just sitting by the rocks, though. The deep end (supposedly 30 feet) is where the waterfalls meet the pool below, and is also where a bunch of people were high-diving. It’s about a 25-foot drop, and looked like fun. I wanted to do it, but the problem with me is that I kind of have a low tolerance for cold, and the water at Bolinao Falls was fucking freezing. Plus the breeze was frequently blowing around us, and the sun was nowhere to be found. I knew I’d turn into a human popsicle the minute I stepped into the water, so I decided to sit this one out and enviously watch everyone else.
At around 3 PM, Paul said it was time to go, and gathered everyone back up to the top of the stairs to the parking area where a single shower was waiting to accommodate all the guests. After everyone had washed off, we piled back into the van, drove back to Alaminos (where I picked up some longganisa to take home) and headed back to Manila. (Click here for the playlist I listened to on the way home. It’s another indie folk set I put together, but more on the mellow side.)
Just to give you an idea of how much you might end up spending should you decide to take the same trip, here’s a breakdown of my expenses:
Tour – Php 3,950.00
Coffee at Island Tropic – Php 30.00
Breakfast at Island Tropic (Day 1) – Php 100.00
Kuya JR’s tip (island-hopping) – Php 40.00
Bellboy tip – Php 20.00
Hotel brunch – Php 170.00
Dinner – Php 220.00
Puto Calasiao – Php 10.00
Mineral water – Php 40.00
Hotel tip – Php 50.00
Mais con hielo – Php 50.00
Enchanted Cave entrance fee – Php 150.00
Lunch – Php 225 (sinigang – Php 200.00, rice – Php 25.00)
Bolinao Falls entrance fee – Php 20.00
Pasalubong (5 dozens Alaminos longganisa) – Php 450.00
Total – Php 5,525.00
Keep in mind, I took this tour on my own, so many of these expenses can be whittled down if you go with someone. For one thing, the more people there are in your group, the less you pay per head for the tour package. For another, my dinner was big enough for two or even three, and that sinigang at Giant Taclobo was probably enough for a family of four or five.
And to help you out even more, just a couple of reminders to make your trip even easier:
1. Make sure you bring enough change. In fact, anytime you go on vacation where you’ll be venturing far from the city, try not to carry big bills. It’s going to be hard to ask for change for a Php 1,000 bill to pay a Php 20.00 entrance fee.
2. The Hundred Islands and Bolinao Falls are incredibly rocky. Be sure to wear comfortable running or hiking shoes for walking, and aqua shoes for swimming.
3. If you’re a pussy like me when it comes to cold water, it might be necessary for you to don a shirt or rash guard at Bolinao Falls.
4. As a town surrounded by water, early mornings and late nights can get really cold in Alaminos, so you better bring a jacket.
5. Try to sync your watch with your driver or tour guide. I have to admit, there were times when I was late meeting back with the group at certain destinations because I was having such a nice time being alone, I kept losing track of the time.
6. If you’re brave enough, try to make friends with the other people in the tour with you. This way, you can exchange numbers so you have someone to contact in case you get in trouble and there’s no one around to help you. Plus, you can get them to share a meal (and the bill) with you. Money saved. (I did none of these, but maybe I will next time.)
7. Power banks are your best friend. I don’t have a camera, so I exhausted my phone pretty well during the trip. If you’re staying at a hotel, bring two sets of chargers so you can charge both at the same time during your down time.
(And one random tip because I’m weird that way: I kind of have this thing where I like to sit on the side of the bus, van, car, etc. where I can enjoy the sunrise/sunset. If you’re from Manila, you’ll be traveling up north, so you’ll have a great view of the sunrise if you sit on the right side. Same if you want an unobstructed view of the sunset going home.)
Thanks for being patient; I know this post has been long overdue, since this trip happened in February. I’m going try and stay on top of the writing more. Up next: Aurora!
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