The alarm was set to five o’ clock in the morning after half-wittedly deciding to stay up so late the night before—well, couldn’t really say “the night before” ’cause we slept at around 12 midnight—watching Anthony Bourdain material from 13 years ago and snacking on purely unhealthy junk food. But amazingly, I woke up not feeling like a grumpy 60-year old widower who would rather let the time pass him by.
We were going to our ninang‘s house in Anilao, Batangas—a trip planned by Nouelle back from I-can’t-remember-when. I live for road trips—no matter how near or far—as long as it’s my two (sometimes one, and sometimes none) of my hands on the steering wheel, I know that nothing could go wrong with my driving skills specifically honed from jabbering with taxi drivers taking their breaks at the bakery near our house when I was still a kid.
Perhaps, this explains my weird but apt fascination with bread. I’d always head to the bakery in the main road in the afternoon ’cause that’s when most of the taxi drivers will be stopping by to take their breaks. And where to better spend their hard-earned cash than at a local bakery where you can get a bunch of pan de sals with a can of sardines for just a couple of bucks. The guys at the bakery are always nice enough to let them borrow a cheap ceramic bowl they could pour the sardines together with it’s tomato sauce into. What happens next is what you would most likely see in Morocco—big, sweaty guys sharing a bowl of food, dipping their breads into it simultaneously trying to outdo one another in scoring the big chunks of fish.
Other than that, they also serve make-your-own coffee here. You pay around 5 bucks and they give you a glass, which was previously the container of the coffee granules (they market it here in a way that you get a free glass if you buy this brand of coffee), and a stainless spoon—which God-knows-how-unsanitized. There’s a big air pot of hot water and three jars which had coffee, sugar, and creamer in each of them. It’s up to you how you’d prefer your coffee from thereon. Of course trying to refill without paying will get you kicked out of the cab driver-infested joint.
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Ninang Flor and his husband Jay bought the stunningly situated water front (not “beach front” ’cause it’s all rocks and corals out front) real estate back in the late 1980’s—just right after passing by the ubiquitous resorts and self-proclaimed “best dive spots.” It takes 2 to 3 hours to get there by car but that’s not—in any way—implying I know or experienced how to get there any other way.
We left at around 6:30am and arrived at the San Pedro branch of Petron in SLEX a little around 7:45am to meet my cousin Jett, his wife Anne, and their adorable little munchkin Summer—who is way too fond of our daughter, RyRy. She calls her “Ate RyRy” and when she does, it’s in the same rate, the same tone, the same facial expression—almost robotic in a sense. They brought a driver with them which is almost like cheating.
We drove all the way to the end passing through the STAR (Southern Tagalog Arterial Road) Tollway—which they say now has a speed limit of 100km/h strictly enforced. This used to be the sinister freeway where European sports cars, together with Japanese imports, tested their limits. A search in YouTube for “star tollway” would give you a quick idea how fast these people were going but it will also give you numerous results of accidents that happened here which is why it’s fair to believe that they, indeed, have implemented a speed limit. I, for one, didn’t agree as I was going 120km/h the entire length of it.
Bauan is where you start to go slow. Come to think of it, if not for the highly dense population and narrow streets of Bauan, you’d reach Anilao in less than 2 hours. You pass by a market, a school, a typical bayan as people on road trips would likely call it. There was a Santacruzan parade earlier as hinted by some of the custom-made floats they’ve just finished using and erroneously parked in alternating sides of the street. The road is perfectly situated near the edges so you see a perfect view of the ocean when the road starts to split. This is also where the countless dive resorts start to become visible.
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Ninang Flor’s homestead, amusingly named Melon Patch, is located just right after Vistamar Beach Resort and Hotel. If you didn’t see it right after the resort, you’ve missed it. Having been here before, when me and Nouelle initially were planning to get married here (which would’ve been perfect, by the way), I knew that parking should be done rear first in because of the entry being situated right after a tight hairpin. If you did it the other way around, you’ll be backing in when you go out and chances are either you get hit by another car or exit facing the other way further troubling yourself with a 5-point turn (3-point turns are impossible because of the narrow street). Once you get yourself parked and settled, everything’s a breeze—or is it?
From the parking lot—which can only hold 5 cars max being it’s a residential place—the scene of towering bamboo trees just catches your eyes right away. The strong gusts of wind blowing resulting to creaks as if you’re crossing a bridge in urban Cambodia. Bridge you say? Yes! After unloading the duffle bags and the almost-always-present Thermos cooler in getaway trips, you are faced with a wooden bridge—about a hundred feet long and 2 meters wide. It’s not scary as it doesn’t shake—unlike typical bridges you see on television or may recall from your childhood days playing at the local playground.
After the bridge, the pathway separates into two as they are sharing the real estate with another family. Jay built a chicken fence-type door which you swing open to access the path. After which is another bridge named “Wombat Bridge” which I think—I still need to confirm though—is named after their son Marlon whose nickname is, you guessed it, “Wombat” (again, for confirmation). This bridge is made of a thin layer of cement but probably a number of steel rods in between which makes it very wobbly. It’s without railings and in a letter “S” shape which makes it almost impossible not to fall over if you are not careful enough.
Luckily, none of us fell as it wouldn’t have been nice falling to a creek of dried up branches of mango and bamboo trees. You walk past stones and pebbles and approach yet another bridge. This time smaller in comparison with the first two but much scarier as the wood seem to be favored by the local termites. After a few steps, you finally reach the house. Bad news for me ’cause I still have to go all the way back for our other bags.
The house is amazing. Made mostly out of wood, it feels like only the surface of the first floor was made with solid concrete. The place had three floors in all with a beach resort vibe to it. The first floor is where the kitchen is—two old school refrigerators on opposite sides, a 4-burner stove top from the 90’s, and a noticeable amount of discarded wine bottles. Ninang Flor and Jay are your typical connoisseurs—the former always holding a glass half-filled with red wine and the latter with a can of local beer in a koozie.
There are two full-sized aquariums beside the sofa set where a clown fish and eel are swimming in each—both, including the corals, sand and salt water, came from the nearby ocean. Jay is a marine biologist which explains his vast knowledge in anything ocean. Out front is a garden with a tire swing hanging from a towering coconut tree.
There’s a nipa hut—which is an endless recipient of refreshing gusts of wind—at the left and a viewing deck at the right where you can find a flagpole with Marlon’s underwear attached to the end it. The second floor has two rooms (could be three if you use the divider) with a common veranda or viewing deck. The third floor is the hosts’ private space which I didn’t have the chance to see.
The place faces the island of Maricban which is somewhat calming as it serves as a shield to would-be tsunamis. There’s Sombrero island just beside it and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen actually sets between the two islands. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect at this very moment (except for the fact that Marlon’s underwear was hanging right above me). It’s not as peaceful as we would’ve wished it was as we had 2 hyper active kids continuously shouting and shooting snorkels at the sunset.
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We were going to grill a couple of ingredient-stuffed milk fishes for dinner so I set foot to buy a couple packs of charcoal. So I walked by the trail and the bridges once more and out the compound and went to the nearest sari sari store I could find. The typical sari sari store is a makeshift shack made from patching together used pieces of galvanized iron sheets, painting them altogether, then putting up a sign right above—usually the name of the proprietor followed by the words “sari sari store” which simply implies they’re selling a variety of goods. I asked the elderly woman inside the shanty if they had any charcoals and she immediately assumed I was going to buy one whole sack of it. She called on two grown men to bring out an entire sack so I immediately cut them off and said two small plastic bags would do.
This place is far from the city and it’s not everyday people get to see a tall, bald, face-covered-in-facial-hair type of guy. Right then and there came out almost every kid in the district, surrounded me and basically divided themselves into two groups with one making fun of me because of my not-so-impressive hairline and the other group trying to pair me up with an unsuspecting girl. I said “hi” to the kids, patted their heads, got my change and went back to the house without delay. I don’t think I’d be hosting a travel show any time soon.
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Night time is very peaceful here. The tide goes very low which means you can see more of the cobble rock-filled shoreline. Air conditioning, you say? No need. It seems that they found the perfect spot in the island as the cool breeze goes blowing straight to your room in the evening. No “tuko” or tokay gecko sounds at night to freak you out either. I slept like a baby but I’m not so sure if it’s because of the ambience or the fact that I just drove 2 hours with a little over 4 hours sleep—I was practically asleep while sitting down a few moments after dinner.
Next day came and we were planning to go snorkeling early in the morning. Here, they literally just wake up, get some breakfast and jump in the derangely ice cold ocean water. After gobbling on some home made waffles and bacon, we set out to face one of my childish fears—going out into the open water and stepping on gooey, spongy corals. Marlon went ahead with his GoPro to go National Geographic and take pictures of the corals in the ocean floor. Ninang had me borrow a size 11 diving boots to at least calm my scary ass down. After prancing around like a little girl testing the freezing waters, I went in with my dorky looking goggles, snorkel—still with my t-shirt on to hide the somehow protruding bulge from underneath. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about sharks in the open water while slowly traversing my way through maze created by the coral formation.
When I got myself to an area deep enough, I put my toothpaste-cleansed goggles and snorkel on and dove in. Honestly, I felt like a pussy fearing these squishy things for so long. It was actually an amazing experience as I felt very stolid looking at a couple of fishes staring back at me like I’m some kind of gigantic intruder (in which I really was) towering over their homes. The cool thing is they just stood there not flinching as if guarding their gooey homes from the clearly enthused giant. I somehow realized and learned to appreciate these corals and the actual people that guard them on a daily basis. This place has been named a sanctuary which means no one can fish here any time, any day. There are guards on boats roaming around the area every now and then looking out for whoever dares violate this paradise of an ocean front.
We stuffed ourselves with kilograms of burritos and barbecues at lunch and just kind of sat back and relax thinking about when to come here next. It’s a nice place to escape the stress that stockpiles in the city. Ninang Flor and Jay has a paradise for themselves right here and to think that they spend every weekend here is just awe-inspiring. Me and Nouelle couldn’t help ourselves but talk about getting a place just like it for our own. For now, we’ll have to settle with overrated and overcrowded beaches—or there’s always this place, Melon Patch, where I can visit my new found fish friends.