Isla Vista Resort
Ealdama St, Km Post 249, Uacon, Candelaria, Zambales
April 1 to 3, 2010
Due to the successful summer trip last year to La Luz Beach Resort, the friends and I decided to plan another out of town adventure; this time, we decided on Potipot Island.
It was a unanimous vote that we would go on the first three days of April, which happened to be the annual stretch of non-working holidays brought about by the celebration of the Holy Week. With everyone now having their own busy work schedules, it was difficult to find any other occasion that would be favorable to all of us without conflicting with important engagements and priorities. Dad warned me ahead of time that going out during this time of the year would be crazy, with everybody wanting to take advantage of the long break - destination spots would be packed and the traffic would be hell. Still, being optimistic, we decided to push through with the plans and if necessary, experience first hand what it would be like to be part of the Holy Week crowd.
Suggested by my best friend and my boyfriend's sister, Potipot Island is a relatively pristine beach a few minutes away from the shores of Uacon, Candelaria. Although word has been spreading about this white sand beauty, Potipot doesn't seem to enjoy as much publicity yet as other Philippine beaches, which makes it absolutely perfect for those hoping to have a laid-back weekend and get away from all the hullabaloo of city life. Although there are a few resorts along the coast of Uacon, they are not yet highly "commercialized", as some would say, as compared to other favorite vacation destinations.
The friends decided to have an early start to beat the Holy Thursday heavy traffic. We were out of our houses by 2 in the morning and rendezvoused at an NLEX gas station to have a quickie breakfast and to lay out the plans. In two cars, we convoyed down the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway) heading towards the SCTex (Subic-Clark Expressway). Reaching Subic Bay, we proceeded to the Sta. Cruz, Zambales exit.
What stuck in my memory as we exited Subic, was the mountainside cemetery, with all the political campaign paraphernalia stuck onto the walls and grills of tombs and vaults. I recalled my friend exclaiming how insensitive of politicians to plaster their faces on the resting places of the dearly departed, still, you cannot deny that the visibility of their banners were difficult to miss given the good location.
It was a fairly long drive going to Uacon from Subic, and we constantly consulted the map provided to us by Isla Vista, which can be seen below, to make sure we were heading the right direction. In general, we just kept going "forward", following the route.
I cannot say it enough. It was a long drive. Most of us (except the drivers) have taken turns sleeping and waking and asking, "Are we there yet?" By 7.30, my dad sent me an SMS inquiring if we already reached our destination, and my answer was a no. He asked where we were headed, and after my response, he informed me that Candelaria is almost at the edge of Zambales, quite the borderline going to Pangasinan. No wonder the trip was taking forever.
We were informed that the trip would last a good five hours, but we reached our destination at approximately 9 in the morning which meant that we were on the road for almost seven hours. On the other hand, it wasn't a solid seven hour drive anyway.
We passed by other resorts before recognizing the signage of Isla Vista. We took a left from the main road into a skinny little side street with a width good enough for just one car to pass at a time. And finally, we were there - our rumps flat as pancakes.
The Isla Vista Resort is your basic resort, with the usual amenities - cabanas, a mess area, karaoke machines, ample parking space. There is nothing aesthetically spell-binding or awesome about the place except perhaps for the small fountain with fishes and frogs in front of the admissions desk. In general though, it was clean and simple with a few constellations of coconut trees dotting the area.
Our supposed check in time was still at 1 in the afternoon, but with a few friendly exchanges with the admissions staff (their admissions staff are very accommodating), we were able to change our check in time to 11 in the morning - catch is, our check out time would have to be 9 on Saturday morning rather than at 11.
Having two hours to spare before getting our room, we quickly wiped on some sunblock and headed out to the beach front to check out what the place had to offer. There was a long wide stretch of sand being shared by all the resorts, which were lined up in one long row, with ours last. There weren't a lot of people on the beach. In fact, it felt like the beach was solely ours for that time.
The sand wasn't laundry-powder white, in fact it was more khaki-tan colored. Still, on our feet, it was gloriously soft and fine. It was an absolute tactile pleasure having the smooth sand massage your feet. Had it been white and consistently cool, my friend told me, it would've passed for Boracay sand.
As you can see, from the picture below, Potipot Island is a short ride away from the shore. In fact, it was approximately five minutes away from Isla Vista Resort via boat. Because the said island does not have any of those modern comforts that most people are accustomed to - for example, private rooms and personal comfort rooms and electricity - some visitors would prefer to leave their belongings in the resorts and head on to the island for a day trip adventure, heading back just before dark to enjoy the sweet luxuries of private space and decent bedding. Being the modern adventurers that we are, that's what we intended to do.
Because of our early start, and because we didn't have much yet to do, we checked out the other resorts; and because of the shy rumbling in our tummies, we stopped by one resort to try out their food.
Their menu has your usual breakfast offerings, but the prices are generally agreeable.
According to the boyfriend of one of our friends, Zambales mangoes are distinctly sweet, and because it was summer, we each got ourselves a good ol' Mango shake for only 25 pesos each. Pure, unadulterated bliss. There is nothing like a mango shake on a hot day.
After brunch, we excitedly hurried to our room - Plaza 5. We reserved the air conditioned room good for six at 2,100 pesos a night. There were a few additional charges for an extra person at 250 per night and 150 for the extra bed (it was more of a mattress, than a bed) per night. It was a pretty good deal, and we were all thumbs up with the bargain.
The room was pretty much spartan. Three double beds on a bamboo bed frames, a thin mattress cushion on the floor and a couple of racks where we can put our things on. The bathroom is quite the same; there weren't any decorative pictures or amusing flowery potpourri scents. It's your basic shower (no hot water, by the way, but we didn't mind), toilet and a wash sink.
Starting the day at 2 in the morning, we were all deathly tired at this point. Recognizing that it's scorching hot to even think of swimming at noon, we all, one by one, fell (unconsciously) to sleep. After a good snooze, we all woke up feeling much refreshed and ready for some good pre-dusk swimming, when the sun is milder and the waters calmer.
Christel placed her shades over the lenses of her camera with the 5 pm sun casting it's light onto the clear water. The below photo is the end result.
They're back, and they're back with vengeance. The jellyfish has struck again, same unfortunate person as last year. This year, the poor dear experienced the jellyfish cooties on her right arm. No one really knows how it happened, they were just swimming in the water, when she suddenly yelped in pain, and the markings magically manifested on her arm. To ease the swelling, they found some warm vinegar and began rubbing it onto the reddening skin, and after a few minutes of doing so, the swelling relaxed a bit.
Being lazy-asses, we didn't want the hassle of bringing and cooking our own food, so we decided to buy at the resort. On our first day, we ordered a variety of dishes from their menu, only to learn that most of the orders come in awfully small and disappointing quantities. The only ones that perhaps filled our stomachs with happiness were the roasted chicken and crispy pata... and for myself, the cream of mushroom soup which I had almost every single time.
Once again the best part of eating time are the mango shakes, let me correct that, mango banana shakes.
Awake by quarter to 6, we began our morning routines. We had informed the boat man that we will be going to Potipot Island at 6 am, but with the bathroom queue and the "what shall I wear today" dilemma, we were able to meet him at half past six.. or seven.
Morning has already unveiled itself, and the sun was mildly awake by the time we got out and the sand was cool on our feet as we boarded our boat ride. A round trip boat ride to Potipot for 6 is 400 pesos, but since we were 7, we got to use the big boat (good for 12) at 800 pesos.
When we got there, the front side of the island was already heavily populated with guests - getting out of their tents from a night of camping, making breakfast, going for that morning swim.
The island isn't all that big, walking across it, we realized, the trees you see from afar? They're lies!!! When you get to the center of the island, you'd feel like you're in the middle of a safari - a naked treeless expanse of land, with a few hairs of grass sticking out of the ground. Paranoia insists that a snake is hiding somewhere, ready to bite you on your ankle.
We found a nice space at the other end of the island, which seemed to enjoy less human contact, and decided to make it our HQ. The sand at Potipot was impeccably white, though not as soft and smooth as that from the Isla Vista Resort. The water was generally cool, clean and clear, but it wasn't quite as salty as that in Isla Vista. Once again, I am at a loss for words in describing the place, so I hope the pictures would suffice in summarizing our Potipot fun.
Yes, there were starfishes of varied shapes and colors and sizes. The friends even made a fort around their marine finds to keep them in one place - see photos below.
We also found lots of hermit crabs, some big, others as small as half one's thumbnail. We went a bit crazy and piled them all up in two plastic cups. They used to sell hermit crabs at school for 10 pesos each, here, we can just get them for free.
AND THE WORD FOR THE DAY IS...
It wasn't just us, we keep hearing the word from everyone. From passers by, from kids frolicking at a distance. We even overheard a conversation between some swimmers if a jellyfish sting would hurt? Oh, if they only know. And quite timely, as our jellyfish magnet friend was wading in the water, guess what was following her?
We caught the little jelly spy!
After a few hours of playing in the water, wading, sun bathing (under an umbrella), hermit crab hunting, fort building, fish searching and whatever stuff, it was a little close to noon, and we've tired ourselves out. So we grabbed all our belongings, and headed back to the front side of the island. Making the most of our cameras along the way.
We had told the boatman that we wanted to be picked up past lunch, at around 2 in the afternoon, but by mid-noon, we wanted to go back to our cool air conditioned room, that we requested one of the Potipot Island caretakers to text our boatman to bring us back to the Isla Vista Resort.
Upon reaching our resort, we said farewell to our Potipot catches. We let our hermit crabs run free on the brown sand, and returned the starfishes back into the cool salty waters.
After dinner, I headed out to the beach, the water had already retreated leaving two toned sands - the wet and the dry. You can hear the soft murmur of the waves as it dies on the soft sand, a gurgle of bubbles foaming before another wave climbs up and mimics the earlier waves. The air was cool, though I didn't feel any wind. My best friend volunteered to accompany me in my silence. It was a beautiful moment walking barefoot, your print melting onto the damp sand, and thousands of stars eying you in their own moments of contemplation. It felt like peace.
We sat on the dry sand, my hand playing with it as it slips fluidly out of my grasp, running out the spaces between my fingers. We sat there, in silence, and it felt like nothing else mattered. That was my favorite memory of the trip. The solitude, the company and the silence.
The others have taken to a different sport, crab hunting. With the aid of their flashlights and their fast fingers, the guys began stalking and searching crabs, putting them in a plastic full of sand. In the darkness, you can see the crabs scatter across the sand and bury themselves in their little holes. The guys would then begin digging the hole until they find the critter. By the end, they managed to catch, if I'm not mistaken, as many as 8 crabs in their plastic. Some big, others small.
They did let most of the crabs go, except for a couple, that they wanted to bring home to keep as souvenirs.
It was Christel's birthday. For the many years we've been together, this is the first time we ever celebrated anyone's birthday out of town together. There weren't any fancy cakes, though we wanted to buy her one on this special day. (Civilization is a long drive away, we didn't recall seeing a Mcdonald's an hour's drive away from where we were)
We weren't able to do much drinking as well. The past few nights we were mostly tired that drinking was often foregone, and even on this day, I personally wasn't too keen on getting drunk. Funny thought that, this year, compared to our La Luz trip, we had more alcohol, but we're a little less crazed to drink now. By midnight, I was already busy in slumberland.
We woke up at 6 plus on Day 3, and got ready to go by 9, which also happened to be our check out time, since one of our companions had a family trip in Subic by 1pm. Heading back, the guys noticed that prices of gas in Zambales, by the way, were more expensive as compared to those in Manila. By no means, I don't know the figures, but I'll just take their word for it.
We got to Subic by 12 plus, after stopping by a line of stores selling mangoes for 50 pesos per kilo. Leaving Subic at 1.30 or 2, we got to the SCTex and this is what we found at the end of the rainbow. Ta-dah! Say hello to traffic!
I got home a little past five that day. I was the first to be dropped off.
It was a good adventure, and it was fun hanging out with the peeps. Talks of an August out of town trip is now on their tongues, hopefully now, on the works - where to? I am yet to know.
*Some photos were taken from Christel's Potipot Island albums.