Monday, March 24, 2014

Away from the Madding Crowds: The Perfect Weekend at Nagsasa Cove, Zambales

I hate travelling but somehow, I found myself heading out of the city once or twice a year ever since I had a kid. As much as possible, I've limited the stress by scheduling hotel staycations more often than not, or by travelling with other family members. As it so happens, my son has been bugging me for a swimming trip ever since last year and while I've managed to fob him off with swimming lessons and the odd hotel stay or two, he's been craving for a real beach camping experience. And we found that in Nagsasa Cove, Zambales.
I've been driving myself crazy figuring out how to pull this off when luckily, my google searchings led me this blog which shared an awesome, hassle-free beach camping experience via the Gone Wild Campers (GWC) group. For a flat fee per head, they'll take care of van transportation to and from Manila-Nagsasa Cove, pack everything you need AND fix the food for you. The last is especially important; I didn't want to go all the way to the idyllic paradise that was Nagsasa Cove only to subsist on canned food. I read the travel guide they had up at their website, verified that all I needed to do was to basically just show up, and proceeded to get all excited and feel very adventurous.

There are already a lot of blogs detailing the beauty and the simplicity that is Nagsasa: no electricity, no cellphone signals, and no other way in or out of the island except via the boats or the mountain hiking trail so I would leave it at that. However, let me just give you a quick Kikay Mom rundown on this trip.

Is it doable with a small child?
Yes, very, especially since we went via private van which drove us directly at the Pundakit jump-off point where you take a 45-minute boat ride to get to the cove itself. If you were doing this DIY, you would normally take a bus to get to Iba, Zambales and then ride a jeep and a tricycle to actually get to the shore where the boats for hire are docked. I didn't need to deal directly with the boatmen since everything was taken care of in true GWC style but I have read that a boat which could fit 10-15 people goes for P1500 to P2500 depending on negotiations.
This is in Pundakit. Pundakit in itself is quite a popular beach spot, with its share of tourists and cheap lodging areas. Surfing is definitely doable, as you can see, because of the waves but at the risk of sounding like a snob, it's not for me. Why bother to go out of the city only to end up with the crowds, the grime, and the noise?
I would, however, strongly recommend that you bring a quality child-sized jacket just because the ones provided on the boats are ill-fitting, not to mention a bit weathered. The route between Pundakit and Nagsasa Cove is not really that isolated so even if the boat should somehow capsize (not that I've heard of any incidents recently) you can probably be rescued within minutes but you want to make sure that your kid can keep safely afloat. I'll sound a bit preachy here, but travelling with kids is a lot of responsibility and it pays to err on the side of caution.
This is towards the front of the camping areas. See the pine-like agoho trees? 
Is the food good?
It definitely was; for me, beach food is grilled food and we had our fill in the two days that we were in Nagsasa. Definitely no complaints on that score, especially since I didn't lift a finger to prepare any of it. We even had an evening bonfire with marshmallows and chocolates, which the Wonder Boy definitely loved.
These boys kept us well-fed for two days.

Sleeping in a tent, even without pillows or mattresses, was surprisingly comfortable because the sand was fine and not pebbly. It was a bit like sinking into a memory foam cushion that didn't spring back up. We just used a sarong for a sheet, and another one for a blanket and we had a perfectly good nights' rest.
No matter how careful you are, sand WILL get inside your tent. The GWC boys showed me how to de-sand the inside of the tent (it involves going inside the tent and putting it on its side) and when I did it, the other tour mates thought our tent was being carried off in the wind and hurried over to rescue me.

Here's me (I'm the one holding a coffee cup) with some of the tour mates. Since it was just me, my kid and little sister, we were joiners on this tour. These guys are from JP Morgan and Chase, out on a team bonding weekend. I didn't really mind being on this trip with them although we were, for all practical purposes, the 'outsiders' because they were so friendly and welcoming especially with the Wonder Boy.

So what's there to see in Nagsasa? Since our campsite was basically in the middle, to the right lay the mountain trail (which was sadly closed for visitors during our stay) and the picturesque rocky area of the beach. 

To the left lies the river, and since it was summer, the water was not as high as it could be. It did reach up to the waist after the far bend though. My boy was all about playing in the waves and digging in the sand so we didn't really stay that much on the river side.

I don't have any pictures of the bathrooms but it was decent enough. They were concrete and tile enclosures with a toilet bowl and running water but that's it. You'll have to hang your towel on makeshift bamboo rods and bring a candle or a flashlight at night.

Nagsasa Cove is beautiful, no doubt about it, but I can already see it being slowly ruined by irresponsible travellers. All along the beach are cigarette butts and plastic packs of junk food, discarded bottles and other trash. When my kid and sister woke up early in the morning, we headed over to the rocky beach area to bum around before lunch and on the 10-minute walk there, we collected a big bag of trash by just picking up whatever was right in front of us. It's sad how idiotic people are sometimes.
See this wide expanse of beach that we had all to ourselves? I expect it will change in April and May and we are definitely glad to have gone before then.

We definitely want to come back to Nagsasa Cove. Other than the trash, there is just beauty everywhere. And at night, there are no city lights so you get to lie down on the beach and gaze at the stars, if that's your thing. I did that with my kid for about five minutes, then we went back inside the tent and I pulled out my Kobo while he played with his iPad until he feel asleep.

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