Whether it was my unwavering optimism or my obstinate belief that there is a way and that I can make it, I found myself ala-Amazing Race towards Tambobong Beach, Dasol, Pangasinan from Dingalan, Aurora. It was a race from the east to the west coasts of Luzon Island. What made it a lot more exciting was my lack of knowledge with the transport connectivity between the two points, without passing through Manila. Usually, I only experience travels within Luzon Island originating from Manila to the provinces in the north (Manaoag, Baguio, Vigan, etc) and south (Tagaytay, Lipa, etc).
I found myself taking the 5-minute tricycle ride from Dingalan Port to the town proper (PHP 30) where the express van station is. Luckily, I was able to be get a seat for the next express van trip (PHP 100) from the town of Dingalan, Aurora to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, which will take an hour and forty-five minutes, past the scenic vistas accorded by the Sierra Madre Mountain Range and the as-far-as-the-eye-can-see plains of Central Luzon
After a quick lunch in Cabanatuan’s Central Transport Station, I boarded the Baliwag Transit Bus (PHP 69) for Tarlac City, Tarlac. Baliwag Transit is the only bus company that plies the Cabanatuan-Tarlac line and vice versa, and theyre all non-aircon/ordinary buses. Yes, you have jeepneys too, but, buses travel faster. In 1.5 hours, I was already alighting the bus, right in front of My Metro Town Mall located at the corner of Sta. Rosa-Tarlac Road and Maharlika Highway. I took a jeepney (PHP 8) to get me to Siesta Bus Terminal, which was a few blocks away from where I alighted. The Siesta Bus Terminal is actually like a bus stop/lay-over for those going further north (Baguio, etc) and towards the cities and towns that dot the Lingayen Gulf (Alaminos, Bolinao, etc). I took a light snack while waiting for a bus that goes towards Alaminos, Pangasinan. Within half an hour, I was already boarding a Luzon Cisco Transport Corp Bus (PHP 192) for the City of Alaminos, my jump-off point towards Tambobong Beach via Dasol, Pangasinan. It was a trip of a little over three hours, it was already 9pm when I reached Alaminos. I was supposed to proceed directly to Dasol Town, but since it was already very late at night and I am not quite sure about Dasol’s accommodation facilities, I decided to spend the night in Alaminos.
A quick stop at the Victory Liner Bus Terminal gave me some very important information – that the earliest bus trip to Sta. Cruz, Zambales via Dasol, Pangasinan is at 3.30am. And there is an hourly departure afterwards.
A few steps away, Asia Novo Hotel is located. It’s a budget hotel and a 12-hour stay will only cost me PHP 700 only. After checking in and dumping all my stuff inside my hotel room, I took a stroll and was hoping to find a place for my dinner. I ended up eating Chicken Joy at Jollibee which was just a block away from the hotel. Resuming my evening stroll, I stumbled upon a small café within the city’s covered court, and a had a bottle of beer and some nachos. It was quite a nice location since its directly facing the old church and is in the vicinity of the old district, where you are surrounded by centuries-old trees and old houses as well. It was already late at night but people were still playing basketball, and a pair was playing tennis at the adjacent tennis court. People were walking around, it’s quite a peaceful and relaxing sight. After my beer and nachos, I called it a night and hit the sack.
It was 4.30am when I boarded a Victory Liner Bus for Dasol, Pangasinan. The trip will actually terminate at Sta. Cruz, Zambales but will make stops in all the towns along the way. That includes Dasol. An unsolicited advice for those who will travel by public transport – On Thursdays it is advisable to alight at Burgos, Pangasinan (Alaminos – Burgos PHP 30), the town before Dasol, because the jeepneys (there are only 3 jeepneys, take note!) to Tambobong Beach take passengers from this town’s public market. And since it was a Friday when I arrived, I went straight to the town of Dasol (Alaminos – Dasol PHP 40), to their public market, where their transport hub is also located.
It is quite a challenge to get to Tambobong Beach because of the scarcity of public transport. Although you may opt to take a special tricycle trip, it will cost you PHP 350 – PHP 400 per way. It was a very bubbly lady who accompanied and guided me to Dasol Public Market. Upon alighting at the junction, you may either take a tricycle (PHP 10) or you may just walk to the town’s public market, which is actually visible from where you will alight.
Like all Philippine public markets, especially during the first hours of the morning, Dasol Public Market was a hive of activities when I got there. My jeepney wasn’t in sight yet so I roamed around and bought some fresh seafood and spices in anticipation for my meals during my whole stay in Tambobong Beach. Like what I always highlight, it is best to buy your food supplies in the last public market that you have access to. You wouldn’t want to arrive in your final destination without any food or any source to buy your food from.
With the help of some friendly ladies manning a carenderia or an eatery, I was able to catch the last jeepney trip from Dasol Town to Tambobong Beach (PHP 40). It was such a new experience for me having to jostle and compete for seating space against in-animate objects like boxes and boxes of dry goods, baskets of fresh produce, ice buckets filled with seafood and fresh meat. The jeepney’s roof was also filled to the brim with sacks of cement, rice, and more boxes and a few passengers who prefer to travel al fresco. But what blew my mind was what awaited all the passengers upon boarding the jeep – probably over a hundred concrete hollow blocks occupy the center part of the jeepney. So for the next half an hour (the CHBs were delivered in a small village halfway through our trip), my seatmates were these building materials!
The road to Tambobong Beach is mostly almost rocky and barren with a few trees in between. Save for a few salt flats, which Dasol is famous for (salt is one of their leading products), you will pass by wide swathes of empty land. We passed by the highest point, wherein we are all accorded a panoramic view of Dasol and more salt flats down below which seem to look like broken glass as they shimmer upon catching the sun’s rays.
All the passengers, who I presumed to be locals, were all friendly and they kept on asking me questions about my trips and my life. It was my chance to get to know how they live their lives in Tambobong. Like in most small villages, the locals are quite honest, humble and friendly. These traits, to be honest with you, will always be faced with disbelief nowadays, especially in the city. But once I delved more into the lives of these locals, it felt like I was plunging into the cool waters of a lagoon – I cannot stop it, and yes, it is refreshing!
I was lucky enough to be offered by one of the locals their beachfront property, since I told them my intention of spending my time in the more quiet part of their beach. The house of my last-minute gracious hosts is located along the main road of the village of Tambobong. Across their residence is a gated vacant lot, which stretches towards the beach – that’s where I pitched my tent.
My camping site was perfect! Under the shade of a huge tree, facing the very light cream quiet sandy shores of Tambobong, I carefully prepared my grill for my lunch. It was with conscious effort that I prepared food that is more than enough for me. I initially intended to share them with my host family, just a nice gesture in return for their hospitality, My grill was busy cooking a huge 1.5 kl Yellow Fin Tuna, 1.5 kl medium-sized squids, a kilo of pork chop, three bundles of their famous Alaminos Longganisa, a couple of salted eggs, some freshly-sliced tomatoes, etc. While looking after and flipping my lunch over the grill, from time to time, I took a dip in the cool clear waters. There is no such wonderful feeling being in your makeshift kitchen, enjoying the sea while cooking your food!
With my contented and filled up belly, I took a nap under the shade of the huge tree. The family’s big dog was at hand to guard me while I sleep.
It was already past three in the afternoon when I woke up and made way for my host’s house, to let them know that I am ready to check the sights that Tambobong can offer. It was Ma’am Yek who offered her husband’s boat’s services for my late afternoon island hopping trip.
It’s a PHP 1000 for the whole trip, a hundred of which will go to the environmental fee to be paid to Culebra/Camaso Island’s caretaker. And I had to pay PHP 25 (outside the PHP 1000 fee) as an entrance fee to the island. It is a 30-minute boat ride away, it was a short boat ride to an island that made me feel that I was swept away right in the middle of the ocean, (willingly) trapped in a small island edged with a mix of fine creamy sand and coral reefs! I mentioned that the island is small, because it is! I walked its shoreline and within 15 minutes, I was back where I started! Albeit tiny in size, the island is a beauty! There is a small makeshift convenience store located in one of the very few sheds that line the shores. The island has a small toilet, thank God! And you may spend a night in the island in your tent or under the stars!
The open seas turned a little bit unruly since it was already almost sundown. I boarded the boat and we headed for Crocodile Island. Like what its namesake describes it to be, this island’s silhouette is that of a croc’s head. Upon closer scrutiny, the island is actually an exposed coral reef from hundreds of years ago. You will see it from the dead coral stones and the absence of soil in most of its surface, save for some hardy plants that survive on top of it. Cave-like structures are carved out of this island, and there’s even a small pool in one of the caves where you can have a relaxing dip.
There’s also this interesting cave-like structure I notice earlier when we were just on our way to Culebra/Camaso Island. Some locals call it the “cathedral” because it’s cavernous feature. Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to drop by and check it out.
It was already dusk when I wadded the last few steps towards the dry shores of Tambobong Beach. A few lamp-lighted huts lit up the night like fire flies. A few bangkeros were calling my bangkero and me to join them in their early evening drinks, which we both begged off from. I told them that I will have to take my dinner first, and we can have our drinks afterwards.
Since I still have a lot of food with me, I served some of it when we had our drinks. It was quite relaxing having to spend some time with the locals, hearing their stories and points of view. While some of their kids played around under the moonlit sky and their mothers looking after them. Two bottles of local brandy later, I was ready to fall asleep in my tent. I asked the bangkeros to bring all the food with them since I will be leaving the next day already.
Early the next morning, I bade my host’s good-bye and her nephew brought me back to the town of Dasol in their motorbike. Do take note that if you are on your way back to Dasol, the three jeepney trips will start on early at 4.30am, the next at 5am and the last jeepney trip back to Dasol is at 5.30am!!! So if you are planning to take the jeepney, you have to wake up very early! You may also opt for the PHP 350 tricycle ride. Or the motorbike (which they call “single”) which is cheaper and negotiable.
I know, you may be beside your calculator because of all the amounts that I rattled off along the way. I am guilty of that too, but in the middle of all the addition of one fee to the next, I decided to stop it and turned my calculator off.
The small amounts may look like they will amount to a lot at the end but what actually mattered at the end of the journey was the invaluable experience that I got from all these travelling using all sorts of imaginable mode of transportation, seeing incredible panoramic vistas and ultimately, meeting warm and smiling people along the way.