Gora: Bolinao, Pangasinan

The farther one travels from Manila, the less it seems inevitable as home.

The never-ending parade of cars and barely concealed road rage, the perennially packed MRT, the proliferation of gangs attacking commuters (the Batang Hamog, Saboy Bigas, and Dura gangs, to name a few), the circuitous routes, the expensive fares – who has the energy to deal with all of that? It is no wonder people, relieved from the necessity of commuting for work or school, stay at home on weekends, decompressing for the next week’s war with the pace of city life.

I say war because it feels like no one likes this routine of hurrying. Or maybe I am projecting. I have occasionally heard officemates and friends complain that in Manila because of the time and the many vehicle changes it takes to commute, one already feels tired arriving at the office, and even more spent still coming home at night, to manage anything more than an hour of television before going to bed.

This is why I feel, in my old age, I might relocate to the countryside, where I am from, where traffic is a memory of the future, and where nature is one quick jeepney ride away.

One such place is Bolinao, in Pangasinan, where you wake up not to the groans of tricycles, but to the sloshing of waves. You open your door to an uninterrupted sea.

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This was our view from Sundowners Inn, which is located in the town proper. Most of the resorts in Bolinao are along the shore, and are thus more expensive than Sundowners. But if you just need a respite from your neighbor’s laundry blocking your view of buildings long in need of another coating of paint, Sundowners will cut it for you. Sundowners is a shadow of its former self: its restaurant is no longer open – the cook has retired, end of story – and it could use more lamplights, but its lodgings are clean and spacious. An airconditioned room for two costs P1,000 a night. It is a good starting point to try Bolinao’s restaurants in the heart of town.

The most famous is London 2 Bolinao, named after the owners, the British husband and the Filipina wife. Since the husband is Moslem, the restaurant doesn’t offer pork dishes.

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Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the food, but you should try the pancit, kinilaw, fried chicken, halo-halo, and the fruit shakes.

We also tried Adora, which is a good carenderia, and Bolinao Seafood Grill Atbp., an open-air seafood restaurant which serves calamares that’s light on the breading. Bolinao isn’t like Bacolod or Cebu, which are food capitals offering variety on every corner. The Northern Luzon palate, in general, is less greasy and more streamlined than other places I’ve been to.

Bolinao’s landscape, however, is storied. It boasts of the country’s second tallest lighthouse.

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It also has caves, the most intricate of which is called Enchanted Cave. It has a grotto.

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It was too dark down there for my camera, but it has an indoor pool. I looked for it on Google, and here’s one photo from http://www.outoftownblog.com (thank you, Sir/Ma’am).

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We also went to Cindy’s Cave, which is a much humbler work of nature.

Bolinao is also home to a waterfall tucked so far away only the locals know how to get there. We stopped to ask at least ten people for directions because there were no signs. I kind of like that because it means the place hasn’t been thoroughly commercialized yet, and it forces you to talk to people. Plus, the harder you look for the place, the much more rewarded you feel finding it.

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Bolinao’s most famous destination is baby-powder white-sand Patar Beach.

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Patar is a public beach – as it should be – and there are plenty of cottages that cost a few hundred pesos each and have no concept of personal space, so do not come to Patar for self-reflection.

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You can do that at any of the less populous resorts before you hit Patar. In our case, we found a family along the road that rents out their two cottages for a song. They also sell San Miguel Flavored Beer which is the best grease for soul-searching.

Speaking of souls, we caught its Holy Week procession when we went back to town.

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Ritually gathering – for processions to street dances – keeps small towns together in a way that is hard to do for and in the city. Doing things as a group reinforces ties that bind. The defined world of the countryside is calming for the mind rent apart by the seeming limitlessness of city life.

Or maybe it is time for me to buy a car to cope with Manila.

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