If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? What we thought is a purely philosophical question appears to be the subject of scientific debate as well. And what we thought to be a question that we can sweep under the rug, or anchor under the sea, came to face us in a slightly different form. If there’s a place of beauty, and there’s bound to be such a place in and around the 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines, would it still be beautiful if no one is around to see and admire it? Take, for instance, the Anawangin Cove of Zambales.
Before we gush how beautiful Anawangin is, let’s first talk safety. It’s ironic, but not unexpected, that something of great beauty can be very deadly. Think Delilah capturing the heart of Samson. Or the infiltration of Troy through the beautiful Trojan horse, giving rise to the expression, “beware of the Greeks, even if they come bearing gifts.” Anawangin Cove, for all the beauty that we will describe in the paragraphs below, is equally filled with danger.
It’s a known fact that there have been a number of drowning-related deaths in Anawangin. And there are countless incidents of near-drowning. During the time we were there, we had to rush to help a kid who was frantically waiving his arms as he slowly went underwater. Good thing the boatmen were fast enough to reach the kid. The kid is safe. Thankfully.
We’re not narrating this story to scare people off. If it were otherwise, we would have disallowed the kids to enjoy the Anawangin waters after seeing that incident. In fact, we’ve come to love Anawangin, so much so that we’ve already made plans to revisit Anawangin for an added overnight tent experience.
All we’re saying is that the danger is real. It’s the very reason why it took forever before I gave in to my husband’s unwavering intent for the family to visit Anawangin. Having seen what happened, we’ve realized this is no different from any danger in life. Danger exists anywhere we turn and if we allow fear to paralyze us, we don’t really get to live our lives. It’s all about calculated risks and informed decisions. After having a great time in Anawangin Cove, we’ve concluded that it’s relatively safe with sufficient vigilance. After experiencing the waters of Anawangin, we came up with 4 self-imposed rules. We take this opportunity to emphasize these rules.
First, learn how to swim. This is fairly obvious but it’s amazing how people go to the beach, through open waters, with limited swimming skills. The waters of Anawangin is deceptively inviting. It’s cool and not too salty. But the waves are very, very powerful, with enough force to slowly (but surely) pull unsuspecting now-swimmers back towards the sea. We’ve heard discussions of undertow or rip current — that “narrow flow of fast-moving water that can pull a swimmer rapidly out to sea.”
Rip current or not, we only need to remember two things: the waves are powerful and the shore is steep. We know how it feels because we’ve experienced this as kids. Non-swimmers or weak swimmers, especially kids, would tiptoe in chest-deep waters. Guess it’s normal to test how much more we can take. This is perfectly ok in relatively flat and stable beaches, like Boracay. It’s an entirely different experience in sloped shorelines. The sand underneath slowly gives way and the body is thrown off-balance, naturally pulled towards the direction of the deeper slope. To cap it off, by the time a weak swimmer gets hit by a powerful wave and is carried back towards the direction of the sea, there’s most likely no more sand under his/her feet.
Second, kids should ALWAYS be accompanied by adults (who know how to swim) and adults, when doing watchman duty, must never ever take their eyes off the kids. Third, when adults go swimming, they must always have a buddy. If two heads are better than one, then two swimmers are definitely better than one. Fourth, and this gentle reminder, or warning, is visibly written on a piece of wood at Anawangin Cove — do not go swimming when you’ve been drinking. Alcohol and strong waves don’t mix. If DUI (driving under the influence) is illegal, SUI (swimming under the influence) is strongly discouraged.
The Boat Ride
The travel going to Anawangin Cove could be a total inconvenience or decidedly exciting, depending on the travelers sense of adventure. The land trip to the location of Anawangin (barangay Pundaquit, town of San Antonio, province of Zambales) is generally uneventful. The fun part is the 30-minute boat ride from mainland Zambales — through open waters and around jagged cliffs — to Anawangin Cove. Fun. We won’t be surprised to see a mermaid perched on top of those rocky outcrops in the middle of nowhere (and, to the world’s selfie capital, the Philippines, we won’t be surprised to see those mermaids taking a selfie).
After all, this…is…Sparta! We mean, this is Zambales. If you may have remembered current events, it’s the same vicinity where the Philippines is trying to defend its claim over Bajo de Masinloc against intrusions from China. This piece of beach haven faces the West Philippine Sea, which is why the boat ride from Pundaquit to Anawangin Cove is no piece of cake. Guests are required, and must otherwise insist of wearing, life vests during the whole duration of the boat ride.
There are ways to deal with the waves. Those who are not comfortable with rollercoaster-like rides, and those who get seasick, should consider taking seasickness pills an hour before hitting the sea. That would be around near Subic town, around an hour worth of drive away from the jump-off point to Anawangin.
The more obvious solution, to master the waves, is to take the biggest boat. Smaller boats naturally bob up and down heavily, even with smaller waves. Bigger boats, just like the ones used in Boracay, would be more stable.
Seriously, though, where’s the fun in taking the biggest boat? We’d take the smaller boats anytime. Our daughter, when asked what’s the best part of the entire trip, answered without hesitation that it’s the boat ride. Come to think of it, it’s exactly like the fun rides at Enchanted Kingdom. EK’s Anchor’s Away would pale in comparison to the 30-minute ride in a small pump boat to Anawangin.
And because the journey is much a part of the experience as the destination, the boat ride should be an occasion to have fun. Raise your hands just like in a roller coaster. Stop asking “are we there yet” and enjoy the ride. Wave mightily and holler “hello” to the fellow tourists in incoming boats. Smile. Laugh. You’ll soon forget the waves.
Directions: Going to Anawangin
The land leg of the travel to Anawangin is basically uneventful. Travel time from Metro Manila is around 2 hours and 30 minutes, more or less, depending on the time of departure, how fast you travel and the number of stopovers. Leaving early means less traffic, and lesser travel time. Hitting the roads along the Subic to Zambales leg at rush our means slower travel, crawling at times, because of the army of slow-moving tricycles plying the main roads. We left 9:30 a.m and arrived in Anawangin at around 3pm, and that’s because we had a number of stops, including a food stop in one of the gas stations along NLEX, one-hour lunch in Subic and a detour to a friend’s house in Olongapo City. These time frames assume that you drive fast.
How to get to Anawangin Cove? When going to Anawangin from Manila, there are 3 important waypoints to remember: Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), Subic and San Antonio (Zambales).
First, proceed to SCTEX. This isn’t hard to do; it’s like looking for the Philippines itself. Fastest route is through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Take the SCTEX exit (after the Dau exit of NLE). After taking the NLE exit loop, along the short stretch of umbilical cord that connects the NLE to the SCTEX, there’s a fork on the road immediately after the main SCTEX tollgate — the right side goes to Baguio and the left side goes to Subic. Take left (to Subic) and drive all the way to the Subic exit.
Once inside the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), remember to mind your traffic manners. This is the ONLY place in the Philippines where traffic rules are respected (we hope it stays that way and we sincerely hope it’s emulated by other political units). Look for Dewey Street and drive all the way to the end, which is an exit gate towards Olongapo. Turn left towards the direction of Subic town (different from SBMA).
It’s the same general direction to Iba, Zambales. You’ll successively pass the following towns: Subic Town, Castillejos, San Marcelino and San Antonio. There’s a street between the San Antonio Municipal Hall and the church. Go left and take that road. Head straight and look for Pundaquit. If you see archways for San Juan and Santiago, then a small steel bridge, which looks like a bridge too far, you’re on the right track. Ask the residents for a parking area and ask for boatmen who can take you to Anawangin. Get ready for the boat ride.
Beach and Boats
One of Anawangin’s biggest draw — and we understand that what draws visitors to the pace is largely a matter of personal preference — is its sand and beach.
The sand. Describing the sand of Anawangin is a tricky task. Anawangin’s sand is like a chameleon. It’s easy to see that it’s black sand, probably volcanic in origin. We don’t know if lahar reached this place during the 1991 Pinatubo explosion, but this area was the recipient of generous ashfall from that angry volcano. Tons of materials from inside the bowels of the earth were dumped into the surrounding areas. Tons of airborne material blanket the earth’s atmosphere and limit the sunlight that goes through. The result? Global temperature dropped. Amazing.
And if it’s colder in your snow-capped place, why don’t you drop by in some tropical, sun-drenched country. The Philippines, perhaps?
Anawangin has black sand, alright, yet the beach area not reached by seawater is surprisingly white. Fine, white sand.
The highest point reached by the waves is black. And not just black. It has a lighter surface, like a thin layer of sand that retains water, long enough to remain soaked until the next wave comes along. It creates a mirror effect, shiny and smooth, reflecting the blue sky and the strong colors that fills the cove. The green pines trees. The golden-brown vegetation on rolling black hills. The bright colors of bancas parked on the beach.
Perched on top of the white beach are bancas, the main mode of transportation to and from Anawangin. It’s not the only way to reach Anawangin, if we may add. Anawangin is accessible by foot, although it’s a challenge that should be undertaken only by serious trekkers or mountaineers. The trek takes around 6 hours and through rugged terrain. Tough task if you have kids, together with baon (there are makeshift little stores on location, nipa huts that blend under the pine trees, so there should be no problem if you forgot to bring snacks and water).
It’s a challenge to get on and off the boats because of the powerful waves. The boatmen, with the help of other individuals on the beach, would keep the boat steady as guests go onboard or offload. All the boats are carried, or pushed and lifted, to the highest area on the beach so they’re out of reach of the waves crashing on the shore. If local residents respect the power of these waves, guests should not be too smug in believing that they’re better equipped to handle the waves. One interesting reminder from the boatman — if your slipper falls off, do NOT be a hero and jump off the boat to retrieve the slipper; otherwise, you might just end up losing more than a slipper.
If life’s a beach, Anawanin would be a strong candidate to be that beach. It has a lot to offer to travelers willing to take the not-so-easy journey — swimming, sandcastles, volleyball, frisbee, camping and trekking. It offers a beautiful background and it’s up to the guests how much fun they could extract from it. Boring people begets boring trips. Anawagin’s beauty is stunning, yet deadly for those who inexplicably believe that life is a simple walk in the park.
Pine Trees, Tents and Campers
Anawangin Cove got its name, it is said, from the Ilocano term “anuang“, which means “carabao“. Once upon a time, the common story goes, herds of carabaos graze this area. These days, the only resemblance to a carabao is the crescent shape of the beach (it is, after all, a cove), which looks like the curved horns of the Philippines’ national animal.
If there was an abundance of carabaos before, there’s certainly none left in the present time. The flip side, when it comes to the pine trees that define the beauty of the cove, is equally true. Residents will tell you that there were no pine trees in the area. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 changed all that. Pine trees, in large clusters, started growing after the volcanic eruption that affected the world.
A study on the exact origin of the pine trees, hand in hand with a definitive study of the why it’s alled Anawangin Cove, would be a very interesting endeavor. We have some theories, no matter how absurd. We could imagine an avalanche of pine tree cones rolling down the mountain and settling all along the mouth of the cove. Or maybe the tons of debris from the Pintaubo explosion carried pine tree cones. Or maybe the explosion caused pine tree cones, preserved in some way on top of the mountains that surround Anawangin, to come rolling down. No matter how these pine cones reached this area, the fact remains that pine trees soon sprouted to change the landscape for good.
Exactly how the pine trees started sprouting on Anawangin, we don’t know yet. We can’t even imagine pine trees growing in salty sand. We do know that the scenery is picture-perfect because of the pine trees. Tall, single-stemmed pine trees stand firm above the shore and inwards to the mountains. The pine needles gracefully sway to the strong wind. And there’s the howling sound of the wind, high above the pine tree canopy.
Imagine it’s dark, in the evening, with the howling wind and the barkada around the bonfire roasting marshmallows (or, for the less wholesome, drinking beer), telling ghost stories. Anawangin is a favorite camping ground for the adventurous. Bring a tent or rent tents on location, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a beautiful camping ground.
Merrymaking and drinking are allowed, of course. This is generally good. If you have kids with you, however, and the neighboring campsite has become unruly because of excess alcohol, it becomes a concern. The beachfront’s staff usually stay overnight but for good measure, ask your bangkero to stay for the night to watch over the group.
So, going back to our original question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If there’s a place of beauty (and we’ve seen that Anawangin Cove is definitely beautiful), would it still be beautiful if no one is around to see and admire it? Can you really say it’s gorgeous if you haven’t been there? There’s only one way to find out. Discuss this question through the night, around the campfire, while soaking the sights and sound of Anawangin. It would be moot, yes, because that means you’ve taken the path less traveled and have seen the beauty of Anawangin. But assume that you’ve not been there, then at least there’s something to discuss in between the horror stories over roasted marshmallows. Go and take the journey to Anawangin.