It took us more than a month to finally have the trip push through, starting with an idea about an “outing” that came up during one of those semi-regular Friday lunches with Paul. I guess we were talking about taking time out to travel while we could (i.e., while we still have employments to fund such trips, while our work and personal schedules allowed, while not everybody else had kids), and that it would be great to get away from hot and humid Manila in the summer. We knew right then that planning a trip could turn into a nightmare, as we had had experiences of having things almost agreed on only to find out later that one or two or all couldn’t make it, so we egged on Beng about the idea.

While everybody else was sitting on the thought of going out of town, I went ahead with my Boracay plans and took the trip with my youngest sister. I needed to take the trip if only just to visit Boracay again, and not to meet some random stranger, as some guy friends-slash-colleagues implied.

As summer progressed towards April, someone magically realized that we were supposed to be cooking up a trip to somewhere out of Manila. With two weeks to prepare for a Holy Week journey, we booked with the first resort Beng could find on the net, and thankfully, it was a resort that was just a five-minute boat ride to Putipot Island…and 267 kilometers away from Manila! That’s 7 hours of butt-numbing drive on fine roads.

Picture-picture! with Paul and Gary

Beng, Paul, and I planned our itinerary (maps! directions!), transportation (Paul’s newly acquired CR-V), and other necessities (food and booze and swimwear!). Gary re-emerged from the depths of his donut obsessions and decided to join us on a short notice, and that meant having someone to provide a lot of the comic relief that the rest of us boring old fogeys wouldn’t muster in a million tries.

Day 1, 5:00 – Leaving for Zambales. We left Manila very early on Good Friday. As I was already late, they decided to pick me up at Kingswood instead of having me go all the way to our original meeting place.

I love these stopover spots! Shell-NLEX has Starbucks, Cinnabon, KFC, Chow King, Krispy Kreme, and Jollibee.

6:00 – Stopover for breakfast at Shell-NLEX. The place was already festive and brimming with people who were escaping from the hot and humid discomforts of Manila. We couldn’t decide where to take our breakfast, out of so many available restaurants and fastfood joints at the station. But I guess old habits die hard, so Starbucks became everyone’s choice even if we could have opted for traditional (and cheaper) Pinoy breakfast at, say, Jollibee. The stopover also became an occasion for picture-taking and figure-watching.

After half an hour of watching people, taking photos, and gulping morning coffee, we hit the road again for SCTEx. A shorter route via San Fernando was available, but having taken that road on another trip years back, I knew that traffic along that highway would set us back by hours, so I recommended the traffic-free, although pricey, SCTEx. We reached Subic in a little less than 2 hours, passed by several towns, and then briefly stopped at Iba, Zambales to buy sea foods for the evening.

The fun part, as it was a Good Friday, were all those flogging processions at San Marcelino town. The processions caused a huge traffic jam, so our travel was delayed by about half an hour. If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood, the way Pinoys–or Catholic Pinoys–observe Holy Week is not for you. By the time we passed through San Marcelino, Paul’s CRV was splattered with blood from the err…flogging devotees.

12:00 – Dawal Beach Resort. With Paul driving between 80 and 100 kph all the way t0 Candelaria, Zambales, we reached Dawal Beach Resort at a little past noon. Check-in was still 2 hours away, so we decided to have lunch at the resort’s restaurant. Food was decent and relatively cheap, and breakfast meals were served throughout the day. I don’t know if the practice is something that one could find “onli in da Pilipins,” but that’s how it is around these parts, and we love our breakfasts and second breakfasts served throughout the day.

After taking a brief dip in the pool, waiting around the reception area, and getting bluffed to by the front desk staff about room availability (we thought the cleaning staff had already prepared our rooms), we finally checked in. Accommodations were not 5-star, but they were decent enough for a resort that was tucked in god-knows-where. Plus, what else could we expect from P1,700-a-night accommodation aside from so-huge-you-could-dance-the-salsa-in-there room, working AC, hot/cold shower, cable TV, and a fridge.

Putipot Island. In the distance is the coast of Candelaria.

15:30 – Off to Putipot Island. We rented a boat to Putipot Island, which was the entire coastal area’s main attraction. Putipot is a tiny, tiny patch off the coast of Candelaria. The first time I went to the island was in 2006 with my badminton buddies, and back then, it resembled a forest instead of a mini-resort. There were no huts nor even CRs (yuck! yuck!). Three years later, the only thing that reminded me of old Putipot was its distance from Manila and its size; you could walk around the island in half an hour.

Our hired boatman picked us up at exactly 17:00. These guys were prompt! Round trip boat rides cost P400.

18:30 – The shower situation. After half an hour of swimming at Dawal beach, I decided to head back to our room, shower, and nap, as I had only half an hour of sleep the previous night because either I was too excited about the trip or the neighbors upstairs decided that it was fun to move furniture around their unit at 1-bloody-AM! I was glad, though, that I went ahead of everyone. Water pressure was terrible around the time the rest arrived, so there was no water coming out of the shower. The room staff were helpful, though. It was the first time I ever saw room staff haul buckets of water through 2 flights of stairs so guests could still take their shower. That would never happen in Manila.

19:00 Dinner preparations – Dinner While our senoritos were fast asleep, Beng and I grilled the squids, tuna, and prawns we bought at Iba. Dinner was a feast of seafood, tomato ensalada, sweet yellow mangoes, beer, and wine. As usual, the boys provided much comic relief about work, gimmicks, relationships, people, sports, and entertainment, and that added to the many things I was thankful for. There was much fun made about missing Beng and I when they woke up, they thought they’d order food from the restaurant instead.

Day 2, 8:30 – Morning swim It was already way past breakfast time when I woke up. I followed them to the beach after having my morning coffee, stayed in the waters for 30 minutes, then prepared for the trip back to Manila. While we gave the boys some time to rest, Beng and I finished the leftover cabernet sauvignon from the previous night.

12:30 – The looong drive back We left the resort a little past noon. Lunch was had at Iba, and then the long drive back to Manila.

17:30 – Stopover We made a brief stop for coffee at Gloria Jean’s at a festive Caltex station on NLEX. I like these gas stations on NLEX where you can also stop for coffee, food, and items you need for a long drive.

20:00 Home sweet apartment. Paul dropped me off at my apartment building.