Surrounded by darkness at the campsite, all 13 of us were grouped in a circle. In the middle was a bottle of brandy, and on top of us was a small bulb – our only little source of light that night.
This is what mountaineers usually call, “the social” A chance for everyone to get to know each other.
In case you aren’t aware yet, most people who dare to join group trips are strangers to one another. They are taking risks to be with people they don’t know, bonded with the same passion for adventure and travel.
I was invited by my good friend and our high school class valedictorian, Genel, to this trip to Nagsasa Cove in the province of Zambales. I was immediately convinced when he said it was not going to be a usual travel but an outreach program for the indigenous people of Zambales, the Aetas.
Most Aetas live in the mountains, away from civilization, almost unreachable by even the most basic government and welfare services.
Genel together with his beautiful wife, Heidi, led the social. One by one, we all need to answer the same question. “Why did you join this travel and are you still going to join the next trip or hike?”
I had the privilege to listen to some of my new friends’ answers. I was thinking I’d just say what’s in me. And then when it was my turn I was surprised by my answer, maybe because I was open and spontaneous.
I told them something like this…
” When your life is starting to become an endless routine, you’re beginning to look for meaning. And this opportunity to help and give back is what we need to feel alive.” #hugot LOL!
I know… some of you would laugh at what you just read. It’s a bit dramatic, right? too reflective. But I am also aware that some of you out there, a small number of people, resonate with this. Some of you would even experience a little pinch in your hearts, especially when you read the phrase, looking for meaning.
When we were younger, all we did was just work and work. Earn a living and then enjoy the fruits of our hard work.
But as you get older, especially when you hit the late 20’s age and you would find yourself too engrossed with the “rat race.” Getting up early then going home late and then tomorrow is another same cycle. When you feel you’re supposed to be happy because you just did everything the society (the norm) told you to do. Work your butt off and probably retire at 60? Is that okay with you?
After years of looking and searching (for meaning and purpose), I’ve realized to be genuinely fulfilled with your life, you just need to do something that feeds your soul. No matter what circumstance or day job you have, just do what you love. Follow your passion. Whatever it is.
And another thing is to give back.
Do your share to make others smile and make this world a better place, one person, one kid at a time. No matter how little it is, you don’t have any idea how it can impact others.
The Journey to Nagsasa Cove
Our rendezvous was 10 PM at the Victory Liner Pasay Station for the 11 PM bus schedule to Zambales (Iba). I was early there because I went straight from the office which is near the bus station.
It was so nice to see Genel and Heidi after all these years. I was also introduced to some of our batchmates, Genel’s colleagues at work, and other mountaineers. Again, one good thing about traveling, meeting new friends.
The bus left the terminal past 11 PM and we traveled about 3 hours to the drop off point – the San Antonio, Zambales Municipal Hall. The bus fare is about Php 270. From San Antonio, we hailed a tricycle going to Brgy. Pundaquit for Php 30 per person.
From Pundaquit, we rented a boat going to Nagsasa Cove. The price depends on the type of boat and the number of passengers. For a small boat that can accommodate up to 4 persons, the fare is about Php 1,800. For a big boat for a maximum of 15 persons, the price is Php 4,000. Don’t forget to advise the boatman of the time they will fetch you the next day if you intend to have an overnight stay.
After about 45 minutes of the boat ride, we were welcomed by this pristine beach with a beautiful landscape.
The Camping, Lunch, and Preparation
The plan was to set up our campsite at the beach, but we then realized that the toilet and water supply were quite far, so we decided to go for easier access to these necessities.
We moved towards the foot of the mountains, about a few meters from the beach, and finally, put up the camp.
In a matter of minutes, the once boring piece of land was turned into a colorful place of tents. When everything was set up, it was time to cook for lunch! Everyone contributed to the preparation of food, camping will instill to you the value of teamwork. Everyone was moving, doing their part.
The whole time we already had a chance to have some chit-chat with some Aetas there. Since their houses are located at the foot of the mountain, they usually pass by our campsite, always putting a genuine smile and hello to all of us.
Aetas just amaze me. Despite their lack of material things, sometimes even lacking their basic needs, they remain very genuine and helpful. Something so rare nowadays.
Right after our lunch, the team joined forces again to re-pack the school supplies, toys, candies and clothes to be distributed. All of us brought something to give to the Aetas like slippers and toys. The bulk of the donations came from our friends and high school batchmates who weren’t able to join the outreach. If you happen to read this, thank you so much for your kindness.
In a matter of minutes, the number of kids started to grow. Some of them would deliberately pass through us and smile. They were adorable. It was evident they were excited!
We started the program by giving away slippers. We asked them to group, the cutest and smallest were in front and the tallest at the back. I assisted in putting all the slippers in front of the kids.
And then each one of them was given a chance to pick one pair, their choice of color and design. These kids seemed not used to having options nor freedom to choose (you know what I mean?), they were shy and having a hard time picking. But with our cheers and encouragement, smiles started to show followed by the instant confidence to get the right slippers for them.
Cliché as this may sound, but it’s true the smiles from these kids are priceless. You have to witness it, experience it first hand for you understand.
Then we asked the kids who among them are going to school, and we were happy to see quite a number of hands raised. Kids told us that most of them walk and hike for hours just to go to school, very inspiring stories.
All of them were given school supplies – pencils, notebooks, and coloring books.
In an age when most kids are more focused on video games and the internet, there we’ve found kids who were just delighted to hold a colorful notebook and a Mongol pencil. It was just heartwarming.
Of course, any program would not be complete without intermission numbers.
So it was time to showcase these kids’ talents – their singing prowess! Before we distribute the toys, we carefully picked cool stuff toys to be awarded to someone who could belt out an amazing singing piece.
I was surprised. Amazed that some of them could sing! And the best part was, they were even more updated to the latest Tagalog/Filipino songs. It was a lot of fun.
Before the program ends, the kids’ parents were also given some gifts and old clothes. They all went home thankful and simply happy.
When we were repacking the donations early that day, we also intended to give some food to those Aeta families living there, mostly at the foot of the mountains.
We re-packed a plastic filled with rice, noodles, and some canned goods.
On that afternoon, all of us went to their houses. There, the lives of our Aeta people have become more tangible to us when we saw where they live. And how they were always filled with smiles, despite their living condition.
We went from house to house, offering the food for them. And we were answered by genuine gratitude.
During the program for kids, I had a chance to talk to an Aeta mom.
She was looking at her children who were not wearing the slippers given to them. She told me most Aeta kids are not used to wearing slippers but she’s going to do her best to tell his boy to wear his. I asked her, what’s going to happen if her son doesn’t want to wear it.
She answered back in Tagalog saying, “Sir I hope you would not feel that your efforts would be wasted if my son will not wear his slippers. What’s important is you came all the way from Manila to us. That’s enough for us. Thank you.”
I couldn’t help thinking about what she said as I travel back home.
Then it hit me like an epiphany. Money isn’t everything. We can all give and help even though the littlest things. And sometimes these small things create the most impact, like touching one’s heart.
We may not have many materials things, but we can always give the most precious gift we could offer to others – our time, care, and effort.
Travel Tips to Nagsasa Cove
- There’s no resort/accommodation in Nagsasa Cove. Camping is the way to go.
- Camping fee is Php 100 per head for overnight and Php 50 for a day tour.
- Bring your camping gears and essentials – Tent, flashlight, insect repellent, sleeping bag, kitchen gears.
- Bring enough food. You may buy some at San Antonio Market. Anything you buy in Nagsasa Cove is pricey.
- Water! Bring tons of that. Don’t you ever forget that?
- Boat Rental depends on the number of people. Small boat for 4 costs about Php 2,000. While the big ones that can accommodate up to 15 travelers are about Php 4,000.
- Aside from camping, there are a lot of activities to enjoy in Nagsasa Cove, like hiking and of course swimming!
- Some tour packages offer Nagsasa Cove experience. But for me, DIY is the best. Besides, there are tons of blogs (like this 🙂 ) and info available online to help you with your travel.
- Water-proof and secure all your gadgets.
- No electricity in Nagsasa Cove.
- You can have an island-hop to the nearby Anawangin and Capones Coves. Just tell your boatman about it, the price will vary.
- There’s no mobile signal in Nagsasa Cove, perfect to disconnect from city life.