It has been a while since we last drove down the national highway at Bataan. Something like two decades. So we knew a lot would have changed by now. As we drove down from Dinalupihan into Balanga last week, the wider roads, urbanized town centers, shopping malls and heavier vehicular traffic confirmed our suspicions. However, as we veered away from the eastern coast and cut across the peninsula towards the towns of Bagac and Morong on the opposite western side, an old and familiar Bataan came into view.
Urban centers gradually transitioned into farmlands and scenic views of Mt. Natib. Here and there were reminders of Bataan’s violent past – the World War 2 Death March Monument, various Death March markers and the Dambana ng Kagitingan marked by a huge white cross atop Mt. Samat in Pilar. Patches of forested land began to materialize on both sides of the winding road past Pilar until we reached the eastern coastal town of Bagac. There we would check in at a beach resort, leave our things then climb back into the car, this time to continue our drive north towards Morong.
Morong and the Pawikan Conservation Center
That drive north would take us along the winding, undulating highway right through the forested areas of the Bataan National Park. For most of the drive ours was the only vehicle on the road. The forest views were interrupted by scenic views of the coast until we emerged at the lowlands of Morong. Detouring off the national highway we headed for the Pawikan Conservation Center.
We didn’t do a lot of research on the place but when we arrived at the Pawikan Center we learned that the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles usually arrive in November to lay their eggs; the eggs hatch about 2 months after and the hatchlings are then released into the sea. If we wanted to observe the turtles lay their eggs we would have to be here in November and if we wanted to see the hatchlings head out to sea that would be from January to February. We did find two juvenile green sea turtles and a lone Olive Ridley hatchling that was left behind by its fellow hatchlings.
We weren’t really disappointed about not seeing the pawikans. The picturesque views made the trip worthwhile and the lack of traffic on the highway was a welcome relief from Metro Manila’s nightmarish gridlocks.
We bedded down for the night at our beach resort in Bagac town just beside the town’s major tourist attraction: the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. We would pass by the latter the next morning as we hopped aboard a boat for Playa la Caleta and pass by Looc Beach (sometimes called La Salle Beach for the Jaime Hilario Integrated School – La Salle located behind it). Our main destination for that morning’s boat tour was Playa la Caleta which we covered in our previous post.
Sugong Cave, Bagac
After our time at Playa la Caleta and Miguelito Island, we headed back for our resort at Bagac but not before dropping by Sugong Cave. The latter is an opening in one of the huge rock formations by the sea. Crystal-clear turquoise waters surrounded the opening making it very tempting to swim here but we only had a few minutes to get back to Bagac. One can also try cliff-diving at Sugong Cave; the place is perfect for rookie divers with the jump height at no more than 20 ft.
Bataan has a host of other attractions as more and more of the province is discovered by travelers. We do not intend to list all of the potential ones here but just the ones close to Bagac and Morong and the towns along the national roads leading up to these two municipalities.
We passed by Balanga, the capital city of the province and did a quick visit to its Hispanic-style plaza – the Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga. Balanga impressed us as a city that successfully fused modern day-elements with Spanish-era ambiance. We had wanted to return the evening of our second day in Bataan to view and photograph the plaza at night with its light and fountains display but decided to return before dark to Metro Manila. We would just have to reserve this for a return visit to Bataan.
Balanga also has a wildlife haven – the Balanga Wetland and Nature Park (also known as Tortugas Bay Park). With its mangrove forests and wetlands, the park has become home to several species of endemic and migratory birds making it a paradise for bird watchers.
There are a few other coves east and west of Playa la Caleta. The aforementioned Looc Beach and the adjacent Aroma Beach are located in two coves east of Playa la Caleta. Caragman Cove and Paitan Cove also lie to the east of Playa la Caleta and are just 10 minutes away by boat from the latter. All previously unknown and deserted years ago, these coves and beaches are now occupied by a few resorts but when we viewed it from afar during our boat trip they still look virtually unspoiled.
Should we do a return visit to Bataan, however, our sights will be turned towards Mariveles at the southern tip of the peninsula and its numerous coves and beaches including Laki Beach and the Five Fingers, actually our original target for this trip. Here’s hoping the weather would permit us to embark on a cove-hopping trip on this magnificent coast.