Maragondon and Ternate: A One-Day Getaway

The western part of Cavite province, though only about an hour and a half’s drive away from home, is a rarely visited place for us. The last time we’ve been there was more than nine years ago when we joined friends for a visit to the Puerto Azul Beach & Country Club and Caylabne Bay Resort. We thought that was all there was for this part of Cavite and it didn’t enter our minds to come back.

Caylabne Bay Resort, Ternate, 2008

Caylabne Bay Resort in late 2008

Until recently. Wanting to briefly get away from the city and escape the busy monotony of the past few weeks we thought about going on a day tour not too far from our place in Taguig. A friend visiting from the U.S. showed up on Facebook at a coffee shop in the hilly town of Ternate just overlooking Manila Bay and the historic islands of Corregidor and Carabao Island. Ternate happens to be the town where Puerto Azul and Caylabne Bay are located. That was enough to persuade us to pay the area a return visit. And despite some small setbacks, this trip brought us to a pristine and refreshing side of Cavite.

Pantihan or Balayungan Falls

The Pantihan or Balayungan Falls

We did a little research before our getaway and discovered that there are a few tourist destinations in Maragondon, the town before Ternate. Leaving our home in Taguig before 6:30 in the morning we reached Maragondon without too much hassle. Our first destination was the Pantihan or Balayungan Falls, a light-volume waterfall that drops down over a small river gorge. A paved road led to a parking area just beside the falls and it was a short, albeit steep and slippery hike down to the opposite river bank from where we could view the falls in their entirety.

river at the Pantihan Falls, Maragondon

The river where Pantihan Falls drops down; there are bamboo and nipa huts upstream for visitors. Locals say this site can fill up on weekends.

Santa Fe Cliff Diving Spot

Interesting rock formations around Pantihan Falls

We were somewhat disappointed to see the almost bridal veil-like waterfall until we remembered that the water flow here is not that voluminous. The rock formations at the gorge surrounding the falls, though, grabbed our attention: the deep cuts and curves on the rock masses a testimony to the powerful erosive characteristics of water. The river itself is clean – we saw several youngsters diving from the rock cliffs and swimming downstream while others were fishing along the river banks. According to a local, the waterfall was formed when water was diverted to provide irrigation for farms in the area.

the Bonifacio Trial House, Maragondon

Closed on Mondays: the Bonifacio Trial House

Waterfall tour over, we drove to Maragondon town proper to visit the Bonifacio Trial House (Museo ng Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio), a historic house and museum that served as a military court for the trial of Andres Bonifacio in 1897. Andres Bonifacio and his brother were subsequently executed – still a controversial topic today – in nearby Mt. Nagpatong where a shrine dedicated to the revolutionary leader now stands. Unfortunately the museum is closed on Mondays so we had to content ourselves with taking pictures of it outside and enjoying lunch at nearby Lolo Claro’s, a popular Cavite resto famed for its fried chicken.

Mountain Brew Coffee Shop in Ternate

A perfect stopover for coffee, cold drinks, snacks and dessert; lunch is also served here

Located after Maragondon on the Nasugbu-Ternate Highway going south is the hilly town of Ternate. Driving through Ternate proper we headed for the hills that make up Mount Palay-Palay National Park. Before reaching the heart of this national park and protected landscape, however, we stopped briefly for coffee and dessert at the Mountain Brew Coffee Shop situated right along the highway. This coffee shop offers panoramic views of the coast and is a perfect stopover for thirsty and hungry travelers on the drive south.

coffee and snacks at Mountain Brew Coffee Shop

Our primary destination in Ternate was supposed to be Katungkulan Beach Resort, a small cove with a white sand beach (more of a grayish-white sand actually) located inside the Gen. Gregorio Lim Marine Base. The entrance gate to this base and Katungkulan Beach lies astride the highway. There are two to three other smaller but no less beautiful coves in the area, all accessible via the marine base gate. Unfortunately, the Marines were apparently holding a training exercise during our arrival and the gate was closed to all visitors.

Point Mai with a view of Manila Bay, Carabao Island and the Ternate coastline

Manila Bay – believe it or not. Carabao Island (center background) and the coves to the west as viewed from Point Mai. Carabao Island used to be a fortified bastion protecting the entrance to Manila Bay but the fort is dilapidated and its big guns are all but gone. Katungkulan Beach is situated just behind the rock mass jutting out to sea on the left.

We decided we wouldn’t be disappointed over this development – after all we’ve been warned about the possibility of the beach being closed due to military exercises. We drove instead to nearby Point Mai at the entrance gate to Caylabne Bay Resort. We’re not allowed to enter this gate – which we expected as this is an exclusive resort – but just wanted to enjoy the views of Manila Bay and some of the islands in the vicinity, including Carabao Island to the west and the Caylabne Bay Resort to the east.

long-tailed macaques at Point Mai

Long-tailed macaques at Point Mai including a female with its young (upper right photo).

A surprise for us was the presence of several long-tailed macaques astride the road at Point Mai, something we didn’t observe when we first came here nine years ago. While their presence is to be expected since this area lies very close to the fringes of a national park and protected landscape, the macaques had obviously gotten used to waiting for handouts from tourists. Pieces of food wrappers along the road shoulders and the animals’ almost complete lack of fear with humans in their midst betrayed that fact.

Driving back from Point Mai to the Nasugbu-Ternate Highway we continued on to the Kaybiang Tunnel, a tunnel under the northern segment of Mt. Pico de Loro that was completed in 2013. This tunnel made it possible to go to Nasugbu from Manila through Ternate. Before its completion, travelers from Metro Manila had to go around Tagaytay City to reach Nasugbu. The tunnel and adjoining highway cut the travel time by about 2 hours and opened up this otherwise remote area of coves, beaches and verdant hills to Metro Manila. The tunnel is actually part of Maragondon.

Patungan Cove with Limbones Island and the Nasubgu coast in the background

The northern half of Patungan Cove; the fishing village lies in the southern half on the left. That distant island in the center background is Limbones Island. The hilly masses in the left background conceal a series of still pristine white sand coves.

After passing through Kaybiang Tunnel, we drove downhill and emerged on the coast at the southern end of Maragondon in an area close to Nasugbu. Patungan Cove with its ivory-colored sand lies immediately to our right. A fishing community occupies the southern half of the cove. Its residents, unfortunately, are embroiled in a legal battle with a major corporation over possession of the cove. The corporation’s security guards have blocked access by land to the cove but it’s still possible to reach the beach by sea – boat operators from the fishing community offer reasonably-priced boat rides. Some of them offer daytime and overnight accommodations at the cove as well.

There are several relatively untouched white-sand coves on the western coast past Patungan Cove in Nasugbu – with names like Limbones Cove, Neela Cove, Balibago Cove and Dorado Cove (we sometimes see these on flights returning to Manila from destinations down south) – but the highway does not pass through them and instead continues south to Nasugbu town. The only way to get to these coves is by boat. Perhaps the fishermen at Patungan Cove could be hired to get to these destinations. Here’s hoping that these coves will be kept in their pristine state instead of being “developed” into expensive resorts like those further down south. But only time will tell.

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