Boli-Bolinao (a trip to Bolinao, Pangasinan)

Legend has it that early in the Spanish era in this country, there was a beautiful lass named “Anao”, who used to bathe under a “Boli-bolinao” tree. She was spotted by the son of a chieftain from another land, who was captivated by her. A marriage followed, but the chieftain had to move his seat of government to the place where Anao lived. That place is the present day Bolinao.

Right at the north-western edge of Pangasinan, and roughly 300 kilometers away from Manila, this was our Holy Week road-trip destination.

We began our journey early on Good Friday, rushing through the wide open EDSA and NLEX, with a customary breakfast stop at one of the mega-stations. We stopped by Shell-Balagtas, and grabbed some breakfast at the Kenny Rogers outlet.

After getting a full tank of food, we drove straight through Pampanga and Tarlac (first through NLEX and SCTEX, and then through provincial roads from Hacienda Luisita onwards), to get to our next stop at Alaminos, Pangasinan, for a view of the Hundred Islands. Since we wanted to get to Bolinao right away, we chose not to hop to the Islands. I’ve been there previously anyway, so no worries, we just took pictures from afar, and we were off to Bolinao.

The drive through NLEX and SCTEX, and even through the single carriageways from Tarlac City to Alaminos, and onwards to Bolinao, was a breeze. It was a relaxing time behind the wheel that day, and by mid-afternoon we were already at the beach. After a brief rest in our room, it was time to go out and witness the beautiful sun setting over the South China Sea.

We stayed at the Punta Riviera resort, located at barangay Ilog Malino, around 20 minutes away from Bolinao proper via a narrow but cemented road. The resort was not lavish by any means, but by Bolinao standards, it’s one of those with better facilities (perhaps second only to Puerto Del Sol). The resort’s grounds was nicely landscaped, clean and well maintained, though it’s quite “compact”, and could get crowded in peak seasons. It features an infinity pool that “spills” out to sea, and also has a kiddie pool attached to it, for the little ones.

The resort is located right where a river (the Ilog Malino) meets the sea. The resort front itself is on the mouth of the narrow river, but one can take the wooden bridge across it to get to the other bank, where the white sand and the beachfront is located. They also have kayaks, for those who would like to paddle upriver.

We stayed at one of their sunset rooms, which they advertise as good for 4 people, but can accommodate a fifth one (with extra mattress). I don’t recommend fitting in a fifth person though, since the extra mattress would already block the doorway , so groups of 5 or more should just get one of their bigger rooms. The room had air conditioning,  a TV set (no cable), and a DVD player (one can borrow DVDs from the front desk for free). It also has a private toilet and bath with a shower heater, though the water pressure drops big time during the day, to the point that it makes the shower unusable (so you go the old-fashioned way, “tabo at timba”). The T&B is quite spacious but bare bones basic, so don’t expect too much. It’s basically just a small room with a sink, bowl, shower and faucet, that’s it. The beds are not that soft too, but still “sleepable”, though some of the pillows have seen better days and are no longer comfortable.

They light up the pool in the evening, which makes for a nice evening swim. The resort grounds is also well lit, so you could spend the night just lazing out under the coconut trees. They also have a make-shift “mini-outdoor-theater”, which featured movies and replays of Pacquiao fights, while we were there. They also have a bonfire across the river, starting at 8pm (I think).

Early the following morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Even though the beach is facing west, the place is still witness to beautiful sunrises, with the sun seemingly rising from the trees to the east.

The sweet morning light also afforded a wonderful time to take pictures around the property.

After a brief swim, breakfast and wash-up, we headed out to visit one of the rather widely known landmarks in the area, the Cape Bolinao Lighthouse. Reputedly the second tallest lighthouse in the country (after Cape Bojeador in Ilocos Norte), it is still in active service up to this day, guiding ships passing through northern Luzon. The lighthouse is around 2o minutes away from the resort, via a dirt road which winds through Patar beach, a long stretch of white sand along the Bolinao coast.

The lighthouse, built in the early 1900’s, is pretty well maintained and intact. I cannot say the same though the lightkeeper’s house beside it, which looks like it had been ravaged bad by a recent typhoon.

The sun was bearing down hard by the time we got to the lighthouse, so after a few pictures, we immediately retreated back for lunch.

The food at Punta Riviera, however, is nothing special. They have a primarily Filipino menu, and though it’s not bad, the food looks like it can be prepared by any competent house cook (eg. a kasambahay who can cook). For that reason, we decided to visit a neighboring resort for lunch, Puerto del Sol.

Puerto del Sol is definitely much more exclusive, though since their rates are much higher, that is to be expected. This resort was definitely aimed at the upper market. It’s just a short walk (or swim in high tide) away from Punta Reviera, but its beach front is nicer (it’s not rocky). The property is also much larger, though too bad we didn’t get to see any of the rooms, since it’s peak season (all are occupied). But most importantly, their restaurant has a better menu. Here you can have a mix of Filipino and international dishes (eg. Pasta), some of which are unique (eg. Kare-kareng Bangus).

We stayed a while at the Puerto del Sol after lunch. One thing we noticed though was that it was distinctly hotter in Puerto del Sol, than in Punta Riviera, especially around the pool area. My guess it this is because of the absence of coconut trees in most parts of the former, whereas they were all over in the latter.

After that, it was back to Punta Riviera, to laze around for the rest of the afternoon and the evening.

By Easter morning, we were on our way back to to Manila.

* We were at Bolinao during the Holy Week of 2010. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 or Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6. This was my first time to play around with neutral denstity filters, hence the weird exposure on some photos.

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