Thursday, March 8, 2012

100 Islands National Park - Pangasinan

We continued riding up the coast stopping in Santa Cruz for lunch then continuing on to Alaminos and Lucap.  Lucap is directly north of Alaminos by about five kilometers and is one of those places where you can't determine when you left one town and entered the other since they blend into one another.  Lucap is the port city where you can catch a Bianca boat to 100 Island National Park.  We arrived at dusk, tired and hungry.  I was hoping we could quickly find a place to stay, with somewhere to eat nearby.  I did not want to ride around too much trying to find a hotel.  I also had no desire to get any information on the park at this time as I figured we could sort that out in the morning.

Lucap Port & Bianca Boat
When we came into the port area, I saw there was a tourist information building and thought it would be a good place to get tourist information about hotels or other places to stay, wouldn't it?  I pulled the bike up into the big empty parking lot just in front of the building and parked the bike.  Before we were even off the bike or had our helmets off, we were immediately accosted by about  five different people trying to sell us a boat tour through the park.  I was pretty tired from our long ride and not in the mood to deal with the high-pressure hard sales pitch you get in every tourist area of the Philippines.  I call this sales pitch Sprooking.   
For those unaware of this hard sales pitch or Sprooking as I call it.  Let me give a brief description.  Sprooking is a term I first came across in Melbourne Australia on Lygon street.  The restaurants hire a Sprooker to stand out in front of a restaurant and do everything possible to coerce anyone passing by to come in and eat.   If charm doesn't work, the sales pitch picks up the pace a few notches, and they are not keen on no for an answer.  I believe Sprooking is of Italian origin, although the term Sprooking sounds more Australian to me, but I really could not say, since the only place I have been in Italy is the Alps, and they did not have any restaurants where I was at.  The Australian version and the many other countries that have some other version of Sprooking tend to be much more subdued than the Philippine version.  In the Philippines, it is more like super Sprooking.  The Philippine Sprookers make used car salesmen in the US seem like saints.  These guys and girls almost don't give up.  I have had Philippinos follow me for over five blocks trying to make a sale or asking for money. 

Local Fisherman             

I attempted to brush the Sprookers off, with a courteous no thank you, which was a mistake.  Being polite in the Philippines while being Sprooked is considered a sign of weakness.  The best approach I have found is a quick no thanks and then to ignore them.  Ignoring them will usually take some will power though, as they are not easily pushed back.  If you respond in any way, even if it is with an unequivocal no, it will only spur them on.  If  you don't mind forgetting what your mother taught you about manners and forgoing the initial "no thank you" at the start, I recommend going  straight to the ignore mode.  They seem to give up more quickly if you never acknowledge them in the first place.   It feels rude and heartless when you do it, but my mother also told me it was equally if not more rude for someone not to accept a polite no thank you.

We walked over to the tourist information booth with about four Sprookers in tow.  I was in ignore mode, hoping I could get some reliable information from the tourist booth.  When we got to the booth and the Sprookers finally dispersed, there was a rather sizeable older Philippina woman  standing next to the counter as I asked  the girl behind the counter about a hotel.  The girl behind the counter was not given any opportunity to speak as the large Philippina woman immediately started asking me questions and trying to sell me tour packages before the girl behind the counter could respond. 
I had noticed what looked like a decent hotel along the road into Lucap, and asked large Marge for some more information about that place (I didn't know if her name was Marge but large Marge is what stuck in my head, and I have thought of her as large Marge ever since).  There was no information forthcoming.  Instead, I continued to be pushed hard to book a trip to 100 Islands right then and there.  She did not seem interested in helping me find a hotel or in providing me any information about hotels.  At this point, I could see where this was going and rather forcibly replied.  Look, I am tired and hungry.  We just rode all day.  All I want to do is find a hotel, could you please stop pushing me to book some sort of package for the 100 islands.   Large Marge took the hint and decided to back off on the 100 islands hard sell, which I thought was strange for a Philippina.

Camping on the Beach

I was ready to get on the bike and ride back to the hotel I saw on the way in.  I had enough of the overpowered sells pitches.  However, while I was being Sprooked by large Marge, my wife had been chatting to another girl or boy as the case may be, since she was what is commonly referred to as a lady boy.  Which for those that need more clarification, is a young man who dresses like, acts like, and for all intents and purposes is a girl.  Lady boys are not uncommon in the Philippines and as far as I am concerned, they can be as decent or as bad as anyone else.  And to be quite honest a lot of them act and sometimes look more like a woman than most women do.   This is if you define a woman using the typical male definition of course and preclude the individual's anatomy.  No need to get into the male-female debate, as I think, you get my point.  In this case, she definitely acted like a woman, but did not truly look like one.  Her name was TJ, and she seemed nice enough.

My wife called me over, and the young lady was rather polite and had a much nicer demeanor than large Marge.  She also seemed to be providing more useful information than I was getting.  She informed us there was a hotel just down the water front with reasonably priced rooms and a nice restaurant.  She also offered to take us over there, help us with a room and would bring some information on the hundred islands that we could look through.  This is more of what I was expecting from the tourist information both. 

We gathered up our helmets as she went to pull her scooter around to where we were parked to follow us over to the hotel.  When she pulled the scooter around, I then discovered we had been tag teamed.  Large Marge was driving the scooter with TJ on back.   Oh well, let's go look at the hotel.  We needed a place to stay. I could use a beer, and we were getting hungry.  We got to the hotel, which was decent and reasonably priced, had a perfect secured covered parking spot for the bike, and it had a charming little restaurant overlooking the port.    We got a room and then got something to eat while TJ filled us in on the 100 islands.  Large Marge left after we got the room, I think she realized I was not fond of her abrasive tactics nor her, and she figured it would be best to let TJ try to make the sell alone.

Island Tropic Hotel & Lucap Port
As we later found out from TJ,  large Marge was responsible for the tourist information booth and was actually TJ's mother.  I got the impression large Marge was not too happy about her son's orientation, and TJ didn't seem to be all that close to his mother either.  It seemed more like a business relationship than a family relationship.  I am sure large Marge was taking a big slice of TJ's earnings as she pushed any guide business in his general direction.      

100 Islands National Park is actually  made up of 124 islands at low tide or 123 at high tide.  They are scattered along Lingayen Gulf and cover an area of 18.44 square kilometers and are about two million years old.  Some are quite small and look more like a rock than an island.  However, I think "100 Islands" is an appropriate name, and it has a nice ring to it.  The islands themselves are or once were coral reefs or coral heads, that have been exposed above the sea surface by the geological forces of time.    This unique geology is what makes the 100 islands such a beautiful and scenic place.   The aged coral heads are jungle covered and jagged with many caves and coves that wind in and out of the various islands.  Many of the islands look like mushrooms due to the ocean wearing away at the  lower portion of the old exposed coral head.  Not all the islands are readily accessible because of their unique formations.  However, most of the larger islands and even many of the smaller islands are approachable on a beautiful white-sand beach that a Bianca boat can effortlessly land on.   

View from Governor's Island                   
Because 100 Islands is a national park, they have published fees for getting to the islands using boat rentals, which include the boat man.  The cheapest is for 1-5 persons at Php 800 a day or Php 1400 for overnight.  If you want to camp overnight  there is also a Php 200 tent pitching fee.  As far as I know you can camp on any island you wish.  Some are literally impossible to camp on unless you want to sleep standing up or lie on top of jagged coral and jungle, but most offer some sort of beach to camp on.  However, you need to be aware of the tides. You might end up wet in the middle of the night.  You have the choice of picking an island to have all  to yourself, or you can camp on one of the three developed islands.  The developed islands have small sari-sari stores' picnic tables and other basic amenities, but you will not usually be alone.   The larger governor island even has a small house you can rent that sleeps about eight people I believe.  You can book the house at the tourist center along with renting tents, snorkel equipment, and just about anything else you would want, and get a guide.  These extras are what TJ was trying to sell us on.

You do not need to hire a guide or anything else if you do not wish to.  You can bring all your own food, alcohol, diving equipment, tent, etc..... so if you drive to 100 islands I would recommend bringing all your own supplies as they overcharge you.  For example, you can buy a four-person  tent in Manila for the same price, they rent one at the tourist center.  Obviously, she was trying to sell us everything possible and considering we were on the bike with limited space, and we did not have any supplies with us; we did not have much choice in the mater.   After chatting to her a bit we decided to hire her as a guide since at this time, we did not know anything about the islands.  We  also rented a tent and other camping equipment, some snorkel gear, and we paid for her to get supplies, food, beer, snacks, drinks, etc., the night before we left.   

In hind sight, we paid too much.  When we told her, we wanted eggs and bacon for breakfast, we thought we were going to get, well a carton of eggs and some bacon.  What we got was two already cooked eggs and longisina, which is a cheap Philippine sausage.  Cold cooked fried eggs was not what we had in mind when we put our food order in for breakfast.  To sum up, we got taken to the cleaners on the food supplies and the tent.  However, TJ did turn into a pleasant guide, and we had a good time exploring and playing around the islands the next day.   I would recommend snorkeling equipment since the reefs are shallow with plenty of underwater sea life to take notice of.  The many caves around the islands are also quite amazing and good fun to explore.  Many of the caves you are able to swim into from the Ocean.   One cave on Children's Island you can get to by hiking up a hill from the beach, to an opening that allows you to jump into the water below.  After the jump, you  swim outside the cave back to the beach. 

End of the Day (Scout Island)
After a day of exploring the islands and having a lunch break on Lion's island, TJ and the boatman "Mags"  dropped us off on "Scout island" just before dusk to spend the night.  We had the island and beach to ourselves.  After lighting a fire we cooked and ate some fish, while sitting back drinking a cold beer watching one of the most amazing sunsets I have had the good fortune to watch.  We then went to bed early, listening to the soft sound of the ocean splashing against the beach while we fell asleep.
 Sunset on the Beach
In the morning, we threw our cold previously cooked eggs into the fire, made some coffee and finished off what snacks we had left for breakfast.  We then packed up the tent and watched the sunrise on the beach while waiting for the boat to pick us up and take us back to Lucap.  It was a remarkable little trip, and I hope to return there someday.  It would be a great place to take a group of friends and spend a couple of days camping on the beach, taking it all in.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I could have handled the flipino sprookling as well as you did. I can get pretty nasty when pressed for money or something I don't wish to buy. Likely I'd let the wife handle them as she can be nasty with tact. I was a little suprised that you left your bike unattended for a over night away from it on that island.