“I first came here when I was 17 years old,” Nanay Leding, the caretaker of The Beach Place in Nagsasa Cove, told me under the shade of our Nipa hut. “Back then, there was no beach yet,” she pointed northeast towards the mountains behind us. “That was where we stayed.”
It was around eight in the morning and the beach was already littered with boats and wandering vacationers. I had woken up at seven, gathered my things, and walked toward the shoreline where I had spread a blanket and sat down. Morning is always a good time to take the world in, when it’s just beginning to get its bearings; things aren’t in hyperdrive yet and you can afford to take your time.
After a few minutes I returned to the hut to make coffee. Nanay Leding came by just as the water boiled. She wore a shirt and a pair of loose, flowery pants that were too big for her gaunt frame. Her short hair, streaked with gray and white, was tied into a ponytail and clumps of it fell on her face. She swept them away with a wrinkled hand as she greeted me. I offered her coffee and she politely declined but sat on the sun chair across from me to talk.
Over the course of our conversation, I learned that Nanay Leding arrived with her husband in 1971. The landscape was vastly different. The mountains were covered in lush greenery and were home to numerous Aeta communities. The beach was nowhere to be seen, coming into existence only after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption. The volcano spewed ash all over the island, which settled and mixed with the white sand to form a new coastline.
I asked her how long she had been married, and at this she smiled. She had been with her husband since their arrival at Nagsasa.
“What’s your secret?” I asked. Her answer was simple and straightforward; I was almost disappointed to know that there wasn’t a special formula whispered only to a select few – a potion or magic trick to keep love from dissipating through the years. “It’s a give-and-take relationship. You have to be understanding of each other. You also need trust.”
I imagined Nanay Leding as a wide-eyed 17-year-old girl arriving at the cove, hand in hand with her husband and that made me smile. For my part, I came to Nagsasa Cove to escape. It sounded like a good destination as any to just lay back and watch life unfold.
More often than not, people travel to get away from something – work, stress, failure, heartbreak. Travel offers a reprieve from normal life and its complications. Because there is no signal or electricity on the cove, you feel as if you are escaping time itself: the seconds and minutes are rapidly eating up someone else’s life in some other part of the world, but you are here in this secret pocket of land, impervious to its devices, watching the waves kiss the shore, the leaves of the agoho trees rustling in the breeze.
Nagsasa Cove isn’t a place for the squeamish or the high-maintenance. Although the commute isn’t complicated, getting there without a car can be challenging, especially during the weekends when everyone is rushing to get out of the city. (The buses to Zambales were already filled up as early as four in the morning, so my companion and I had to take the less direct route via Olongapo.) On the cove itself, the resorts fronting the sea offer only the bare necessities: adequate bathrooms and well-built huts, as well as firewood, charcoal, water, a grill for cooking, and tents for rent.
The night is especially entrancing. Never mind the noise of nearby tents, of too-bright campfires with their rowdy team-building groups; as I’ve learned, there are few places in the world that you can have all to yourself. “Silence is a luxury,” one author quipped. But rarely do you get to lay underneath an immense blue-black sky dusted with infinite lights. It inspires a stillness from within, the twinkling lights comforting in their silent existence, illuminating your own and filling you up with a burning. A burning for what exactly? Different things for different people. For me, the perennial romantic, it would have to be love.
The love for places is a different kind from the one you give to people. I travel because I am fascinated by the idea of loving something so much bigger than myself. In Nagsasa Cove, I was reminded of my love for the outdoors, of iridescent waves sparkling in the sunlight, of the immeasurable universe and its countless wonders. It is the love for spontaneity, independence and freedom, for eyeing the horizon and knowing that there is still always something beyond.
Riding the boat back to civilization, the mountains to my right, the open sea to my left, I felt an intense appreciation for the world and surprisingly, for myself, something which is even harder to come by. Funny how running away can lead to a sort of coming to. I am reminded of Nanay Leding’s words; she said it of love and relationships, but she might as well have said it of traveling: it involves a steady, unwavering trust in yourself, in what you give your heart to, and in what lies ahead.
Since leaving her advertising job, Trish has gone around the country and documented her adventures in a blog called Trish in Transit. Because of her weird sense of humor and love for puns, she’s been accused a few times of writing taglines for a famous local airline. She has yet to confirm this allegation.