When I asked how many islands the Hundred Islands really have, my tour guide Chu answered with the promptness of a seasoned beauty queen, “123 at high tide, 124 at low tide.” Tall and tan and charming, all she had to do was do The Wave and the crown was hers.
The Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan, was the stuff I read about in elementary school, and there I was finally hopping from one island to another. The islands are a 45 -minute boat ride from the well-appointed Lucap wharf. The wharf has sufficient amenities to keep visitors happy and comfortable. This complex of shops, food outlets, and clean toilets and baths guarantee to provide convenience for excursionists.
From the outrigger, I scan the horizon for those islands. There they were silhouetted against the grey morning sky looking like gigantic warts from afar as they pushed themselves up through the surface. I could only set foot on Virgin Island, Governors Island, and Quezon Island on a day trip for the tour guides’ national convention, but we delegates were able to pass by Romulo, Mayors, Macapagal, Lopez, Marcos, and Pilgrimage Island with its 55-foot statue of Jesus. The islands are made up of black coralstone, limestone, and sea rocks. All are shrouded in green and sitting in the clean, deep waters of the West Philippine Sea.
It was in Quezon Island where I had my first zipline experience. A really short line, actually, and done without an acrophobe’s jitters – there were too many tourists lining up behind me blocking all escape routes. The guy in charge briskly gave me instructions, “Just remember to lie back when you are almost at the end,” he said. And off I went before I changed my mind. That wasn’t too bad; I survived.
Survival is what I hope for for the mangrove treelings that we planted earlier that morning. The Bued Mangrove Forest was, for me, the destination du jour. It showed the other face of tourism. With 8.17 hectares dedicated to the environment, Bued is managed systematically. I am impressed that men are hired to scour the place for plastic trash. The tide can carry with its flotsam and jetsam from the sea.
Other things impressed me about Pangasinan. In Dagupan where I met Genesis who works for a local company, I found out that he comes from a farming family that farms 24 hectares planted to kalabasa, and only kalabasa. This crop monopoly is fine with the other farmers of their place. There is no competition at all for each farm grows a single crop, each crop unique from the rest. It is like an OTOP (One Town One Product) for farms.
An interior shot of the Capitol building
The most impressive sight of all is the 1918 Capitol building in Lingayen designed by Ralph Harrington Doane. Restored splendidly in 2007, it is the pride of the Pangasinenses. Also known as the most beautiful capitol building in the country and an architectural treasure, the building is part of the Capitol Complex composed of other edifices such as the 1927 Sison Auditorium, the Capitol Resort Hotel, the Pangasinan Training and Development Center, the Narciso Ramos Sports and Civil Center, and the Governors Residence among others. A Veterans Memorial Park nearby is outfitted with tanque de Guerra and World War II era plane. During the 2nd World War, American forces landed at the Lingayen Gulf.
Lingayen Gulf is a wide expanse of beach touching 14 coastal cities and municipalities. Zoning here is applied and there is nary a structure to mar the coast. Boracay should have learned from Pangasinan. Nature left untouched is good for the sight and the soul.
The province is also ideal for religious pilgrimages. I was able to visit the Nuestra Senora de la Puripicacion in Binmaley. Built around the 1880’s, the church reflects local culture with the use of bricks, and these are square bricks like the Ilocos tiles we are familiar with.
Each trip outside Negros is a learning experience, and like a regular school, there is always no time to learn everything. Yet, three days in Pangasinan made me treasure our diverse Filipino culture, and makes me love it more.