Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bolting out to Bolinao (Part 1)

Bolinao was something I didn’t expect to explore this year. The sojourn to what I consider the “Beach Capital of Pangasinan” was a spur-of-the-moment decision I made a few days before flying to Manila for the Lenten holidays.

Originally, all I wanted was to lock myself up in some hotel for a much-anticipated staycation that I planned to spend in abnegation, abstinence, atonement and acclamation of God’s infinite graces on me. I’ve been looking forward to bolting out of my fast-paced quotidian life at least for the Holy Week, hence, that kind of hibernation came to mind.

Bolinao's unique rock formations

Before my trip to the nation’s capital, however, I came across an interesting blog on Bolinao, featuring the white-sand beach of Patar, among other things. Geez, how could I miss this resort town before? Here’s a hideaway that’s oozing with so many natural attractions, all waiting to be discovered by those who love sunsets and seascapes and yet I didn’t notice it? I asked myself.

Patar White Sand Beach

Then I thought of my original Lenten plan. Whew, why did I have to know about this interesting destination at this point in time? It’s like some sweet temptation that’s so hard to resist! Darn, I grew fidgety as my vacay neared. Oh, Bolinao can wait. I want my Holy Week hibernation to go as planned, I kept reminding myself.  

Sunset in Bolinao

But the call of the sea was just too irresistible to ignore for this incorrigible beach bum. To my chagrin, the blogpost I’ve read kept haunting me for days. Those wonderful photos of Bolinao’s white beaches, rocky promontories, deep blue waters, among others, kept running inside my head. Maybe I need some vitamin sea. Maybe I can still hibernate there at certain points in time and then hop into those beaches—and end up having the best of both of worlds, I mused.

So, after some torturous days, I changed my itinerary. Good thing, I got myself booked in the nick of time before all the resorts there were fully occupied, particularly Punta Riviera Resort which became my home away from home. Good thing, Bolinao has a charming old church where I was able to do my visita iglesia. These were two of the major factors I considered before deciding on the trip to the remote town.  

Found at the westernmost tip of the Pangasinan peninsula, Bolinao is said to have derived its name from the fish locally known as monamon but popularly called bolinao by the Tagalogs, Bicolanos and the Visayans. Bolinao is also the term used for the name of the town, the people, and the unique local dialect.

Bolinao Town Hall 

Most of the locals speak Pangasinense, Ilocano, Tagalog, and of course, the vernacular. They also generally understand and speak English because of the regular influx of local and foreign tourists who bask in the beauty of the town’s natural come-ons, particularly its beaches, falls, caves, river, cliffs, among others.

All set for the Mangunguna Festival 

Made up of thirty villages or barangays, the first-class municipality’s economy is beefed up by agriculture, fishing/aquaculture as well as tourism. Many people in Bolinao are engaged in agricultural production, crop production, livestock, and poultry raising. Some of the town’s produce include rice, corn, peanuts, cassaya, as well as fruits like mango (Bolinao’s mangoes are so sweet!), coconut, citrus, among others.

Bolinao is endowed with creamy white sand beaches


The town’s extensive coastline and its rich coral reefs, which serve as habitat for various marine species, make it one huge and rich fishing ground. Bounty from the sea includes anchovy, tuna, mackerel and other species which are marketed to nearby provinces, including Metro Manila. Recently, Bolinao has emerged as one of the province’s the prime aquaculture centers for bangus (milkfish). 

Of course, the town is arguably a major tourist magnet for foreign and local adventure junkies, beach bums and weekend warriors given its long stretches of white-sand beaches, thus, earning for Bolinao the title of “Beach Capital of Pangasinan.”

Bolinao Bay

Arriving in Manila, I chose to spend a night in one of the hotels there instead of directly proceeding to Pangasinan. Tired, I stayed indoors to prepare myself for my long trip to Bolinao. Hours later, I woke up quiet early the following day after a restful sleep. In less than an hour, I was out of the hotel and on my way to Pasay, brimming with excitement and anticipation.

It was a day before the Lenten weekend, thus, so many people were starting to assembled at the Five Star Bus Terminal to catch the bus that would take them to their provincial destinations. Two hours of queueing and waiting later, I was on my way to Bolinao, bolting out of the din and drudgery of the city. 

Almost six hours down the road, the resort town finally came into view. At the bus terminal in Concordia, Bolinao had me at hello. It was indeed a charming destination that’s used to welcoming strangers like me into its fold. I felt so at home the moment I hopped out of the vehicle. Later, I hailed a tricycle, instructing the driver to take me to Punta Riviera Resort in the village of Ilog-Malino.

Arriving at the resort way past five in the afternoon, I arranged for my accommodations and minutes later, the staff ushered me into my modest room. It wasn’t exactly what I imagined it to be but what was given to me was good enough for this gadabout’s shoestring budget. Dubbed as the “the point where the river meets the sea”, I was instantly drawn to Punta Riviera because of the cabanas, the infinity pool, the wooden bridge and other amenities I saw in its website.
Sunset at Punta Riviera

Having rested for a few minutes, I began exploring the resort, starting with the beach, which boasts of a long stretch of creamy white sand. Stepping into the powdery shore, my beach-hungry feet could hardly contain their excitement as I went around, joining several other beachcombers who were also basking in the beauty of that pristine stretch.

Aside from the powdery white-sand beach, however, I had one other thing in mind that moment which I really wanted to see and capture with my Nikon—the fabulous sunset of Bolinao! And I didn’t wait that long to get my first front-seat view of the sought-after phenomenon in that part of the country.

Pink and purple sunset

For a few moments, my eyes were glued to the horizon, face aglow as the sun cast its dying rays down, slowly changing from bright yellow to golden orange to bright fiery red and then to hot pink and then to light purple before finally disappearing into nothingness. That made my first day in Bolinao. Geez, it was simply awesome!

I walked outside the resort and stumbled upon a local seafood  grillery named after the town’s Mangunguna Festival. In the vernacular, mangunguna means fisherman. The weeklong feast is usually held on the third week of April every year to honor Bolinao’s fishermen and their contributions towards the growth of the town’s fishing and aquaculture industry (particularly milkfish).

Mangunguna Seafood Bar and Grill offers the freshest bounties from the sea cooked in ways that helped preserve their freshness. My light dinner that night consisted mostly of fish and veggies. Later, I ended the long day by hitting the sack early.

Early morning at the resort

Daybreak. I rose quickly and explored the beach anew. Before taking my brekkie, I took a quick dip first at the pool.  A few hours later, I started my sojourn in Bolinao, going around the poblacion first before heading for the town’s other natural and man-made attractions.

Punta Riviera's cool infinity pool

Bolinao’s must-sees include a colonial church, an American-era lighthouse; an “enchanted cave” which boasts of an underground spring; a rocky beach with humongous rock formations that jut out into the open sea, and, of course, the powdery white sand stretch that can rival the finest beaches found in other parts of the country. 

The formidable-looking facade of St. James the Great

St. James the Great Church 

First on my itinerary that day was a visita iglesia to Bolinao Church in the town proper. Standing right across the municipal hall, the church named after St. James the Great (Bolinao’s patron saint) is one of the ancient houses of God that the Spaniards built all over Pangasinan.

Arguably one of the province’s oldest towns, Bolinao’s history dates back to over four centuries ago when a Spanish captain founded a settlement there sometime in 1575. Although the church was erected later (around 1609), the towering edifice is a mute witness to the town’s growth since that time.

A depiction of "Pieta"

Bolinao’s formidable structure has served as a fortress that protected the townspeople against foreign invaders and pirates in olden times. The huge structure has stood the test of time, surviving major disasters, including an earthquake (1788), a fire incident (1819) and a typhoon (2009).

Entering the premises, I noticed a huge cross with a marker erected fronting the church’s entrance. Curious, I read the inscription just below the cross. The memorial marker stated that Bolinao was allegedly the site of the first Catholic Mass in the country. So this was the one I’d heard about.

Years ago, I’ve read that the town was among those that were challenging the historical fact about the most important event among Catholics in the country. History has it that the first mass was celebrated on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday, at Limasawa in Southern Leyte, officiated by Fr. Pedro de Valderamma, the Andalusian chaplain of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet. 

In 1995, however, Butuan City challenged this when one of its legislators filed a bill in Congress contesting the historical fact and asserting that the site of the said event was in Masao, Butuan City in Agusan del Norte.

So did Bolinao. In 2007, the town also claimed that the historic event happened there in 1324 (predating by some 200 hundred years the official date!) allegedly led by a Franciscan priest named Fr. Odorico of Italy. The priest is said to have baptized the natives there, too Hence, the memorial at the church—a donation from Fr. Luigi Malamocco who came from Odorico's hometown of Friuli, Italy. Another similar structure has also been erected in nearby Santiago Island. 

Huge mural of Bolinao's patron saint adorns the ceiling
at the church's main door

As of now, the National Historical Institute still upholds the Limasawa hypothesis.

The path to the lighthouse

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse

From the church, I went back to Punta Riviera to get some stuff before proceeding to  Abac to explore Parola de Patar, found at the southwestern end of Patar Beach. Rising some 107 m (351 feet) above sea level, Parola de Patar a.k.a. Cape Bolinao Lighthouse is one of the most frequented tourist destinations in the municipality.

Built by the Americans in 1905, it is perched atop the cape’s western part called Punta Piedra Point, a towering hill of solid rock which is the sharp point of the cape itself. The monolith is one of the five major lighthouses of the country, guiding vessels and ships that cruise through the international passage down the WPS.

Second only to Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte with respect to height, the one in Bolinao is truly a must-see. I went around the facility and took some snaps. At the other end of the lighthouse, there’s was a view deck where you’ll be treated to a breathtaking seascape that is the Bolinao Bay found several feet below. Simply breathtaking!

A glimpse of Bolinao Bay from the view deck

While the thought crossed my mind, I didn’t climb the 140-stepped spiral staircase that leads all the way to the top of the lighthouse. It is said that up there, you will get a 360-degree vista of the deep blue sea, the stretches of white-sand beaches, several offshore reefs and gently-sloping verdant hills.

For eighty years or so, kerosene is said to have fueled the lighthouse until the local electric cooperative extended power lines there. In the late 1990s, Cape Bolinao Lighthouse underwent some renovations, including painting and repairing, as well as additional facilities such as beacon lights. In recent years, its upkeep is being taken care of by the local government. And rightly so because Bolinao owes a part of its history to this beacon of light.

(to be continued)

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