*This is a continuation of my two-week cheap backpacking post series.
“Damn, he’s sexy in jeans!” I thought right after getting out of the bus. I know for a fact that he’s tall, 6-foot-2 I think, but his long legs were emphasised in those black denim pants.
We arrived in Urdaneta, Pangasinan past one in the morning after a very short bus ride from Vigan City. I miscalculated the time. We’re supposed to arrive at the intended destination somewhere between five and six.
From Pagudpud, we took a bus that goes to Laoag City. You can actually board a bus right there and go straight anywhere south even as far as Manila (national highway route: Ilocos Norte – Ilocos Sur – La Union or Baguio – Pangasinan – Tarlac – Pampanga or Bulacan – Manila). However, we decided to have a short night stroll around Vigan City, but that never happened. We ended up just eating at Jollibee for dinner. That’s not even our first choice but we seemed like we’re running out of time, or so we thought. In my mind, I was really sure that the whole trip is eight hours total. My mistake was that I counted while we were in Vigan. The 8-hour count should start from Pagudpud not Vigan. Pardon me, I suck at Math (please, Pietro tutor me!).
So whilst in the bus, my friend was wearing his usual shorts but after an hour he put on his pants – it was getting cooler. He had a good sleep in the bus, I did not. I kept looking at the screen of my phone – monitoring likes on Instagram and reading and replying to comments on Facebook. We just toured the whole day but for some reason I couldn’t sleep.
When the bus passed by La Union, I realised my time miscalculation. The next province after that is Pangasinan, which is two hours away. I checked my phone’s digital clock and it was only 11PM. I slightly panicked thinking my friend would react, “oh no, what the heck!” or something close to that (LOL). Also worried where we would stay for a quick sleep – it would be hard to find a home-stay or a transient house after midnight. The reason why we decided to take a bus at night in the first place was to save money (compared to renting a bedroom), and it’s a long ride so that was quite a very practical idea. I really thought he’s going to get mad. Talk about dilemma! But had to wake him up and tell him about it upfront than be surprised sooner or later. Fortunately, he was just calm and positive.
“Then, let’s find a place where we can still sleep,” he said then went back to sleep.
Although a little distracted by his sexy-in-jeans look, I had to quickly ignore that small detail as one of the tricycle drivers was persistently trying to talk to us offering a ride at the bus stop in Urdaneta. We said no as we still needed to figure out what we should do at a friggin’ 1AM. I was guessing the wharf opens maybe about five in the morning.
Apparently, there are commercial establishments at the other side of the road. One is the Chowking restaurant just right next to the 711 convenient store.
“Awesome, at least we could sit down for awhile,” I thought feeling a little relieved. We could just stay there and try to sleep. Plus, there were foods. I didn’t recognise the importance of 24-hour restos until that early morning.
My friend ordered some meal. I chose not to, wasn’t feeling hungry. I was feeling really tired, but for several minutes I was battling whether I’d stay awake or try to sleep. Finally, I rested my back on the wall, stretched both legs on the bench, covered my face with hankie and closed my eyes. There were other people around dining and chatting almost too loud for me. I really wondered why many people were awake at that time – unlike Manila, about 90% of people in most provinces are asleep. For more than two hours, I was just resting in that position but hadn’t caught some “zzzs“.
Around three o’clock, my friend told us that we should go. I argued that it’s still early. Wasn’t also sure if there were some buses available, whilst provincial jeepneys usually start their route between four and five. He insisted. He wanted to see the Hundred Islands before or during sunrise. I tried buying time for a bit – putting on makeup as he watched with a “are you kidding me” look on his face and shaking head everytime I glanced at him.
“Why are you wearing makeup at this hour?” He rolled his eyes and slightly opened his mouth saying “uggh” in silence.
“I’m a girl. My face is oily…” I said whatever I had to say. I really didn’t have any reason, more like a force of habit. But he’s absolutely right. There’s no point putting on some liquid foundation and lip balm when you know you’re gonna be stuck inside a bus for an hour or two. And it’s still dark outside.
I thought the ride from Urdaneta to Alaminos was strangely long. I was able to sleep for like ten minutes, then another five, another ten, wasn’t really sure. Somehow, I felt a little recharged and ready to start another adventure at the Hundred Islands that I’ve been longing to see since childhood. But it’s one of those “it won’t go away, always there” kind of destinations, which is why I didn’t bother seeing it during the past years.
We stopped at the Victory Liner’s bus terminal in Alaminos. Several tricycles parked at the side of the road were waiting for passengers. There’s no difficulty getting a ride going to the wharf even as early as five. After briefly agreeing with the rate the driver offered, we headed to the destination.
The sky was still all-black when we arrived at the wharf. We had no idea that it’s a different wharf, not the Lucap wharf, and only found out after our tour later that day.
The tourism office was closed – regularly opens at seven. There were no people except the three of us. This was what I pictured back at Chowking when my friend was eager to come down here. More than an hour to wait. But that’s okay as we’re going to be the first ones to register. I knew that Hundred Islands is one of the easily crowd-packed destinations in North Luzon. Being too early was somewhat a blessing in disguise.
While waiting for the tourism office to open, my friend took his camera and started taking photos of the surroundings. I just sat down trying to conserve my energy. Besides, it’s too dark to capture anything good. At some point, I stood up to read the tour details and checked the life-sized map posted on the exterior wall of the office. I think I even tried memorising the main islands making sure not to miss one and familiarising the boat route.
After a few minutes, there came a tricycle loaded with two passengers, both Filipino female, who looked familiar. They’re actually in the same bus we took. Those women were sitting opposite my seat. I thought they were vendors as there were baskets, containers and whatnots with them, and based on their attire, they looked like fish or vegetable sellers (LOL sorry). I’m quite the observer! But I didn’t think that 40 to 50ish women could be tourists too, and one of them was apparently a great swimmer (I was jealous).
The sun was finally coming out in the view. It was beautiful. I took a couple of photos. As I previewed the images, I realised it looked like a sunset because if you look at the map, the Hundred Islands is located in the west. We were facing east that’s why.
One of the women asked if we all could share a boat. Pumpboats, which are gasoline engine powered, vary in sizes. There is a small boat good for four people, a medium and a larger one. The smallest sounds fitting for the four of us. My friend was happy about it when I told him because it helps reduce our budget so we agreed. That’s one reason why we spent only 1,079 in Philippine pesos (US$21.58) during the whole trip (check here to see details of our expenses).
Day Tour Fees
Small boat (1 to 5 passengers): 1,400 pesos ($20)
Medium boat (6 to 10 pax): 1,800 pesos ($36)
Large boat (11 to 15 pax): 2,000 pesos ($40)
Environmental fee: 40 pesos ($0.80)
Entrance fee: 30 pesos ($0.60)
Insurance fee: 10 pesos ($0.20)
For more info & inquiries: www.hundredislandsph.com
After the two women offered eggs, hot dogs, loaves and some rice, which we gladly accepted and ate with them because we were starving and had nothing but a bottled water, the tourism office finally opened. We immediately sat down, registered our names and paid all the necessary fees. Then we were told to find the assigned boat (Irah I think or Trisha, I really don’t remember) at the end of the dock.
“This is it! We’re going to the Hundred Islands!” The little kid in me was getting excited. I was wondering if I’d be wowed and how tiny those islets really were. Only one way to find out!