The Quest For Anawangin Cove

MANILA, Philippines - Like anybody whose mind and soul have been crushed by the daily grind, I long for space and respite from the steel and granite setting of Makati.

The quest for the fabled Anawangin Cove started with a hot cup of MacDonald's brewed coffee and pancake with syrup. My companions and I left the city behind us and traversed the hilly Zambales region until we reached the town of San Antonio where the SUV snaked its way to a quaint fishing village called Pundaquit.

We found ourselves in Pundaquit Paradise, a restaurant that serves sinigang na maya-maya (fish in tamarind broth). There was a sprinkling of European tourists relaxing and taking swigs of San Miguel beer. An unfamiliar Scandinavian tune drifted in the air.

We bought food from the local sari-sari store since food was pricey in the cove. The locals were a tad curious but friendly. Children escorted us down the docks and fooled around on the sand. The boat danced on the sparkling waters, so cool and so blue, a luxury so unexpected, I allowed myself a sigh. The expert bangkeros put the banca in full throttle.

I saw a school of fish weaving patterns in the sun. It was fun trying to catch them with my hands. After 15 minutes of relaxed sailing, we spotted strips of beaches where sun worshippers lolled with nary a care in the world. We rounded a bend and amidst oohs and aahs, the cove appeared.

At once, the pine grove beyond the sands greeted us and we were transported to a temperate place. Balmy weather, unruffled sea, the sand khaki white and soft to the toes, how remarkable to know we were just a few hours away from home! But forget home. For now, we were adventurers. We set up tent and gathered dry wood for the fire.

At the back of the pine trees is a stream that leads to the sea. We crossed the swamp up to a point where fresh water met brackish water. I was excited and a bit uneasy but it was exhilarating.

In the middle of the water we took a break, and upon turning around and looking at the horizon, the glorious landscape that lay before us took our breath away. Pine trees surrounded the mountains and we imagined ourselves crossing the Alps.

There's a saying that no two sunsets are ever the same. A perfect sunset capped the day for me. At dusk, most swimmers turned to their camps and left me alone on the beach. Some, though, were still in the dark waters a few yards away and all I could hear were their voices echoing in the silver and black skies while the waves whispered at me. Pam Munoz Ryan once said, "Wander into that infinite space between soul and star..."

I lay on the sand and watched the stars light up one by one.