Sunday, September 25, 2011

Barrio Barretto (Subic Bay, Zambales)

I have been to so many places here in the Philippines. Amongst other places, I had been to Davao, Cebu, Bohol, Bicol, Ilocos that may have been worth sharing. But, due to lack of time and since I have not been introduced to blogging then, I was not able to document my travels except for those scattered pictures in my computer and the now archaic photo album. I can remember that in Davao I was able to visit the Pearl Farm Resort in Samal Island and the Philippine Eagle Center; In Cebu I have seen its old churches and the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa; In Bohol, I have observed the tarsiers, communed with the famous Chocolate Hills and admired the Baclayon Church; In Bicol, I was awed by the Mayon Volcano; And in Ilocos I have prayed in Paoay Church.

In my few travels, I have been observed the many facets of life here in the Philippines. I have seen some places that if only there had been serious and strategical planning could have been premiere tourist attractions.  But, I have also seen places that due to lack of diligent care and foresight have lost its natural beauty and are now slowly losing its appeal. Take the case of Baguio considered as the Philippines’ “summer capital”. The last time I went there, I can no longer smell the used to be described as the “lingering scent” of pine trees.  The Mine’s View and Wright Parks have lost their romantic fervor. With so many stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs, it has been transformed into a commercial center. In Burnham Park, ambulant vendors continue to annoy tourists. The sight of houses and informal settlers on mountain tops have invaded the view that used to be a sanctuary of greens. Baguio, however, is not an eden lost yet! Let us cooperate with the authorities in preserving it for posterity. We can contribute to this effort, on our own simple way, by stopping to throw garbage on the streets. Please use the garbage cans!

I really admire what the people of Lucban in Quezon did. They have banned the use of plastics and they are now using paper bags. Why can’t all cities emulate this?  I do not know if Palawan has already banned the use of plastics. I think it is about time they do so and I hope the rest of our tourist destinations follow suit.

Perhaps, the “nearest” tourist destination from Manila is Subic, Zambales. It is accessible via the NLEX and the SCTEX after a three (3) hours drive from Manila. In Subic one can enjoy activities such as the treetop adventure, the Zoobic Safari and the ocean adventure. There is trekking, swimming, hiking, biking and several things to do “inside Subic”. When I say “inside Subic”, I am referring to the former American military base. Shopping is also a treat at its Duty-Free Shops. After this daytime actions, everyone can head to Magsaysay Avenue In Olongapo to enjoy the nightlife. It is just a few minutes drives from the main gate.

There are rare occasions, however, that hotels inside the base are fully booked. And sometimes it is expensive to stay in hotels near the adventure sites. I am familiar with the Crown Peak Hotel (near the Bat Kingdom) and the Camayan Beach Resort and Restaurant. I am also aware that there are other hotels near these adventure areas.  But one time, I traveled to Bo. Barretto in Olongapo. I have noticed that there are several hotels, rooms for rent and beach resorts all lined up in here. Bo. Barretto is a very good alternative to those hotels inside Subic. The area has a big share of Baloy Bay and along its coastline are beach resorts such as the Playa Papagayo, the Suzuki Beach Hotel and all other resorts.

Like all other barrios in Olongapo, the reckoning point is the sculpture which is called the “Ulo ng Gapo”. I think anyone from Olongapo knows where Bo. Barretto is. Heading straight signs of beach resorts greet the traveler. It was summer at that time when I went to Bo. Barretto. It appears that everyone is gearing up for the summer.

Here is my brief account of my experience last summer when I visited Bo. Barretto in Subic, Olongapo.

Driftwood Beach

In Barrio Barretto,  I have noticed a beach that goes by the name "Driftwood Beach". It is so visible along the highway with several colored flags desperately trying to call attention and with a relatively large number of beach-goers.

Driftwood Beach
The colored-flags has indeed caught my attention as I immediately took a turn to discover this beach. What I have noticed is that the entrance fee is minimal (Php 20.00)  and the beach has a very wide coastline where the general public goes to unwind, relax or simply have fun. There are cottages for rent, but unlike other resorts in Bo. Barretto, there are no rooms here and this beach closes at around 6:00 p.m.

This beach is a public beach. I think this is managed by the government. There are ambulant vendors selling “balut”, “chicharon”, fruits, dried fish and other items. There are families having picnics and get-together on the rented cottages, people playing and some lovers enjoying the beach’s romantic ambiance. There are a lot of people swimming and enjoying relatively clean waters.

Sunset at Driftwood Beach
I consider myself lucky to have that chance of seeing the sunset in Driftwood Beach. The setting sun has turned the sky into gold and it made me remember for a while that famous sunset in Manila Bay. I began to imagine if only Manila Bay has not lost its clean waters due to the undeterred dumping of trash coupled with the neglect of authorities,  I  may not need to travel to Bo. Barretto.

While the entrance fee is inexpensive, the facilities like the comfort rooms need a lot of improvement.  The water is pretty clear for swimming but I hope management would continue its effort in keeping the beach clean.  I regret that I saw pieces of trash on the seashore and such a thing really makes me think of ways on how to maintain the beauty of this beach. I really hope that all the visitors cooperate in ensuring driftwood beach free from all sorts of garbage. There are garbage bins scattered along driftwood. Why is it that we do not have the discipline to put our trash in the garbage cans and not simply drop them anywhere? I don’t think this should be a part of our culture. But, this has been a habit of most of us.  It is like that we are hoping that there would be somebody to clean our trash for us. This way of thinking needs to be changed for the good of all of us. 

We really have to protect our seas. The sea waters here in Driftwood Beach, are, of course, the very same seawater used by Ocean Adventure to keep its dolphins and other marine animals alive. It is the same bay where all the resorts here in Bo. Barretto and those in Camayan Beach depend on for their income. If not prevented, the garbage and all plastics here in Driftwood would reach all the other areas in Subic.  If this happens, it would definitely affect the marine life in Baloy Bay.  I really do not like to imagine what would happen in the event that Baloy Bay turns out to be like that of the Manila Bay. I can see the efforts of the authorities here to keep the surroundings clean. But, the authorities cannot do this alone. Any anti-littering program cannot succeed without the full cooperation of everyone.

We need to strictly implement local ordinances that penalize littering. One reason that there are so many who continuously ignore these laws is the lack of political will to implement and impose the appropriate penalties for its violation. Many simply ignore the ordinances because the penalty is minimal. Moreover, the complex legal procedures in prosecuting offenders add to the gravity of the problem. Perhaps, it is about time to consider imposing a much heavier penalty against those found guilty of littering. Take a look at Singapore. It is just a small country but it is known for very strict anti-littering laws.

Driftwood Beach and the whole of Baloy Bay are naturally beautiful sites. And it is very affordable. Families with average income can enjoy the beach at very minimal cost. I really cannot help of thinking that if Manila Bay has been saved from pollution and abuse, those in Metro Manila need not travel this far just to enjoy swimming on a beach. I think it is about time that we realize how difficult it is to bring back what nature has given us to enjoy once it is lost. (My pics/April 7-8, 2011)

Sheavens Seafront Resort
Baloy Beach, Barrio Barretto, Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines (Tel. Nos. 2227909/+639178638328/

After inquiring at various hotels and resorts lined up at Bo. Barretto and exerting all efforts necessary to stretch my budget, I found myself at the Sheavens Resort where I was greeted by its receptionist with a sincere welcoming smile.  It may be part of her job yet somehow after hours of driving, seeing a friendly smiling face immediately uplifts your tired soul and alleviates all physical hardships. It immediately transforms the hotel, inn or resort into a place that may be considered “home”.

After the usual registration procedure, I was led to my room found very near the reception area. The "budget room", where I chose to stay is just priced at Php 990.00/night. It is clean, has a queenside bed for two adults, airconditioned, with hot water, cable tv, towels and soap but without that usual "free breakfast". For the price, I have not really expected the "free breakfast". In my travels, in other places, a complimentary breakfast is common in hotels where I stayed such as in Davao, Cebu, Baguio, Ilocos and in other places. Nonetheless, it may not be fair to compare Sheavens with those hotels.  Sheavens has its own category and price. And besides, with the price of Php 990.00  per night, I have yet to see a  hotel that gives a complimentary breakfast! At any rate, I still find the price as reasonable and cheaper compared to other hotels in Bo. Barretto where I have previously inquired.

There were many foreign guests when I arrived, giving a hint that this resort is of international standards or that it appeals to their discriminating taste. Or perhaps, even foreigners these days are also looking for a low-cost yet a very comfortable place to stay, (or for any other reasons they themselves only knew). What is important though is that despite the present economic difficulties being experienced here and in other countries, the tourism industry appears to be in an upswing.

This resort cannot be missed. While it is around 200 meters away from the main road there are conspicuous signs along the highway exclaiming its price tag per/day of stay.  Aside from the swimming pool and a jacuzzi, it has a very nice restaurant fronting the Baloy Bay which serves both local and international cuisines. I would say that the price and the quality of the food here is of reasonable standards.  It has a much higher price, of course, compared to other restos along the highway. This is not unusual for travelers.  It is indeed a treat to eat in this restaurant as one hears the rhythmic sounds of the waves capriciously kissing the seashore. The view of the mountains of Subic, while dining in the restaurant, gives that tranquil out-of-town feel that guests can actually experience.

While there is a sign in my room which says that bringing in of food items is prohibited, I figured that some guests clandestinely take in some snacks, sodas and other items from stores along the highway.  The enforcement of the prohibition is really not that strict but I do implore all guests to obey.  If guests would really like to save on their breakfast, lunch and dinners, they can either walk/drive/ride to reach the highway where there are a 7-11 store and some other much cheaper food stands and stalls. Andok's and Dunkin Donuts can be a good option. Surprisingly however I have not seen a Jollibee or Mcdo.

Parking is not a problem. The front space in the reception area of the resort is just a "drop off point" for guests and vehicles are meant to be parked at a designated parking area a little farther from the reception but near the entrance of another resort the name of which I can no longer remember.  What I can recall is that this resort is near the parking lot of Sheavens and charges Php 30.00 entrance fee.

Before reaching the parking spot of Sheavens, there I noticed a spa or the Sheavens therapy and massage clinic. To satisfy my curiosity or maybe I was thinking of a quick massage after that almost four (4) hours drive where I conquered the NLEX and SCTEX, I inquired from the reception how much would it cost. I was handed a brochure and it says that the services being offered range from the kid massage (Php 300.00) to the "hot stone" with whole body massage (P 1,750.00).

Without my budget limitations, I would have readily availed of these services and have that experience of being pampered and attended to until all the aches and pains of my body would miraculously disappear.  But, even without availing of the therapy treatment, I was just thankful that finally, I have a place where I can sleep. As I have not made any reservations, I was told that I can only stay overnight. The room I was occupying has been reserved for the one who made that very important act of making a reservation.   I thus suggest to all those who are planning to visit Bo. Barretto should make reservations if possible especially during long weekends.  This includes holy week which is synonymous to crowded beaches and resorts.  

I was informed that an adjoining room near the parking space is vacant but after a night, I would need again to transfer to another room. I replied that I need to stay for two (2) more nights and it is uncomfortable to keep on changing rooms.  The receptionist made a few phone calls and I was told that there is a vacant room that I may occupy for two (2) consecutive nights in their sister hotel called "the Pub".  The "the Pub", I was told is located along the highway without a beachfront. I was assured that if I would like to go to the beach and use the facilities at Sheavens, I am still welcome to do so. After all, Sheavens and the pub are "sister hotels".

I was reluctant to leave Sheavens. I really wished that I would have more time to relax, unwind and commune with the sight of the sea and the distant view of the mountains of Subic.  I know I don't have a choice and the inconvenience of transferring to other rooms (and in this case a different hotel) is simply due to the fact that I have not made a prior reservation. I really appreciate the help extended to me by the staff at Sheavens.

Baloy Bay was taken from Sheaven's Resort
The waters of Baloy Bay are clear with a greenish and bluish hue. Swimming can be a good activity.  To my dismay, however, I again saw pieces of plastic floating in the sea as if desperately trying to destroy the natural beauty of its waters. I really hope that residents along the bay and all of those concerned to totally refrain from throwing any form of garbage in Baloy Bay.  This bay is irreplaceable. It is a source of life. These pieces of plastics are often the cause of death of the dolphins and other marine life. I need not emphasize the importance of this bay.  I just hope that if I would be given again the chance to visit this place, I will no longer see trash or plastics floating in the sea.

The Pub Hotel
After a short dip at Baloy bay and contemplating on mundane matters, I was constrained to go back to my room and avail of that much-needed sleep.  I have earlier planned to walk (or ride) to the highway and get something from 7-11, Dunkin or other sari-sari stores. But, I am already overwhelmed by fatigue that I let go of the idea.

I was fortunate that in my bag there were some few edible items I purchased earlier in a gasoline station at the NLEX and all I have to do now is to buy a bottle of distilled water at Sheavens.  When the bottled water was handed to me, I kept thinking that clean and potable water used to flow from the faucet. Potable water used to be plenty and the supply was limitless.  I can still remember those good old days when “bottled water” is considered to be a whimsical business proposal because water - fresh, clean and pure - was available anywhere. Everyone can drink directly from the taps and nothing harmful is forthcoming.  Today, however, drinking directly from the faucet can be a health hazard and a risk.

A staff at Sheavens showed me the way to the Pub.  It was around 400 meters away and it can be seen on the national highway.  I have paid P1, 200.00 for the lowest priced room or the “standard room”.  I am not really sure whether there are other higher priced rooms. But, the “standard room” at the Pub is definitely much better compared to the budget room at Sheavens. It is clean, complete with amenities and with “built-in” furniture. Below the Pub is a club called “the rascals”. There are similar clubs along the highway in Bo. Barretto and their guests/customers are mostly foreigners.  I think this type of  “clubs” is common in Bo. Barretto. It may have flourished during the time when the American bases are still in Olongapo. (My pics/April 2011)make money with your digital camera

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