Last December, I took off with 3 strangers and headed for the beach. I had to miss some work, went almost completely off the grid, and stayed in a hostel. If you know me, you’ll agree that everything I’ve said so far is uncharacteristic of me. I snuck out of my comfort zone, and had a great time.
Technically, it was 2 strangers and Ninong Blogger, Aldous, who got us piled into an SUV and headed for a tiny pocket in San Felipe, Zambales called Liwliwa. I had absolutely no expectations, except the mindset that I’d be sharing a room with people I didn’t know ? All I wanted was a bit of rest and fresh air from the escalating holiday madness back in Manila.
We stayed at Homebase Hostel and Surf Camp, (formerly Home Break), which turned out to be more than a place to sleep — it was a community all on its own. Surf towns have a distinct, laid-back vibe, judging from my visits to La Union, Baler, and Hale’iwa on the North Shore of Oahu. Among them all, tiny Liwliwa has got to be the chillest, stripped to the barest scene I’ve experienced. It’s a quiet, not-yet-hopefully-never developed strip of beach, with only a handful of fully-cemented lodgings and restaurants. The most overheard conversations I had were about the condition of the waves at any particular time of day, giving away the true reason why people are there to begin with: to surf.
Much like our other provinces in the country, it seemed like everyone knew everyone. A walk along their main boulevard guaranteed a hi, hello, how is your mom/wife/child and an invitation to hang out later on. All smiles, casual side hugs, and high fives. You know the saying, “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about?” (or something). Well, no one showed signs of it over there, probably for 2 reasons. One, they all looked so content with the simplicity of their lives that problems seemed unheard of, and two, if they did have problems, the rest of Liwliwa would probably know about it. ? It felt like a pretty tight-knit mini society of locals and travelers off the beaten paths.
There’s close to zero mobile network reception inland, so you’re inclined to do things like we used to way back when. When we arrived, we found a shack to have lunch over getting-to-know-you convos (at least for me, they already knew one another). I had a beer, and they had mais con hielo. We settled into our loft back at Homebase and met some of the regulars. That afternoon, my companions napped while I thoroughly slathered Maui Babe on my sun-starved skin. Below our gazebo, surfers were milling about, disappointed with the unusual flatness of the water.
We hit the beach mid-afternoon, where I baked on the sand while the others took pictures. I had another round of beer while playing with the friendly sandpups that bounded toward me as I sat alone, which speaks volumes of what type of people reside in the area. By sundown, we realized that LTE was available right by the water, so we hopeful Iska streamed the UP-ADMU UAAP men’s basketball finals. We all know how that ended. It was hard to be upset about it when all around us, surfers quickly paddled out to catch some waves that had picked up. They were like giddy kids splashing in the water.
By the time we got back to our hostel, the dark had fully settled in. The air had the scent of salty mist, shampoo, and barbecued meats. A bench, some speakers, and 2 microphones were set up in front of the tables that were beginning to fill up with people and crates of booze. I bought a grilled jumbo hotdog on a stick and took the prime seat of the house.
Surfer and professional-turned-digital nomad Castel played the guitar and sang with the hostess with the mostest, Obie. They warmed up the crowd with their smooth singing until some took the mic to churn out a couple of tunes themselves. Before I turned in for the night (I was trying to be responsible by not staying up late prior to an upcoming concert), I managed to watch a cute rendition of Kiss Da Girl from the Little Mermaid. Beach vibes 100% complete!
Despite the music and laughter that lasted beyond midnight, I woke refreshed to the sounds of birds on a chilly morning. I walked to the beach with an unwashed face, hoping to catch the last peaceful minutes when I could have it all to myself.
The agoho trees caught my attention, as usual. Casuarina Equisetifolia actually belongs to the oak family, but is more commonly known as the Australian Pine. I’ve also seen them on the island of Cagbalete in Quezon. I love how out of place they seem on sandy terrain, having been accustomed to seeing the likes of them in forests and mountains. To me, having them there makes the balmy, ocean breeze just a little bit cooler and fresher.
I spent the last few hours before departure on the beach, pushing a little past tan, eating a homemade cheese creamsicle from a peddler.
Just before we left, I met the artist/scientist who painted the hostel’s mural, and whose DIY plastic recycling machine had been mentioned to me the previous day. He told me he did it by following a design with an open patent, in an attempt to reduce the plastic waste, starting with Zambales. I was so inspired by his creativity and ingenuity, and it felt like he was one of those people I was meant to meet and possibly collaborate with someday. Always pleasantly surprised at the wisdom of Whitney when she said ? the children are our future. ?
I’ve been trying to find the time to go back, but 2019 has been very generous with work. I was hoping to make it to their renaming launch party on February 2, but the calendar says no can do. In case any of you find yourselves in that area, or are looking for lesser populated surf spots much, much closer to Manila, seek these guys out. Homebase truly feels like home.
P350/head/night for bunk beds
P250/head/night tent or hammock
P150/head/night to pitch a tent or hammock
P1,500/night/room for 5
P2,500/night/gazebo for 8