It was the weekend I fell in love with the beach.
I guess it’s just a matter of finding the correct mermaid/scientist guide, the perfect company, or a strong enough motive. Having a non-itinerary itinerary surely helped. It got me back to the basics of the sun, sand, and sea and all that the beach offers. It was my first time in La Union, and the first time I truly loved spending time surrounded by water, and this was how it happened.
Ticket to ride. Six and Tara and I met up in Makati then took an Uber to Partas bus station in Cubao. Figured this was the station to be, since we were north-bound. We walked up to the ticket booth and asked for three tickets to San Juan, La Union please, setting us back P459 each. It was a non-holiday, not-summer-just-yet Friday night, so it was regular, awful Friday traffic but with the win that there was no crazy bus station crowd. We had an hour or so of waiting then it was time to board the bus, which left Cubao a little bit past 11 pm. It wasn’t a deluxe bus, which meant no toilet on board and two rest stops. It was fine though; got us to our stop a little bit past 4 am.
Check in, but later. We booked a room in Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel (P3000+ per night, super cute room for three people, shared bath), and its first convenience is the fact that it was along the road. We got off the bus in front of the hostel (thank you, bus kuya), searched the too-early morning darkness for the gate, got in, and were welcomed by a kuya who so kindly and without any request for identification (lol, welcome to the land of chill) led us to the hut facing the sea. There, we were told we could park our bums until check in. It was cold; a before-sunrise morning chill. The horizon was a blanket of darkness and the sea was black nothingness and mist in the air and sounds of water crashing against shore. We dropped our bags and our sore limbs and stiff backs on the bamboo floor and sunk into giant bean bags and slept.
I woke up after sunrise, dammit. I wanted to catch it. Anyway, sunrise was when we had our first view of the sea, and when we saw that the hostel was as pretty as promised by Instagram. Hungry Nomad, its in-house bar and restaurant, was ready for breakfast by 7 am. After tucking in danggitsilog, Vigan longsilog and organic champorado (WE LOVE YOU CHAMPORADO), we found the common bathrooms and changed out of our bus clothes into swim gear. Check in time was 2 pm, but the room was ready when we asked at about 11 am, so up our second floor room we went. It was a cute room, arranged like a three-bed ship deck, and it was between two common bathrooms with a sink and mirror right outside, so it was all hipster coolness. We claimed our beds, left our bags and ran out to meet the sea.
No swimming, very strong current, says the sign. Flotsam and Jetsam was right in front of surfing waters, and being non-surfers with no intention of taking lessons, we plodded down the hot sand (Tara hopping more daintily than Six and I ever could/would) and found our spot near the water. The water was strong, the waves ready to pull us in by the limbs, even after taking Six’s trusty goggles as first sacrifice. We let our ankles and calves get wet then the rest of us get wet, when we sat on the sand and welcomed each crashing wave. Six kept the time—the sun is meaner between 11 am to 2 pm, she said, mind—announcing the time to leave the beach and find food.
Food! Food everywhere! There was so much to eat in the area, though admittedly all priced close to Metro Manila standards (P300+ per person for a decent meal, P200+ for a bar drink). We walked 10 minutes or so to Surf Shack—which looks exactly how its name sounds—and filled up on pizza, buffalo wings, shakes, and later on Carmen’s Best ice cream. On the way back to Flotsam and Jetsam we stopped by El Union Coffee, lured by the promise of smores. We got that and coffees (all very very good. I regret not trying their horchata). We talked through nap time and lingered until they stopped playing their Eraserheads playlist, probably noticing we were having too much fun singing along to care about hogging the seats. Then it was a short walk back to the hostel, then another session in the sand and sun and water.
Party in the house. The past few weeks on Instagram showed some favorite OPM names playing in the nearby Le Pointe Bar. No such luck during our weekend, so we stayed in the Hungry Nomad instead, to no one’s regret. We found a spot at the edge of the same huge hut we slept under that morning, and together with our fellow beach-chill revelers, drank our fruity cocktails, ate our fish sliders and our pulled pork nachos and danced/sang along as the music moved from low key EDM, to high powered EDM, to karaoke hits. ‘Closing Time’ played at about 1 am, a gentle reminder that the bar and the beach need to sleep. People left their chairs, stools and blankets one by one, reluctance and alcohol dragging their bodies, disappearing into the darkness of the beach. We were the last three standing. Sitting, to be more precise, with a few more alcohol-assisted stories to tell in the hush hush of the almost-two am darkness. We surrendered the last empty cocktail glass soon enough, and trooped up to our room, promising to wake up to meet the sunrise.
We didn’t wake up early enough to meet the sunrise.
STRANDED! After one last breakfast and hi-hello beach, it was time to pack up and check out. We had an hour of sulking in one of the tables, sad the short retreat was over, then we headed out of the hostel. A tricycle was outside, as if waiting for us, especially us, and it took us to Partas bus station in San Fernando. Bus left the station at 3 pm and was doing good time until it got broken and had to head back to its Pangasinan stopover. An hour or so after being unloaded our new bus rolled in, and by midnight (!!!) we were back in Metro Manila, somewhere in Ortigas, hailing a cab to take us somewhere that serves a 24-hour breakfast. THANK YOU KANTO FREESTYLE.
Plotting. I said motives, right? This was both a writer’s retreat and an ocular trip for Summer Crush, the summer anthology we were planning at the time. Six, Tara, and I all had different takes on the emotions that got us here and that we got from this beautiful surf town, but ultimately, the end-all, be-all of this trip was our book, our very first, and decidedly not the last, collaboration. While on the sand and eating our pizza and drinking our alcohol we talked about boys and abs and conflicts and outlines and fruity drinks and fruity condoms, and Chocnut and Korean idols and local band boys and kisses. Then we went home and wrote about them.
Wasn’t that a productive beach trip? You don’t need to ask if I’d do it all over again. Still, let me tell you. I would, definitely, all of it.
March 3-5, 2017
San Juan, La Union