Ashen Uncertainties

ZAMBALES, Philippines — “Summer is coming.”

His excitement equalled the dread the Starks felt toward winter. Randy, our boatman for the day, looked forward to the peak of the dry season, which was sure to bring hordes of tourists to the shores of Pundaquit, Zambales. He would wait a couple more months. February had just started.

When our boat landed on Nagsasa, it sank in even more. It was our second stop and the sun was already at its cruelest, but I had yet to see another tourist. I hopped out of the boat and my soles got swallowed by a the ashen shore, hot and hardly tolerable. Volcanic ash tends to absorb more heat than the regular sand. I dashed straight into a hut as fast as I could trying my silly best not to touch the ground, as though it were possible.

Nagsasa Cove is similar to its neighbor Anawangin in many ways. Both are blanketed with volcanic ash spewed by Mt. Pinatubo in a cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Both are carpeted by towering agoho trees, creating a fascinating and unusual landscape. Both can be easily accessed by boat from Pundaquit or a trek over the mountain. Both have a bordering hill that offers an excellent view of the stretch.

But there’s one big difference.

Beach Buoy

“Anawangin is overcrowded,” Randy said in a tone that was both disappointed and amused. “The other boatmen and I call it Divisoria,” referring to the busy and packed marketplace in Manila. He said it with a recognition that part of his livelihood is to bring tourists to the place and that it was actually good for the locals even though he would prefer it to stay like this.

Nagsasa is not as well-known and is therefore not as cramped as Anawangin. Not yet, at least.

“It’s only a matter of time,” he added.

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