Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Aroma Beach in Morong, Bataan: A Tummy-Busting Chillout of a Weekender

Swinging above the beach water at sunset
The Aroma toiletry kit
Bill Bryson, one of my all-time favorite travel writers, once wrote that nowadays, most people seem to enjoy nature through a glass barrier, either in an artificial climate-controlled room or vehicle.  Instead of fully connecting with the outdoors, people can sometimes be wary of what's out there, never fully immersing in nature, the fresh air, the warm sand, the billowy leaves, the crawling critters, and the flying creatures.  I would like to think myself an anomaly to the general thinking, which is why, this invitation to sleep out under the stars in Bagac, Bataan for our first trip this year with longtime friends is something I simply cannot let pass.

My mother's side of the family hails from nearby Limay but goodness, I haven't really been frequenting Bataan for travels.  The last few times I've been there were strictly for business, shooting a shipyard and a campus for various clients; for adventure travel, I only ventured here to hike up Mt. Tarak back when I was still active in mountaineering. 

NAGLAYAS NAG-ALSA BALUTAN, NAG-CHILLOUT SA BATAAN.  Morong is some 141 or so kilometers away, a 3-3 1/2 hour commute by bus from Metro Manila.  To get to Aroma Beach Station, we had to ride a boat headed northeast from the shores near Bagac Bay Beach Resort.  It's a 25-minute ride on the boat decked with lounging beach chairs headed towards the landscapes and seascapes that resemble fingers when viewed from the air.  I was sleepy on the bus trip and subsequent boat transfer so after a very hearty mid-morning snack and lunch, sleep was my priority.  It wasn't hard to give in to slumber as our accommodation was an open air bamboo cottage facing the sea, the ground level made from bamboo with stair steps leading to a tree house.  Even during high noon, it was cool and conducive to slumber.
A witty hugot sign by the signage on the beach
Aroma Beach Station is named after the aroma shrub (acacia farnesiana), a spiny small tree that used to grow abundantly in the area.  I was really just keen on eating, sleeping, chilling the whole weekend; photography can take a backseat if you ask me.  It's been my mode of thinking the last few years.  I haven't been traveling often so it would be wise to really enjoy the break instead of perpetually rushing to try this and that, shoot this and that.

We were blessed with good weather and the sunset was lovely.  We were alternately munching snacks, chitchatting and clowning around, shooting intermittently, catching up on each others' lives.   Ambo, Mike's diffident American bulldog has taken a liking to the tent of our friend, Dom.  He would from time to time pass by and pee on his fly sheet.  As soon as it got dark, we chucked our cameras and jumped into the water.  Mesmerized by bioluminescent plankton, we continued blabbering and stirring the sea water well into the early evening until nature intervened -- a sea snake decided to sneaked up in our midst.  Talk about leaving the water in a hurry.

Mike Manlapid Apostol, a very-experienced and intrepid tourism entrepreneur as well as environmental advocate based in Balanga, has been operating and managing this lovely cove resort hideaway that defies categorization for the past 12 years.  It's not glamping where guests are smothered by expensive luxuries nor is it out-and-out camping either where you're left to fend for yourself.  Here, what guests are pampered with are out-of-the-usual experiences and lots of food.  When Mike takes short breaks in between his many tasks around the property, we would immerse in talks.  I agree with his simple philosophy with a guffaw -- to please guests who would complain about the commute, one can simply stuff them with good food.  It figures -- hard to keep complaining when your tummy is full to the brim.
Coffee under the trees
NAGUTOM KUMALAM ANG TIYAN, KAYA NAG-PIGOUT SA BATAAN.  Speaking of food, we were treated to a banquet so much so that it was hard to keep tabs (lazy of me to write everything down) though there were standouts among the very satisfactory, eclectic selection.  Think of a salad made from talbos ng kasuy (cashew nut leaf sprouts), or dessert of kaimito (star apple fruit) with sago balls.  Even the simple pleasures like dried sapsap (ponyfish) and galunggong (blackfin scad) would be complemented by sukang Iloko (Iloko vinegar), manggang hilaw at bagoong (unripe mango with fermented anchovies sauce).  
The matriarch of the resort on one of the hanging bamboo swings
We would eat breakfast and lunch on bamboo tables near the creek under the bamboo groves while country ditties (think Sylvia La Torre et al) would play from a small speaker under the buffet table.  For snacks like turon (deep-fried banana in rice wrapper) laced with fruit salad, we would be eating either on the bamboo swings that hung from the trees or the beach-front chairs.  Dinner will find us guests on the long-table at the middle of the property, under the canopy of the trees.  
Plurkees burping after a meal outdoors near the rice fields
 Hard to escape Mike's humor with a sign under one of the buffet table that warns guests against empatso (indigestion) due to overeating.  Harder still to escape the lure of the restroom stalls with their colorful murals as one would need to retreat to them sooner or later with the sheer volume of food still forthcoming.  Onad, one of Mike's crew, told us "wala pang nagpapataob ng handa namin dito" (no one has ever found the food offerings wanting).  Wise words to heed:  this is no place for dieters.
Bright, cheerful and inviting loo
When not sleeping or eating, I would be at the beach shooting or just enjoying the breeze, munching on something or having coffee, playing with the dogs (Mike's shy American bulldog, Ambo; the playful dachsund, Dos; and the resort's resident dog, Choo-Choo).  We would also wander further inland, to the rice fields at the back to spot the birds or hear their birdsong.  Roused from sleep in the wee hours of the morning, I find the trees, the sea, the pier bathed in the glow of the half-moon.  It was peaceful with only the sound of the sea waves, the chilly breezes blowing inland to rustle the trees, and the satisfied snoring of my friends above on the tree houses and the people asleep in the huts some distance away from where I lay.   It was enough to lull me back to sleep. 
Mike's shy Am-Bull, Ambo
INFO:  To experience Aroma Beach Station, contact Mike Manlapid Apostol at mobile numbers 0915 4411875 / 0928 8568596 or through the Bataan Nature Adventures' FB page.   Advanced booking/reservation is required.
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