TEXT & PHOTOS By GRACE C. DIEZ
As Zambales re-opens for tourism, it is shaping up to be another exciting time to make new travel plans. NewsFeed 360 invites you to zero in on the province’s quiet yet charming small town of Botolan.
I have a confession to make: I am writing this from the lens of a returning resident who sees her hometown in a much more different way after being robbed of opportunities to come home. Thanks (and no thanks) to over a year of travel restrictions and pandemic protocols.
When someone speaks of Zambales, most people would often talk about Subic and its neighboring city Olongapo, San Antonio for the majestic coves of Anawangin and Nagsasa, Iba for being the province’s capital (the town where we get access to city favorites like National Bookstore, Jollibee, McDonald’s, Greenwich, Shakey’s, Robinsons or SM Savemore) or Candelaria for its renowned white beach on Potipot Island. Very rarely would people talk about Zambales to me and mention Botolan other than in the context of it being where Mount Pinatubo is located.
When I took the RT-PCR test that thankfully came out negative, I took it as a “go” signal to finally come home. The ride from Metro Manila to Botolan was emotionally overwhelming — and that’s an understatement. After all, it was my very first time to go out of town since the lockdown. I was especially flooded with emotions when the beach came into view and all I could ever think of was, “How can something so familiar feel so new again?” Botolan is home but at the same time, it felt so surreal to be back.
As I set foot again in the very place I was born and raised in, I have never been so mindful and appreciative of the things that surround me. Homecoming amid pandemic is a bittersweet feeling.
Life’s Simple Pleasures
Botolan isn’t really about the grandness of things. It’s in the appreciation of nature’s majestic prowess and life’s simple pleasures. There is beauty to be found in an unhurried state of living in this sleepy but scenic coastal small town. If you’ve ever watched Dawson’s Creek or Netflix’s Virgin River, you’ll know what I mean.
I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed the sound of waves crashing against the sand coupled with a view of the sun setting in the background. Actually, I haven’t thought much of the golden hour in the city in recent times until I got here — I was wonderstruck.
I grew up in Botolan and was blessed enough with so many memories of spending time with my family at the beach, in the riverside, having picnics by the stream and even fishing with Papa. However, it was my first time to experience WFB (work-from-the-batis). Work beckoned so I worked on a document for a client while enjoying the clear waters of the stream at Camp Kainomayan.
WFB (work-from-the-batis) is now a thing at Camp Kainomayan
One fine day, my cousin decided to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning just so we can have breakfast surrounded by the mountains. The coffee tasted even more glorious mixed with the cool morning breeze and the rising sun gently showering us with rays of Vitamin D. Najico in Botolan feels a lot like being in J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle-earth sans Sauron and the precious ring to rule them all.
Breakfast at Botolan’s version of Middle-earth, anyone?
Right after that, they took me to a majestic viewpoint in Barangay San Juan where we can see Bucao river and Mount Calib-ungan and a large part of Botolan from up there. It was a tricky thing to climb the “rocky” trail up there because what we’re climbing on is an actual chromite, a crystalline mineral of which Zambales is rich of. I ended up with glittery palms but the view was worth it. It can beat Tagaytay, to be honest.
The chromite viewpoint where you can see the beauty of Botolan
Back in Metro Manila, I kept ordering halo-halo from food delivery apps to beat the summer heat, but enjoying a tall glass of halo-halo by the river at the Bancal Eco Park in Botolan is quite an experience. I was savoring the sweet and icy cold treat all along with the gentle wind of late afternoon and the pink summer sky showing off its grandeur. Riverside snacking is something else.
Serenity as you enjoy halo-halo and pancit by the river
When a part of me wanted a taste of night life (albeit of the quiet kind), we went to the Reef ‘N Beef Bar & Kitchen at Sundowners Zambales to unwind and fill our tummies with margarita, truffle fries and nachos. Nature’s bonus: we were treated to a mesmerizing view of the purple sky.
If you’re in the mood for something fancy with purple sky on the side, visit Sundowners Zambales.
Reviving Botolan Tourism
When the lockdown happened, the promising growth of local tourism in Botolan was foiled. This has greatly affected local businesses whose source of income primarily relies on tourists. One of those affected is a place close to my heart: the Maragaha Campsite.
More popularly known to locals as “Tropical Paradise,” Maragaha Campsite is a quiet gem in Botolan. It’s a true respite for weary souls and a healing place for someone like me who was recovering from major health issues back then.
It was heartbreaking to see the people behind Maragaha suffer from the setbacks of this pandemic.
“Closing for more than a year and losing income in the midst of a pandemic is the biggest challenge for us. It led us to let go of all of our staff and hold all the projects for the campsite,” Hannah Basa-Egipto, Maragaha Campsite general manager, shares.
“We miss hosting. We miss providing services that turn guests into friends. Of course, it will be a long way to go but the re-opening gives us hope that we will eventually go back to how it was before,” she adds.
Hopefully, the re-opening of Zambales to tourists would help revive tourism and the economic life of resorts and other small businesses in Botolan.
Maragaha Campsite is one of the D.O.T. (Department of Tourism)-accredited establishments granted with the Local Certificate of Compliance (LCOC). This means they can now accept guests from Metro Manila and other areas. My pieces of advice: be a responsible traveler, follow the safety protocols and make sure you have a negative RT-PCR test result before venturing out of the city.
I don’t know where to start about the things I love in Maragaha. I keep coming back to this place because it holds a lot of special memories with my loved ones, and it’s the best place where I can hear my thoughts clearly. This is also where I feel His divine presence because He created such a beautiful and breathtaking place — it never ceases to amaze me.
There are many resorts in Botolan but Maragaha rises above them all as it offers raw and captivating natural beauty. I will let the photos speak of how stunning it is.
Take a break from city life and marvel at nature’s wonders here in Maragaha Campsite
Support local tourism and kickstart your travel adventures in Botolan, Zambales. Register your trip at https://visita.zambales.gov.ph. To book your stay at Maragaha Campsite, contact 0927-2292872.
About the Writer
Grace C. Diez
Grace Diez started as an AM/FM radio traffic reporter and broadcast supervisor of Trapik.com before pursuing a 5-year career in advertising and a 9-year (and counting!) career in public relations. With 17 years of experience as a writer, her works have been published on People Asia, Metro.Style, ABS-CBN Lifestyle, Star Studio, Metro Magazine, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star, Working Mom, Chalk.PH, League Magazine, Sense & Style, Woman Today and Manila Standard with editors entrusting her with cover stories and CEO/celebrity profiling assignments. She loves IU, Taylor Swift, coffee, milk tea, Dr. Pepper and cookies.
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