Northern exposure

Need an adrenaline rush? Head north for an all terrain vehicle ride across the sand dunes, or flyboard, surf, trek, and zipline your way to adventure, says Ces Rodriguez

Trek across Tarlac’s west end

Photo by Jonathan Balonso

Who knew there was more to Tarlac, a couple of hours drive from Manila, than just being a pitstop on the way to Baguio, La Union, Pangasinan, or farther north. One remembers Tarlac mostly for the flatlands and paddies that raced past the car window and the short stop at Luisita, where one clambered out to freshen up and stretch one’s legs.

Self-styled tourism cheerleader Diana Prado, 26, recently moved back to her hometown in Tarlac after living and working in Manila as a photographer’s assistant. “It got too congested,” she says of the big city. She now handles admin work for the family’s construction business and runs  Proudly Tarlac Made, a group promoting Tarlac products. Indeed, Diana calls her hometown “one huge playground,” where at sunset, she and her friends would drive the back roads of Tarlac’s western area or hang out at the 78-hectare Tarlac Recreational Park (TRP), created to host the 2010 Palarong Pambansa (National Sports). The park is well maintained, offering camp grounds, dune buggy rides, combat-type games using replica firearms like Airsoft guns, kayaking, biking, fishing, and dune buggy rides. It’s open every day except Mondays. Entrance is free.

Prado says Tarlac may soon unveil a list of new tourist sites, including undiscovered falls and new trail hikes. Birdwatching is hot on the list of activities being promoted. And there are plans to launch an improved survival training programme.

Also little known to many are Tarlac’s cultural and adventure tours that sometimes can include everything from meeting the area’s local tribes people to trekking to the Timangguyob falls. Tours are available for day trips and for overnight stays. Locals, some of whom come from the indigenous Abeling or Aeta tribes, have been trained by the local government as guides.

Prado recently went with a group on a six-hour, overnight trek that led them to the community of the Abeling as they stomped through open ground. Their local guide Mang Johnny Basilio asked his relatives in the community for bed space so Prado’s party could crash for the night. The alternative was to camp out in the open and lug heavy gear on the long trek. Dinner had to be negotiated, too. They bought live chicken from the locals, but before this could be cooked, they had to chase it first.

While staying with the locals or camping may not be to everybody’s taste, the trek gives you a Bear Gryll’s type tutorial — the guide points out names of plants and their uses, lead you to hidden springs, identifies bird calls, and shows you how to set up bird traps (not that this is being encouraged) and monkey traps.

Tours are run by Proudly Tarlac Made. Rates start from P790 per person for the culinary tour. Book through the Visit Tarlac website, or call +63917 850 6322 or +63998 556 5040. 

Meanwhile, those who want custom tours can contact the Sustainable Tourism Development Project for guides and accommodation. Guides charge P350 for a day tour for five people, and P750 for an overnight tour. Since the tours are dirt cheap, tipping is encouraged.

The Tarlac Recreational Park is the best place to start the trek because it’s a convenient place to park your car, with pavilions where one can shower and freshen up.

How to Get There

Tarlac Recreational Park (TRP )
San Jose, Tarlac

Drive down the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), take the exit toward Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). Drive down SCTEX and take the exit toward Luisita Access Road. Take a right to Luisita Access Road. Turn right onto MacArthur Highway/Manila N Rd/ Manor. Turn left to Romulo Blvd. Continue onto Macabulos Drive. Turn left onto Romulo Blvd. Turn left onto Tibag Barangay Road. Ask locals for further directions. Or call the Tarlac Provincial Capitol: +6345 982 1234. Rent a car for about P3,500 for self-drive, or about P4,000 with a chaffeur. Try Avis Rent a Car. You could also take a Victory Liner bus from Cubao along EDSA in the northern part of Metro Manila, to Siesta Bus Station in Tarlac.

Flyboard in Subic Bay

Another Networx Jetsports attraction, the Bandwagon. Photo by Jonathan Balonso

If you’re into extreme water sports, then flyboarding is for you. Introduced in in 2011 by Frenchman Franky Zapata, a flyboard is a pair of jet boots and handheld stabilizers attached by a long hose to a jet ski. The hose funnels the water churned by the jetski onto the boots, propelling the wearer above water to heights of 45 feet or to dive headlong into the water like a dolphin. The driver of the jetski controls the speed or RPM of the water to thrust you higher or faster. Sounds scary? You bet. But the sport has its fans and is quite irresistible to adrenaline junkies. Flyboarding was introduced in the Philippines in 2013, when Networx Jetsports brought in the first flyboards to the Philippines for commercial use.

Trying it out will set you back P4,500 for 20 minutes (noobs get 10 extra minutes).

You’ll be asked to sign a standard waiver, watch an instructional video, and then it’s off to the water. Those who’ve tried it say balancing on the jet boots is a common hurdle. When you’ve come to grips with that, then you can begin lift-off, using your toes or a slight bend on the left or right knee to change direction. It may take a few more tries (and thousands of pesos more) to channel your inner Iron Man.

Tips

Beginners are propelled no more than five feet above the water until the rider is comfortable and has learned how to balance. Knees should be straight at all times unless you want to change direction. When you hit the water, don’t panic: you may be under water for two seconds. Your life jacket, helmet, and board will float you back to the surface. If you’re a guest at the Lighthouse Marina Resort, Networx Jetsports provides their water sports facilities, including flyboards. Otherwise, you can go directly to the Networx Jetsports shop on Waterfront Road, Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Call +6347 252 9978 and +632 404 4784 for inquiries and to secure your flyboard slot in advance.

How to Get There

Subic Freeport
Subic Bay

By car, take the Northern Expressway (NLEX) to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), then exit a few kilometers past the Angeles toll booth. Take the SCTEx in the direction of Subic. Rent a car for about P3,500 for self-drive, or about P4,000 with a chaffeur. Try Avis Rent a Car. By bus, take Victory Liner from Cubao to the Olongapo City bus terminal. Take a jeep to Subic Bay. At the entrance, buses and coasters can take you to various points inside the Freeport. 

Explore Capones Island

Photo by Jonathan Balonso

Capones Island lies 15 minutes off the shore of Barangay Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales. From Pundaquit Beach, there are hire boats available to take you to the 1.9-kilometer long island. The boatman usually drops you off a few meters from the rocky shoreline, a plastic rope from the boat pulled taut by a boatman from the shore serving as one’s grip against an onslaught of swells. Steps lead from the slippery rocks to the top of the promontory, where the 65-foot Faro de Punta Capones lighthouse stands. First operational in 1890, it is now solar powered. The rest of the structures surrounding it have been left crumbling. From the west end of the island, where the lighthouse stands, visitors can trek the length of Capones to a white-sand beach lapped by pacific ripples and hemmed by a tumble of giant rocks on one side. There are no amenities on the island so take provisions with you if you plan on camping or staying overnight. Make prior arrangements with boatmen for pick-up time.

Rates

Gafa Tours offers island hopping tours covering Capones and Anawangin from P2,600 per person.

Capones Vista Resort, which will re-open in October this year, also offers five-hour island hopping trips to Capones, Anawangin, and Camara for P1,500. 

Those who want to DIY can head to Barangay Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales, and book a boat from there. Boats start from P1,500 for up to six people, though prices can be negotiated with the boatmen.

How to Get There

By bus, take a Victory Liner from Cubao to Iba, Zambales. Have the conductor drop you off at the municipal hall of San Antonio. From there you can take a tricycle to Pundaquit.

Learn how to surf in San Narciso, Zambales

Photo by Jonathan Balonso

Crystal Beach Resort in San Narciso, Zambales is a good, chill place to learn how to ride the waves. This part of the West Philippine Sea is less rough than shorelines elsewhere; making waves from one- to three-feet in height, ideal for beginners. Quiksilver Surf School provides guests of the resort five class levels, beginning with an introduction to the sport which covers basic balance, posture, foot stance, arm position, as well as understanding ocean currents and conditions and basic safety and emergency procedures. Levels two to five are: Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and customized surf tours to more challenging surf spots in Siargao and Pagudpud.

Rates

P400 per person per hour includes rash guard, board rental, and instructor fees.

How to Get There

Crystal Beach Resort

Take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), exit on Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) on the last tollgate of NLEX. From SCTEX, take route going to Subic/SBMA. At the SBMA tollgate turn right on Rizal Highway, go straight till you reach the dead end then turn left on the right tollgate to Olongapo City. Turn right on the first intersection (Canal St.). Exit to Kalaklan gate, turn left going to Zambales, Subic town, Castillejos, San Marcelino, and take the shortcut when you see the shortcut signage in the middle of the road. Turn left after the Municipal Hall, follow road signs going to Crystal Beach in San Narciso.

By bus, take a Victory Liner from Cubao to Iba, Zambales and ask the conductor to drop you off in San Narciso, Zambales (nearest landmark: San Sebastian Catholic Church). Then, take a tricycle to the resort.

Wakeboard in Angeles, Pampanga

Photo by Jonathan Balonso

Golf courses used to be the lifestyle amenity real estate developers offered to lure property buyers. Today, it’s manmade pools with rigs to pull you and your board across the water. It’s cheaper to build and maintain, attracts a younger crowd, and isn’t saddled with the elitist baggage greens still evoke.

Deca Clark Wakeboard Park in Margot, Angeles City was built as a leisure amenity for Deca Clark Resort Residences, where there’s an “entry-level” or lower-end, 150-hectare property development featuring single-detached homes costing from P1 to P1.2 million and townhomes at P800,000, according to park general manager Mike Hudson. It’s also become a quick stop for local out-of-towners who find the 1.5-hour drive from Manila a breeze compared to the eight-hour trip to the more famous CamSur Watersports Complex in Pili, Camarines Sur.

At Deca, there are separate pools for beginners and experts. On weekends, the queue to the smaller beginner’s pool resembles an especially popular ride at a theme park, snaking down the rim of the pool. Expert wakeboarders, on the other hand, avoid the busy weekends and use the bigger adjoining pool on weekdays riding with one hand, maneuvering up ramps, twirling, or waving to the camera. Newbies will appreciate the safe and encouraging environment of the beginner’s pool where wakeboard assistants spew out entertaining wiseguy-isms and quick instructions on stance and arm position to beginners as young as eight (or five, if you’re a parent who gives consent). While you can spend a whole day at the wakeboard park, Hudson says many visitors spend a few hours at the park before they head out again to explore the many other leisure and dining options in Angeles City.

Rates

Weekday rates are P400 for two hours of wakeboarding, P700 for four hours, and P1,000 for eight hours, inclusive of helmet, life vest, beginner's board, and instruction. Weekend and holiday rates are P500 for two hours, P800 for four hours, and P1,200 for eight hours, inclusive of the same. Open from 10am to 6 pm on weekdays, and 9am to 6pm on weekends and holidays. Inquire at +63 905 330 1013.

How to Get There

Deca Clark Wakeboard Park

Via Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) through Clark South Interchange. Inside Clark, take Friendship Hi-Way exit also known as Clark Side Gate. Approaching a junction, turn right leading to Jose P. Laurel Avenue to the Margot-Sapang Bato route, leading to the wakeboard park.

Ride an ATV or UTV in Porac, Pampanga

Photo by Martin San Diego

SandBox is an adventure park smack in the middle of an expanse of sandy volcanic ash locals call lahar. It features a roller coaster, zipline, aerial walk, archery, giant swing, free fall, and the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or UTV (utility task vehicle) ride. The ATV ride takes you through the off roads and dusty plains of Porac, Pampanga, wending through tunnels, weed-lined dirt roads, gorgeous desertlike vistas to the massive Pasig Potrero River.

Like Deca Clark Wakeboard Park, SandBox is a centerpiece facility used to lure buyers to Ayala Land’s new development project in Porac, Pampanga. Once an expanse of gray lahar spewed by Mount Pintatubo when it erupted in 1991, the 1,125-hectare property is now seen as the next Nuvali, a sprawling community development in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

Tips

Best to stay in the front seat of the ATV to avoid dust clouds. Careful in negotiating turns to keep the vehicle steady. Time your ride early in the morning or later in the day when the sun isn’t too scorching. There are no bathing facilities back in the SandBox, so pack face and hand towels you can moisten to wipe yourself down, and a change of clothes. An ATV or UTV ride will set you back P2,500 for the ATV (for single riders) and P3,000 for the UTV (rider plus passenger). You will be given safety instructions before you begin your ride.

SandBox is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9am to 5pm. Entrance fee is P80 but there are packages if you want to try out a combination of facilities, except for the ATV and UTV ride. Inquiries call +63936/ 988 6023.

How to Get There

SandBox

SandBox is about 30 minutes by car from the Clark International Airport, roughly two hours away from Manila, and an hour away from Quezon City. Get on the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) in Balintawak, Quezon City from EDSA northbound. From NLEX, exit toward the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and then take exit 139 to the Porac Access Road, which will lead you to SandBox. Rent a car from around P3,500 a day for self-drive or about P5,000 with chauffeur. Try Avis Rent a Car. Or, take a Victory Liner bus going north via Dau. Go down at Dau terminal. Take a jeep to Angeles, another jeep to Porac, and a tricyle to Sandbox. There are PUVs in the area for rides out.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the North Philippines Visitors Bureau for hosting the fourth Lakbay Norte familiarization tour across Tarlac, Pampanga and Zambales.

Originally published in InFlight Traveller April to June 2015. Updated September 2015