Story & photos by Benjamin Locsin Layug
Mariveles comes to mind as the starting point of the Bataan Death March, during World War II and, during the Marcos Era, as the site of the first “free trade zone” in the Philippines.
Lately, Mariveles is being hyped up as the next adventure and trekking destination, the town being the site of Tarak Ridge, a very challenging and strenuous major hike (which my daughter Cheska and her fiancée Bryan climbed) and Five Fingers, a series of coves that looks like a hand with outstretched fingers when viewed from the air. With my aches and age, the former was out of the question, but the latter was worth a shot.
With my son Jandy and friends Maricar Jose and Norman Capule, we left early in the morning for the long 172-kilometer drive from Manila to Mariveles, checking in at the four-story, four-star hilltop Oriental Bataan. Formerly known as the Bataan Hilltop Hotel (opened in September 1974), it was designed by my late uncle and National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, redeveloped by the LKY Property Group and reopened on December 2014. Its Brutalist architectural exterior may be dated but its modern Asian Thai interior was very elegant, vivid and classy.
We embarked on our first outdoor adventure to the pebbly Sisiman Beach along picturesque Sisiman Bay. At its southernmost tip, the area is filled with cliffs which provide you an overlooking view of the ocean. Climbing its lighthouse, we had a picture-perfect view of the beach, as well as the beautiful, 213-meter (700 ft.) high San Miguel Peak, a seafront rock mountain noted for its rock formations. I decided against climbing San Miguel Peak but I allowed Jandy to join Maricar and Norman, both seasoned mountaineers, as they made the 20- to 30-minute hike to the summit. At the top, they had a more breathtaking view of Bataan, Corregidor Island, and La Monja Island, as well as a view of a breathtaking sunset.
On our third day, after a very early buffet breakfast at the Lobby Lounge, we drove all the way to the seawall where we boarded our hired motorized outrigger boat for the Five Fingers tour. A 45-minute boat ride took us to the first finger (or thumb), Cochinos Point. Cochino in Spanish means “pig.” Upon landing, we trekked up a path that was a bit steep and jagged for around 20 minutes. Once up the hill, we were rewarded with a 360 degree, picture-perfect and rewarding view of hills, cliffs, Mariveles Bay and Mount Mariveles in the distance.
Quite tired from the strenuous uphill/downhill trek, we rewarded ourselves with a cool swim, wearing our life jackets, through the narrow, sea sculpted and bat-inhabited Cochinos Cave, all the way out to the sea before making our way, along the side of the hill, back to our boat. From Cochinos, we made our way to the second finger called Talaga Point, the index finger, passing by Natsu Lagoon (Natsu, in Japanese, means summer) and its 20-foot cliff from which you can jump to the lagoon. After Natsu, we made landfall at the calm, shallow and gently sloping Apatot Cove’s beach, named as such because of the abundant apatot trees in the area. Here, we relaxed and swam a bit.
From Apatot Cove, we proceeded to the third (or middle) finger known as Hornos Point or Puntang Mahaba, being the longest finger among the five. Here, we dropped by Pebble Cave (part of Nagbayog Cove) where we, again donning our life jackets, swam into the mouth of the cave. We also docked at Nagmandala Rock which has stairway-like formations. Because of its rustic-nature concept, it is popular for shoots like prenups. This cove also has the highest point for cliff-jumping at 50 ft. The fourth finger or ring finger is Naiklec Point, and the place to visit here is Mawakis Cove.
At Longos Kawayan Point, the fifth finger, we made a brief stop at Tinanlakan Lagoon, famous for its 40-foot cliff jump. Here, we watched, while swimming with our life jackets, as many bravely made the plunge. Their guides were helpful in making sure that you jump at the right spot and not hit the rocks. The area of Nagbintana Arch is named as such because of the arching passage in the rock formation that looks like a window. Some go to the arch area for snorkeling. Also around the area is Latain Point, a unique ophiolite rock formation that beautifully jut out into the sky. This cove also serves as a nesting site for migratory birds making it ideal for bird-watching.
After our tour, we made a short visit to Lusong Beach where we had a late lunch on board our boat. On the return trip we passed by, but didn’t make landfall, at upscale Camaya Coast Hotel.
Image credits: Benjamin Locsin Layug