Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Visiting Bataan

Mt. Samat Shrine, near the 'last line of defense'. Dedicated to all who perished in the defense of freedom.
I am from Bataan, was born and grew up in the city of Balanga.  Bataan is still a regular place of visit, my mom and few siblings being there.  But on top of that – it’s close to my heart for a variety of reasons; for one, I know and treasure its crucial role during WWII (Japanese occupation), and the admirable gallantry and valor of both Philippine Scout (where my Dad did an active duty after the Fall of Bataan) and Philippine Army – who both, side-by-side fought hard to delay the invasion, giving more time for the US Pacific force to prepare for a long-term war; And today – it’s a regular place for some of my physical training needs be it a hike in a mountain, walk on a highway, or bike in the zigzag roads.  Not to mention frequent visit to some of the tour sites with families or friends.

It would be a shame if some of our non-Bataan friends, or Pinoys in general, lose sight of Bataan as a good travel destination.  Especially given easier access via SCTEX highway (Subic), or the old highway from San Fernando Pampanga, or even the occasional ferry boat bringing passengers to nearby Corregidor.
Where is Bataan? 
It’s directly west of Metro Manila, separated only by a small body of water fronting Manila bay (part of West Philippine Sea).  A relatively fast boat will take less than 1 hour to travel from shore (Manila/Pasay) to shore (Bataan).  I guesstimate a 20km distance between shores. By land, one needs to drive north, take NLEX highway, on to Pampanga (north/ northwest of Manila), then on to Bataan (south/ southwest of Pampanga).  Like making a big U-turn, with 115km distance to the nearest Bataan town (from Metro Manila).  Bataan (especially the western town of Morong) is accessible via Subic which may be reached via NLEX-SCTEX highways, end-to-southend.  Public bus service are frequent and could take passengers straight to Balanga or Mariveles; or with other buses – may drop passengers in various northern towns like Hermosa or Orani.
Topography-wise, it’s not a very big land mass (~25km West to East), it is surrounded by body of water to the east (Manila), south, and west (West Philippine Sea main) and connected only by land to the north.  It has 2 distinct mountain ranges (Natib to the north and Mariveles range to the south). It is with this ‘defensible features’ , plus its relative proximity to Manila resident-escapees, that made it the last stand of choice by the US Pacific Far East Force during the Japanese invasion.  Tour-wise, it means many beaches, hike opportunities, and bike-able roads.
Was the battle of Bataan really significant?  If not for our fallen heroes, the Jap Imperial Army may have established stronger forces earlier in the south which can make counter-war more difficult, or even proceeded with their aborted plan to invade Australia.  Just maybe...
So what are some options that a traveler, tourist or outdoors-man can do in Bataan?  See the pictures, plus contact the local DOT office for other options.

3d Art in the lower section of the giant cross depicting battle scenes.
One can walk the steps to Mt Samat Cross from the museum building.  Roads are ok from base to the main building or up to the cross. I did several training walks and occasional runs from the base (7km up total). 
The Infamous Bataan Death March remembered via kilometer posts scattered in the highways of Bataan.  After MacArthur left for Australia, the tired top commander ordered a surrender not knowing that a harrowing future awaited surviving fighters.  Some escaped to the jungles to continue the fight.The unlucky ones were either killed during the march, or died horribly in prison camps of Tarlac, Cabanatuan and Davao.

BNPP - Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, mothballed for 20+ years due to questionable construction quality and high risk of operation. Billions of pesos wasted for nothing. One can see the structure when enjoying the beaches of Morong. (Pix and below c/o  Paula Bati-Reyes and friends)

The Nuclear Plant control room.  One can just imagine how this would look like during actual operation, seeing all the beeps and blips and maybe even the occasional/ unfortunate sirens and alarms ;)  This was never used of course.

Our tour group inside the BNPP facility, on top of the reactor unit.

When can you ever get this close to a nuclear reactor? :) Only here in BNPP.

More interior details of the BNPP.  It would probably be a good movie location for the likes of Terminator or X-Men.

The Balanga St Joseph Cathedral. I grew up hearing mass in this place, it carries memorable Christmas experiences including Simbang Gabi (night mass).  pic c/o DepEd.

A recent addition to Bataan's tourism - Las Casas in Bagac featuring old houses from all over, including that of Jose Rizal's mother's house.  Some 25km from Balanga City.  From Subic, maybe around 35km via scenic Morong road (west side).
Las Casas.  Not just houses, but variety of artwork like this giant stone heads. It offers day trip as well as over night.  Rumor has it that some old houses (that were imported and rebuilt) retained their ghostly residents.  Rumor only ;)

The new Balanga Plaza at night. 

The most famous trek in Bataan is in Tarak Ridge of Mt Mariveles.  I first climb this ridge alone, groping my way up and got lucky to see a deserted campsite and a clear blue sky.  pic c/o Dennis Lopez.  (Bataan's highest peak is Mt Natib, take off is Orani/ north).
Mt Biking trails in south of Bataan (starting from Orion and around Mt Marivels), this one is called the killer loop (which I have not tried). pic c/o Mark Rono.  I bike mostly in the zigzag roads leading to and past Mt. Samat (Mariveles range) to Bagac to the west, and on to Morong (Natib range).

Pawikan (Sea turtle) Conservation Center is in the beach of Morong.  It is a nesting ground of Olive Ridley. Season is Nov to March (if not Feb).  Here, I was about to release a hatchling to the sea. Morong is 14km from Subic via Morong road.  Or ~50km from Balanga.

'Bye baby turtles, hope to see you in 25 years". Surviving female turtles go back to their birth place to lay eggs. Yes they remember. =)
Dunsulan Falls in Pilar near Mt. Samat. There is road from Pilar-Bagac road that leads to the falls (turn left ~3km after Samat junction).  One may choose to walk from Pilar-Bagac Road-Dunsulan junction (3km+ or 1hr walk).

No comments: