Serendipitous Serenity

Subic, Zambales, the Philippines

February 15, 2009

I had never been a Subic person. I didn’t mean the town, but SBF (Subic Bay Freeport Zone), which I found a tad contrived.

The bay area was a Spanish arsenal repository more than a century ago, and more recently, it housed the controversial American naval base. When the Americans left in the early 90s, the area was converted into a commercial and entertainment development zone.

The Lighthouse Marina Resort in Subic

Navy SEALS gave way to Marine World seals doing tricks, barracks to boutique hotels, commissaries to beachfront restaurants and duty-free shopping centers. Along with obligatory casinos, yacht club, and water sports facilities – viola – we had a world-class tourist trap.

To me, it had the appeal of, say, a manufactured boy band that had all the hair-gel sheen and toned-muscle vigor but none of the soul.

When my fellow road-tripper, Ki, suggested one Sunday morn to go to Subic, I was less than thrilled. I had always loved road trips, but I hoped for a more “culturally” enriching destination. Still, the road-tripper in me prevailed and off to Zambales we went.

Halved Hill at the SCTex
Light at the End of the Tunnel at SCTex

To my delight, we were off to a good start. The spanking new SCTEx (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) was a surprise. The drive was so smooth; we could hardly feel any traction. It cut through mountains (either by halving them or tunneling through them), which in turn cut the travel time to Subic to less than an hour from its NLEx (North Luzon Expressway) tollgate. Finally, a public works project that worked. (I heard the exits were few and far between, though.)

The view from the car window competed with sleep. Picturesque rice fields and barren hills flanked the expressway, and otherworldly lahar deposits from last decade’s Mount Pinatubo eruption could still be seen.

Views of Golden Green: SCTex to Subic, Zambales
SCTex: A River of Lahar Runs Through It

It was a Sunday, a day after Valentine’s – we imagined sizeable crowds, decked out in designer shades and sandals. Instead, we stumbled upon surreal solitude. Where were the groggy party people having late breakfast by the beach? Or entire families gorging themselves with buffet lunches?

Bike in a Barren Beach: Subic

The Korean and Japanese tourists monopolizing the jet skis? Or the LV-toting matronas making a beeline for the shops?

We realized the fun in beachcombing was more in people-watching than in shell-collecting. There was none of the former and all of the latter. We even played hopscotch on the highway without turning into freshly-squeezed road kill!

Hopscotch on a Highway
Beachcombing Boy
Moribund Marina

It was short of being a ghost town, until we saw an abandoned structure. Then it really felt like an area after an exodus. FedEx, which had its Asia Pacific hub in the erstwhile military airstrip, had just moved its operations to cheaper China a few days before.

“Boarded up and broken down”
“Leaving behind the dusty dreams and broken glass”

For the most part, I didn’t know where the hustle and bustle had gone. Blame it on the economic crisis, perhaps. Or maybe it was just an unusually slow Sunday.

No matter, to me it was a refreshing respite: to have lost the crowds and just breathe no one else’s air. It was a Subic experience I finally liked.

Beachy Me
Bookworm at the Beach

46 thoughts on “Serendipitous Serenity

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  1. I like the “streetwalker” pose, hahahahahaha
    hmmmm….it resembles to the pic at Escondido , CA (San Diego)
    Subic version hihihihihihihi

    1. Hahaha! I didn’t quite get this when you posted it 2 years ago. Now I realize you were alluding to the prostitution sting in Escondido! You naughty you, Cindy. You deserve some spankin’! 😀

  2. The pic with a caption “A Lahar River Runs Through It” is beautiful. the scenery is captivating. it looks more of a painting! Its good to frame this AJ!

    1. It’s really the handiwork of God. All I needed to do was capture the scene with my handy digicam. Good idea to frame it.

      I remember we were cruising along a long viaduct. But the view was so gorgeous that we had to stop the car, risking getting sideswiped by speeding vehicles, just to take this quickie photo. Well, it was worth the trouble! 🙂

  3. I have been to Subic last year and passed by SCTEX for the first time.–I was mesmerized. My gf and I wanted to pull over and take some photos sana but we were afraid baka bawal. Now I’m wodering if you took the photos while driving?

    1. Oh no. My friend and I pulled over and I took quick snapshots at the shoulder. No time to do any composition. Just click and go! Pretty scary cuz cars were zipping by.

      1. I also tried before taking photos at SCTEx but everything was blurred. Really had a hard time getting a nice photo even just for Mt. Arayat ba un? It’s the only mountain you see in SCTEx at Tarlac. Not sure if that is Mt. Arayat, hehe.

    2. Well, we did stop for the lahar shot. But I think I took a photo of that mountain without stopping the car, which is really tricky. I was just lucky with this one I guess.

      That’s not Mt. Arayat, just a hill. Mt Arayat is farther off (it’s in Pampanga) and much higher than this. But yes, it’s visible from SCTex.

  4. Haha who brings a thick hard bound book to the beach?!
    The foreground of that barren beach pic was nicely placed. Ayos. Hehe

    PS: I like the way you write. 🙂

    1. Hahaha right, but actually reading and a deserted beach like that are a good match. No distractions. In fact, this was a Sunday and I had a post-grad school comprehensive test the next day. But I’m like you perhaps. I couldn’t read in a beach. Ironically, the person who didn’t have an exam was reading and I was taking photos like I had no career-defining exam the next day! 😀

      PS: No worries, I did pass the exam with flying colors. 🙂

  5. Such a great feature about Subic along with great photographs. Those which are in monotone colors are quite sad but rather beautiful nonetheless. i haven’t been to this place yet but I’m hoping that one day, I’ll be able to tell my own story about it.

    1. @Romelo: Yes, it does look like a painting. I rendered the colors more vividly through Picasa, but even in reality, the colors were already rich. Otherworldly even.

      @Enzo: I really wanted to capture the sadness and sense of abandonment in those buildings. Glad to know that the photos conveyed the exact sentiment. You might have a totally different view of Subic. It’s not usually quiet and empty like this.

  6. So you were just showing as things that are not so hyped in Subic and I love them. I also appreciate your photos in SCTEx, at least we can how scenic the ex-way is 🙂

    1. @Edmaration: I didn’t set out to have these kinds of photos, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience a “serendipitous serenity” in Subic. A different perspective of a usually busy and crowded place. And yes, the SCTex is really scenic, way more than the N-LEx and S-LEx.

      @Verne: The Philippines is actually beautiful, just as other countries are. We have much to be proud of yet most times we are blind to the beauty of our own land. As a Madonna song goes, “You only see what your eyes want to see….” 🙂

    1. @Yuu Ki: I think Subic has recovered from the economic setback in 2009. I’ve not been there since but I’ve heard from other people that business is brisk once again.

      @Joy: I feel ya. I’m no pro either. Most times I don’t know what I’m doing with my camera. It’s not even DSLR, but I still can’t work all its features! But unlike you, I’m not actively learning the process. My bad. I just want to take snapshots. Don’t want to overthink them cuz I want to experience the place more and spend less time adjusting camera settings and angling for “good” shots.

  7. I’m from subic!! Actually I’m from olongapo but it is just separated by a “gate” so for us residents here we call sbma as “loob”, I’m working in sbma. I love subic, when we were kids we are not allowed to go inside, the Americans are so strict. We can only go inside during family days. I miss the old SBMA , Olongapo is also recovering just now… And even the Magsaysay road after being abandoned by Americans was left like a ghost town.. And now we have SM (finally)! And Ayala soon… It’s taking us forever to recover.. But we will get there.. 😉

    1. @Gemma: I wonder which part you found funny. This is a deeply philosophical post. 😀

      @Chrisair: Hanging coffin?! In SCTEx? I thought that’s only in Sagada. Nope, never saw it nor heard of it.

  8. Awww.. wala ngang tao, ano? EH malay mo nga naman, baka slow Sunday lang talaga nun. :p

    I’ve never been to Subic. Gustong-gusto kong makapunta dyan, lagi na lang napapasok sa plano pero hindi natutuloy. Sana nga next year, makapunta nako ng Subic.

    Btw.. ang ganda ng mga pictures! Nagustuhan ko yung river.. it looks like a painting, really… At saka yung sa bike. Nice.. parang ang drama.. Ramdam ko ang lungkot.. 😀

    1. Leah and Mark: It’s about time to visit Subic. It’s just a couple of hours from Manila. I doubt though that you’d find it empty like I did. It’s a bustling place now I think.

  9. We planned about visiting Subic like 100 times already (insert exaggeration here) but we failed. Until I went out of the country 5 years ago and didn’t have the chance to go there. Wish I could “finally” see the place when I go home. Nice pictures and thanks for sharing.

    1. Julie Ann and Tauyanm: Wow, never imagined there are many Pinoys who haven’t been to Subic. I thought it’s like Tagaytay: near and accessible enough from Manila. Thanks for the photo love. 🙂

  10. What i loved about Subic is its zoning. I used to visit the SMBA (i don’t know if it still has the same name now) before and I love the feel of being in a place where traffic system is different from the usual. The beautiful marina, the shopping malls ( kaya lang dollar naman),and I love the fact that it has become a commercial center without exploiting nature (is Jest CAMP still alive?)

    By the way, your photos are simply professional and I love them all.

    1. @Jenny: Yes, it’s the iconic Subic. It was just surprising to see it empty. That wasn’t very iconic, haha!

      @Earlie: I vaguely remember how different the traffic system was. I just can’t recall now what it was exactly. We even got a ticket for some violation. Anyway, we were there on a whim so we had no money to go shopping. And I didn’t know about Jest CAMP, sorry…this post is useless. 😀

    1. @Legazpi Fab Moda: Planking hadn’t been invented then yet, otherwise nag-planking na lang sana ako. Let’s call it the empty highway syndrome. 😀

      @DocWends: I always feel shy and inadequate when you say that. YOU take amazing photos with the proper equipment. My point-and-shoot snapshots can’t hold a candle to your crisp and beautifully composed photos. But thanks anyway. 🙂

    1. @Rudolph Ian: Go lang ng go! This post doesn’t really give you any idea what to do there, but believe me there are a lot! Check other sites na lang. 🙂

      @Veronice: K fine. 😀

  11. I’m curious to try the route you took. my friend is inviting me to go there sometime soon, and looking at the pictures that you took, it seems like it’s going to be an interesting ride indeed. 😀

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