About 2–3 hours away, north of Manila, is the province of Bataan. A place commonly known for the historic Death March, where Filipino and American soldiers stood their ground in World War II and was eventually led by the Japanese to a torturous 130km march to Capas, Tarlac. The Memorial Cross at the Shrine of Valor is a towering reminder of the war and to honor these soldiers. Osprey Packs Philippines, recently led an adventurous bunch of explorers from traditional media and travel bloggers to discover Bataan, the historic attractions and beyond. Each of us were equipped with our very own Osprey Packs for the tour. My Osprey Momentum 32, a 32 liter technical pack ideal for active traveler sporting a pocket-full design along with its two major compartments, a rain-cover tucked underneath the bag and an AirScape back panel making it easy and comfortable wearing the bag as we go out and about in Bataan. For me who was last here in 2011, it was a surprise to see the development happening in this province in the realm of tourism.
Bataan Tourism Center
Tourism centers in the country are mostly modest offices, designed to just basically provide information to visitors. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Bataaan Tourism Center going to lengths to offer more services. With a wonderful display of World War II dioramas, an Art Exhibit section, a Souvenir and Pasalubong Shop showcasing local products along with the usual help desk, this tourism office is a destination in itself. Most of us agreed that this is one of the best tourism center we’ve seen in the country.
Balanga Wetland and Nature Park
In barangay Tortugas, Balanga, is the country’s first Wetland and Nature Park. A haven for bird watchers, Balanga Wetland and Nature Park also surprised us with its neat birdcage-like Information Center building, bird-watching viewing decks and wooden boardwalk through a mangrove to see more of our avian friends. Binoculars can be rented to zoom-in on the 35 species and 15 families of birds living in the wetlands, mudflats and mangrove forest.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
With our Osprey Packs in our backs, we explored the cobblestone streets and visited ancestral houses in this open-air museum and heritage park, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. It was back in 2011 when I last visited this place for a photography lecture I conducted and I was impressed that the area is continually expanding, adding more heritage houses and landscaping in between its canals. It was an enjoyable trip back in time.
Mt Samat National Shrine
I’m a little ashamed to admit, I have been to the mountains of Tarak-Mariveles, hiked the trail to Quinawan point and observed the reeforestation at Anvaya Cove but I haven’t been to the summit of Mt Samat. That’s one reason I was excited with the trip with Osprey Packs Philippines. Our van throttled up the ascending road of Mt Samat as we marvelled at the surrounding views as the elevation got high. It was late in the afternoon, but the group managed to climb the 302-ft Shrine of Valor. I, however ran down trying to get a good angle of the cross and the sunset 550 meters above sea level. Sunset was fast but I’m glad to be able to see what’s left of it.
Balanga Plaza Mayor
Balanga, the capital of Bataan was our home for the night. We were billeted at the elegant Plaza Hotel right smack in the middle of Plaza Mayor in Balanga. This was another surprise as this is one beautiful plaza with a wonderful fountain, surrounded by heritage government and commercial buildings and charming old church. The night is especially entertaining just watching people go by while the fountain dances through the night.
Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Sci-fi and post-apocalyptical fantasies come alive in our visit to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. A project of the Marcos regime but never utilized. While I’m not on the side of using nuclear energy, especially for a country within the ring of fire, a visit to this power plant is highly informative. The maze of tubes, the multitude buttons and seeing the fuel rods is like being in the live episode of megastructures of National Geographic. There’s a lot to learn and admire with BNPP.
Pawikan Conservation Area
Our last stop is quite meaningful in their endeavor. The Pawikan Conservation Area used to be a place for pawikan (sea turtle) poachers but now is a center for rescue and home to pawikans. These gentle sea creatures amazingly returns to their hatching ground after 25 years that’s why hatching turtles and letting them crawl at the beach to the sea is significant as they remember the scent, the environment and the conditions where they came from. Its saddening though that there’s only a small ratio of survivors from each hatch. There’s no turtle hatch when we came but a little downtime at the beach was a welcome end to our tour.
The two-day tour is an eye-opener as Bataan seemed to be an underrated tourist destination only three hours from Manila. From the sea to the summit, we were able to enjoy some of what the province offers and there’s a lot more reason to go back to. Our Osprey Packs, especially my Momentum 32, made moving around much easier from site to site. Thank you Osprey Packs Philippines and Primer Group of Companies for this trip. Follow their Facebook page at /OspreyPacksPhilippines.
For more information on Bataan and the tourist site mentioned, contact Bataan Tourism Center at:
Address: Capitol Compound, Balanga City, Bataan 2100
Contact: (047) 237 4476
email: [email protected]
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.