IT WAS a trip we had been planning a few weeks back. But it was only when we got time to escape from routine work that we donned our hiking shoes and rode on a jam-packed car that ferried us all the way to Bataan.

Our destination is the quiet town of Morong. The trip was scheduled at 4 a.m. but with morning rituals in the way and with me getting late for an hour and a half, we managed to leave Guagua around 8:00 in the morning. Barely awake, I was running like a pig just to reach the rendezvous point where I was greeted by bale looks from Joanne Pangilinan and Justice of Clark Investors and Locators Association (Cila) and Irene Guinto.

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Muttering my usual excuses for being late, we started our travel that is without the shortage of jokes. Joanne, Justice, Irene and I go a long way back and share a friendship that started in our stint as teachers for a computer school in Dau.

Traversing the old highway from Lubao, we stopped by a quick breakfast at a fast-food chain in Balanga City. We carbo-loaded ourselves for a brief hike to Mount Samat and the Dambana ng Kagitingan that rests on top of the historic mountain. A trip to Bataan province is not complete without leisurely hike to Mount Samat. Though there is a well paved road that leads to the mountain top, one can explore the many hidden trails inside the lush forest of the mountain. But for those going in a hurry visit, provided that your car can bear the uphill climb, a quick drive to the mountain would save you the long hours of the hike.

After the hike and exhilarating view on top of the monumental concrete cross erected on top of the mountain, we were on our way to Morong. From Balanga, Morong is almost a two and a half drive along crisscrossing but well paved roads.

Morong is at the farthest end of the Bataan Penisula. The town is rustic and sleepy with major industries concentrating on local crafts and tourism. We stopped by the Community Based Pawikan Conservation Project. The facility is a few minutes away from Morong Proper and houses some of the rarest and endangered turtle varieties in Asia.

The Pawikan Center, which operates on grants and donations from non-government organizations and tourists, was establish to provide a safe breeding ground for turtles and to discourage locals from pouching turtle eggs.

The Pawikan Center hosts around ten rare turtle species and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a rare glimpse of turtle eggs buried under seashore sand. One can have pictures taken with the turtles and even play with them for as long as you want. Entrance is pegged at P10 pesos which go to the foundation’s revolving funds.

After the turtle experience, we trooped to the town market for fresh fish. Bataan is famous for its salt water catch by local fishermen. To get the best catch of the day, one must go to the market early in the morning or late in the afternoon. After taking enough provisions, we checked-in at White Coral Beach Resort.

The resort bears the same rustic ambiance of the town. Cabanas of different sizes dotted the perimeter of the shoreline while a large husk function hall looms in the middle of the resort. It was a fusion of Spanish and Mediterranean architecture that gave us the cozy feeling of being at home. The price for the accommodation was a bit horrendous but the service and amenities were worth every penny.

After taking a swim at the beach, one can actually take a swim at the resort pool or tour the inland barangays of Morong for the local dried mango delicacies. Morong is also famous for pastries and other sweet tooth delights.

But if you are a cosmopolitan tourist and crave for the amenities of urban living, Morong is not the place for you. Morong, however, provides the soothing comfort for soul searchers and people escaping from the stress and rigors of urban life. Morong, with its eclectic shoreline and mysterious inland barangays is worth the visit and the long travel.