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Bolinao, Beyond the beaches
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Anjo Perez
Date: 2008-01-09
here are more than a hundred reasons to visit Pangasinan, and its famed islands off the coast of Alaminos, but for tourists looking for an off-the-beaten path adventure, a serene beach town should make the list for a unique travel experience.

Bolinao is at the western tip of Luzon – on the map, it vaguely registers as one of 47 towns and two cities of the province, unlike more popular options as historic Lingayen and vibrant Dagupan, which are usually identified in big, bold letters.

On its own though, Bolinao offers plenty of travel options, some exciting, others rather enlightening for the tourist seeking such pursuits.

Detours are expected to various points around town. On call to assist guests is Ronnie Torres, executive director of the Western Pangasinan Visitor’s Bureau, who will gladly show visitors around town.

Unfamiliar history

First stop is the 16th century-old St. James Parish Church which sits right across the municipal hall. Ronnie said that the well-preserved structure is made of coral stones and even retains ancient wooden santos on both sides of the facade.

Built in 1609 by the Augustine Recollects, there is a rare Mexican influence at the altar, which holds two Aztec-like statues – their tongues protruding and all. It is said to have been brought to Bolinao by early traders.

Bolinao’s unfamiliar history even includes bold claims as the site of the first Christian mass – this is declared on a marker inside the church courtyard. Ronnie said that a certain Franciscan missionary named Father Odorico was supposed to hold mass in China but was marooned instead to Pangasinan. On the spot where he held mass, the church was later on built.

Next stop is the Bolinao Museum, the only national museum branch in Pangasinan. Museum director Gina de Vera tours guests to the small facility which houses 15th and 16th century archaeological artifacts, ranging from earthenware to farm implements and even fossilized fragments of a black marlin fish dated some two to 10 million years.

Opened in 1976, the museum also exhibits other remarkable findings like ceramics from the Tang, Song and Ming eras as well as skeletal remains and jewelry from the 7th to 15th century. There is also an exhibit of an old machine used to manufacture Maguey ropes.

Ecotourism site

Ronnie mentioned that they are promoting Bolinao as the "ecological and educational tourism destination of Western Pangasinan." Aside from the Bolinao Museum the town offers educational tours to the only marine laboratory in North Luzon, the Bolinao Marine Laboratory-Marine Science Institute. The facility offers a look-see and audiovisual presentation of giant clams propagation and other invertebrate marine life program.

The town is also home to Balingasay River, which Ronnie said has been adjudged as the cleanest river in the region for three consecutive years. The river which exudes a mystical air has century-old mangroves and a well biodiverse ecosystem which includes migratory birds, reptiles and marine species. The 7-kilometer river is especially notable because its body flows to the Lingayen Gulf, which in turn courses through the China Sea.

Brgy. Patar meanwhile is popular among beach lovers. Located 12 kms. from town, it is dubbed as the "beach district" and "ecotourism belt" for the wide spectrum of beach resorts and the popular Cape Bolinao lighthouse found in the area.

The drive to this part of town will offer a glimpse of the long stretch of golden sand (finer than Pagudpud, Ronnie noted) on one side and forests of coconut palms on the other. Signboards proclaiming beach resort facilities are posted on both sides of the road, which is quite surprising to discover on this part of town for the first time guest.

"Every summer season and semestral break, this area is littered with tourists from all over," Ronnie said. The beach itself offers an abundant collection of corals, forming a natural barrier situated far from the shores. Europeans are said to frequent the area, to go diving and exploring the vibrant marine life," Ronnie said.

There are more than 20 resorts in Bolinao, also offering a rich variety for a diverse market. Homestay facilities are affordable at P800 a night; cottages at P2,000; and P3,000 for airconditioned villas.

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