Have you ever eaten vegetables, eggs, and rice from a bamboo? It is soooo good that it is now part of my toddler’s favorite memories.
Before I became a mom, I was only familiar with the JEST Camp in Subic. We tried it once and had a really fun time trekking while learning about the wonders of the forest from its locals, the Aeta community. We were taught how to make our own utensils and cup from bamboo, and were shown the different kinds of plants that can be used for eating as well as the ones that needed to be avoided. Had we stayed overnight, we would have learned traditional hunting and cooking, too.
Fast forward to motherhood and I learned from fellow parents in a nature group that there is an easier area very much like the JEST camp in Subic – the Pamulaklakin Aeta Forest Trail. Here, you don’t have to trek to enjoy the place — really, it’s one of my most favorite places to go to with children and balikbayans.
HOW TO GET THERE: Just type PAMULAKLAKIN TRAIL on Waze and you will be led to it. This is around 2.5 hours away from Manila, so you can definitely consider a daytrip. Although, it could be tiring especially for the driver. You can also look for accommodation in Subic, Olangapo or Morong, Bataan.
Once you get to the area and park your car (there are parking lots), there are two ways to go down the trail, but first you need to pay.
General Entrance Fee / Sightseeing – PHP 100/person (this already includes a guide)
Mini-Jungle Tour – PHP 100/person (trekking with a native guide for around 30 mins – here, you will learn jungle skills)
Ecology Tour – PHP 250/person (2-3 hours trekking in the area)
We always just get the sightseeing one, and though they charge children (I forgot from what age), toddlers are still free of charge.
Like I mentioned, there are two ways to go down. If you go down the left side (facing the trail, nearer the restroom area), you will be lead to a stream with concrete cottages for rent. We don’t normally pick this because the water here tends to be higher. You can definitely check both out to see which one appeals more to you.
For us, we prefer what they call the LIGAYA area. You will go down concrete steps to reach this area and pass by a steel bridge. During our first time, we just stayed at the stream right before this second bridge (the wooden one in the photo), but eversince we crossed this bridge, that side after has been our staple spot when we visit here. Really, it depends on what you want to do or how many the people are when you go – I suggest just check it out to see which area will fit your needs. This is relatively near the entrance. Maybe 5-10 minutes walk.
There are a lot of things to do here – especially when you have kids. The best part is, you don’t have to think about nor direct the activities. What we do is we arrive with uncooked rice and vegetables (also chicken for our non-vegetarian companions) and once we settle in our spot, we let our guides do the whole traditional cooking for us. While the PHP 100/person fee technically comes with a guide, expect to only have 2-3 guides per group.
Here, our Aeta guides start preparing. First, they go in the forest to get some bamboo. Then they cut the bamboo and chop the ingredients while they also ready the fire. It’s fascinating to watch them do everything.
Meanwhile, children, most especially, will not run out of things to do — it’s the perfect place for some swimming, wading, watching animals, climbing, practicing balance, etc. If you have a non-walking child (yet), you can bring a mat so s/he can crawl or lie on his/her tummy.
Nature is really abundant in this area. Expect to see lots of dragonflies and tadpoles. You might also chance upon butterflies and shells and crabs and birds! Of course, this is the wild – you can’t expect the same thing each visit – and that’s what makes it exciting!
It’s also a great opportunity to meet other children – and learn about other cultures. Here, my son spotted this little girl and decided to go to her. They are watching the little crabs the older children caught. Normally, we don’t like showing our child that animals are caught – we believe what belongs to the wild must be allowed to stay wild, but we let this pass and figured the idea of relating with other children (especially because we don’t see this community everyday and we believe it opens his eyes to our diverse culture) is also important.
1) Go early so you can get a good spot. This is most important if you’re visiting on a weekend. Needless to say, it’s best to go there on weekdays.
2) We often look for Manang Agring, though really, anyone there would happily assist you. They gave me a cellphone number but when I tried calling them to reserve in advanced, I couldn’t connect. There was no reply also in the text. It’s usually only the younger ones who own a cellphone, and honestly, not so reliable. So best to just go there. If you are staying overnight in the area, you can also go there to personally reserve for the next day.
3) If you’re a big group, it’s better to bring the vegetables/meat chopped already because this can take a while for big groups, which lengthens the whole cooking process.
4) If you’re a small group and you want to chop the vegetables/meat there, you can always involve your children. My child definitely had fun cutting string beans with his hand, placing eggs in the bamboo, etc.
5) Their specialty for cooking is Sinigang Aeta Style. They use a special leaf that gives that sour taste instead of tamarind. They also just look for it in the wild.
6) Best food to bring: rice, vegetables (best are the ones found in Sinigang dish), salt. We also bring the following as extras: eggs, salted eggs and tomatoes (which we prepare raw). I normally bring my own spices and condiments, too. Vegan bagoong makes everything taste even better! You can learn more about Sinigang HERE.
7) Bring wipes! Lots of wipes because you will eat with your hands.
8) Expect cooking time to take a while – an hour or two. So bring snacks, or come with a full stomach.
9) They normally provide tables and chairs, but when there are many people, not everyone gets accommodated. If you have space in your car, you can bring your own picnic mats or tables and chairs, too – just to be sure.
10) Bring your own WATER. They don’t provide water for drinking.
11) Bring swimming gear, a change of clothes, and wear comfortable shoes (I personally like aqua shoes).
12) If you’d like to go here with other children, there’s a Free Forest School that often meet here every Saturday morning. You can join the Facebook group HERE.
13) Please, please – do not leave any trash. Bring everything with you and dispose properly. Thank you!
Lastly, there really are a lot of things to do – but time can also be very slow if you wish it to be – there isn’t much signal (depends on the spot), so this is the perfect place to unplug. Bring a book, a mat, an insect repellent (and sunscreen), and find your spot! Have fun and maybe we will see you there next time!