The word sanctuary sustained in me that kind of thrill you’ll find in an eight-year old with a shiny new toy. A fortnight ago, I had imagined liberating little hatchlings, their soft and still immature feet flapping against grey sand and tides as they come home to the sea.
What I have actually failed to do was to research on whether my expectations were at par with what was actually in store at the Pawikan Conservation Center.
After a quick fifteen-minute drive from Morong, we arrived at the town of Nagbalayong and were welcomed with a basic, sort of hole in the wall resort at the far end of the quiet road. Throngs of people stood by the entrance, which made me even more excited about what awaits upfront.
|Albino sea turtle|
Immediately after entry, one would find out that the sanctuary is only a 10-feet long, turtle-shaped, shallow pool of greenish water. A picket fence attached to slabs of wood hung over the pool, perhaps to prevent overexcited visitors from lifting the turtles. Visitors may touch their shells- which made the space a bit cramped and made it difficult to take decent up-close shots.
|Hunchback Sea Turtles|
There were three sea turtles when we arrived, two of them young Hunchback Sea Turtles, the other an albino. Manong Dave, the local who did the lecture, was beyond informative and kind. Still I couldn’t help but think “That’s it?“. After all, when we speak pawikan, we are expecting ginormous life-sized turtles. The albino, a six-year old male, was the biggest of the three at arm’s length. But he was such an angel. He loved the attention and was much friendlier than the other two.
There is, however, a huge Pawikan life-cycle thingamajig and a small information center/ souvenir shop offering low-grade cotton shirts and pamphlets – both right beside the turtles.
The conservation center doubles as a beach resort, and there is a small two-storey building with basic rooms by the beachfront. One guest had a Golden Retriever and another on the second floor had a Choco Lab, which probably means the resort is pet-friendly (Hurray for traveling pet-lovers!).
This part of town is contiguous with the resorts in Morong, but it is quieter, less populated and more relaxed. The only other resort in the area is Juness Beach Resort (versus 5 or so resorts in the Morong area where we were billeted), so you could imagine how silent and peaceful it is in the afternoon – not to mention the tail-end of the peninsula sits nearby, which makes for a stunning backdrop.
Also in near proximity is White Beach, a destination that’s bundled together with snorkeling in the “coral area” for island hopping tours, so I imagine the price for the tour would be less expensive and more haggle-able compared to when you’re taking it from Morong.
From a tourist point of view, there’s not much to do/ expect at the sanctuary and that can be a bit of a letdown. The sea slopes steeply and abruptly (compared to Morong’s gradual slope), which should be a consideration if you’re bringing kids along. But I would still encourage you to go for the experience. After all, pawikans are a bit hard to come by. Unless you’re a diver or you’re snorkeling elsewhere in farther provinces in the country, Nagbalayong’s Pawikan Sanctuary is probably the closest you could get to a marine turtle.
BUT, from an environmentally-aware traveler point of view, I am glad. Glad that there are people like Manong Dave, who used to be egg poachers but who are now working together to save these endangered species. And again, I would encourage you to go because the P20 viewing fee will go a long way in conserving what’s left of these precious marine creatures. Perhaps it could even help the people at the Center build a more suitable, closer-to-real habitat for them in the future.
Tip: If you are going here with a car, make sure to park away from the entrance. The soil there is made of loose sand, and we got stuck bad trying to get out.