DINGALAN, AURORA: WINDSWEPT BEAUTY BETWEEN MOUNTAIN AND SEA

It is generally believed that the word Dingalan is a Dumagat term which means “by the river of Galan.” Not surprisingly, the southernmost municipality of the province of Aurora is washed year-round by eight pristine rivulets—Imulat, Amutan, Cabulao, Subsub, Sapinit, Malakawayan, Cabutag and Catmon—that spring from the watersheds hidden deep in the thickly-forested hinterlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

This massive mountain range that forms the “backbone” running along the eastern seaboard of Luzon has shaped a sanctuary unique in the commingling of forest, sea and mountain. Cut off from its nearest neighbors by the forbidding mountains and thick forest, Dingalan is a rugged country caught between deep sea and jungle.

The odd convergence of these geographic features on such a narrow strip of land gives Dingalan a wild, windswept splendor. This is a town where big, prehistoric rocks litter the verdant landscape like mute sentinels; where the mountain drops dramatically into deep sea; and where the waves roll high to crash onto the shore with such sheer force. Clearly, Dingalan is a scenic destination not for the faint-hearted but for those possessing a robust propensity for adventure and a sincere love for Nature.

As one leaves Nueva Ecija and approaches the dramatically sloping entrance to Dingalan, the terrain gives way to Barangay Tanawan’s upland hills of lush cogon grass and thickets of trees. The peak, called the Dingalan Bay View Site, offers a dramatic view of the turquoise Dingalan Bay as it opens to the wide, endless breadth of the Pacific Ocean. Strewn all over the landscape are the famous rocks of Dingalan. Looking like giant chocolate truffles, the prehistoric igneous rocks have littered the landscape since time immemorial. The absence of volcanoes in the area makes their presence the more puzzling, and Biblical exhortations painted on their surface lend them a supernatural air.

Hugging Dingalan to the east is the Dingalan Bay that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The Bay is a rich fishing ground which provides local fishermen with a reliable source of livelihood. Most afternoons, fishermen returning from the open ocean after a day of line fishing, sell their catch of blue marlin, yellow fin tuna, round scads, dolphin fish and Spanish mackerel in a small fish market right on the shore. Some days, it is reported that they are able to catch gigantic squid as long as 12 feet, barracuda and an occasional shark that refused to let go of the line.

From Dingalan proper, one can take a short boat ride to swim in the relatively calm waters of the White Beach in Paltic, the most popular swimming spot in Dingalan Bay. The southern beach is made of tiny shell bits and corals that gradually descend into a coral reef. The reef is home to a variety of marine flora and fauna such as brain corals, sea urchins and hermit crabs. The northern part is a sandy brown-white crescent excellent for an idyllic swim.

Thirty five minutes further north on the way to Barangay Dikapanikian, the rolling waters of the Pacific take adventurous tourists into Dingalan’s rugged coastline of steep cliffs dropping into the ocean and hidden coves covered with virgin forests. Facing the ocean along the cliffs are a dozen or so caves carved by the powerful crash of waves. Natural waterfalls are said to gush out inside one of the caves. The sea off Paltic and Dikapanikian are also part of the migratory path of whale sharks (butanding) and giant turtles.

Dingalan is as much a tropical rainforest preserve as it is a rich marine sanctuary. The Sierra Madre is home to dense vegetation and thick jungles of Philippine hardwood such as kamagong, mahogany, narra, yantok and kapok. Small rivers, some underground, feed the jungle and allow it to flourish even during the hot summer months.

It is in small nurseries, between the edges of forests, where independent growers tend to sampalok, guava and kasuy trees, and pepper shrubs. “The pristine surroundings of Dingalan, the almost inaccessible wild forests, and the generous water supply make for ideal conditions to practice organic farming,” says Mr. Ramon Reyes of Mama Sita’s. “Here, we let nature takes it course so that the trees and their fruits grow without the use of chemical pesticides.”

This is why Mama Sita’s Sinigang sa Sampalok Mix, Sinigang Sa Bayabas Mix and Kasuy Vinegar burst with the goodness and flavor of real fruits. The fruity zest of the sinigang mixes and the unique tang of the vinegar reflect Nature’s own unadulterated pleasures: crystal clear waters from cool mountain springs, rich soil, cool upland breezes and warm sunshine. The flavors of nature contained in convenient packets provide the goodness of organically grown fruits to traditional Sinigang na Isda—whether it’s tuna, or blue marlin, boiled to perfection in a simmering pot of Mama Sita’s Sinigang sa Sampalok or Sinigang sa Bayabas Mix.