Discover the joy of car camping

Published March 12, 2021, 6:34 PM

by Pinky Colmenares

  • It’s easy and cheap to do too. A couple, a family, a group of friends put food and things for the day, or for the weekend in a vehicle then drive off to the boondocks or the beach.
  • Alexander Gonzales, 49, started a Facebook page named Car Camping PH in December 2020 and by February 2021 gathered 7,500 members who are all into that kind of outdoor activity.
  • Members share camping experiences, campsite locations, fees, amenities, and road conditions going there.
  • Gonzales said the page was inspired by the growing followers of outdoor activities, and has also encouraged many people who had stayed home because of the pandemic and the lockdowns to go out for a long drive and enjoy the open air.
  • There are so many campsites around the country, particularly in Luzon, and the most visited campsites are in the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Batangas and Laguna.
  • Campsites charge fees for each person, vehicle, tent, and even for a pet.

The good old days of simple joy is back! It comes with a name –car camping.

Setting camp at Treasure Mountain Sea of Clouds Tanay Rizal.

It’s nothing new to many people who had grown up in the province or had been a boy or girl scout in school where the standard activity is camping.

It’s easy and cheap to do too. A couple, a family, a group of friends put food and things for the day or for the weekend in a vehicle then drive off to the boondocks or the beach.

There they set up camp on a flat spot facing a remarkable view of nature, unload chairs, tables, food, cookware, and start a fire. They cook what they brought, open cold beer, sit on folding chairs, and breathe in the fresh air. They also have a conversation.

On the way to Lake Tabeo, Benguet province.

That is the simple joy that has pulled families away from their comfortable homes to drive out of the city and sleep inside tents — without Netflix, air-conditioning or thick mattresses.

One of them is Alexander Gonzales, 49, who started a Facebook page named Car Camping PH in December 2020 and by February 2021 gathered 7,500 members who were into that kind of outdoor activity. (I am a member.)

It’s a good page to get information and entertainment. Members share camping experiences, campsite locations, fees, amenities, and road conditions going there. There are also exchanges on the quality of camping gear and where to buy them.

Gonzales, who is an avid fan of car camping or “overlanding,” as it is known in other circles, has visited at least 30 campsites. He and his family started camping years ago, finding pleasure in the long drive (sometimes over off-road terrain), and the simple joy of enjoying nature, and his 4×4 vehicle.

He said the page was inspired by the growing followers of outdoor activities. It had also encouraged many people who had stayed home because of the pandemic and the lockdowns to go out for a long drive to enjoy the open air.

One of the attractions of car camping is that it is affordable. You bring what you eat, sit on, or sleep under.

In that page, you will also see the many types of kitchen setups – from the DIY variety to the pricey outdoor store’s neatly packaged kitchens.

Setting up camp at Treasure Mountain/ Sea of Clouds in Tanay Rizal, with the trailer built by Gonzales beside his reliable FJ Cruiser named ‘Pumpkin.’

For sleeping quarters, campers display colorful and high-tech types of tents – from the easy pop-ups, traditional dome, to the roof rack tent. Or it can be as simple as an awning that rolls out of a vehicle roof.

Cooking at the campsite at Eagle summit trail in Tanay Rizal.

Here’s what you can learn from the Car Camping PH page which is the first page I open in the morning:

CAMPSITES. There are so many campsites opening around the country, particularly in Luzon. There should be one about two hours from your home. The most visited campsites are in the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Batangas and Laguna. There are the most basic back-to-nature campsites offering camp grounds in a forest, where there’s only a defined ground for your car and tents, plus a bonfire pit, toilets, and no electricity. One of those is Camp Mahiwaga in Morong which my son and I visited for a day camp and we enjoyed the back-to-nature experience.

CAMP MAHIWAGA manager and part-owner Ann San Jose Roxas (right) with sister-in-law Melanie San Jose (left) pose at the entrance of the 4,000-square meter forest campsite in barangay Lagundi, Morong, Rizal which opened only in Febraury 2021, with 11 camp sections surrounded by fruit trees and a serene atmosphere. They offer basic amenities — clean toilets and water supply but no electricity and Wi-Fi.
A DAY CAMPER enjoys the cool forest air under an awning. Day camping is only until 4 p.m.

CHEAPER LEISURE. Campsites charge fees for each person, vehicle, tent set up, even for a pet. The fees are charged per day. The fees are from P300-500 per person, P500-2,000 per vehicle; P100-300 per tent pitched; P150 per pet. Fees are higher if there are more amenities in the site.

Mitzi Gonzales waking up to the majestic sight of a sea of clouds in Treasure Mountain, Tanay. Rizal

AMENITIES. The usual amenities are outdoor grill, bonfire pit, shared toilets. The more developed sites offer hot and cold water in the shower, and even private rooms for those who would like to be sleep in urban comfort and camp only during the day.

NATURE. There are campsites located along a lake (in Laguna), beside a beach (Batangas), or deep in the mountains (Rizal province), or near a river.

A convoy of off-road vechiles on their way up Mt. Pimayong in San Marcelino, Zambales.

CAMP RULES. Each campsite has rules like no loud music, or a cut-off time when charges for a day camp turn into overnight camping.

ROAD CONDITIONS. Most campsites are located deep in the forest where roads are narrow or need 4×4 vehicles to bring one to a better camping site. Always ask the management about the road conditions, especially when it’s the rainy season.

CONVENIENCE STORE. Not all campsites have a convenience store or a kitchen where you can buy or borrow some cooking oil, salt or an item you forgot to bring along.

Here are a few of the favorite campsites of Gonzales who has been into car camping with his wife, Mitzi, and two children – Alexy, 21, and Allyssa, 19, –for years, starting with overlanding with the 4×4 experts. He describes them:

A family of campers — Alexander and Mitzi Gonzales, with children — Alyssa and Alexy — at the Eagle Trail.

1. Treasure Mountain (Tanay Rizal): Very accessible, about 90 minutes from Manila, with a very nice view, even a sea of clouds, and lots of camping grounds.

2. Laiban Falls (barangay Laiban Tanay Rizal): You will need a 4×4 if you want to reach the end of the river where you can see the last falls. Camp near the small wall falls and hike for about 30 minutes to reach the big falls. A guide is required.

3. Epic Parc (Sampaloc Rizal): The place is accessible to any type of vehicle. The camping ground is where you can enjoy the sound of birds chirping and the shade of lots of hundred-year-old trees. There is also an off-road trail site passing a small lake. You can also camp there and go fishing.

Alexander and Mitz Gonzales pose beside their camp on a very cold morning in Lake Tabeo, Benguet province.

4. Lake Tabeo (Kabayan Bengue): One of the best campsites, accessible to all types of vehicles, paved roads and a short rough narrow road to get there. It’s freezing cold, we experienced a 3°C temp around 2 a.m. Friendly people, very cheap fresh vegetables.

At the waterfalls near a campsite in Tanay, Rizal.

5. Lake Mapanuepe (San Marcelino, Zambales): The best campsite here can only be reached by 4×4 vehicles since you will be passing through lahar trails and do river crossings. It’s not a natural lake. The local story says a whole barangay was abandoned and later submerged because of constant flooding. There are small canals with rushing clear water from the lake where you can sit and feel the water massaging your body. There are nice trails for bikers and trails for hikers. Rent a boat and explore the lake, get near the submerged church with only the top portion of the cross exposed.

Gonzales is obviously a seasoned camper and his vehicle and outdoor gear says it all. His vehicle is a Toyota FJ Cruiser. Storage at the back includes its own air compressor, a portable toilet, a folding shower tent, dual burner stove, griller, small table, camping chairs, and a four-person tent.

Sometimes, he sets up a roof top tent on his FJ Cruiser.

“For long overlanding travels, I built my own trailer, with a power of 12v battery(solar charger), and lighting, its own kitchen, built-in stove, sink with faucet, LPG tank, side awning tent, foldable tent enclosure for a toilet, battery operated water shower. And the roof top tent. It’s all you need to enjoy and survive in a campsite, and it is carried in its own compartment,” Gonzales explained.

If you’re a first-time camper, don’t worry that you don’t have such outdoor gear. You will get there –if you fall in love with the outdoors! Like Alexander did.

***

(Pinky Concha Colmenares, now Manila Bulletin’s executive editor, was the first editor of Manila Bulletin’s “Cruising” magazine on adventure and motor travel, which was founded in 1999. It is now edited by Johannes Chua, under a new title – Going Places! She was also the motoring editor of Manila Bulletin for 20 years.)

 
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