When was the last time I have been here? This was the question I had in mind during my visit in Puerto Galera for Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival 2014.
The truth is, I have been here thrice already in the past prior to this trip. With the last one just recently, when I dive in Sabang in March 2013. Three previous visits but why did it seem to me that I was new to the place? Well I guess I haven’t really seen Puerto Galera apart from the White Beach and the dive spots. Admittedly, there’s more in this town than the sites I frequent, there’s more that I am yet to see and experience.
An invitation from the Tourism Promotion Board paved the way for me to rediscover the town. An opportunity to be reacquainted with the place I thought I already know by heart. So along with other members of the media, I went back to Puerto Galera, full of excitement for a trip that would make me fall in love with the place for the fourth time.
Aside from Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival, part of our itinerary was the tour of other attractions in northern Oriental Mindoro including of course those in Puerto Galera. No diving this time, but the chance to see what’s beyond the White Beach and the dive sites was more than enough reason for me to level up my excitement.
Dubbed as one of “The Most Beautiful Bays in the World”, Puerto Galera is the north-westernmost municipality of Oriental Mindoro. Its coast is facing Verde Island Passage which is declared as the “Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity”, making the water around it as among the best dive sites in the world. The coastal town also harbors beautiful white sand beaches, islands and coves including the famed White Beach. With its proximity to the Philippine capital, Puerto Galera is a favorite destination for tourists – local and foreign alike. This because the town guarantees a well spent immersion with the sun, sea and sand of this tropical getaway!
Our tour of Puerto Galera was slated on the day after we arrived. We all woke up early, anxious for what’s in store for us for the day. The local tourism office arranged our itinerary, they know their territory best so I was kinda expecting to see and experience the best of Puerto Galera.
Right after breakfast, we boarded the van that brought us to Muelle Bay where two huge trigger boats were waiting for us. Our first stop – the Coral Garden.
Coral Garden is the shallow area in Muelle Bay, in between San Antonio and Boquete Islands. The area is covered with colorful corals and home to variety of marine species. It is regarded as the premier snorkeling site of Puerto Galera and undoubtedly one of the best in the country.
From the boat, it wasn’t hard to notice the coral area, the gradients of the water marks the changing landscape underneath. Our boat stopped few meters away the Coral Garden, smaller boats that could only fit two people aside from the boatman came and fetched us. The smaller boats would bring us around the Coral Garden, some preferred the narrow seats inside while others, including I, chose to get wet by holding only to the outriggers. Slowly, the boats maneuvered toward the coral area and hovered around the area, the boatmen advised us holding to the outriggers to watch the scenery below as it changes from deep blankness to explosion of colors. It was indeed extraordinary.
Then the boats stopped and let us snorkel on our own, there were so many marine species – groupers, butterflies, snappers, trumpets, seargents, triggerfish, moorish idols, clownfish and a lot more! Oblivious of the sun and the time, we had a great time at the Coral Garden! It was a different traffic down there, a traffic I wanted to get stuck into! I wanted to stay longer but there were other spots on our itinerary that we had to visit.
We all boarded our boats and proceeded to a small stretch of beach named Munting Buhangin in Barangay San Antonio, a merely 10 minute boat ride from Coral Garden.
Munting Buhangin is uninhabited spot although there is a trail that leads to a resthouse which locals say is a property of a known celebrity. There were locals in the area when we arrived, they were selling snacks and other refreshments such as halo-halo which is quite good at P25 per serving. There were also local fishermen selling sea urchins at P15 each.
Tourists drop by this site not to swim (there’s a lot of sea urchins in the area) but for the small cave perched in the rocks on one end of the beach. A small opening leads to a small cave submerged in sea water with a hole on top which serves as an exit point. This exit point leads to a rocky cliff with amazing view of the surrounding. The rocks are quite sharp but the scenery from there makes the spot a worthy one.
After spending an hour in Munting Buhangin, we proceeded to the nearby island named Boquete for our lunch.
Boquete Island is one of the islands that dot Muelle Bay. A small yet charming island surrounded by white sand and blue water with coral area that is good for snorkeling. Our boat docked in Friday’s Resort for our lunch hosted by the local tourism office of Puerto Galera. On the backdrop of the blue water of Muelle Bay and the white beach of Boquete, we feasted on fresh seafoods, grilled pork, and fruits.
After lunch, I sat and rested on a shaded area on the beachfront. It felt like summer with the midday sun of Puerto Galera at its peak, I wanted to hit the water but I ended up enjoying my free time, the scenery and the refreshing sea breeze of Muelle Bay until it was time to go.
Before going back to mainland, we had a quick stop on the other side of Boquete Island, at Elizabeth’s Hideaway or locally known as the sandbar for it connects the mainland to Boquete. The sandbar sits in between two waterways, providing two beaches with amazing views of sunrise and sunset. It is also a popular spot for wind surfing and kite boarding. Unfortunately though, our schedule was quite hectic that we didn’t have time to try these activities.
Back in the mainland, we had one more stop before ending our tour – the Mangyan Village.
Situated at the bank of Tabinay River in Barangay Talipanan, Mangyan Village is a lowland settlement of the Mangyan tribe of Mindoro. It is a small community funded by the Ayala Group to provide housing, livelihood and education to the indigenous Mangyans who seeked refuge in the lowland after the military operations against the communist rebels in the mountains of Mindoro in late 1980s. Today, Mangyan Village is home to at least 70 families and still growing with the ongoing construction of more houses for other indigenous families.
It is amazing to see how the Mangyans adapted to the life in the lowland. There is a public elementary school in the village, a basketball court and a pavilion constructed using native materials. The pavilion serves as the showroom and work area for more than 40 Mangyan weavers. They weave baskets, plates, bottle holders, storage boxes, jars, placemats, and other products out of native vine locally called “nito”. They sell these woven products and export some, providing stable source of income for the village. Looking around, I felt happy seeing their conditions in the village – children freely laughing and playing, boys playing basketball on their free time and women busy working in the showroom. I hope every tourist in Puerto Galera gets a chance to visit and support our Mangyan brothers and sisters, their village is worth a visit!
We went back to our hotel after the short visit to Mangyan Village. It was time to prepare for Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival which would open that night. We were tired with the day’s activities but still enthusiastic to watch the festival.
It was a busy day in Puerto Galera, a day full of appreciation and discoveries. Honestly, I was amazed by the sites we visited. The town has so much more than what I expected! For someone who claims to frequent the town, I felt ashamed that I haven’t been to these sites before. With that, I am really grateful for the opportunity to get to know Puerto Galera beyond the White Beach and the dive sites.
I guess it’s time for you to visit or revisit the place too and go beyond the spots you know or the sites you usually go. You will be surprised of your discoveries and you will definitely find more reasons to fall in love with Puerto Galera!