A paradise for sea lovers, beachcombers and mountain trekkers, Puerto Galera is home to several unexplored coves with pristine emerald and azure waters and heights with mystical tops covered with thick fog and lush foliages.
Located at the northern tip of Mindoro Island, this coastal town of sloping and curving roads could be reached directly through a two-hour boat ride from Batangas City Port or by passing Oriental Mindoro’s capital city Calapan.
About two hours drive from Calapan City, the famous Tamaraw Falls will greet travelers to Puerto Galera with its waters that flow, two-pronged, down to a basin that cut across a bridge where you will see bathers wading on its cool waters.
Standing on the bridge, you will be mesmerized by the sight of the ravine, with crowns of thick forest trees and coconut palm trees rising to capture the sun rays and the road, curved following the contour of the mountain, that leads to Puerto Galera.
Pocket sights of Puerto Galera’s several bays will be seen while traversing the road where from time to time, you will see foreigners either walking or riding a motorcycle enjoying the warm sun and the undisturbed beauty of the countryside and its tranquility.
It would be a plus to see sometime, members of the local Mangyan tribe Iraya which inhabits the town, walking barefooted along the road. While most of them sports clothes used by the mainstream, you can distinctly identify them because of their thick wavy hair, slightly thick lips and darker skin color.
It is very unfortunate that the Iraya tribe is slowly dwindling and their culture, particularly their language, to be near extinction.
A school principal who has been with the Iraya for over 20 years now related that only five among the tribe members can speak their language fluently. The children barely understand, do not understand and others have never heard of their language anymore.
“We lack funds to pay the remaining Iraya member to teach the language to the pupils,” the principal said. She said before, through the help of an international organization, children were taught the language by elder members of the tribe who were paid P5,000 monthly. It stopped two years ago.
Reaching the town proper of Puerto Galera, you will be surprised to see its sloping roads filled with people crisscrossing the narrow streets with traffic lights that were hung but not working, busy with their daily lives.
Known during ancient times as center for the galleon trade, nothing will be seen of the old trading post as described in history books where ships with their masts rolled down, docked on the seashore bringing their trades for barter.
The only reminder of the ancient time was the black rice on the pier which, tales have it that a fire ravaged the old town and what was left was the burnt rice that was washed ashore. The black rice was, however, only visible during low tide. Surprisingly, they do not disappear until these times.
Going farther from the town proper, life is livelier along the seashores frequented by both local and foreign tourists; the foreign tourists usually seen with their local partners in tow, some look very young and could pass as their own children.
Lined with resorts, bars and restaurants, the beachside is alive with the sounds of both the water washing on the shores and the loud music crisscrossing over the air.
Puerto Galera’s beaches are divided according to visitors that frequent each area, the Sabang Beach which is a favorite among foreign tourists and the White Beach which local tourists frequent.
Tourism leaders, however, deplored that Sabang Beach has allegedly become a center for prostitution due to the influx of foreign tourists.
They also narrated the dwindling numbers of tourists coming to the town due to unreliable water transport. Smalls boats do not travel when the sea is rough hampering the continuous flow of tourists.
The ro-ro ship which used to ply the Batangas City –Puerto Galera route was diverted to Calapan City following a mishap that occurred in late December in 2012 to augment the transport in the capital city.
Night beach crawlers are, meanwhile, entertained by fire dancers who fluidly move with the gas lamps they hold in their hands, some made as crowns and wings, executing their awesome routines; bending, stretching, flying and grinding to the beat of their music.
Inside a bar, a videoke singer belts it out unmindful whether he is out of key, out of tune or the words are mispronounced.
From the seashore, you will have a glimpse of the private rest houses own by renowned rich Filipinos, among them, the Ayalas and the Locsins.
Rigger boat owners said majority of the islands in Puerto Galera was owned by the family of architect Locsin who, during the early 70’s, bought them with the dream of turning Puerto Galera as a “living aquarium.”
The plan did not materialize because the local people were opposed to the idea. However, the preservation of the islands that dotted the coves of the coastal town could be attributed to the family.
“Those islands which remained unexplored are owned by the Locsins. Had they did not buy them, they would have been ravaged by now,” a local leader said.
A diver paradise as well, Puerto Galera has more than 30 dive sites that offer the best views of coral gardens and diversified marine species. Its beautiful coves teem with marine life that could only be found in Mindoro which earned its title as Man and Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO in 1973.
A spectacular view of Puerto Galera and its neighboring islands can be seen on top of its several mountain ranges , among which, from the mountain resort called Ponderosa.
Ponderosa is a mountainous private village with 25 residents, mostly expatriates , who come to Puerto Galera when it is winter in their countries. Its owner used to mine the site for marble but after ceasing operations , they turned it into an eco-friendly residential and recreation area.
It has a nine-hole golf course where teeing off is done on top of the mountain, with the next hole down the slope. It is not a place for those afraid of heights where to reach the other side of the mountain, you have to go through a 650-meter zip line.
The road to Ponderosa is a narrow winding alley of curves and turns only good for single vehicle. Reaching the area, you will be awed by the beautiful sight of Puerto Galera’s several bays, the pristine water sparkling under the bright rays of the sun.
It is freezing cold on top with the temperature 10 degrees lower than below the ground according to its owner who demurely admitted that she owns the place. The mountain tops are covered with thick fog adding mystic to the awesome place.
A trip to Puerto Galera is not complete without visiting the Iraya village which, for several years now, has as it benefactor, the Ayalas. The family of the business tycoon built a replica of the Iraya’s mountain village where the settlers now live.
Dancing Iraya children, clad in their wooden bark clothes, to the tune of an Iraya epic song which was unfortunately translated to Filipino as the children speak more Tagalog than their mother tongue, greeted us during the visit.
Iraya weavers were also present showing off their expertise how they weave baskets and trays using local grass called “nito,” a thin sturdy black grass that could not be replanted as it grows on its own on trees.
Rich in both culture and natural beauty, Puerto Galera is a must see place to visit. It is the place for nature lovers, for adventurers, for those who love rustic life and who enjoy exploring the underwater world.
Venice comes alive inside a mall...
Immediately at the arrival area at the airport, a new technology will meet you at the Immigration Office. You will be asked to stand and look straight to a capturing machine that focuses on your eyes. Not the usual bio-metric machine which records your finger prints, this one captures your vision (whatever you will call it). The airport, despite its vast area, has no tubes though. Passengers are ferried to the terminal from the tarmac by a bus.
Modern structures will greet you as you drive along Doha thoroughfares. High rise buildings of modern design and lighting effects line the commercial district. One sprawling shopping mall has Venice as its theme with gilded domes, canal where gondola plies and walls designed like Venice buildings. The dome reminds me of a shopping center close to the Duomo in Milano, Italia.
Shopping centers in Oslo and Stockholm pale in comparison with another shopping center at the business district in terms of area, high-end shops and structural design. Got a good bargain in one of the shops where I bought two John Rocha blouses for just QR180 (more or less USD50). The Filipina cashier said one blouse used to cost QR200+. A good hoardJ. Spent much in one of my favorite shops though, where a silk blouse with back that flips open cost me QR240. A treat to myselfJ.
And not far from the city center is the posh place called The Pearl, the place for the rich, the taxi driver who dropped us there told us. He said the least you can spend in shopping there is QR2,000. True enough the place is as precious as a pearl, with only the best signature brands of clothes, jewelry, cars (Rolls Royce and Ferrari outlets) and household furnishings and decors are sold.
It has a private marina where luxurious yachts are docked. A seemingly new yacht owner was being taught by a Filipino in running his vessel when we passed by the dock.
A surprising scene, amidst the backdrop of old structures in Doha, was the street cafes and restaurants set-up like in most cities in Europe. Walking through the cobbled pathway lined with cafes and restaurants in Souq Waqif is reminiscent of some European cities I’ve been to…. minus the pungent smell of herbs and spices, the searing heat of the sun and men wearing thob, the white traditional Arab cloth for men. Very few women wore the black cloak and veil (abaya and tarha).
Qataris have one distinct architectural feature, the protruding beams. Haven’t seen the same feature in old buildings in Riyadh, Jeddah, Manama, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Arab cities we’ve been to. They are also ingenious, turning the wheel barrow into a comfortable seat. I saw a man sitting on it never realizing that it was a wheelbarrow only after seeing some lined in one of the buildings. I should have taken a picture of him as he lounge on his comfy chair.
I also encountered a very forward Qatari guy who unabashedly asked me to take his photo. I thought he was offering his help to take my picture but no, he took a good pose and through sign language, asked me to take his photo. He does not speak English, unfortunately.
After an hour of exploring the alleys and nooks and crannies of Doha gamla stan, I had my favorite scoops of ice cream…. la dolce vita….I feel like a tourist again. While savoring my ice cream, a combination of Belgian chocolate and macademia nuts, inside the air conditioned ice cream parlor, I am amazed how the people, despite the heat, enjoyed sitting on the sidewalk cafes and restaurant. But being in an Arab country which has the social freedom of mingling with opposite sex, dining outside closed doors and have western treats, who will not, anyway.
Transport in Doha needs improvement though. While it boasts of modern structures and social freedom, there are no convenient public transports like trains or buses. You would be lucky if the taxi driver knows the place you are going. One horrible experience was when we went to a shopping center, our first venture out, to meet Kuya Fidel.
Going to the center was easy; the taxi driver knew the place. It was on our way back to the hotel that we experienced difficulty. The driver does not speak English. We showed him the map; we agreed on the fare and boarded his cab. We have been driving for some few minutes, the shopping center no longer visible in our view when, with his broken English, he requested us to show him the way to the hotel. That brought our tempers up. After some acid remarks, we requested him to take us back to the shopping center.
Travelling to places widens our perspective in life and opens us to new knowledge, new culture. There are always some bends anywhere we travel but the best part was we’ve been there and that alone is a great experience.