Puerto Galera, Respite from Manila Malaise
If You Are Looking for a Weekend Getaway from Manila, Try Puerto Galera, Mindoro
Heretofore I have always treated a trip to Puerto Galera* as a sort of quick, decompression chamber to combat the cumulative effects of Manila Malaise — traffic, smog, odd work hours, cultural fatigue and all that. Previously, I would coordinate a company or rented driver for drop-off and pick-up, a 4:00AM departure (hardly a chore for nocturnal BPO types) and make for the Batangas Pier to grab the most direct banca boat for departure to a particular resort.
I can’t attest to the Philippines’ new tourism campaign, “It’s More Fun In the Philippines,” since I’m not sure what the Philippines is supposed to be “More Fun” than. Presumably more fun than other South East Asian destinations, I suppose, or perhaps its more fun than hanging around a dreary insurance office, in a landlocked place like Des Moines, say. I can attest to the fact that the Philippines is pretty damned fun if you know where to look.
When looking south to Mindoro, I go to Sabang. It’s a magnet for expatriates with more dining, nightlife and dive resorts than its counterparts elsewhere on the island. Sabang attracts scuba divers of all stripes from novices undergoing PADI certification to squinty, seasoned aquanauts. On the strength of staggering bio-diversity in the waters off of Mindoro and regional economic expansion, the island has a growing following among Korean and nouveau bourgeoisie Mainland Chinese diving groups as well.
Recently I had occasion to attend the excellent annual Malasimbo Music Festival, an annual springtime masterstroke of organization and programming. Amongst a throng anticipating the late night rave part of the night and while listening to a particularly experimental Robert Glasper Experiment set and watching theatrically illuminated palm trees in Malasimbo’s natural , I figured more road-less-traveled scrutiny of Mindoro would be a worthy effort.
Beyond the Puerto Galera area (Sabang, Big and Small La Laguna, and White Beach), Mindoro is a diverse and largely untraveled island proximate to Manila that plays well for an opening gambit in the discovery of More Fun. Its is a relatively large island. As a matter of fact, it’s the seventh largest in the Philippines. Getting to Puerto Galera is a simple affair with busses leaving Manila frequently from the Pasay Terminal. They run from P150-200 and take around 1.5-2 hours depending on the vicissitudes of Manila traffic. At the pier, you will be mobbed by touts for various ferry services. In my experience, they are unavoidable so let them help you with luggage and the process of getting your tickets and terminal fees sorted.
Of late I’ve found that staying near Sabang in La Laguna beach is ideal for enjoying a relaxing trip while remaining close to decent food and activity if you want to take full advantage of your stay. In my case, its the spear tip of other activity on the island. In particular, Campbell’s Beach Resort and its sister property, Scandi Divers, stand out in Big La Laguna (actually a misnomer as smaller than Small La Laguna).
Situated at the end of Big La Laguna, Campbell’s possesses a kind of old school charm. It’s the dividend of true hospitality that differs markedly from the indifference or the pretense of some resorts in the area. The staff is genuinely nice. Combine that with the spectacular view and the overall ambiance of the location — beach, water, convivial conversation and attentive staff and you have a winner.
All of Campbell’s rooms face the ocean and the property is dominated by deck space to simply sit and appreciate the sun and sea. Each room is simply appointed with comfortable beds, ample bathrooms, television and aircon. The owner’s collection of posters of beach/diving themed, B-movies are displayed in each room of both resorts. As you drift off for the night, gazing at these pop art icons, your dreams will be animated with diving adventure, titillating beach parties and a foray into the mind of Roger Coreman.
David Asumusen, the owner, is a wonderfully gregarious gent who is ready to help guests plan a great trip to the island. If you should happen to book online, expect a reply from him directly. It’s this kind of simple, hands-on assistance that sets both resorts apart. Between his natural inclination to help travelers and his dive center and resort general manager, Terry O’Doud’s comprehensive knowledge of the waters surrounding Mindoro, both Scandi Divers and Campbell’s are great places to while away a few days.
When at Campbell’s or Scandi, besides enjoying great food at the restaurants and the laid back atmosphere, there are a number of activities to occupy your time. Chief among these is diving, which is the reason many head there (It’s a future post in the making). This trip was really to get re-acquainted with Big La Laguna. That’s another way of saying, I simply relaxed and did as little as possible. But doing as little as possible means getting in the water as much as possible.
The easiest way into the water is the snorkeling available just by walking onto the beach. This feature sets Big La Laguna apart from many of Puerto Galera destinations especially in Sabang where the boat traffic and the lack of beach mean snorkeling isn’t really on the agenda if you stay elsewhere. You can also organize a boat to take you snorkeling at the various spots the area offers. Generally this entails a quick run over to Puerto Galera Bay — widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world — to the coral garden. A small banca boat drags you through the water while feeding the fish in your proximity. This way you see the coral surrounded by small fish that swim around you looking for the bread flung about by the banca pilot. Short of a full-on Scandi diving trip, it’s a pretty cool Jacque Cousteau experience. Depending on your inclination, you can check out the giant clams in the current through Puerto Galera Bay.
If your trip encompasses Sunday afternoon, plan to check out the Sunday Sausage Sizzle. For lucky guests, during season, there is a golf contest where participants can tee off against the local expat contingent for lively contest. If you have ever had the inclination to knock a few golf balls into a life preserver floating on the water, this is your chance. Eat abundant grilled food, play an extended and entertaining drinking game and drill a few.
These sojourns are relaxed affairs as the pace in and around Puerto Galera is a languid cocktail of sun worship, drinking, eating and all around self-indulgence. I’m always reluctant to embark on my Puerto Galera to Manila return to the world of work and urban trench warfare. Anyone who has negotiated Manila traffic knows what I mean.
* Puerto Galera collectively refers to Sabang, Big and Small La Laguna, and White Beach