The Coral Garden and Underwater Cave of Puerto Galera (Mindoro Oriental)

A number of us availed of a package tour to San Antonio Island consisting  of a visit to an underwater cave and snorkeling the spots around the Coral Garden, the  premier snorkeling area of Puerto Galera, looking for a meter long giant clam underneath —all for PhP300. Our outrigger boat was small carrying, aside from the boatman, just me and Sheena as big boats cannot go near the shallow area of the Coral Garden.  Though I dabbed lots of sunblock on my skin, I forgot to bring a hat and my sunglasses, sorely needed as the sun was way up in the sky..

On our way to the Coral Garden

On our way to the Coral Garden

Our boat made landfall at another resort to pick up our snorkels then proceeded to the Coral Gardens.  Here, we donned our snorkels, dropped into the water and clung on to a nylon cord, between the boat and the outrigger, as the boat slowly dragged us along as we snorkeled. At some parts, the water was so shallow the corals almost touched my belly.  Tourists here are encouraged to bring bread to feed the fishes.

Snorkelling alongside the moving boat

Snorkelling alongside the moving boat

The underwater cave, our next destination, was just a 10-min. boat ride from Coral Garden.  It was located on one corner of a small coral rock formation beside a small white sand beach called Munting Buhangin.  There were a lot of boats parked along the beach and we could also see a long queue of tourists lining up to enter the cave. As such there were stalls, manned by locals, selling refreshing halo-halo (PhP25). Not waiting to see our boat parked, Sheena and I alighted from the boat and made our way to the rock formation.

The narrow white sand beach

The narrow white sand Munting Buhangin Beach

Getting up the rock formation was difficult as we had to carefully find our footing as the rocks were quite sharp and jagged. Its a good thing I brought along thick slippers.  The top of the formation has a panoramic view of the beach, the emerald green water of the sea and various rock formations nearby.The entrance of the cave had a bamboo stairs where we could climb down.

The queue up the rock formation

The queue up the rock formation

The underwater cave was not totally drenched in darkness, thanks to some rays of the sun beaming through a natural skylight.  The water inside was now deep, it being high tide when we arrived, but it wasn’t so cold.  High tide also prevented us from seeing the cave’s opening to the sea. Sheena and I alternately took each other’s picture inside the cave and through the skylight as we weren’t able to bring our boatman with us to take our pictures.

The author inside the underwater cave

The author inside the underwater cave

Back at our boat, we continued on towards the Coral Garden where we could find the giant clam. The place was almost in the middle of the bay. We again donned our snorkels and dove in. The Coral Garden obviously was littered with colorful corals plus different variety of fishes. However, even if I kept my eyes opened and peeled I still couldn’t find the giant clam.

Sheena underneath the cave's skylight

Sheena underneath the cave’s skylight

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.
AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website:www.aaptravel.com.ph.
Provincial Tourism Office: Provincial Capitol, Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental.  Tel: (043) 286-7046 and (043) 441-0306.

Boquete Island (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

Of course, any visit to to Puerto Galera is never complete without trying out some of the town’s 13 superb beaches and a number of its offshore islands.  Come morning of the last caravan day, after breakfast at Marivelles Restaurant at the top floor of Marco Vincent Dive Resort, we were driven to the town’s seaside tourism information office.

Boquete Island

Boquete Island

Here, big outrigger boats were docked to take us to the small yet charming and beautiful Boquete Island (also called Paniquian Island), one of the islands that dot Muelle Bay.  Technically, it is a peninsula as it is connected to the mainland by a 50 m. long, scenic white sand sandbar, but it does become an island during high tide. Elizabeth’s Hideaway Resort & Restaurant, formerly Sandbar Boquete Beach Club, is located nearby.

Puerto Galera Tourist Information Center

Puerto Galera Tourist Information Center

Windsurfing is done off the sandbar which is perfect for speed trials as its sheltered waters are generally flat.  Wind speeds here can reach 20 knots at times although, generally, the wind speeds are consistent during the daytime at between 10 and 15 knots..  The sandbar is a regular venue for the second leg of the Philippine National Windsurfing Championship circuit.

Boarding our boat

Boarding our boat

Ms. Susan E. Cruz (Tourism Operations Assistant) and Ms. Sienna May R. Manongsong, both of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Tourism Office joined us.  The boat trip took a little over 30 mins. and we made landfall at the white sand beach fronting the unfinished Friday Boquete Resort.  Here, we were to have lunch at one of its picnic sheds.

On our way

On our way

The beach is nice and secluded, with clear blue waters, and is away from the maddening crowd and the loud sounds of bars, restaurants and party places of White Beach.  However, sea urchins are present a short distance from the shore.  East of the island are the waters of Muelle Bay while to the west is Balatero Cove.

A resort we passed during our trip

A resort we passed during our trip

This 3.8 hectare property, located on a powdery white & pink sand beach inside the lagoons of UNESCO-protected Muelle Bay, is a sister resort of the 5-star Friday’s Boracay Beach Resort in Aklan and both are owned by the publicly listed Boulevard Holdings, Inc. (BHI).

Making landfall at Boquete Island

Making landfall at Boquete Island

When operational, it would have 62 luxurious native cottage styled rooms, a restaurant (that can be converted into an events are), beach grill, lobby lounge and bar, a huge outdoor ,free flow swimming pool and deck, art/shop boutique; dive training pool; full-scale dive shop, a spa treatment pavilion, and gymnasium.

Fridays Boquete Beach Resort

Fridays Boquete Beach Resort

As lunch was still hours away, we still had time to do banana boating (PhP350/pax) or avail of a package tour to San Antonio Island consisting  of a visit to an underwater cave and snorkeling the spots around the Coral Garden, looking for a meter long giant clam underneath —all for PhP300.

Banana boat ride

Banana boat ride

Of those who availed of the banana boating, half opted for its milder form (no overturning) while  Eva, Cel, Mike, Sheena, Gabby and yours truly went extreme and were rewarded with three dunkings, the last one when we were returning to shore.

Getting ready for our extreme banana boat ride

Getting ready for our extreme banana boat ride

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.
AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website:www.aaptravel.com.ph.
Provincial Tourism Office: Provincial Capitol, Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental.  Tel: (043) 286-7046 and (043) 441-0306.

The Mangyan Village of Talipanan (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

From the Puerto Galera Municipal Hall, we returned to our respective vans, with Ms. Aileen N. Bareng (Senior Tourism Operations Officer of Puerto Galera) plus Ms Susan E. Cruz (Tourism Operations Assistant) and Sienna May R. Manongsong, both of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Tourism Office joining us, and were driven to the Iraya Mangyan Village at Sitio Talipanan.

Weaving hut

Weaving hut

The Mangyans, the indigenous people of Mindoro Island,  consists of 8 ethnic sub-groups, the Iraya being one of them.  This tribe used to prospered along the coastal areas until they were forced to move from their land and were treated as second class citizens, neglected and discriminated.

Iraya-Mangyan weavers at work

Iraya-Mangyan weavers at work

They never wore slippers, wore old and torn clothes, and could rarely afford to eat rice in a week, surviving by gathering lami (sweet potato). After a major battle between government forces and communist rebels in 1986, the indigenous families were forced to leave the mountain and squat in the lowlands. The foot of Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera alone is home to as many as 200 Iraya-Mangyan families.

Nito handicrafts on display at showroom

Nito handicrafts on display at the showroom

Nito jars

Nito jars

Since 1989, the Ayala Foundation, with the help of Ms. Beatriz “Bea” Zobel (wife of businessman and philanthropist Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala), has been implementing numerous projects covering education, livelihood development, housing management and health for these Iraya-Mangyans so that they may become more active participants in and productive members of their community yet be capable of managing its own affairs and activities without compromising its own culture.

Neat row of Mangyan houses

A neat row of Mangyan houses

In 1990, the Jaime and Bea bought a piece of the property for them and, in 2007, the couple acquired the rest of land and started developing the Mangyan Village, complete with power and water supplies.  Through their effort to bring the Mangyans to the mainstream of Philippine society through education, the village has produced a number of successful graduates (licensed teachers, community workers, ec.) who are now doing their part in helping their fellow Iraya-Mangyans.

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan ladies exploring village

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan ladies exploring the village

At the village, Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan participants were welcomed by Mr. Fabian “Pabling” de Jesus, the 53 year old Batangueño right hand man of the Ayalas in Mindoro, who is at the helm of this project.  We met him at a large pavilion, at the center of the village, were about 52 Iraya-Mangyan, mostly women and wearing their uniform yellow shirts, were busy weaving strands of nito (Lygodium circinatum), a richly colored tropical vine of the fern family, into beautiful but functional baskets, plates with intricate designs, beer bottle holders, place mats, laundry baskets, jars and storage boxes. Mangyans are  expert basket weavers. At the very least, each Mangyan earns around PhP60-P70 in a day. In 2013, the Mangyan Village received 1,879 visitors who availed of these locally produced handicrafts.

An Iraya=Mangyan family in their new home

An Iraya-Mangyan family in their new home (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

The finished nito products are displayed at the adjoining showroom. The products are also brought to Makati City where the Ayalas opened two stores. The Mangyan workers receive shares from the sales and 4 kilos of rice every week. The Foundation also provides livelihood training in dressmaking, beading, masonry, electrical wiring and agriculture, among others.

Author crossing bamboo bridge (photo: Sheena Ferrer)

Author crossing bamboo bridge (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

When we visited this 4.2-hectare community located 9 kms. from the town proper, they already had a 4-classroom public elementary school (which accommodates grades 1 to 6 students), a medical facility managed by Indian nuns, common comfort rooms and 69 nice 36 sq. m. 2-bedroom houses complete with electricity, beds, furniture and kitchen and eating utensils.  Priority was given to the community elders.  Each house was estimated to have cost PhP150,000 which includes labor and materials. According to Mr. de Jesus, they are looking at building about 300 of these houses.

Iraya-Mangyan children

Iraya-Mangyan children (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

Mangyan Village: Sitio Talipanan, Brgy. Aninuan, Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental.

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.

AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website: www.aaptravel.com.ph.

Bancuro Church Ruins (Naujan, Mindoro Oriental)

After lunch at Benilda ng Bancuro Resort & Restaurant, next on our Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan tour was the Bancuro Church Ruins, more popularly known as Simbahan Bato (Stone Church), just a short drive from the resort.

Bancuro Church Ruins (Simbahan Bato)

Bancuro Church Ruins (Simbahan Bato)

This old, roofless ruin is what remains of an Augustinian Recollect church and priory that was built in the 1690s, on swampy ground, with adobe and coral rock.  The church also served as a fort and a place of refuge against Moro invaders.

The native-style church within a church

The native-style “church within a church”

After several tries by marauding Moro pirates, the place was finally overran by them.  The pirate were said to be looking for the church’s bell, said to be made of gold but, not being able to find it, they instead burned the church to the ground in 1824.

The Augustinian symbol of a pierced heart

The Augustinian symbol of a pierced heart

The 2-level church has never been reconstructed and its coralstone and adobe walls were crumbling and creeping with vines until the 1960s, when a small chapel (literally “a church within a church”) was built within its massive walls.  It was renovated in 2011.

Masonic symbol of a square over compass?

Masonic symbol of a square over compass? 

Still trying to decipher it.

Still trying to decipher this. I recognize the pierced heart on the left. The symbol beside it looks like the Greek symbol for “pi.”

Above the main entrance arch, on the second level, is a small statue niche, above which is the Augustinian symbol of the pierced heart. Flanking it are rectangular openings. Pockets along the walls display several Christian icons. Outside the native-style church is a small plaza with 2 shrines (one for Jesus and the other for the Virgin Mary).

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan participants at church entrance

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan participants at church entrance

Simbahan Bato: Brgy. Bancuro, Naujan, Mindoro Oriental.  It is a 45-min. jeepney ride from the town proper.

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.

AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website:www.aaptravel.com.ph.

Mindoro Trail: Puerto Galera (Mindoro Oriental)

White Beach

After breakfast at Calapan Bay Resort, we left the city by 11 AM, April 10, for Puerto Galera.  Part of the 49-km. drive entailed negotiating dusty, Kennon-like zigzag roads (Puerta Galera is considered as the “Little Baguio” of Mindoro) and steep ravines.  We made a short photo op stop over at the Waterfalls Bridge at Brgy. Villaflor where we can view the 131-m. high, roadside Tamaraw Falls, the highest waterfall in the province.  Its pool is a popular swimming spot for weekenders. The enchanting view of Varadero Bay heralded our arrival at the beach town of Puerto Galera which spreads out 10 kms. along the coast.  

Tamaraw Falls
Located on a Y-shaped peninsula on the northwestern tip of Mindoro Island, the popular tourist destination of Puerto Galera has numerous fine beaches with sheltered coves beneath the green mountainous backdrop of the 1,086-m. high Mt. Alinyaban, 1,185-m. high Mt. Talipanan and 1,228-m.  high Mt. Malasimbo, all of which are rich in mineral deposits of marble, gold, lime and silica.
 
Muelle Pier
We arrived at the town proper and its ferry dock at Muelle by 1:30 PM  and had a late lunch at one of the restaurants.  Muelle has an excellent natural yacht harbor, effectively protected by Medio Island, at the mouth of picture-perfect Muelle Bay.  From here, we can view the mooring area of Puerto Galera Yacht Club.  From the pier, Sabang Beach and White Beach are both 6 kms. away.

Puerto Galera town proper

A marble cross, located beside Cocopoint Hotel, commemorates the sinking of the Spanish warship El Canonero Mariveles, on November 18, 1879, during a storm off Soguicay Bay.   The cross was originally erected in wood on March 18, 1897 but was renovated in 1938 by Spaniard Luis Gomez y Sotto.   Its inscription reads Ultima tierra que pesarou los tripolantes del Canoneros Mariveles el 18 de Noviembre de 1879.

El Canonero Mariveles Cross

After lunch, we made an ocular inspection of Sabang Beach, Small La Laguna Beach, Big La Laguna and White Beach, 4 of the at least 13 superb connected beaches that have been developed for tourism within 7 kms. or so of the town.  The somewhat gray sand Sabang Beach has the most developed resorts and offers a good choice of restaurants, discos and watersports facilities. Small La Laguna Beach, sometimes called Coral Beach, has whiter sand and is fairly quiet and cozy.  It attracts a lot of foreign backpackers and other budget travelers who like to stay a long time at Puerto Galera.  The broad, 1-km. long White Beach, on the other hand, is immensely popular with local tourists.  Our last stop, we had our dinner here.

Ponderosa Golf & Country Club

After our beach tour, we drove all the way back to Muelle where we decided to check in at fan-cooled rooms with toilet at bath at Coco Point Resort.  Breakfast at its restaurant, come morning, was a pleasure as I had a beautiful view of the natural yacht harbor.  We checked out right after breakfast and drove 5 kms. (half of it unpaved) all the way up to the 9-hole, 20-hectare Ponderosa Golf and Country Club, located 600 m. above sea level, midway up Mt. Malasimbo in Brgy. Minolo.  From this cool and windy vantage point, located southwest of Puerto Galera, we had a tremendous bird’s eye view of Puerto Galera Cove and Batangas’ Verde Island, Maricaban Island and Sombrero Island.  Facilities here include a restaurant and bar.

Balatero Pier

After about 30 mins., we left Ponderosa by 9 AM, driving back down the mountain and, once back on level ground, made a long stopover at White Beach.  It was time to go and we drove to Balatero Pier, 15 mins. from White Beach and near the town proper, arriving there by 11 AM.  RO-RO ships dock here and, after paying the necessary fees and fare, we loaded the Ford Explorer on the MV Starlite Odyssey.  Our ship left Puerto Galera by 12 noon and we arrived at Batangas Port by 1:40 PM.  I arrived in Manila by 4:30 PM.

Mindoro Trail: San Jose (Mindoro Occidental) to Calapan City (Mindoro Oriental)

The dreaded Day 3 soon dawned upon us, the long (210 kms.) haul, with Charlie again at the wheel, from San Jose down south the previously mentioned horrendous stretch, then up north to the Mindoro Oriental border and on to Calapan City, the provincial capitol and the island’s only city.  We hoped to make it in time to meet with city officials.  After a short, early morning visit to San Jose’s Caminawit Port and 6 kms. of concrete road out of the town, the road soon returned to gravel up to Magsaysay town.

Bulalacao Bay

This was heaven to what awaited us: a “short” 35-km. uphill/downhill stretch along one of the worst “roads” I have ever seen, still tossing about, even in a car with good suspensions.  We never encountered any car, only motorbikes and an occasional bus.  The bad road condition was tempered by beautiful mountain scenery untouched by “progress” (brought about by good roads).  Upon entering Bulalacao, the road soon hugged the coast opening, before us, a panoramic, offshore scenery of beautiful islands along Bulalacao Bay.   Upon reaching a gas station, we had our dusty car washed, thinking that the road ahead would be better.  How wrong we were!  Although the worst was behind us, it was still gravel all the way to Mansalay and Roxas, again coating our newly-washed car with dust.  

Danggay Port

We arrived at Roxas town’s Danggay Port by noon, taking our lunch at a small eatery, part of the time watching people and cars unloading from  a slow ferry at the RORO pier, the gateway to the white sand beaches of Boracay Island (a 5 to 6-hr. boat ride away), the country’s No. 1 tourist destination.  The road from hereon to Calapan City was paved, partly concrete and mostly new and ancient asphalt (with occasional potholes).  It was still a long, nearly 100-km. drive to the city but, from now on, it was all smooth sailing.   Still, we were in a rush.   

Lake Naujan

However, old habits die hard and the tourist in us egged us to veer into a narrow dirt road, hoping to get a better view of the 79-sq. km. freshwater Lake Naujan, the largest (covering the towns of Naujan, Pola and Victoria) in the province and fifth largest in the country.  Ideal for birdwatching (it supports a large number of ducks and other waterfowl), the lake’s rich fauna also includes the country’s two crocodile species: the highly endangered Mindoro freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).  However, no matter how far we went, no good vantage point was in sight so I decided to leave the car, go by foot up a hill and there, get a good shot. 

Calapan City Hall

We finally reached Calapan City by 4 PM and got to meet with city officials at their stunningly new, white-painted and 2-storey high City Hall, built in the Neo-Classical style of architecture.  Calapan has changed much since my last visit and the city is now booming, with new hotels sprouting up.  One such, the Calapan Bay Hotel, where we stayed overnight, is worthy of note.  Aside from its 12 beautiful airconditioned rooms with bath and cable TV (standard and superior), its appeal lies in its porch-like, multi-cuisine coffee shop (Café Angela) facing the sea.  Here, one savors not only the good food but also the all-embracing whiff of the cool sea breeze.  Too bad it was just an overnight stay.  I would have enjoyed a longer stay.  Just the same, we still had to proceed to Puerto Galera, our final destination and debarkation point back to Manila.

Trek to Walang Langit Falls (Gloria, Mindoro Oriental)

Crossing the river with a carabao-driven cart

We were all awake by 6:30 AM and soon picked up by our trusty driver Mr. Saez for breakfast at Byahero.  Our guides soon arrived minus Karen who was replaced by Ms. Eleanor “Nhoy” Magsino.  Laden with packed lunch and bottled water provided by Robert, we left by 8 AM, traveling the 14-km. distance to Brgy. Mirayan in 30 mins.. The starting point is beside a swift flowing river.  From hereon, it would be all footwork (and some swimming) through different types of terrain: rivers, mud tracks, steep hills, creeks and boulders.

The short crossing over the fast-flowing river proved to be difficult, more so if it had rained the night before (no wonder we were not allowed to go during my first visit).  Luckily, a carabao-driven cart was also crossing.  Rodel, who would have had a hard time crossing with his polio-stricken right leg, hopped in.  Me and the others followed behind.  Our next hurdle would be just as difficult (and longer), slogging through the muck of a dirt road muddied by previous rains.  This road, built to provide easier access to the falls, had just being started and grading work was going on.   The carabao cart pushed on with its human load and so did we, merrily singing and chatting as we walked.  An opening alongside the road signaled the start of our hilltop trek (and the end of Rodel’s carabao cart ride).  It wasn’t so steep but the muddy trail, plus the intense heat of the sun which penetrated the light forest, made it very tiring especially for the limping but still game Rodel.

Once downhill, we were rewarded, at the foot, by the cool, clear and inviting waters of a smooth-flowing stream.  I lay down by the shallow waters, feeling its cool comfort flow through the length of my body.  I could have stayed that way the whole day but it was not to be as we were only halfway to our goal.  Our sole consolation was that the remaining part of the trek would be all along this meandering stream. The initial portion was along evergreen banks lined with coconut and banana trees, giant ferns and some nipa houses.  Occasionally, we would cut corners by making short, diagonal overland treks.

Soon, we were in for a change of scenery. As we went further down the river, it started to narrow dramatically and began to change to eerie jungle, with massive and very rugged rocky outcrops gradually towering, high and steeply, on both sides of the river.  We also passed some bizarre, weather-sculpted rock formations.  Huge trees, with interlaced, hanging roots and thick branches, hug the river’s edge.  Some, uprooted by typhoons, blocked our path.  Large boulders also jutted out the water.  I was also slowly being drenched by a drizzle from above.  No, it wasn’t raining. Rather, small waterfalls from underground streams in the cliff above were being blown by the wind to create a perpetual drizzle.   I was so engrossed by my surroundings that I failed to notice that, with my huge stride, I had left behind my guides and now was all by my lonesome.  It dawned upon me that I must have made a wrong turn.  I was lost.

May Langit Falls

But not for long.  Soon enough, Exan and Donna came to my rescue. Rather than turn back, I decided to push forward and see what was at its end.  The gorge was getting narrower, so much so that I could touch both sides of the gorge with my outstretched arms.  The river was also getting deeper, waist-high, in my case, and neck-high for the diminutive Donna. Our efforts were rewarded with vistas of two small but beautiful waterfalls: an unnamed one, at our right, and May Langit Falls at the end of the gorge.  Thus fulfilled, we retraced our way back to rejoin our companions.

The way to Walang Langit was via a fork on the river which I somehow missed.  The path through was no less difficult than my previous trek.  Luckily, a huge fallen tree trunk which once blocked the path had been sawn by the municipal government into six-inch sections similar to the tadtaran (chopping boards) of old.  After passing another waterfall, I was dumbstruck by what I finally saw at the gorge’s end, the 100-ft. high torrent of Walang Langit Falls, surrounded, in all its majesty, by equally tall, densely-vegetated cliffs flanking it.  Here, the sun only penetrates the gorge at noon. Simply awe-inspiring.  Only in my dreams can I imagine such a place.

Walang Langit Falls

Much anticipated was a dip in its icy-cold, waist-deep pool. Once acclimatized with the cold, we also indulged in a tingling back massage underneath the fall. Soon all these activities made us hungry and we finally recharged ourselves with a much-needed lunch.  Rodel and I soon finished our photo shoot with a prayer, hoping that our shots in the dim light would come out nice.  Rodel alone used up 3rolls of black and white film by the end of the day.  It was getting late and we had another long hike ahead of us.  Our gear was soon packed (including our garbage).  However, I wasn’t looking forward to this return hike as we were now going to do it in reverse, from heaven back to earth.   We were totally drained once we got back to the dirt road.  The return hike took twice as long and we made it back to our vehicle very late in the afternoon.

As we couldn’t make it to the last Supercat ferry trip back to Batangas City, we decided to stay another night in Gloria.  Sleep was again out of the question as Robert honored us with a small despedida (farewell) party, with our guides, at our cottage.   We left at 2:30 AM for Calapan City, making it to the first fast ferry (6 AM) back to Batangas City and on to Manila.  I was back on “earth” by 9 AM.   Goodbye heaven.

Return to Gloria (Mindoro Oriental)

On October 24, Thursday, I returned to the town of Gloria with 200 copies of TODAY with my Kawayanan Festival article ordered by Gloria Mayor Romeo D. Alvarez.  Joining me was Rodel Rotoni, one of TODAY’s veteran photographers and a native of Bansud, Gloria’s next door neighbor. Rodel and I left Manila by 8 AM on an airconditioned BLTB bus for Batangas City.  Upon arrival in Batangas City, we took the 11:30 AM Supercat fast ferry to Calapan City, arriving there in 45 mins.

Courtesy call on Mayor Romeo Alvarez

Upon arrival at Calapan Port, we were welcomed by my same Kawayanan Festival guide, Ms. Maria Goretti “Gorett” Mercado, the town’s newly designated municipal tourism secretary, as well as by guide Mr. Pablo S. Saguid and driver Mr. Oscar Saez.  We traveled the whole 81-km. (1.5-hr.) distance to Gloria via a Toyota Tamaraw van. After a very late lunch at the Byahero Restaurant of Robert Villavicencio, Gloria’s Tourism Council head, we made a courtesy call and “newspaper delivery” to Mayor Alvarez at the municipal hall. Mayor invited us to explore the Walang Langit Falls in Brgy. Buong Lupa the next day.

Rodel and I were billeted at the Prima Farm Resort in Brgy. Bulaklakan.  Our bamboo cottage, aptly named Bulaklakan,  had all the trappings of a luxury suite: airconditioning, large bed, cable TV, VCR and a large, elegant red tiled bathroom with bathtub.   That evening, we got to meet our 7 guides to the falls.  Aside from Gorett and Pablo, we also had Ms. Donalyn “Donna” Aquino, Ms. Karen Fabalinia, Mr. Exan Rofuli, Mr. Rodelio “Ode” Saguid and Mr. Paolo “Pao” San Jose; all of them veterans.  Never in the annals of domestic tourism has so few been guided by so many (my pun of the late, great Sir Winston Churchill’s speech).

That night was all fun, fun, fun.  After soaking our tired, heavily traveled bodies at the icy-cold waters of Dupong Freshwater Resort’s spring-fed pool, we then sang our hearts out at the videoke.  Later, we all joined Mayor Alvarez and Robert at the Brgy. Banus fiesta for a night of ballroom dancing and drinking.  I politely passed on the first option and moderately indulged in the second.  Rodel and I were back at our cottage by midnight as tomorrow promises to be a big day.  Not much sleep though as Rodel snored through the night.

Dupong Freshwater Resort: Sitio Dupong, Brgy. Kawit, Gloria Mindoro Oriental. Mobile number: (0916) 674-3968.

Prima Farm Resort: Brgy. Bulaklakan, Gloria, Mindoro Oriental.

The Kawayanan Festival (Gloria, Mindoro Oriental)

Kawayanan Festival

Throughout my 4-day stay in the town, I was kept busy by undertaking with gusto, the role of   judge for four of the festivals’ competitions: the Bamboo Booth competition (maybe because of my being an architect), the Cookfest (my favorite pastime: eating that is, not cooking), the Street Dancing Competition and the In-Place Dance Competition (held at the gym).  It seems that the only contest I didn’t judge was the Miss Gloria Tourism 2002 beauty contest.   On my second day, to save on time, I did my bamboo booth and cookfest assignment at the same time.  It was easier said than done.  Midway through my assignment, my complexion turned from fair to really brown (like roasted lechon).  However, the cookfest was a delight as I got to sample, mostly for the first time, the town’s labong cuisine, making it a point to sample each dish once in every booth.  Of the present 22 bamboo varieties in town, only two (the first-class tinikan and bolo) are used for labong.

The street dancing parade

In succession, I tried the atsarang labong (Brgy. A. Bonifacio), embutidong labong (Brgy. Kawit), apritadang manok with labong (Brgy. Mirayan), fried lumpiang labong (Brgy. San Antonio), fresh lumpiang labong (Barangay Lucio Laurel), tortilla con labong (Brgy.  Agsalin), guinataang labonglabong salad and bola-bolang labong.   I also enjoyed the buko pandan and cassava chips, washing it all down with buko juice. So much for lunch (and dinner).  I don’t recall what I sampled in Brgy. Guimbonan but she handily won the cookfest’s grand prize.  Brgy. Malayong won the booth competition.

A daring bamboo stunt

If the cookfest was a delight, the two dance competitions were spectacles by themselves.  Costumes, musical instruments and props (including the bamboo galleon of Brgy. Lucio Laurel) used were all bamboo-inspired.  What was truly spectacular was some of the choreography (to the beat of the latest dance music) which included some death defying stunts fit for a circus.  Try balancing spread eagle on the tip of a bamboo pole using the pit of your stomach or try dancing on the top rungs of 3 1-storey high bamboo ladders held vertically together. I wouldn’t dare but they did.   In the end, Brgy. Tambong won the Street Dancing Competition (with Narra second) and Brgy. Lucio-Laurel the In-Place Dancing Competition (with Maligaya second).

A bamboo galleon

Gloria is a coastal town and beautiful black sand beaches facing the Tablas Strait extend from Barangays Tambong to Agsalin.  Too bad there is no setting sun along this coast (Mindoro Oriental faces east).  Just the same, the municipality is making efforts to develop resorts along this beautiful coast.  Part of our itinerary was a visit to these resorts. They include El Primus Jose (Brgy. Tambong Punta), Villa Escober Beach Resort (Brgy. San Antonio) and Bighani Beach Resort and Mabuhay Beach Resort, both in Brgy. Giumbonan.

My first carabao ride

On our last day, we had breakfast at the dining pavilion of Prima Farm Resort in Brgy. Bulaklakan.  This rising star of a resort has so far finished 11 airconditioned cottages with bath and TV, all beautifully built with the town’s trademark bamboo in mind.  Each are also named after one of the town’s 27 barangays and built accordingly by the barangay’s artisans.  The resort intends to finish, in the near future, its complete roster of 27 cottages.

The Tubungan Ceremony (Gloria, Mindoro Oriental)

The next day, with the arrival of invited travel agents, we were all transported, come evening, to Dupong Freshwater Resort, a swimming and fishing resort situated in the middle of a rice field.  Here, we were welcomed by resort owner Mr. Romeo Castillo and his wife Clemencia.  The word dupong means “to set on fire.” The couple toured us around the resort’s facilities: a cool, clear swimming pool (fed by springs from Mt. Halcon); a fishing lagoon filled with with tilapiadalag (mudfish) and hito (catfish); and a huge native-style pavilion.  A pleasant surprise awaited us at the pavilion – the tubungan ceremony.

Tubungan dance

Also called putung, this ceremony for welcoming and honoring friends and visitors is originally from Marinduque.  A large proportion of Gloria’s population are migrants from this province and they brought this unique tradition with them.  As honorees, a unique crown made of bamboo was placed on each of our heads by mamummutongs who happened to be our trusty tourist guides (in my case Gorett).

Putong ceremony

We were then made to partake of tuba (coconut wine).  A troupe of women then serenaded us with native songs as well as danced before us to the accompaniment of a band.  As a final act, these well-wishers showered us with confetti made of colored paper as a sign of love and affection.   I, together with the others, was truly touched by all these.  The evening was capped by a native buffet dinner and a fellowship night.

Dupong Freshwater Resort: Sitio Dupong, Brgy. Kawit, Gloria, Mindoro Oriental.  Mobile number: (0916) 674-3968.