27 October - Boracay – Roxas, Mindoro Island - By ferry
I was getting the hang of things around Boracay, but it was time to move on and I cycled the short distance to the ferry port where I got a Bangka boat back to Caticlan. Once in Caticlan, I looked out for a ferry heading north. The tourist information in Boracay told me that there was a ferry to the port of Batangas City every two hours. This was, however, not the case, and there was only one ferry leaving for the small port of Roxas on Mindoro Island. There’s not much I could do but get on-board.
The trip took about five hours and I had plenty of time to haul out the old iPod and listen to some very old music. Once again, I must admit that I really enjoy listening to these old albums. I went through them all: The Who, Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors……fantastic stuff.
At around five o’clock we sailed into the sad looking port of Roxas. There was a tourist office but it was closed (it was Sunday). If I wanted to cycle to the northern part of the island, I needed a map of Mindoro. I understood from the locals that the following day was to be Election Day and that the tourist office would therefore be closed. It was too late to take to the road, so I found myself a room for the night.
28 October- Roxas – Calapan - 128km
I headed north in the direction of Calapan. From Calapan ferries sail to the main land at Batangas City. No one could really tell me exactly how far it was, but as soon as I left the city limits the road signs indicated that it was around 126 kilometres (so I did not need the map after all). It was Election Day and a public holiday in the Philippines; even the rice mills were closed. It was amazingly peaceful on the road.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are still indigenous tribes living on Mindoro Island. Collectively known as Mangyans they comprise of twelve tribes, each with its own language, culture, and way of life. For centuries, they lived peacefully along the coastal areas of Oriental Mindoro, where they fished for a living. That was until migrants from nearby islands settled on the island. To avoid disputes, the mild-mannered and peace-loving people gave up their land, moved to the mountains, and came down only for food and other necessities. Sadly, they have been treated as second-class citizens, similar to other indigenous people of the world – often exploited, neglected, and discriminated against by lowlanders. They have experienced being misjudged as uneducated and uncivilized people.
It also turned out not to be as mountainous as I first believed, and with that in my favour I continued on to Calapan. It was a long day but I made it to Calapan in good time.
29/30 October - Calapan – Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera - 54km
As I’ve said before, each island seems to come with its own vibe. Mindoro seemed more tribal/traditional than the other islands. I passed farmers riding their water buffalo, and villagers working the fields in ways that are more traditional than elsewhere in the Philippines.
I learned that Puerto Galera is the place to go, and that the area’s extensive and diverse coral reefs have been declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. It sounded good and I set off in the direction of Sabang Beach. It was more mountainous as I headed for Puerto Galera, but, as always, it came with stunning views. There is nothing like huffing and puffing up a hill, then rounding a corner to see the most beautiful waterfall cascading down the mountain.
After more hills I finally arrived in Puerto Galera from where it was another six hilly kilometres to Sabang Beach. I was totally blown away by what I saw: A tiny beach settlement geared for diving with as much as thirty dive shops, numerous restaurants, and places to stay. It was a beautiful setting, with turquoise water, cliffs, beaches, coves, etc., etc…….
Once again I found myself a room on the water (I could have gotten away much cheaper if I took a back room) and I just drank it all in. To think I nearly gave the island a miss altogether!
The following morning I went for a dive and, as promised, it was stunning. I dived with Capt’n Gregg’s and we went out by boat at around 09h00 to Sabang Point. The dive lasted sixty-five minutes and the average depth was around twenty meters. It was a pleasant dive on the local reef, with plenty of coral and fish. The water was a rather comfortable 28°c and I was very comfortable in a three millimeter wetsuit.
I can’t believe something stung me on my lip again!!! Years ago, the same thing happened and up until this day, I have a small scar across my lip. The most amazing thing is that every week or so it forms a small, loose skin that I can pull off…. thank the Lord it’s not a hair or something worse!!!! LOL
Besides the diving, Sabang Beach also seems to be the place where mostly (older) western men hangout. The trend seems to be for them to settle here for an extended period, may it be a few weeks or a few months. They all seem to have Filipino girlfriends for the time they’re here, and I cringe as I watch how the girls cater to their every need!!!
31 October - Sabang Beach
I stayed one more day as I realized that the time has come for me to renew my visa again. On closer inspection, I realized that my current visa expired on the 2nd and I therefore had to do something quickly. The local tour operator also acted as a visa consultant and I handed my passport over and left it to them to organize. The problem was that I could only pick it up on the following Tuesday. That’s five days of waiting, but I did not mind as there was plenty of diving to be done while waiting.
I again dived with Capt’n Gregg’s at around 09h00. It was a rather short boat ride to Sabang Wrecks where we did a drift dive for around fifty-five minutes. Again, the depth was around twenty meters and it was an interesting dive with plenty of fish. I took hundreds of photos but have now realized that one needs to be very close in order to get any kind of shot.
1 November - Sabang Beach
I thought I was spending too much money so went snorkeling instead. The colours were amazing in the shallow waters. The problem with scuba diving is that one loses the colours so quickly. Red is the first to go at around fifteen feet, followed by orange at twenty-five feet, yellow at thirty-five to forty-five feet, and green at around seventy to seventy-five feet. (The colours disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the colour spectrum.) Strobes are normally used to add colour back to subjects. Objects can also appear up to 25% closer underwater than they actually are, and up to 33% larger.
2 November - Sabang Beach
Today’s dive was a bit of a pain as my BC kept self-inflating and the dump valve did not want to expel the air. Bummer….. It did however half-worked when I turned on my back. Any kind of equipment malfunctions always makes for a stressful dive. Besides the equipment, it was a lovely dive with plenty of colourful fish and coral.
3 November - Sabang Beach
I, as has now become the norm, went out for an early morning dive to Dungon Wall, a pleasant dive with loads of fish and interesting corals. In the afternoon I did a rather unusual thing: I went to watch a cockfight!
Cockfighting is, after basketball, the most popular hobby/sport in the Philippines. I was a bit hesitant to enter the arena, but found a well-organized setup with a proper “ring”, surrounded by ascending rows of concrete benches. I sat down and after a while two men entered the ring, each clasping a cock under their arms. They placed the cocks in the middle of the ring, and with neck feathers erect they suddenly hurled themselves at each other. There was a flurry of feathers and razor blades, blood squirted from open wounds, spectators cheered, money changed hands, and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. LOL, I’m such a wimp!!
4 November - Sabang Beach
I went completely overboard and did two dives. Firstly, we dived out to the wreck of the Alma Jane. She was scuttled in 2003 and now rests upright at a depth of thirty meters. Currents on the wreck can sometimes be strong (and the visibility not always so good). Local skippers therefore maintain a buoy line which is tied to the wreck, making it easy for divers to descend along the line without floating away into the blue yonder, never to be seen again. On the second dive we went to the Dungon Wall.
Both were wonderful dives. During the first dive I teamed up with our dive master, Mads, who has the best buoyancy control I have ever seen in any person.
5 November- Sabang Beach
I finally collected my passport from the travel agent and was now ready to move on. It was, however, quite late so I decided to stay for the night and get the ferry to Batangas City in the morning.