Dive, dive, dive!!

Trip Start Feb 10, 2013
Trip End Sep 18, 2013

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Flag of Philippines  , Mindoro,
Monday, March 4, 2013

According to the guidebook, getting from Tagaytay to Batangas (from where we needed to get a ferry) was no easy journey. We had few options and could have ended up on a three hour jeepney ride...not so comfy. So instead we risked it and wondered into Tagaytay town hoping someone would be able to help. We knew there was a main road out of Tagaytay to another big town so there must be a public bus there, then another on to Batangas so we asked. Actually in reality it is very easy to do that journey it just involves one change from one air conditioned coach to an air conditioned van! Everyone in Tagaytay was so helpful on the street and told us to get the bus to Balayan then the bus to Batangas....sometimes guidebooks are a little behind the times!

Arrival at Batangas pier was a little crazy and although a guy who worked at the pier was being very helpful and I know trying to make our lives easier, he was clearly after a tip...yet seemed ungrateful at the 50pesos I gave him :-) Nevertheless we were on the ferry on our way to Sabang, a small area on the North Coast of Puerto Galera on the Island of Mindoro (actually on Mindoro Oriental side). We had our accomodation booked at the Blue Ribbon dive resort which was owned and run by an English fella named John. In a nutshell, Sabang is a westernised hub for diving. The area of coast around it is some of the best diving in the Philippines including the renowned Verde Island, home to the dive spot known as the "Washing Machine"! A spot with such violent currents that people have reported being tumbled around and completely dissorientated. Didnt fancy that!

Our room was luxory. Simply luxory. We were meant to be in a double room but due to the music festival that was on the previous evening, the guests had not checked out so we ended up in an air conditioned bungalow with two double beds, a veranda and a whole heap of space! Oh did I mention it was right next to the pool?! A great opportunity to get some clothes washed, get some rest and slow down after 3 weeks of quite heavy going. And boy did we relax! Lucy was intensely happy about the fact that she could get beans on toast for breakfast and pizza for tea! We had a day on the beach and a day by the pool, sunning and browning ourselves with a few bottles of rum thrown into the mix, whilst Rocky the cockatoo squawked away in his cage. There is a funny story attached that John had told us whereby 8 years or so ago, a customer had not been able to pay his butchers bill and had this bird and so the butcher had accepted it as payment! It had stayed in its small cage for 8 years when a regular of Blue Ribbon had seen it and bought it from the butcher to give to the resort, clearly an animal lover! John had built a nice big home for it near the pool and on our third day there it was rehomed and clearly very happy about it. Sometimes some stories are so difficult to fathom but so very amusing! At least the bird was finally happy. As it in the top ten dive sites in the Philippines it would have been rude not to, so during the week one night dive with more than 5 new species I had never seen, including the very weird but aptly named Stargazer and two other dives that had some of the finest hard and soft corals and huge biodiversity the likes of which I had never seen, truly is an underwater haven here with gin clear waters!

When in a location, there are certain things that you notice that you like and certain things that take you back. In Sabang, one of the 'attractions' is the amount of girlie bars. Although we obviously did not frequent these locations, we could not get away from the amount of middle aged western gentlemen acompanied by young Philippino women and the groups of ladyboys wondering around the beach during the evenings. Quite a sad situation to see but we knew that this sort of industry still exists quite strongly in parts of the Philippines, i think it was just a little in our faces and a shock to see first hand. Although I did laugh a little when one local told us "ladyboys are like vampires....they only come out at night!" Another industry that we were invited to witness (but thankfully we did not attend) is the sport of cockfighting. Still a very rife sporting event over here and frequented only by men where class isn't taken into account, only the brutal sport is the focus. We were invited by one of the hotels employees, Ferdinand, who had worked in the area for over 20 years. On his day off he had offered to hire a van with us and take us to some of the areas attractions which was great as there were a few things we had really wanted to see. Wednesday morning and we hopped into a van with his toothless mate driving (i forget his name) and we were off. First port of call was Eden Springs, a fresh water spring that flows out on to a deserted beach where the one family who live there do laundry for some of the resorts, a very interesting site to see and the water can actually be drunk it is that feesh...didnt risk it though! The springs actually come from a waterfall higher up the mountain and this was our next stop. They were simply stunning. Cascades of water falling down into pools that had been built up to swim in and when we did it was like getting into an icebath! We had been so used to warm sea water that it was a shock to swim in fresh cold water but so lovely, so refreshing. Whilst we were swimming and relaxing, Ferdie and "gums" had barbequed us some pork, chicken and fish with rice, vegetables and salad...a lunch really fit for kings and queens and we were both completely stuffed until dessert. I cant explain how incredible the dessert was. One was a coconut rice block mixed with sugar and syrup that had been wrapped in a banana leaf. Holy crap it was good! The other was boiled banana that had been mashed with sugar and butter into a block that tasted like cookie dough for a banana cake. Holy crap it was even better!!!! Truly gorged and we were on our way to the next visit. I had read in the guidebook that on Mindoro there are native tribes that live further up the mountains which you are able to visit and spend some time with. In the words of the guidebook; "you will be able to spot the Mangyan tribes people because they are short in stature with very dark skin and snub noses" Forgot to mention they wonder round in loin cloths and suffer terribly from TB! Ferdie had agreed to take us to one small village at the foot of the mountain and we stopped off for some sweets and chocolate that the tribe finds a very nice gift that the children really enjoy. As we arrived I got the feeling that this was not as expected but had changed slightly since the guidebook was written. Ferdie told us that a wealthy Philippino celebrity had donated a large sum of money to the tribe and had huts and a school built for them in this village. It was quite impressive to see and I got a sense that the tribespeople were very grateful and furthering that, we were very grateful when the young man who was showing us around invited us into the school to meet the teachers and students who were entirely native Mangyans. It was a real treat to see inside the school and as a teacher I was intrueged and in awe by the amount of respect these students had, despite having no real wordly possessions and in a village with warning signs that said "malaria control zone". It must have been like christmas as we wondered into each of the 4 classrooms handing out sweets and chatting with the teachers. It was amazing to meet the truly native Mangyan tribe and see some real Philippine heritage. From here we went on to the quite Benidorm-like whitebeach which was a very long beautiful beach lined with bars and tatoo parlours! Very beautiful but a confirmation of westernisation in the area.

Puerto Galera and Sabang are beautiful areas with friendly people and incredible natural sites and phenomenal diving! A really relaxing few days and rum fuelled evenings were rounded off by a beach BBQ and live music ( where the divemasters decided to have a go at singing and actually really impressed!) A wonderful and intreuguing place but we knew we had an early start to get to our next destination....

Da Perkins
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