Underwater Paradise

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

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Flag of Philippines  , Mindoro,
Sunday, March 10, 2013

6.30am alarm. Check-out from Blue Ribbon at 7.30. Walk along the beach with full rucksacks to the jeepney station. 8am on jeepney (large american troop carrier left from WWII, pimped out with UV lights and sound systems!). 8.15am still sitting on jeepney waiting for it to get more passangers as they do not leave until they are full, no timetable. Finally get moving on the jeepney to Puerto Galera town where we get a tricycle to Balateras pier and arrive at 8.45. The ferry doesnt leave until 10. A little bit early, breakfast? 2 chocolate muffins. 9.50 get on the ferry (large bangka). Wait 45 minutes for the crew to get on the boat, again no real timetable. 1 hour to get around the headland of Mindoro as you cant get a bus due to the inaccesible mountains in the middle. Off the bangka. On to a bus. Wait this bus has no windows and the doors are open. Oh, we are leaving anyway. A very dusty 3hr bus journey to Sablayan, half way through a guy gets on with his entire family. Hang on is he carrying a large machete? How else do you get fresh coconut juice on public transport?! Arrive in Sablayan and get another tricycle to a very rustic and basic resort on the beach that has very dark grey sand. Night stop in a room that is one quarter of an open air bungalow. The bamboo walls do not reach the ceiling by around 4 feet and the ants and birds have free reign of your room. Ealry start for breakfast and a short boat ride to Pandan Island across the water.....arrive to paradise. Epic journey....done!

Let me recap a little to tidy up one or two things before I talk about Pandan Island. Firstly jeepneys. During the second world war, thousands of American troop carriers were brought over to the Philippines and after the war were simply left here. Many of the hundreds of thousands that are now used today are copies and rebuilds however very occasionally you see an original with huge wheels and a very worn look. The owner of each jeepney pimps out their vehicle in their own way, some very tastefully chromed all over with simple designs and interiors, and some rather ditastefully with alloy wheels, UV lighting, huge horns and even bigger sound systems! Think Tim Westwood does Pimp My Ride with the American Army! They are quite fun to ride as some are ore people than jeepney, with up to 20 people hanging off the sides and not far from the same number sitting on the roof. They are however incredibly cheap to ride and will take you pretty much anywhere the public buses won't go, depending on demand, the weather and the mood of the driver! Second thing...public buses normally are quite comfy with air conditioning and a tv screen that plays all manner of good and bad films...on this occasion it was old. It did not have many windows, no air conditioning and drove the majority of the 3 hours with its doors open! Lastly, in the north of Mindoro the impassible mountain range goes all the way to the coast, so unless you want to cross it on foot (3days) or drive round the whole of the south of the island ( maybe 12-16 hours) you have to get this ferry over the northern tip of the island...there is only one a day scheduled for 10 but no one really knows what time its meant to leave and the crew were sat on the bank eating their breakfast still at 10.30! Jokes!

Anyways, Pandan Island. Boy was this place worth the epic journey! And then some! In the 80s a French gentleman named Dominique was on his travels and discovered the island just off the coast in Sablayan. He then set up a resort on the island with his Pilipina wife and 26 years later, we arrived! The reason for our visit here was actually due to its location, being the nearest island to Apo Reef, one of the worlds premium dive and snorkel locations which I will come to in a sec. We arrived on the island around 10.30am after a night shared with the ants over the waters in mainland Sablayan Town and were greeted by Sonny, the very cheerful barman. Our room was not ready but no problems, we were on a private resort with a pristine white sand beach that was surrounded by a protected marine reserve...we said we'd spend a few hours on the beach until our room was ready and he replied, "oh maybe you could go out for a snorkel off the beach, if you go over there where there is sea grass, you will see turtles." Great, sounds amazing, it would be fab if we did see a turtle while we were here. Hour on the beach and needed to cool off so donned the mask and pipe and went for a little swim with Lucy. No more than a minute later, there it was. A huge turtle munching away on the sea grass all docile and grumpy in not more than two metres of water below us! Amazing! Oh no, hang on....there is another one! Every time we snorkled in this part of the island we would see at least two or more turtles. So calm, having their lunch, you could literally swim down and touch them or just wait for them to come up for air and stroke their shells. At one point there were three in one place! What a magical 5 days just doing that...but this was just the tip of the iceburg....

The rooms themselves were again 5 all in a line that were open air and walls that did not reach the ceilings. It was two toilets and two showers for the 5 rooms, so not so private as such but very native. To be honest it was absolutely fine after the Tao Experience, at least they had showers and toilets with a locked door! The showers were actually salt water which was fun but you did have a bucket of fresh water that you could rinse yourself with after your shower and this was more than adequate considering we must have spent five days either in the sea, or on the beach drinking rum! It was a small paradise island. More beautiful than you could imagine in your dreams. Not only were the turtles incredible but around the whole island was a smorgesboard of marine life, including stingrays, gurnards, lionfish, pipefish, batfish, flounders, squid, parrot fish, trigger fish (one of which tried to attack us!) cleaner fish (one of which thought we needed a clean and tried to get involved a bit to friendly like!) and a whole lot more!

So as I said previously, one of the main reasons we came to Pandan was to visit Apo Reef, a huge reef system lying in open water about two hours away from the west coast of Mindoro. We knew tht it was a popular trip from Pandan Island as this was the only location to get there and back in one day, so we went to the dive centre situated just off the beach. I know rustic islands dont tend to have 5* PADI dive centres but it didnt detract from the rusticness, trust me! Luckily there was a boat the following day, the only one for a while so my name went straight on the board and underneath Lucy's name with the initials ND (non diver) next hers...then a question mark got scrawled next to my name. What? Are they unsure what my name is?! No. The reason for this was due to the severity and difficulty of diving at the Apo Reef. It is in completely open ocean so the currents are incredibly strong. The divemasters never take anyone without first seeing them dive...oh well, 2.30 dive this afternoon? Oh go on then! Within 4 hours of arriving on the island I was being observed assembling my SCUBA equipment and donned my wetsuit to plop into one of the reefs at the back of the island with my buddy Robin, a german fella with a very funny sense of humour who turned out to be a real hoot the entire week! Phenomenal dive....abundance of hard and soft corals teaming with life both big and small and Endoy, the divemaster, seemed very happy to take me out to Apo Reef....result!

Apo Reef: 6.30 breakast and on the boat for 7... Robin had left his girlfriend in bed so on the boat Lucy and I made up the 6 divers and 5 NDs for the trip, and as soon as we were on our way, everyone lay down and went to sleep! It was very early :-) We arrived at the reef complex to be greeted by a pod of dolphins showing off and doing tricks around the boat, watching them through the gin clear water was incredible, so clear...us divers however were kitted out so unfortunately missed a lot of the show due to the inability to stand up or turn around! Oh well if this is the surface entertainment, get me in the water! "3,2,1" came the call from Endoy and jump..wallop....the currents hit us like a steam train and within seconds we were 20 ft away from the boat. "no time, get down" said Endoy so we descended rapidly to the reef and over the edge down to 27 metres. It was incredible...thousands upon thousands of fish carpeted the dense coral wall in front of us which seemed to be moving...oh no wait, thats us moving, at what we reckon was somewhere in the region of 25-30km hour, with the currents. Literally flying along the wall we saw sharks, huge schools of large barracuda, turtles, some of the densest corals and reef systems I have ever seen. It was truly phenomenal. There was no effort involved, you simply sat back and watched as one of the worlds top underwater ecosystems went by its daily life in the clearest water possible. Occasionally I had to fin a little so I didnt collide with an outcrop of reef or Robin (still my buddy) all of which seemed to be moving around me without me doing anything! The best dive ever. I surfaced like a child at christmas, adrenaline and endorphines coarsing through my veins...I have two more of these today!!! On the boat were the NDs who had snorkled around the reef we were sat over and I noticed Lucy had a very cheeky grin on her face... unbelievable, while we were 30m down, whilst floating around on the surface Lucy and two of the German girls she had teamed up with had been graced by the presence of non other than a giant manta ray. They had swum with it and watched it in all its glory as it cruised around and then floated off into the deep blue sea....you lucky things! In my heart of hearts I was so pleased for her, knowing that this was something very few people who dont dive ever get to see in the flesh...right place at the right time :-) this was all before 10.30 am.... The rest of the day proved to be just as good with more sightings of sharks (mostly white tips but one sighting of a rather large grey), turtles and barracuda and incredible visibility. I will put the term 'gin clear' into perspective. You know when you go into a swimming pool and you can see right to the other end. The second dive gave us a visibility figure in metres. Lucy and the others had jumped in at the same time as us, and watched us descend, then followed us with the currents (as if you could go any other direction) from the surface for the entire dive. As this was only our second dive we still had some depth in us and Lucy was able to identify me from the small blue mask strap protector on the back of my head and see well below me into the blue. I was at 27.4 metres....that puts the visibility at 30-35metres plus....gin clear!!!! In fact i could look up and see there tiny siluettes on the surface! Words won't come close to this day of diving...if you dive guys....this is so far for me the best location in the world...not for the feint hearted with the currents but if you can, GET HERE!

Im not too sure what else to really write as I could talk for hours about Pandan Island and the Apo Reef but this was place was simply amazeballs times infinity! Robin, my dive friend, and his girlfriend proved to be very lovely companions for the time we were there, having dinner and laughing about various crazy things we had discovered in this country and one afternoon was spent entirely snorkling with the turtles trying to get a picture worthy of an award..hopefully you will like the one I chose but there are so many others :-)

Very sad to leave. We almost stayed a couple of extra nights but thought it best to get moving and as the boat pulled away from our paradise island we knew that it would live in our hearts as one of the most magical and special places we have shared together...paalan turtles, we will miss you!

As for our next stop...Boracay...via quite a lot of traveling :-)


Da Perkins
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Robin on

Nice to read, dear Perkins! Pandan Rules! I often look back to the time on Pandan Island and hope that i can change the white snow in front of my house to white beach...

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