Saturday, September 17, 2011

Puerto Galera in August

Puerto Galera, Philippines

Puerto Galera is a popular tourist destination in the Philippines.  Perhaps, second only to Boracay. It is located in Oriental Mindoro. Travel time is usually three and a half (31/2) hours from Manila. From the months of March, April and May (considered as summer season) local and foreign tourists flock here to enjoy its numerous beaches, snorkeling, diving sites and its nightlife.

Reason for Travelling to Puerto in August

A very long weekend was fast approaching. It was in the news that the government declared August 29 (Monday) as a regular holiday in observance of the National Heroes day and August 30 (Tuesday) in celebration of the end of Ramadan. With that, there are four (4) days beginning Saturday to enjoy.  When was the last time we got to experience this very long weekend?  In a year, it is only during the holy week that we get four (4) days off.

Before, there was the so-called "holiday economics" in the Philippines. It became a practice, pursuant to law, that the President would move the celebration of regular holidays near weekends. Thus, if a holiday falls on Thursday, the "non-working day" but not necessarily the celebration itself is moved on a Friday. The aim is to encourage local tourism and boost the economy. I am really not sure whether this really worked. The concept, at first impression, appears to encourage people to travel given the long holidays. But, the scheme is doubtful whether it actually gave the economy a shot.  Aside from a long day off, what the people needs to travel is, of course, the budget. Without the needed cash travel plans are often put on hold giving way to priority household items.

Statistics may show that local tourism has improved with the implementation of the holiday economics, but the very long weekend often results to closed government offices and factories, idle workers, huge mall crowds yet with practically nothing to spend and an increase in the number of bystanders. It seems that this concept triggers lower productivity and perhaps, as critics say, it is not ideal for poor countries like the Philippines.

If I may inquire is it not correct that in order to encourage people to travel on long holidays is for the government to prevent the skyrocketing of prices especially in prime destination areas? While it has been usual and customary, that during the "peak season"  prices in tourist spots are almost, if not already, beyond the reach of the ordinary traveler, it may be worth consideration imposing a price ceiling even just on hotel rates during the "holiday economics" season.  With this country’s usual slow economy, traveling is now considered a luxury. In fact, even during my younger days, I can no longer recall the last time when, as a family, we traveled to a resort. All I can remember is we went to a beach, I think somewhere in Batangas, during a company-sponsored outing. But such an event was rare.

Holiday economics, however, is not the reason why we decided to travel to Puerto.  My brother, who took a quick vacation here, is leaving on Tuesday. Thus, all of the sudden and without much preparation, we took off to Puerto Galera on Thursday with the intention of going back to Manila Friday afternoon. The plan was to be in Puerto before the huge crowd pours in. In this way, we thought that somehow, the hotel rates would be lower. Expenses much cheaper.  My brother also thought that with a sixteen (16) hours flight back to the US, he may need the remaining days to rest and get ready.

As I have experienced, Puerto in summer is synonymous with very high accommodation rates, crowded beaches and very expensive boat rides!  And of course, great views, hot bodies and lots of parties!  With that, summer in Puerto despite all the hassles is worth it. Travel is likewise a lot easier and safer. The sea is calm. There are no sudden storm and weather disturbance.  While the beach may be crowded with people, it is actually the reason of being there! More people mean more fun and better chances of meeting someone who may be worth spending the summer with. However, Puerto Galera in August would be a different kind of an experience. This is actually the first time that I would be going to Puerto during this time of the year. I really do not have an idea what awaits us. Puerto Galera in August? I really think this is not a good idea. But, is there any other choice? I really felt that we really have to go somewhere.

I really can't remember why we opted to visit the place. I recall that we were planning to go to Majayjay, Laguna to see the now-famous Majayjay falls and enjoy its crystal clear yet very cold waters.  Then, all of a sudden, there had been a change of heart and plans. I figured that Majayjay may not provide the "nightlife" unlike in Puerto. I had been to Majayjay and seeing the Majayjay falls and bathe in its waters is indeed an experience to behold. Yet, the place is quite rural and its enigmatic feel is not that kind of place, in the meantime, that may suit our taste.   We still long for nightlife!  Continuous party with beautiful girls hanging around, or that "good time" is not available in Majayjay.  Thus, Puerto may be a better choice. Both nature and nightlife can be found in Puerto.

Puerto is also the nearest alternative to Boracay.  Depending on the traffic and road condition, it is just more than three (3) hours away from Cubao to the port of Batangas

To the Port of Batangas

We took the Alps Bus in its station in Cubao without any prior reservation. Immediately as I stepped into the bus, I noticed that the bus is well maintained. It is airconditioned and has the usual DVD and TV set. And it has reclining seats with headrest. There were very few passengers at that time. I guess, the "Puerto Galera rush" is set to happen yet on Friday night or on Saturday morning. Though we were at the bus station at 8 a.m., it was already past 9 when the bus left. It still waited for passengers. The travel, after surviving the usual traffic in Cubao, became comfortable upon reaching SLEX and to the Star tollway until we reached the port of Batangas. ETA was around two (2) hours. But, it was almost noon when we arrived.

Even before we can get off the bus, a man approached us and offered some "assistance".  I was really bit suspicious.  We really do not need his help. But, since we do not want to humiliate him, we just pretended to go along. Later, we found out that, as a form of payment for his "assistance", he brought us to his store inside the port and offered his merchandise. As we felt that we do not have a choice but to buy something from his store, we bought some candies and a big gallon of distilled water at P 150.00. We were with the impression that water may not be available at our destination or if there is, it is sold at a much higher price. After painstakingly carrying that gallon of water in our trip and much our dismay, we found out that it sold in Puerto Galera (at the White Beach Resort) for only P80.00!

Thus, to all those who are planning to visit Puerto, head directly to the ticketing office inside the port. Do not entertain strangers.  It is best to just politely ignore them! Honestly, we should have gone directly to the ticketing office where we could have inquired on other shipping lines' "better offers or promos". We could have tried the bigger Besta.  As we were told that the FSL’s boat is “about to leave” and since its employee has been sticking with us ever since we finally accepted his offer.  We bought round trip tickets.

Inside the terminal, there are, aside from the waiting areas, food stores, a mini-grocery, and booths of various resorts in Puerto.  I have noticed that there were very few people inside the terminal. It seems that with the very few people who were waiting for their respective boats or ferries, most appear to be not the transient or the traveler type but are just headed back to Mindoro.  I have noticed a few foreigners. But, there is a handful that had the same idea, like ours, of going to Puerto Galera in August.  A couple who appears to be newly married or just engaged were among those waiting for a ride to Puerto. I figured that their relationship is just “new” as they appear sweet. The have not separated from one another since the time we saw them.

As this was a spur of the moment get-away (in other words, we do not have any reservations); and since we were still waiting for the FSL's boat, whom we thought is "about to leave"; and finally since we have nothing to do, we visited the booths. After the usual inquiries about the price of the accommodation, location, and amenities, we opted to stay at the "White Beach Hotel". The very beautiful depiction of the place at their tarpaulin appealed to us. It appears that the hotel has a very wide beach front. After much haggling, we got a room for five (5) persons overnight at P 1, 800.00.  We desperately tried to ask for a bargain or some discount. We argued that it is a lean season, there are few people who would visit the place and that the weather is not good. But despite our pleas, that is the lowest amount we can get.

After we paid the amount to the hotel’s employee, a sticker was posted on our shirts to identify us as their guests. We were told that someone would welcome us once we arrive at our destination. Here, we learned that the boat was not actually "about to leave".  We still have to wait for an hour! The boat that is supposed to take us is still on its way back to the port of Batangas and is being delayed by bad weather. We really have no choice but to standby, look around and try to get a few shut-eye.

When our boat arrived, clearance from the authorities has to be awaited. Without which, our boat cannot ferry passengers. Again, we were delayed! We were again told to wait. Perhaps, Puerto Galera in August is not really a good idea. The weather is so unpredictable! When we left the bus terminal in Cubao, the sun was shining. But, as we travel, the weather condition began to change for the worse. Perhaps, this is a result of the much discussed “climate change”. The sun would be shining bright in the morning and then there would be a heavy downpour in the afternoon. Traveling in this type of condition is very inconvenient. It is difficult to choose what type of clothing to wear.  We were just lucky that someone from our group brought an umbrella and we did not forget our jackets!

To the Port of Puerto Galera

Finally, the clearance arrived. But, even before we can step put on the boat, a brewing storm can be seen on the horizon. The sky was dark and raindrops began to fall. Our boat, while docked, is being hammered by strong waves making it very difficult to, literally, crawl on its makeshift stairs and get into the boat. The boat was rocking heavily back and forth. To my dismay, however, trash and garbage are also being rocked by the waves.  This shows that our seas are slowly getting polluted.  Where all did these garbage came from?  I hope that all of us stop our habit of throwing garbage into our rivers and seas! I really encourage everyone to participate during coastal cleanup programs! Puerto Galera is known for its pristine waters. Once the sea in Puerto succumbs to pollution, everyone who gets their livelihood from the sea would definitely be affected.  This includes the fisherman, the resort owners, and the entire tourism industry. It is very frustrating seeing garbage floating in our seas. We all know that these pieces of plastic are also the cause of death of dolphins and other sea creatures.

We tried to hold on as much we could. The crew desperately assisted each passenger. Once on the boat, we were told to immediately take our seats and to spread out. Passengers have to be evenly distributed. There is a conspicuous sign reminding passengers to wear or hold on to their life jackets. As we are getting ready to travel, the crew distributed the life jackets. Given the present sea condition, everyone was more than willing to wear them! No one has to be told twice.

I am already having ambivalent feelings of whether to continue our journey or not.  I began to think of our safety. I am aware of several incidents where boats have capsized due to bad weather and lives were lost. But, after having traveled for several hours and after a long wait, I really felt that we do not have a choice but to take the risk. Perhaps, all we can do is trust that the authorities would not allow our boat to travel if it cannot endure the storm.

We battled the wrath of the sea for almost two (2) hours! It was a long, difficult and tortuous voyage. Some passengers cannot help vomiting. It was a very dizzy ride.  The smell of diesel aggravated the situation. As it was raining, plastic curtains were used to cover the boat. Thus, the smell of diesel was all over. The travel was very inconvenient and almost unbearable. It was difficult to breathe. Even just wearing life jackets is becoming a burden. We are thankful, however, that there are very few passengers aboard.

Despite the situation, the boat’s crew remained calm. Perhaps, they are used to this kind of waves and they consider this to be just an ordinary and common experience. Yet, I really cannot help thinking of what would happen if this boat overturns. Would the life jacket, which we were told to wear, enough to save us? I know how to swim. I am confident that I can survive in case this boat sinks. But, I was thinking about my cousins who seem so afraid at the moment. I reached out and ask if they can swim. All I got was an unconvincing nod. As I observe the big waves, I really felt that being a good swimmer and having a life jacket will definitely not guarantee one’s survival.  Once panic sets in, the rate of survival is immediately compromised.  With plastic covering the whole boat, I asked myself, how would we be able to get out once the boat sinks? At this time, I took a moment to say a prayer. I prayed that God saves us from any unfortunate event.  After offering a prayer, I found peace and calmness. I know that God will not allow anything bad to happen to us.  Indeed, during difficult situations, the power of prayer is all that is needed!

During the summer, we are docked directly at the White Beach Resort. This August, the boat maneuvered to the port in Puerto. According to the boat’s crew, the angry and strong waves of the sea forced them to divert instead of embarking directly at White Beach.  Some passengers questioned this boat’s maneuver. But, I was just thankful we were able to make it to the port safely. After the crew gave some explanations, we realized that it is not their fault. It is the only mother nature that is to blame. To ease our inconvenience, we were provided a free ride to the resort. After battling the sea, which to us seems like ages, the idea of another ride is most unwelcome. We were so tired and we really wanted to take a rest at the hotel. But, we do not have a choice.

As we took the fifteen (15) minute ride to the resort, I was reminded of Majayjay. The green surroundings, the lush vegetation and the very provincial feel are reminiscent of Majayjay. While we were traveling the roads to the resort, I have noticed the simplicity of Puerto. Actually, this is the very first time that I was able to experience traveling the outskirts of Puerto. The weather has also improved. The sun began to show its light and presence. Along the way, I saw some bike riders and backpackers enjoying the countryside. This short ride to the white beach resort showed a different perspective of Puerto. Honestly, we are beginning to enjoy the ride. I would say that this is one of the treats of going to Puerto in August. I have not experienced this during my summer trips here.

Midway in our trip, a man suddenly hopped into a jeep carrying some brochures and pamphlets. With a big wide smile, he showed to the passengers everything that he was holding.  With curiosity, we looked at the brochures. One package that he is offering is for P 1, 500.00 for activities which include snorkeling, island hopping and sightseeing. (I really cannot remember the exact amount that we paid for the said activities. I was so tired at that time and it is one from the group who negotiated the price). After much inquiry and sincere effort to haggle the lowest price, a meeting of the minds between us was sealed.  He will take us to three (3) activities (snorkeling, island hopping and sightseeing) tomorrow after a much-needed sleep!

At White Beach Resort

White Beach Resort in August
Finally, we arrived at White Beach Resort. It was almost 3 in the afternoon. True to their promise, an employee of the hotel welcomed us. But, the hotel is still a few blocks away. We are very tired at this time. Our bags felt heavier than before. And we were still carrying that big gallon of distilled water we bought at the port of Batangas for P 150.00! While we were walking to our hotel, we were greeted by a very different white beach. The usual crowds, loud noise, the hot bodies, and other treats seen during summer are no longer there. The beach appears to be deserted! In summer, almost all the spot is taken. But now, you can see and appreciate the whole stretch of the beach! Puerto in August may be considered as a lover's paradise.

But some things never change! Present are the annoying vendors selling almost everything – sunglasses, t-shirts, shorts, towels, swimming apparels, hats, cell phone loads and even the cell phone, pearl earrings and necklaces, sunblock, alcohol and other items. It's business as usual for the ambulant vendors, the rows of food alleys and souvenir stalls along the beach. Those offering a quick massage are still in attendance but their rates, I presume, are now negotiable. Business appeared to be in a standstill and in a survival mode until summer arrives. There are very few customers!

White Beach Hotel

When we arrived at the hotel, we asked ourselves if this is the very same hotel shown in their tarpaulin at the Port of Batangas. It is not actually what we expected. We thought that the hotel has a very wide beachfront as depicted.  But, we really never bothered to inquire further. We were all tired and hungry! We felt that every ounce of energy in our bodies are now lost. Yet, at the risk of redundancy, the big gallon of distilled water we bought at the port is just priced at P 80.00 here in the hotel! Imagine, we carried that heavy gallon of water all the way to the hotel from Batangas!  The hotel is very near the beach and as usual, words of welcome were heard from its staff.  It has a restaurant that serves mostly Filipino dishes at a very affordable price.  This is really one advantage of going to Puerto during the lean season, everything seems so affordable. We took time to eat.

We were led to our room. It was on the second floor. It was meant for five (5) persons - with two (2) queen-size beds and one (1) single bed. It has AC, CR and a TV. It was not actually impressive. Yet, for the moment, this is fine! We really need to rest. During the peak season, however, this is rented for P 3,000.00 or even more! Since this is Puerto in August, there are several vacant rooms. Immediately, we threw ourselves in the bed and slept!  As far as I can recall, this is one of those rare occasions where I would be sleeping before sunset. If only I have some energy left, I would like to go to the beach and explore. Is it not that afternoon walks along the seashore is very romantic? That is if that afternoon walk would mean holding hands with a special someone (preferably of the opposite sex).

Ironically, we can only manage a few hours of sleep. I thought we would be sleeping till the next day. I can still feel the aches in my body and I am still haunted by the memory of that very stressful journey.  If we were not in Puerto, I would definitely rest in the comfort of my room. I would rejuvenate within my cocoon. Maybe it is because of the excitement of being here or the difficulty of counting sheep at a new place that prevented us from sleeping continuously. But, it may due to the fact that we slept before 6 pm! Time check is around 8 in the evening. Someone from the group suggested that we get a taste of the nightlife.  Without any hesitation, everyone agreed.  I also think that it is not fair and right to stay in our room for the whole evening.  We have to enjoy every second of our stay in Puerto! Thus, we sprang back to life and fixed ourselves.

In August, nightlife in Puerto is practically nil.  There are very few party goers. We walked the whole stretch of white beach as we catered to our insatiable desire to take pictures. While most establishments are open for business, the bars are lifeless and customers are rare. Is this the same situation in Boracay? The night, however, was cool and the wind was blowing mildly. I have not seen a single star in the sky. Since we are really in the mood to party, we again walked the mile to find a bar that somehow resembles those in Timog during Friday nights. The night is still young but we are already getting hopeless. We are already thinking of getting back to bed. Then, there was light.  A series of light appeared in a distance! We ran towards that light and there we found that it emanated from the fire dancers of the “Hiyas Angeline”  bar.  This bar is similar to all other bars scattered in white beach. It is small and it is just a few meters from the sea. The sound of the waves can be heard. The blowing of the wind can be felt in an instant. The fire dancers attracted much attention. In just minutes, the bar is now filled with people.

The Fire Dancers
We seated ourselves and ordered drinks as we watched the fire dancers made artistic, well coordinated and very fast movements taming the fire they are holding. Applause can be heard at the end of each performance. It was well appreciated by the guests. After the fire dancers’ show, we posed with them for souvenir pictures.   Aside from the fire dancers, the food servers (most if not all of them belonging to the third sex) entertained us with numbers reminiscent of the comedy bars in Timog.  Time flew and then came midnight. The beat began to change for the better! Sometimes good things happen when least expected. From a fire dancers’ show to a comedy bar, it then metamorphosed into a much-awaited disco house! Most of the guests enjoyed the night. There were several foreigners on the floor. If I am not mistaken the bar is owned by a non-local. Boredom is now gone! I forgot what time is it.

Luckily, we woke up in our room at the hotel. It was around ten am. We noticed the man who offered us to go snorkeling. We have not paid him yet. Maybe he is reminding us of what we have agreed in the jeep. Since there are very few people in Puerto, he patiently waited for us. At the hotel’s beachfront restaurant, we ordered the usual “silog dishes.” I remember that this resto serves free coffee or a free refill. We took pictures as we waited for what we ordered and when the food arrived. It is within our budget. Everything was going okay except for a vendor trying to sell some pearls that he professes as genuine. Sometimes, these vendors can be very annoying! We bought some of the pearls after a short demo on why is not a mere imitation. From the restaurant, we can see everything on the beach. The weather appears like it is going to rain.  Nimbus clouds cover the sky.  At some moments however the sun would show itself for a while. The weather is indescribable. Al Gore should see this!

The beach is almost empty with people. Usually, this beach is crowded with beach-goers - frolicking, playing games, holding hands while walking on the shore, swimming and a lot of other varied activities. I can remember there was para-sailing and a banana boat ride here. But, that was summer. It is a really different Puerto Galera in August. It seems everyone has disappeared except for a few souls who are desperately trying to have fun despite the weather. We even wondered whether it is safe to swim. We noticed the big waves and there is no lifeguard around. The beach is likewise littered with debris washed ashore. There are pieces of wood, plastic, trash, stones, and other forms of garbage.  I really feel sad every time I see garbage on the beach. This is Puerto! This is not Manila Bay! I hope that the officials of Puerto Galera continue their efforts in ensuring that the beach and the sea remain clean. The white and pristine beaches and the very clear waters are the main reason why tourists are flocking to Puerto!

Despite the beach’s prevailing condition, we really have no choice but to enjoy our present situation! After traveling this far and surviving the most difficult circumstances, we have to make this trip worth it. There is no time delve into chagrin thoughts.  What is important now is to change our predicament into something enjoyable. We got to look at the glass as half-full!  Definitely, there are few good things in Puerto in August. Prices are all affordable and there are a lot of spots offering privacy. Accommodations are available without the need of reservation.  In August, the unbearable heat from the sun is gone! Sunburn becomes a thing of the past. It is now replaced by mild and cool weather where the clouds shroud the sun’s rays.  In August, White Beach appears to be romantic just like the old Baguio our forefathers knew.  The huge waves repeatedly kissing the seashore together with that sunset’s color created a memorable backdrop for lovers frolicking in the beach.

We have been taking pictures of ourselves, the beach, the view and everything there is, which to our mind, is worth the click. We all want to capture the moment and immortalize the day. It is remembrance. It is evidence. It is proof that we are in here in Puerto this August! We really felt that taking pictures on this day should be part of everything we do. We also got our video cam. But, why is it that we are more accustomed to taking pictures rather than videos? Perhaps, pictures are much easier to download on Facebook compared to videos!

We were reluctant at first to swim. The very big wages seems to discourage such activity. It is not safe. There is no lifeguard in sight.  But after seeing some people swimming and playing on the beach, we finally gave in. We changed into our swimming attire and seconds later, we saw ourselves running towards the beach. It is definitely swimming time! But, as we made it to the sea, our feet hurt due to the pieces of stone underneath the waves. I recall that sand, instead of stones, used to cover this area.  It is very difficult walking while on a waist-high seawater.  Some of the stones are very sharp. We really have to be very careful. Accidents can happen anytime.

We played with the big waves. For a moment, all the negatives thoughts were erased from our minds. We were all transformed into that child we were once before.  We all held hands and each time a big wave arrives, we would attempt to evade its power by jumping as high as we could. At that time, I felt that joy resurrected. Our youthfulness affirmed. Our bond made stronger! It is time to enjoy the moment and claim the day as ours! We embraced the seashore and tried to seize the horizon. If only we can make time stop… While there is a danger of being caught in the waves and sent to a much deeper part of the sea, we continued to challenge it. We would swim for a while then walk, run and swim again. Laughter reverberated amongst us. But, at some moment there would be silence. We would think of our safety! But, why is it that when we are having fun time seems to move so fast?

We realized that we can’t go on swimming and playing forever.  We remembered that we have a schedule to keep. We still need to go to snorkeling, swimming and sightseeing! Our agreement with the man who hopped in the jeepney ride with us was to do the said activities after lunch. It is already past eleven am.  In summer, the sun’s heat seems to penetrate through the skin. No amount of sunblock can provide complete protection against it.  This August, swimming at this time is fun! Clouds cover the sun’s rays. And for some moment, rains would pour. The drizzle would then provide an additional reason to just let go and be happy. Swimming in the sea at the same time being drenched with rain can only be experienced, perhaps, during August. This is of course until climate change changes everything again.

It was already noon. The sun is still hiding in the clouds. We are not hungry and we are still enjoying the waves. But we all agreed to leave the beach. The man has been patiently waiting for us. He told us that his name was Mario. At this time, we are already thinking if we can still afford such activities. We may have overspent at the bar last night. We then hurried back to our hotel. We then checked our budget and made some accounting. We concluded that there is still some amount left to pay for the activities and for some souvenirs. We finally decided to try it.

Snorkeling, Island Hopping and Sight Seeing Activities

Usually, the boatman would fetch their customers at the shores of White Beach. This time it is different. According to Marion, his boat is docked at his house. We checked out at white beach hotel carrying all our bags and things.  It was agreed that after snorkeling, we would go straight to the Port of Puerto and go home. The idea was to save time. And since we would not be going back to White Beach, we asked for some time to buy things to bring back home. That is if we make it back! We then hurried up to the stalls on the beach and bought almost anything we can afford. We grabbed t-shirts, necklaces, swimwear, a goggle and anything worthwhile and within our budget. I bought several t-shirts with the Puerto Galera logo for my brother to bring back to the US.

We walked to the jeepney terminal wearing identical t-shirts with the Puerto Galera logo. We desperately carried our bags, our wet clothes, and our souvenirs. Mario assured us that his boat is just a few minutes away. We did not take a jeep but a tricycle.  We squeezed ourselves into the trike. At first, I thought it is incapable of carrying us. Every space in the trike was taken. I really do not know how we were able to fit into it. At any rate, we were able to reach the place. It is a typical fisherman’s village. Houses are made of light materials almost touching one another. Again, much to my disappointment, I saw garbage and trash floating where boats were docked.  I really wanted to remind those living in the area to stop throwing their garbage into the sea! Pieces of plastic and other trash are very hard to ignore. I guess it is about time that they do some coastal clean-up. Honestly, I am already getting worried in the state of our seas.  I have already visited beach resorts in Davao, Cebu, Subic, La Union and other places and I can’t fail to notice the increase of pollutants. This may be the time to ban plastics and return to using biodegradable materials!

We all stepped into the boat. It is a medium sized boat. I think this boat is used for fishing when there are no tourists in Puerto. It has some sort of a storage bin that can be unearthed after removing some covers. This is where we placed our bags and everything we were carrying at that time. Mario and his assistant told us that the boat and everything placed in it is safe. There were life jackets and other snorkeling equipment. We also brought some bread to feed the fishes.  After the boat was pushed into a much deeper part of the sea the boatman started the engine. We again took pictures of ourselves, the boat, the scenery and everything.  We wore our life jackets. It is definitely snorkeling, sight-seeing and island hopping time! These are the usual activities offered to tourists in Puerto aside from the banana boat ride, jet ski and parasailing. In my lifetime, would I ever afford to jet ski? I have inquired about the price of renting a jet ski and the P 2,500.00 per hour price tag is really way beyond my budget. I just contented myself of the fact that there are a lot of things that guests can do here in Puerto. But primarily it depends on the weather. It is like in the Enchanted Kingdom in Santa Rosa. If it rains several rides are closed and guests are told to come back the next day. If rains happen here in Puerto, would we be told to go back?  If we can avail of a discount, we can let go of the sightseeing and island hopping. We are already contented with snorkeling! We tried to bargain but Mario just smiled. The activities are included in the “package” he said. I know that in August, the price of renting the boat and everything that goes with it is deemed as the “cheapest”.  In summer, when the law of supply and demand sets in, renting a boat is probably like renting that BMW.

We still have to travel to reach the other side of Puerto where the coral beds can be found. At first, I thought this would just be an easy ride. Miraculously, the sun was shining and the sea appears to be calm. However, while we were almost in the middle of our journey huge waves suddenly appeared while the sun disappeared! The sky became dark followed by heavy rains.  We then started to ask whether anyone bothered to check the news if there was a storm coming. On second thought why bother? Can we really depend on PAGASA’s forecast?  As the huge waves continue to hammer the boat, fear crept into us.  Everyone remained silent.  I then asked myself (again!), is it really a good idea to visit Puerto in August?  Several times, we would glance at the boatman and his assistant. They were calm. With that, we felt that there is nothing to worry about.  Maybe situations such as these are common.

We held on whatever part of the boat there is to hold on to. We saw that there were two smaller boats following us. And despite being almost swallowed by the big waves, those boats seemed continued to float.  This added much to our confidence in making it to where we are supposed to go.  To our mind, if those boats can survive the waves why can’t we? Yet, the relentless pounding of the waves has scared us to death! No one is making jokes anymore. Everyone hang on to their seats. We were in a very scary situation when my cousin asked if there are sharks here. Such a question is indeed inappropriate in situations such as this.  Who would want to end up as shark’s food? We kept asking Mario if we are already near to our destination? How many minutes are still there for us to endure? Suddenly, I remembered that I brought a video cam. I then started taking videos of the waves. I just don’t know why I suddenly began taking videos. I am not panicking at this time. Perhaps, I got tired of taking pictures…

Mario successfully steered us safely into our destination. I really cannot understand why all of a sudden the weather changed. But now the sun is shining again. The dark clouds are gone and rains stopped. Thank God! I think Al Gore should really see this. Is this the effect of climate change?  Or this is just a common occurrence? Sometimes, the weather is getting so unpredictable and it is may be incorrect to cancel travel plans solely on it. But, I would really not want to experience this ordeal again!

The two small boats that followed us
We got ready to snorkel. Mario informed us that the reason why two (2) small boats followed us. They intend to offer their services. For a fee of P 200.00 per person, they would guide us snorkeling while holding on their boats. Someone who climbed aboard said that we would not fully enjoy snorkeling if we do not use the small boats. The water in the coral reefs is shallow. We would need the small boats to hold on to while snorkeling.  Is this part of their sales talk?  Honestly, our budget is thinning out. We still need to make sure that we have some amount left for our fare back to Manila. This is a real dilemma. We tried negotiating.  But after a while, we just found ourselves hanging in the smaller boats as we gazed upon those beautiful corals and multicolored fishes. We are now beginning to enjoy snorkeling. At first, we had a difficult time adjusting to the use of the life jacket and the snorkeling equipment. As we continued, however, we got used to it.

This is not the first time that I tried snorkeling in Puerto. I have already experienced this activity during the summer. I recall that it was noon. This August, aside from the fact that we are doing this activity past lunchtime, the sun’s rays are covered by clouds. The timing is right for snorkeling. As we gazed underneath the clear waters of Puerto, the coral reefs are indeed a sight to behold. It is like watching a very beautiful aquarium. We have seen Nemo! Or is it?  I saw fishes of different colors doing their own version of hide and seek. We took some bread and fed the fishes. Once the bread touches the water, they all scrambled to take a bite. One fish was able to grab a big piece of bread and immediately scampered away only to be pursued relentlessly by its comrades.  It seems that some of the fishes have been used to tourists. The corals are magnificent! It is a beautiful representation of God’s infinite artistic talent. No landscapist can create or re-create something more spectacular. It is almost perfect except for a few pieces of plastic floating around like parasites. Please let us help in making Puerto garbage free!

After we had our fill snorkeling, we were asked us if we would like to see the giant clams. And this is again for a fee. At first, it was P 200.00 per person, then P 150.00. Maybe they have realized our serious reluctance, they settled for P 100.00 per person just to see it. Honestly, that is the only amount we can afford. But since we are already here, we all decided to dig deeper into our pockets. At that time, that additional amount is big! The area where the giant clams can be found was just a few meters where we were snorkeling. According to our guides, these giant clams produce pearls and are not actually residents in the area. The municipality planted those clams for tourists to see.  It is strictly prohibited to smuggle them and one tourist who attempted in doing so was penalized with a huge fine. This should be a warning for future visitors in Puerto. Leave those clams where they can be found! Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time! In fact, we saw someone guarding the area. This shows that the authorities are serious in protecting those clams. I just hope that this continues for the rest of the year!

After snorkeling, we went back to our boat and headed for what is referred to as the “sandbar”.  This is probably the “island hopping” or the “sightseeing” package. We were told that in summer there is an entrance fee.  This August and maybe during the whole lean season, no entrance fee is imposed! We were all silent upon hearing this from Mario. But, deep inside we were very thankful. In situations such as this, every opportunity to save is most welcome. As soon as we step on the island, we noticed the sign and probably the place is named as “Elizabeth’s Hideaway”. We inquired where we can use freshwater. The feel of seawater on our bodies is getting very inconvenient. The helpful bystanders pointed to a nearby restaurant. As we entered this resto we saw an adjoining swimming pool. If the use of that pool is free we would be very glad to jump into it. But, its use costs P 100.00 per person according to someone from the reception.

As this is a restaurant, we deemed it is customary to at least inspect the menu. The prices appear to be reasonable. However, our budget is really running out. After diligently scanning the menu, we ordered a medium sized pizza priced at around P 500.00 and fruit shakes.  As our orders are being prepared, it is picture taking time again! We posed at anything we thought is beautiful – the veranda, the nipa huts, the seashore, the docked banana boat and the jet ski and the restaurant itself. I think everyone would like to update their FB accounts! I asked about the banana boat. I was told that due to the inclement weather and lack of sufficient clients the ride has been temporarily closed! Maybe this is the same banana boat that used to ply White Beach last summer. This ride was a premier attraction back then. This August, however, it is just docked here in the sandbar waiting for the next summer to come by. Minutes later our orders arrived. I can say that the pizza was worth the wait.

As we are now certified customers, Mario felt that we earned the right to use the facilities.  He whispered this to us. We really have to take a shower. We planned to head directly to the Port of Puerto after this. It is almost 4 pm. The last trip of FSL back to the Port of Batangas is around 5 pm. We asked the waiter if we could use their shower CR.  He said that there is a faucet we could use at the back.  Without a much better option, we contented ourselves using that faucet.  At least, this is for free! Maybe this is what it meant that the best things in life are free. We took turns in using that one operational faucet. We ignored how inconvenient it was! We are lucky that at least the faucet is elevated. I think this used to have a shower valve. If only I can, I would have showered for eternity. After being in the sea for hours, being dozed with fresh water is a treat.

All of a sudden it rained! We hurried up and changed our clothes. We got to be ready for our travel back to the Port of Puerto.  We got to catch FSL’s last trip back to Batangas!

To the Port of Batangas

It was almost 5 pm when we arrived at the Port here in Puerto. We were all tired. Everyone is dying to go back to Manila. As usual, there were few passengers around. As we arrived at this port, the rain stopped. The wind was blowing mildly. I can see that the sea is calm. I thought that there would be no obstacles to our journey back. While waiting for the boat, I had the chance to observe the beauty of this port.  The sea water is clear with a greenish and bluish color. I began to imagine what if Manila Bay’s water is as clean and clear like this in Puerto? It would definitely be an instant tourist attraction. I can still remember those posters depicting Manila Bay’s famous sunset. I also heard stories that when someone is sick with a cough, all that is to be done is go to Manila Bay. Take a deep breath to clear the nasal passages. Now, with its present condition, I think it is no longer a good idea.

From this port, it seems that the islands are still covered with trees. I can still a lot of greens.  But, very visible however are beautiful houses on mountain tops. The folks at the port said that those houses are owned either by rich politicians, foreigners or locals who married foreigners. I think most of the resorts here in Puerto are also owned by either of them. I saw some hawks and other birds flying around and trying to catch something out of the sea. Several yachts and small boats are also docked in the port. How much does a yacht such as this cost?

I really thought that our travel back to Batangas would be smooth. But, all of a sudden it began to rain and all of a sudden it stopped. The weather has been from unpredictable to outright irrational. We patiently waited for FSL. After much wait, the boat did not arrive. An announcement was made that that due to bad weather travel to Batangas has been canceled! Upon hearing this, our jaws dropped. We are really running out of cash. Moreover,  our clothes are no longer enough for us to conveniently stay overnight. But what can we do? This means we have to stay overnight and travel the next morning. This is really the first time that I have experienced this. In August, there is really that possibility that the boat ride gets canceled due to the inclement weather. Travelers should be ready for unforeseen incidents when they travel here in Puerto at this time. I think it is best to bring extra cash.

Someone at the port offered us some places to stay overnight with different price ranges. We really negotiated for the lowest price there is. It is only P 800.00 for the five of us. It was a house around ten minutes away from the port.  The room which was rented to us has enough beds, with own CR, but without AC. According to the caretakers, the owner is a local who is presently in Australia. They even said that the adjoining house is owned by a popular actress. It was not really comfortable to sleep in. We just have to make do of what is there. Perhaps, this is the kind of trait that travelers should have. In Rome do as the Romans do! In traveling to various places flexibility is a must.

We were allowed to use the kitchen to prepare dinner.  To save more, we went to the market and bought a half kilo of rice, a big fish, some condiments and other items including coal. We would try the often used cooking process which is roasting.

FSL's Boat
We were again at the port of Puerto at 7 am the next day. If the travel is again canceled, we would really be in deep trouble. We no longer have cash even in our ATMs.  Any amount that we have is enough to pay for our fare. Our pockets are practically empty. We are already broke. Our cash has been depleted. There were so many passengers at that time. There were several foreigners but a majority are Japanese. After waiting for almost an hour, the FSL’s boat arrived. Thank God! The weather and the sea are calm. The sun is shining and the sky is clear. I think there is no stopping us now.

The ride however back to the Port of Batangas was more difficult compared to what we have experienced. I thought that we will never make it back. I hope that you got a glimpse of how it is to travel to Puerto Galera in August.

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