PUETRO GALERA

Once a safe har­bour for Span­ish galleons, this beau­ti­ful area is now a fas­ci­nat­ing trop­i­cal won­der­land for divers, sailors and hol­i­day mak­ers alike. There re­ally is some­thing for ev­ery­one...

trade a boat - - CONTENTS - Fiona Forster STORY AND PHO­TOS

Puerto Galera, Philip­pines

Puerto Galera is a busy town on the beau­ti­ful Muelle har­bour lo­cated at the north­ern tip of a large Filipino is­land called Min­doro. Sur­rounded by tiny is­lands and pris­tine beaches, the wa­ters teem with marine life and coral. It is still con­sid­ered one of the safest and most con­ve­nient nat­u­ral har­bours in the world and is often used as shel­ter for large ocean­go­ing ves­sels in ty­phoons.

CHINA AR­RIVES

The ‘Port of Galleons' first be­came pop­u­lar among sea­far­ers in the pros­per­ous years of trad­ing dur­ing the 10th cen­tury. Chi­nese records show fre­quent trad­ing with the indige­nous Mangyan peo­ple. The beau­ti­ful rivers cas­cad­ing through the moun­tains were rich in gold, which the Chi­nese traded for del­i­cate glazed porce­lain. The is­lands were abun­dant with other boun­ties such as jade, coral, shells, birds, rat­tan and many other trea­sures that at­tracted an abun­dance of for­eign traders.

Puerto Galera be­came a reg­u­lar stopover for mer­chant ves­sels sail­ing along the im­por­tant trade routes of the Near East, In­dian coast, In­dochi­nese coast, China, Philip­pines, Su­ma­tra, and Java.

In 1983 an Aus­tralian diver by the name of Brian Hol­man, dis­cov­ered a 15th Cen­tury 'balang­hai', a Malayan sail­ing ves­sel con­tain­ing hun­dreds of pieces of blue and white Ming Dy­nasty pot­tery in the Manila Chan­nel ap­proach to the har­bour. Puerto Galera be­came mas­sively pop­u­lar within the dive com­mu­nity as a re­sult of this and af­ter sal­vaging op­er­a­tions, directed by the Na­tional Mu­seum, sev­eral dive re­sorts were opened along the coast ad­ja­cent to the town.

“Sur­rounded by tiny is­lands and pris­tine beaches, the wa­ters teem with marine life and coral.”

You can still view ex­am­ples of the blue and white Ming Dy­nasty porce­lain in the Mu­seum lo­cated in the church com­pound.

SPAIN AR­RIVES

Puerto Galera was dis­cov­ered by the Span­ish dur­ing one of the ex­plo­rations made by Mar­tin de Goiti and Juan de Sal­cedo on their way to Manila in 1570. The Span­ish re­ferred to it as 'mina de oro' (mean­ing “gold mine”) from where the is­land got its cur­rent name, Min­doro.

Au­gus­tinian mis­sion­ar­ies set­tled Puerto Galera in 1574 as the orig­i­nal cap­i­tal of Min­doro. Galleons com­ing from Mex­ico and Spain used the pres­ence of an ex­cel­lent port to take refuge dur­ing stormy weather be­fore pro­ceed­ing to Manila.

It's said that once sailors set foot on the is­land,

they never wanted to leave with­out a prom­ise to come back. The sur­round­ing moun­tains and the good har­bour served the Spaniards well as shields from the Moro pi­rates and other ma­raud­ers.

The coasts of Puerto Galera were guarded by a Span­ish war­ship named Cañonero Mariv­e­les. How­ever, on Novem­ber 18, 1879, the ill-fated bat­tle­ship was hit by a pow­er­ful storm, which caused it to sink off the west coast. As a trib­ute to the lost ship and its crew, a wooden cross was erected right at the cen­tre of Muelle.

The Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies es­tab­lished their re­li­gion in the area in 1574 and the mod­ern day com­mu­nity is still pre­dom­i­nately Catholic. So much so, they have built a colos­sal replica of the Vir­gin Mary just out­side Batan­gas and over­look­ing the Verde Is­land Pas­sage. At 96 metres tall the Mon­temaria (or Mother of Asia) can be seen all the way along the north coast of Min­doro. She is ded­i­cated to the unity and peace of all na­tions and stands in a pose of bless­ing to all across sea and land.

WE AR­RIVE

Puerto Galera has been on my bucket list for a long time, with sto­ries from fam­ily and friends fas­ci­nat­ing me through the years. Of course there are many ways to see this nat­u­ral won­der­land: you can sail here (more about that later), you can fly in and out on a sea­plane from Manila or you can catch a ferry from the port of Batan­gas. The 'banca' is a fan­tas­tic way to get around the is­lands, ba­si­cally an out­rig­ger with an en­gine, they come in big and small sizes and are plen­ti­ful and cheap.

If sail­ing is your pas­sion, but you can't han­dle the drama of open seas and cus­toms, there is a terrific op­tion in Puerto. Once here, you can rent a house owned by a lo­cal Aus­tralian yacht club mem­ber Allen Bur­rell, which comes com­plete with a yacht at your dis­posal. Pluso two very noisy and an­gry look­ing white guard-geese!

We ar­rive on a banca from Batan­gas, scoot­ing across the Verde Is­land Pas­sage un­til we reach long white sandy beaches, lined with co­conut palms. For­tu­nately we have a friend who has a very nice house perched atop Boc­qette Is­land, with an awe­some view - our digs for two weeks.

The only set­back of be­ing perched atop any­thing is the climb up and this was no ex­cep­tion, with hun­dreds of dry stone steps to con­quer many times a day!

Morn­ings are mag­i­cal, with mon­keys swing­ing through the tree­tops, weird and won­der­ful trop­i­cal birds call­ing to each other, the kiss­ing sound of the gecko and the putt-putt of the ban­cas busily mak­ing their way about the

har­bour. It would be hot, ex­cept for a con­sis­tent cool­ing breeze that re­pels keeps sweat and mozzies at bay. That's a good thing be­cause there are no win­dows or fly­screens.

GO EX­PLOR­ING

Just a short banca, (or if you're lucky like us, our friend's brand new rigid in­flat­able) ride across the Muelle Bay is the bustling lit­tle town of Puerto Galera. The ar­rival jetty is crowded with peo­ple wait­ing to board fer­ries and lo­cals try­ing to sell pearls and trin­kets – it's a noisy, jum­bled mess with no real or­der but plenty of char­ac­ter. The beach-front is in a state of dis­re­pair with many build­ings half fin­ished, but rest as­sured, I am told it will soon be a new frontage of restau­rants and bars – with a wa­ter park, no less!

The best way to ex­plore the town is in a tri­cy­cle. This is ba­si­cally a mo­tor bike with a cov­ered side car, mostly stain­less steel and very colour­ful. The pot­holed roads are full of tri­cy­cles and the ride was both hi­lar­i­ous and lit­tle bit scary. There are stray dogs ev­ery­where who, mirac­u­lously, man­age to get out of the way just at the last mo­ment.

The town has a won­der­ful mar­ket – a good place to start – with ven­dors sell­ing fresh colour­ful veg­eta­bles and ev­ery cut of pork and chicken imag­in­able, in­clud­ing the heads and of­fal. There's no re­frig­er­a­tion, but I have to say ev­ery­thing smelled fan­tas­ti­cally fresh. The fish sec­tion was full of buck­ets, run­ning over with wa­ter, and all kinds of shiny eyed, glis­ten­ing crea­tures from the deep wait­ing to be pur­chased for your din­ner. Again, all I could smell here was fresh ocean. Just out­side the mar­ket was a ven­dor with rows of shiny, lid­ded tin pots. In­side, all the favourite Filipino dishes were bub­bling away, ready to fill up take­away con­tain­ers.

There is another form of trans­port here (and the main mode in Manila) called a Jeep­ney. A post World War II in­no­va­tion, they are ba­si­cally the Jeeps left by the US army, length­ened to ac­com­mo­date more pas­sen­gers and then cov­ered to pro­tect them from the heat. They are now made in Manila, al­most al­ways stain­less steel and dec­o­rated in ri­otous colours with kitsch dec­o­ra­tions.

DAY TRIP­PERS

From the town of Puerto you can head on a 20 minute trip to the moun­tain top Pon­derosa Golf Club, a nine hole par three course, with breath­tak­ing views of the har­bour. Even if you're not a golfer, it is a beau­ti­ful spot to have a snack or meal with a drink while sit­ting on the deck and en­joy­ing the view.

Another day trip op­tion is Tuku­ran Falls, just one hour's travel from Puerto. These falls are one of three in the area, the other two be­ing An­in­uan Falls and Ta­ma­raw Falls. Be­fore you go to Tuku­ran Falls, make sure you have ev­ery­thing you need for the day: drinks, snacks, swim­ming cos­tumes and in­sect re­pel­lent. There is no store at the falls and some very hun­gry mozzies ly­ing in wait!

It'ss ap­prox­i­mately a 30 minute walk through dense jun­gle and across a cou­ple of streams to reach the falls, so you need to be in rea­son­ably fit con­di­tion and wear ap­pro­pri­ate footwear to tackle the walk. Once there, you will find a se­ries of gen­tle cas­cades into crys­tal-blue swim­ming holes, per­fect for a re­fresh­ing dip, a picnic and some great pho­tos.

If it's peo­ple, nightlife and beach you are han­ker­ing for head to White Beach, about 15 min­utes tri­cy­cle ride east of Puerto. There you will find lots of ho­tels and restau­rants with plenty of ac­tion dur­ing the day, in the form of a large col­lec­tion of strange look­ing, huge in­flat­able toys that the lo­cals tow along be­hind jet skis for your fun and amuse­ment. At night you can watch the fire dancers on the beach or sexy floor shows per­formed by the beau­ti­ful ‘lady boys', while sip­ping on a Min­doro Sling or a San Miguel beer.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can go is­land hop­ping in a banca, zip­ping in and out of the beau­ti­ful pris­tine beaches. Stop for a swim or snorkel at a turquoise bay, have a BBQ on the beach like a lo­cal (take your own meat) or visit the re­sorts for a drink or snack. Close to town is the beau­ti­ful, tran­quil re­sort and bar, Fri­days. A lit­tle fur­ther down the coast of Min­doro is the Ital­ian bar and restau­rant Luca, where you can sat­isfy your crav­ing for pizza or salt and pep­per cala­mari. At Sa­bang Beach is the Aus­tralian-owned restau­rant El Galleon, where you can or­der from a range of in­ter­na­tional dishes or sam­ple the lo­cal cui­sine.

Out­side El Galleon you can pur­chase a beau­ti­ful hand wo­ven basket from lo­cal ladies, made by the indige­nous Mag­nyan peo­ple from a plant called the nito vine. Just make sure you de­clare it on your en­try home.

DIVE RIGHT IN

Puerto Galera is fa­mous for its numer­ous div­ing sites. The area was des­ig­nated a Man and Bio­sphere Re­serve of UNESCO in 1973 and has some of the most di­verse coral reef div­ing in Asia.

Un­der­wa­ter Puerto of­fers vi­brant corals that are burst­ing with colour and teem­ing with marine life. It is es­ti­mated there are over 3000 species of fish and marine an­i­mals thriv­ing here and these can be seen in many dif­fer­ent dive sites, in­clud­ing wrecks, caves, deep div­ing, walls, slop­ing reefs and thrilling drift div­ing.

As well as corals, fish and (some­times bizarre) sea crea­tures, sea tur­tles are com­mon and often spot­ted close to shore. There is a fam­ily of rare gi­ant clams very close to town, in quite shal­low wa­ter, so it is rel­a­tively easy to view them while snorkellin­g. Just grab a banca and head out early be­fore the crowds, it gets busy!

The area has ap­prox­i­mately 40 top dive sites, these vary be­tween five and 40 metres in depth. The best div­ing con­di­tions are be­tween April to Septem­ber when the seas are at their calmest and the vis­i­bil­ity is high­est. Sa­bang Beach (west of Puerto) is the place to go for dive shops. Here you will find a plethora of very good op­er­a­tors, with PADI dive cour­ses, day trips, night dives and and ar­ray of guided ex­cur­sions on of­fer. It is also home to the area's sleazy side, but you can avoid it if it's not your thing.

GLO­RI­OUS FOOD

Loaded with gar­lic, chilli, pep­per, vine­gar and fra­grant herbs, Filipino food is a fas­ci­nat­ing mix­ture of cul­tures and flavours. Hav­ing been oc­cu­pied by the Span­ish, Amer­i­can and indige­nous Mayo-poly­ne­sians – whose in­flu­ences come from Hindu, Bud­dhist, Chi­nese and Arab traders as well as Ja­panese – Filipino food is often re­ferred to as the ‘orig­i­nal fu­sion cui­sine’. One would think it might be con­fused and com­pli­cated, but it is the epit­ome of bal­ance, with sweet, salty and sour flavours all in per­fect har­mony.

Pork is the favourite op­tion for pro­tein and dishes like crispy pata (deep fried pork knuckle) and spit roasted baby le­chon (yes, suck­ling pig) are ab­so­lutely de­li­cious. Chicken adobo is a heady

mix of gar­lic, vine­gar, soy, pep­per and bay leaf that will have you com­ing back for more.

Then there's a crispy form of spring roll called lumpia, that can be filled with what­ever takes your fancy, in­clud­ing chicken, pork, seafood and even plan­tain, which is a cook­ing banana, wrapped in a thin rice crepe and fried in a sweet sticky sauce – ad­dic­tive!

The Chi­nese in­flu­ence is ob­vi­ous with a dish called pancit can­ton which is ba­si­cally a wheat noo­dle stir fried, loaded with chicken, pork, shrimp and all kinds of veg­eta­bles and a tasty sauce. It is a meal in it­self.

AHOY

Nes­tled in the safe and pro­tected an­chor­age of Muelle Bay lies the hos­pitable Puerto Galera Yacht Club. The club is the or­gan­iser of many yacht­ing events dur­ing the year and pro­vides es­sen­tial weather in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing ty­phoon warnings and seven day weather fore­casts. Fri­day nights are lo­cals' nights at the club, a good way to meet like-minded sailors and share a few yarns, I hear the bar­be­cue baby back ribs are okay too!

If you are plan­ning to sail to the Philip­pines from Aus­tralia, you should avoid the ar­eas around Min­danao and the Sulu Ar­chi­pel­ago, as there are still pi­rate and ter­ror­ist groups ac­tive there. You will need to contact the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to plan visas, cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion clear­ances and quar­an­tine if ap­pli­ca­ble.

There are sev­eral in­ter­net sites with good ad­vice and handy con­tacts. Make sure you do all the re­search you can be­fore plan­ning an in­ter­na­tional sail­ing trip and keep in mind the Philip­pines com­prises 7641 is­lands.

HOME SWEET HOME

Af­ter all the ex­cite­ment of ex­plor­ing, boat­ing, div­ing and eat­ing it is lovely to come ‘home' to our pri­vate abode. Equipped with a pri­vate swim­ming pool, a won­der­ful open bal­cony (with an awe­some view) and our own lovely house­keeper/cook, Jane, this house is just the ticket for a to­tally re­lax­ing, trop­i­cal get­away.

The house sleeps up to 18 peo­ple and has a me­dia room and large din­ing room, but the best bit is that you can rent it through Airbnb.

Our trip back to Manila is on the sea plane out of the Sand Bar. It is a won­der­fully scenic flight back over all the glit­tery, aqua blue bays I have come to know.

Just be­fore we land, we cross over the Taal lake and in­side the lake is the Taal vol­cano, who's crater is filled with wa­ter and con­tains a small is­land. The lo­cals like to tell you it's an is­land in a lake on an is­land in a lake on an is­land…yep, it made my head hurt too!

All too soon we are skid­ding over Manila Bay to come to rest at the jetty and the bucket list hol­i­day is over. Not for­ever though, be­cause I know I will re­turn to this beau­ti­ful par­adise one day, just like the Span­ish sailors promised to.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE 'Ban­cas' are used for fish­ing and trans­port; But new RIBS make the jour­neys much eas­ier! Game-fish­ing is a pop­u­lar pur­suit among ex­pats; Short trips around town are avail­able in the side­car-equipped 'tri­cy­cles'.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Abun­dant is­lands beg ex­plo­ration by wa­ter; Pork fea­tures largely on the Filipino menu; Just another per­fectly lo­cated villa; Jeep­neys are the lo­cal ver­sion of the pub­lic bus; Mar­ket stalls of­fer a we­lath of trop­i­cal pro­duce.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE Emer­ald wa­ters pro­tect­ing se­cluded coves hide around ev­ery cor­ner of the Philip­pines; Sea­planes rep­re­sent a terrific way to see the re­gion from the air.

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