Boquete’s pleasures, and Puerto Galera’s other treasures

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2016 - 12:00am

A tourist website describes how Puerto Galera in Occidental Mindoro caught the attention of the colonizers five centuries ago:

“The Spaniards discovered Puerto Galera on May 12, 1570.  Puerto Galera means ‘port of the galley’: Spanish galleys and galleons used the bay for safe refuge and stopover on their way from Manila to Acapulco.”

Almost 450 years later, Puerto Galera has become a busy commercial town and major tourist destination, with more than a hundred resorts and family-owned pensions catering to foreign and local visitors.

Recently I had the good fortune of being invited, together with fellow Philippine STAR columnist Butch Dalisay and his artist wife June, and the latter’s sister Jana and niece Eia Ricasio, to spend a complimentary weekend at the Boquete Breeze, a family-owned resort house on Boquete Island in Puerto Galera. Boquete (identified as Paniquian in some maps), San Antonio (also called Medio) Island, and the mainland barangays of Sabang, Sinandigan, Palangan and Sto. Niño partially enclose a huge body of water which makes up the deepwater bay of Puerto Galera, said to be “one of the most beautiful bays in the world.”

There are two entrances to the bay, the Verde Island or Manila channel, and the Batangas channel, which are like twin ventricles leading to a throbbing hub of coastal community and inter-island commerce. Boquete is connected to the mainland by a high sandbar, itself a mini-hub of family resorts and is spelt with a capital “S.” 

At the Batangas pier, we boarded the motor launch Golden Eagle of the Minolo Shipping Lines for the 75-minute glide on shimmering water to the Muelle port in Puerto Galera. We had lunch at Le Bistro, a dockside restaurant with an open view of the bay, three walls of various artwork in festive color or somber monochrome, and offering “the finest international cuisine and the freshest seafood dishes” as well as “pasta, steaks, tapas, sandwiches and much more,” and we did enjoy some of the fare the diner’s website boasts about.

A much smaller boat ferried us to Boquete which was just 10 minutes away. We had actually passed it on our way to Muelle on the Golden Eagle. The Boquete Breeze beach resort house, painted all white with a green roof (very visible on Google maps), was built seven years ago by the family of Almira Astudillo-Gilles. Almi, a novelist and social scientist who lives in Chicago but visits often to organize art programs and ecological projects, is this year’s UP Distinguished Alumni awardee for Cultural and Natural Resource Conservation and Preservation. She has just launched her latest book as author and editor — HotSpot, Cool Country: Biodiversity in the Philippines — at a symposium of the Biodiversity Conservation Society of the Philippines held recently in Calapan, Mindoro.     

Staying at the Astudillos’ Boquete Breeze pension house was a delightful experience, making the multi-transfer trip to Puerto Galera well worth it. Comfortable and well-maintained, the house commands a panoramic view of the bay teeming with sailboats of all types. The clean and refreshing surf slapping on the gently sloping golden brown sand is just a few meters from the gate. The house is appropriately named because there was not a single moment the breeze from the bay stopped wafting in with such force the rocking chairs on the balcony swayed on their own. And to top it all, the caretaker named Helen — who did the marketing for us on a small outrigger — was such an excellent cook serving up delicacies from breakfast to dinner.  

The Mangyan Village in Talipanan

From Boquete Breeze, the Mangyan Village in barangay Talipanan is just a few minutes away. The village is an indispensable part of any excursion to Puerto Galera, especially for those with a deep interest in Philippine society and culture. There are several sub-groups among the Mangyan, and those who have traditionally occupied the northwestern part of the island are the Iraya. Some 200 Iraya Mangyan  families live in this village, which lies at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo.

We were the only tourists that day, and I felt sorry for the good-natured, stoic Mangyan weavers whose products filled the display tables inside the two thatch-roofed pavilions, as well as the row of bamboo sheds tended by men and women who had done the weaving themselves. Inside the other covered pavilions with bamboo flooring, groups or families of Mangyan weavers quietly went about their chores sitting on colorful straw mats, their nimble fingers starting out with long strips of light and dark nito vines, sometimes integrating buri fiber with the material, finally coming up with all sorts of functional and decorative handicraft in various sizes: jars, trays, baskets, hampers, food containers, placemats, coasters inside jars, jewelry and coin holders, the items in their crafts repertoire having multiplied in response to the outside world’s practical needs.

We took a quick tour of the village that had been set up years ago with the support of the Ayala Foundation. We agreed among ourselves that this village was notches above the crowded, polluted urban world we came from. The pathways were wide and tidy, the grounds were litter-free, the ample habitations were uncluttered and airy, the communal toilet and bathroom were spic and span and well-maintained, shady trees and flowering plants abounded, and one can only describe the whole scene as “clean, green and serene.” And of course, there was the Talipanan Mangyan School in the compound as proof that more than basic survival needs are being served in this exceptional community.

The viewpoint house

The highest inhabited part of Puerto Galera nestles several hundred feet up the slopes between the mountains of Malasimbo and Talipanan, and this is where one finds the Ponderosa community with its golf course and secluded houses on a steep incline of lush forests and flower hedges. Most of the wind-swept houses enjoy a cinematic 180-degree view of the sea, Puerto Galera’s bay, islands and headland, with the vista taking in the islands of Maricaban and Isla Verde and further beyond, the mountain ranges of Batangas.

This is where the Filipino-German couple Bernadette Solina and Michael Wolf have been living for almost 20 years now, in a multi-story aerie of wood, concrete and steel which they built in stages over several years and now call The Viewpoint House. Below them, several kilometers away, is the island world of Puerto Galera and the sea of Batangas, while all around and behind them is the thickly forested mountain range which Michael has explored for years, on a personal mission to confront and dissuade groups of illegal loggers from despoiling nature.

Bernie is one of the country’s foremost children’s book illustrators, and a member of the Ilustrador ng Kabataan (INK). She has also been busy transforming half-shells of coconut into miniature-like paintings of Filipiniana themes. With her engineer husband taking care of quality control in the selection, preparation, cleaning and polishing of the shells, Bernie has painstakingly produced a charming collection of rural and tribal costumes, various ethnic groups, family portraits, vintage street vendors and other genre scenes, Filipino children at play, flora and fauna, marine creatures, Christmas lanterns, native patterns and decorative motifs, and religious icons (Virgin Mary, Mother and Child, Angels and Cherubs).

If you cannot make it to Puerto Galera, some of Bernie’s “NutArt” works may be found at the Ayala Museum, together with the exquisitely woven Mangyan handicrafts, and these are all for sale.



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For reservations at the Boquete Breeze House: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/536-8833.



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