Stormy days such as what we’re having right now (due to tropical storm Pedring) sometimes make me want to reminisce a couple of memorable sunny days of my life. Puerto Galera immediately comes to mind.
I’ve been to Puerto Galera many times that I already lost count (it’s just beside my wife’s hometown of Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Oriental). But each time I visit the place I never fail to find new things to discover, explore, and enjoy. People go there mostly for the whitish sands and crystal clear waters. My family visits the place for the beach and more. Suffice it to say that there can never be a dull moment when one is in Puerto Galera, the poster town for environmental sustainability aside from simply being a tourist haven.
While the more internationally renowned island of Boracay boasts of three beaches —in reality, only one of its beaches, White Beach, is famous— Puerto Galera is host to not just one but several coastlines, pocket beaches, and romantic coves (some tinged with fresh mangroves) that can be enjoyed by all types of nature lovers, not just beach goers. Due to the municipality’s perpetually curving coastlines, particularly the lovely cove-filled bay nestled between the green terrains of Isla de Boquete, Isla de San Antonio, Muelle (at the town proper), Palañgan, and the small peninsula of Sabang, Puerto Galera landed a spot in the list of the world’s most beautiful bays.
Puerto Galera’s beaches may not be at par with Boracay‘s powdery white sands and almost-invisible waters. But still, no one can ever deny Puerto Galera’s pristine beauty especially when we consider its proximity to polluted Metro Manila (the island is a mere four- to five-hour commute from the capital!). Like Ciudad de Tagaytay in Cavite, Puerto Galera relies heavily on tourism all year round. Thus, sustainable development is an in this nature-filled municipality. I learned from the people there, particularly from talks with entrepreneur and Puerto Galera native Captain Peter Manalo of White Beach’s famous Peter’s Inn, Bar, & Restaurant, that the local government works doubly hard with resort owners on how to conserve the beauty of Puerto Galera.
During the early 80s, said Captain Manalo, the scenery at White Beach (Puerto Galera’s most popular beach front) was postcard-perfect, a true island paradise. Back then, there were no resorts to be found. One had to live there like Robinson Crusoe. But the beach was already a turf of regular white visitors aka foreigners (mostly rich Europeans). Ironically, it was they who first saw the potential of Puerto Galera to become the next international summer sensation in the Philippines. Captain Manalo even told me that these white beach goers served as the first guides to Filipinos vacationing from Metro Manila. Laughable but true. I think it was the same case with Boracay.
Captain Manalo was actually one of the pioneers of setting up a commercial establishment in White Beach. But in the following years, especially during the 90s, Puerto Galera became so popular to local and foreign tourists that several capitalists who are not even from town took advantage of the situation. They setup several bars and hotels. The imminent danger of congestion soon followed, and so Captain Manalo, together with other concerned locals and resort owners, took up the cudgels of doing environmental activism, perpetually disturbing the Municipal Hall to come up with environmental projects and viable solutions to curb the ballooning number of resorts. So the last time I heard, the municipal government of Puerto Galera now prohibits the establishment of additional resorts. That is why the eastern part of White Beach remains vacant to this day. Also, the municipal government has written various ordinances protecting the beach, the mangrove forests, etc. One instance: it has ordered resort owners to maintain their establishments from a certain distance from the coastline.
Now that’s sustainable development at work. Kudos!
In case the people of Puerto Galera do not know yet, their lovely municipality will turn 200 years old two years from now. Although the place was first explored by Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo in 1570, the town of Puerto Galera was created through a superior decree only on 23 August 1813. I try to imagine how the Spanish friars who built the población felt when they saw the site for the first time. Having lived in cold Europe, their adventurous hearts must have surely been energized by a surge of excitement, joy, and awe while planning to build a parish there. If Puerto Galera’s beauty continues to mesmerize people today, what more when it was first visited by the indigenous and the Europeans hundreds of years ago? Certainly, in the minds of those friars, building a parish there was tantamount to building a paradise on Earth. There was nothing like it in Europe or perhaps even in the Americas.
When Puerto Galera was founded on that date as a religious mission (all original Philippine towns were), Isla de Mindoro was not yet divided into east (Oriental) and west (Occidental). During those days, the jurisdiction of Puerto Galera was very large: it used to encompass much of the island, stretching as far as the towns of Sablayan and the old parish of Mangarin (now San José), both of which are now in Mindoro Occidental; Puerto Galera itself remained oriental since 1950.
Port of Galleons?
Puerto Galera’s name also deserves attention because it has been said many times in numerous websites and printed articles that the town’s Spanish name was derived from its English equivalent, the “Port of Galleons”. It implies the notion that Puerto Galera’s safely tucked bays and coves provided safe anchorage for the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon ships in times of typhoons. Indeed, de Goiti and Salcedo first explored the place aboard a galleon ship called San Miguel, and that there is a record of another galleon ship that took anchor there during the early 1600s (the Almiranta 2). But those two were not the reasons why Puerto Galera was named as such. It is because Spaniards visited the place, as well as other smaller islands throughout our archipelago, via smaller galleys. Docking bigger galleons in shallow waters were usually cumbersome, time-consuming, and even perilous. Logically, smaller ships are needed. One usually sees this in today’s movies depicting the days of European conquests like in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Tarzan (1999) and the arrival of the Spaniards in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006).
Let us also study the meanings of the words galeón and galera as well as differentiate them from one another. As can be gleaned from the preceding paragraph, a galleon and a galley are not the same. In Spanish, a galleon is translated as galeón, not galera. A galleon was a large 15th- to 17th-century sailing vessel which was used as a merchant ship for trade and, occasionally, as a warship in times of threat from the Dutch, Chinese, and Muslim pirates. A galleon was square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and generally lateen-rigged on one or two after masts. On the other hand, a galley is much smaller compared to a galleon; it is a seagoing vessel propelled mainly by oars (sometimes with the aid of sails).
Galeones were used to cross large oceans. They were transpacific as well as transatlantic. These were what the Spaniards used to travel to faraway lands and transport huge and multiple cargoes as well as passengers. But galeras were inter-island vessels, meant only for short voyages (thus the usage of oars).
That being said, let us then move to an 1871 map of Puerto Galera that was published years ago in Spain. That map’s title? Plano [inédito] del Puerto de Galera y Ensenada del Varadero en la Isla de Mindoro. In English, it means “Map (unpublished) of the Port of the Galley and the cove of the drydock in the Island of Mindoro”.
Go figure why the Spanish language is very important to us Filipinos of today.
More than just a beach
Puerto Galera is more than just a beach destination. Aside from beaches and water sports such as diving, snorkeling, and parasailing (I tried that one! it was an exhilirating experience!), Puerto Galera offers several activities for various types of adventurous people: one can go mountain climbing at Monte Malasimbo; there’s high-altitude golfing at the Ponderosa Golf Club situated about 2,000 feet above sea level (also at Monte Malasimbo); in nearby Barrio Baclayan, one can visit a Mañguián (or Mangyán) village and observe how life would have been today in the Philippines had not the Spaniards arrived — static, indigenous; for spelunkers, they can visit Cueva de Pitón (Python Cave) near Barrio Tabinay (I’m just not sure if there are pythons there for I haven’t been to the cave yet); one can go explore the lush forests around the town and near the beaches, or go off-road biking there; have saltless-water fun at Cáscada de Tamaráo (Tamaraw Waterfalls) and Cáscada de Talipanan (Talipanan Waterfalls); and so much more!
The Excavation Museum
Even culture lovers won’t be left out. At the town proper, within the vicinity of scenic Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada (because it’s on top of a hill overlooking the small cove of Muelle), there’s the Excavation Museum dedicated to the memory of Fr. Erwin Thiel, S.V.D. (1902-1982), a German friar much loved by the parishioners.
The small museum (which we learned from then curator Merly Javier) said that The Excavation Museum was under the auspices of the National Museum in Manila. It is sad to note that this small museum was in poor condition, considering the fact that it contains a vast array of artifacts dating to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards. Clay jars, burial jars, plates, cups, soup bowls, and other fragile objects made of porcelain were on display. All these treasures were recovered by archaeologists through the efforts and sponsorship of the late German priest (thus the dedication to him).
But instead of focusing on the artifacts, I couldn’t help but notice the myriad of eyesores in the small, rather cramped up one-storey structure: the museum was not in a good condition; the walls were stained with dirt; there were holes in the roof where rain drops fall (I saw an old map already damaged because of this); there were many red ants taking refuge within the walls of the museum; worse of all, it was very hot inside. And smoke fumes from vehicles plying a nearby road could easily enter the museum All those ancient artifacts, I believe, have to be air conditioned.
But all this was in 2008. I fervently hope that things have already changed there for the better. Fr. Thiel worked very hard to collect these artifacts for posterity. So if the people of Puerto Galera want to honor Fr. Thiel, they should do more than just attaching his name to that of the Excavation Museum.
Personally, I prefer Puerto Galera over Boracay. Budget wise, Puerto Galera is the more viable alternative. As enumerated above, more activities can be done here, not just swimming. And with the recently opened (and very scenic!) Star Tollway, this island resort has become very near Metro Manila. Puerto Galera is simply put, la perla de la Isla de Mindoro.
Below are some photos of our unforgettable Puerto Galera sojourn (21 to 23 May 2008):
Click here for more photos and text of our 2008 visit (but in Spanish).