Thursday , May 24, 2018

Uncovering the wealth of Oriental Mindoro

THE island of Mindoro got its name from “Mina de Oro” as to how the Spaniards used to call it in olden days because it was believed to be a repository of gold. True enough, the province of Oriental Mindoro, which comprises about half of the island, has many treasures in its midst. I’m not referring to the gold that can be mined but the natural attractions and abundant biodiversity that can be found in its bosom.

From the Visayas, Oriental Mindoro is the gateway to Luzon, and vice versa, connecting both island groups. But while others may just pass through a bridge without even making a stop, one who takes the Nautical Highway (which I did) will not be able to help but to take a pause and be captivated by its beauty – from its most sought-after peak, to its enchanting caves and waterfalls, to its lovely beaches, and to its breathtaking underwater world.

The foot of Mt. Halcon

I have visited Oriental Mindoro several times when it was one of the project sites of a non-profit organization where I used to work. I became rather familiar of its northern towns, especially its capital, Calapan City, to the point that I even found it safe to commute to and from Manila on my own on a few occasions. One such trip led me to the foot of Mt. Halcon, considered as one of the most challenging peaks in the Philippines. However, during the time I frequented Oriental Mindoro, a moratorium on climbing Mt. Halcon was still in place.

But I wasn’t there to conquer its summit. I was there to do an ocular for a project that hopes to protect the biodiversity within and surrounding Mt. Halcon. Apart from its abundant flora and fauna, the province is also home to the Tamaraw or the dwarf buffalo, which can only be found in Mindoro and is already facing extinction. In terms of culture, Mindoro still has the Mangyans, its original dwellers, who have been displaced due to migration.

The quiet town of San Teodoro

Mention Oriental Mindoro, and Puerto Galera immediately comes to mind. Not many would have probably heard of the municipality of San Teodoro, but this quiet town has a quaint attraction, with its secluded beaches, raw beauty, and peaceful feel. However, certain parts of its coastal areas are being threatened by erosion, which is a natural occurrence. We arranged for a mangrove tree planting activity with our volunteers, in partnership with the local government of San Teodoro, to keep the soil from eroding. Apart from its beaches, San Teodoro also has rivers, waterfalls and caves, which are a magnet to adventure seekers.

The pull of Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera showcases natural attractions that can enthral beach lovers and divers. It is one of the most popular beach destinations in the country, which is accessibly by ferry from Batangas. Ergo, with the many buses plying Batangas port and the boats crossing the strait towards Mindoro’s prime beach, commuting from Manila to Puerto Galera is a breeze. Local travelers enjoy White Beach while foreign visitors, who come here to dive, prefer Sabang. Whenever the calendar hits red, expect to find a throng in Puerto Galera.

Despite the many times I have visited Oriental Mindoro, I have barely scratched its surface as there is still a huge portion of the province waiting to be explored. When my uncle and I drove from Makati to Batangas to Oriental Mindoro onward to Panay and Bacolod, via the roll-on, roll-off route, the scenery in this province seems to beg us to stay longer. I will definitely come back to Oriental Mindoro. The only question is when?


Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels.