Mindoro, the mine of gold, the unexplored paradise
Gloria Hernandez Grejalde Verdant hills, interminable rice fields, gushing waterfalls, long sandy beaches, winding rivers, rugged mountains, and underwater wonders describe Mindoro, an island located southwest of mainland Luzon. The seventh largest landmass in the country is divided into two provinces — Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro. The island is home to the mystical Mount Halcon. Legend has it that any aircraft flying above it will crash because it is magnetic. The mountain is the 18th highest peak in the country and the 37th highest peak of an island on earth at 2,586 meters above sea level. The Spaniards called it Mina de Oro because they believed it has a big mine of gold. But long before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the island in 1570, Chinese merchants had already been conducting barter trade with the natives in Mindoro. They called the island “Mai.” Its record of existence was found in old Chinese chronicles dated 775 A.D. More than its amazing beaches and awesome natural beauty, it has a very rich culture. It is home to seven indigenous Mangyan tribes, the natives of Mindoro. They are the Alangan, the Bangon, the Buhid, the Hanunuo, the Iraya, the Tadyawan, and the Tau-Buhid. They have their own culture, own language, and own scripts. Here you will also find the Tamaraw, a dwarf buffalo that is endemic to the island. Oriental Mindoro Accessible from the port in Batangas City, the entry to the province is either through its capital city Calapan or the touristic town of Puerto Galera. Flights are also available via its three airports. Typically an agricultural province, it offers long stretches of white sandy beaches with clear turquoise and blue waters, idyllic waterfalls, and eco-tourism resorts. Its 15 towns provide varied experiences and adventures that will satisfy even the most discriminating traveller. A paradise for sea lovers, there is Puerto Galera which is among the top diving destinations in the country and in Asia. Its colorful underwater is a feast to the eyes while a boat trip to some of its islets will lead you to secluded beaches and coves where you can go swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing under the sun unobstructed. Driving to Puerto Galera from Calapan City, you won’t miss hearing and seeing the cascading waters of the Tamaraw Falls, one of many in the province, as you tackle the zig zag road that leads to the town. Here you can stop to admire its wondrous beauty. The Nature Park, the Silonay Mangrove Conservation Eco-Park, and the Harka Piloto Fish Sanctuary, a small island which is a protected area, are some of the interesting places to explore in the capital city. Ideal for nature lovers, here you can trek under century-old trees along its eco-trail that ends in a seashore. Pristine beaches await you in the islets in Bulalacao, the town near the boundary of Occidental Mindoro. There is the Suguicay Island, the Buyayao Island, and the Aslom Island with its splendid five hundred meters white sandbar. Scaling the Pocanil Rock Formation, you can reach the Buyayao Island by diving from its peak. Ideal for frolicking is the Balatasan Long Beach which boasts a long stretch of a white sandy beach. A trek to Abitang will give you the panoramic view of the seascapes of Bulalacao. And more adventures await you in the nearby town of Mansalay where you will find the Buktot Beach with its powdery white sands and amazing rock formations. Cabanas dot its shoreline that offer comfort and a blissful stay to its guests. Occidental Mindoro Characteristically mountainous, this province opens to the South China Sea. It is reached by plane from Manila or via the Nautical Highway that begins in Manila and passes through Oriental Mindoro. The Nautical Highway also leads to the Visayas Islands. Also an agricultural province with rice as the major produce, driving around its eleven municipalities, you will see ranches with cattle feeding free on the wilderness, rolling grassy hills, and specks of bodies of water. Looking down along its ravines, you will see stretches of white sandy beaches and unending sea water. The island province is known for the world-famous Apo Reef Natural Park. It is the largest coral reef garden in the country with an area of thirty-four square kilometres and the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef system next to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Apo Reef National Park, images by Mia R. Mantaring Considered as one of the best dive spots in the world, diving enthusiasts will have a feast swimming and admiring the 285 species of colourful marine life. Its three islands, Apo, Apo Menor, and Cayos del Bajo offer idyllic place for reef cruising, kayaking, lagoon rafting, bird watching, and simply relaxing on its magnificent surroundings.