Northern Luzon is known for it’s amazing rice paddies. Lush, green staircase-looking fields on hillsides as far as the eye can see, and villages are built on “islands” in the fields. They’re so beautiful that they’ve become a UNESCO world heritage site. With about a week left in our time in the Philippines, we planned to go see these (my dad seems to have an obsession with rice paddies), but we also wanted to do our last scuba diving on this trip, because we’d be leaving warm ocean soon. The plan was to travel overland from Caramoan to Batangas, a town south of Manila, where we’d go diving, then travel north to Banaue, the place to see the iconic rice paddies. In case you’re wondering, that’s a long way, and it would take 2 full days of traveling on a lot of different kinds of vehicules. Our travel day started in Paniman (on the Caramoan peninsula) at about 7am. Here’s a list of all the modes of transport we took that day:
-a tricycle from Paniman to the town of Caramoan, 15 minutes
-a minibus from Caramoan to Naga City, 3-4 hours
-a bus from Naga to some place I forget (the bus was going to Manila, but we got off early), 8 hours
-2 jeepneys between places I forget, 40 minutes
-a bus to the Batangas bus terminal, 15 minutes
-a tricycle to a hotel in Batangas, 5 minutes
A VERY EXHAUSTING BUT BORING DAY!
Okay, so after 2 tricycles, 2 buses, 2 jeepneys and 1 minibus, we were pretty fed up of traveling. And we’d need to do another day like that to get up to Banaue, so we gave up on our original plan. Instead, we decided to go to Mindoro, an island south of Luzon that we heard had some good activities, including great diving. So the next morning, we headed down to the Batangas port and caught a 2 hour ferry to Porto Galera, a town on the northern coast of Mindoro.
Then, we took a short jeepney ride to Sabang, a small town on a beach that’s all about diving. In fact, they’ve built the shops so close to the ocean that there’s hardly any beach left.
Most of the businesses there provide accommodation, dining and diving, so we got a deal with one of them for a room because we dove with them too. It was a nice room, and there even was a swimming pool with a diving board!
At about 2pm, we got ready for a dive. There were the 4 of us, the divemaster Joel, and Mikka, a diver from Finland.
The boat ride to the dive site was really short. Within 5 minutes of us leaving the beach, we splashed into the water. We went down slowly, but for a while, my dad had troubles equalizing the pressure in his ears. Eventually, he got down, and we started our dive. It was beautiful! What really stood out to me was the amount of soft corals, that unlike hard corals, move and sway in the current.
There was a small shipwreck, and lots of fish and coral were living around it.
We went back to Sabang, and spent the rest of the day playing in the pool, blogging, and trying to organize a trip to Apo reef, which my dad will write about. My mom, Kaia and I went to a pizza restaurant for dinner.
The next morning, we had a light breakfast, did the usual swimming & blogging stuff, and did an 11am dive. This time, it was just the 4 of us and a divemaster, Bunny. The boat ride to the dive site was even shorter than it was the day before. The dive was quite different from the one the day before too, because it wasn’t on a coral reef. Instead, it was a sandy bottom, but with a few small shipwrecks with tons of coral and fish on them. A while before, we noticed that the photos from the GoPro camera while snorkeling were great, but when we took it diving, everything in the photos looked blue-green. So in Sabang, my dad bought a red filter, something you put on the GoPro lens to make the red and orange come back. You’ll notice that the fish and coral in the following photos are much more colourful, but the filter sometimes makes stuff look too red.
We can all agree that that was one of the best dives yet. It really goes to show how weird creatures in the ocean can be.
There’s not much to do in Sabang other than diving, so we decided to take a short boat ride to White Beach, a place that the Lonely Planet travel guide said was a bit more “family oriented”. It was pretty touristy, but at least they didn’t build right up to the water like they did in Sabang. After finding a room, we got into our bathing suits and swam out to a floating bar. We had great fun on their slides and jumping platforms!
Then, we went to a cafe for some drinks (and WiFi). While we were sitting there, a man dressed in women’s clothing and makeup walked by. Seeing that we looked a bit confused, the waitress said “That’s a ladyboy”. They’re similar to what we know as transvestites, but more committed to their feminine identity. She said that there are a lot of them in White beach, and many of them are part of a show on the beach every night. We went for a simple dinner on the beach, and while walking back to our room, the show began. Music started, and dancers ran onto the beach spinning fire poi.
We stopped to watch them for a while, and during that time, a show started at one of the bars. Women, or so we thought, were dancing and lipsyncing to super loud music pounding out of the bar’s 2 metre high speakers. Then, we realized that they were almost all ladyboys. Even some of the firedancers we thought were women were ladyboys. I think I only saw one real woman in the show. The rest were either men or ladyboys. Since no one’s making money if you’re standing and watching, there were ladyboys trying to get you to sit down at a table and buy drinks. And as if the night weren’t crazy enough, shortly after the one bar started it’s show, the neighbouring bar started a very similar show, and started competing with the other bar by pounding music even louder! When one bar started a slow, exotic dance, the other would start a rock or hip hop dance that would completely mess up the other’s music. There was a little sheet hanging to “divide” the 2 bars’ parts of the beach! It was very, very obvious that the 2 bars just hated each other.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the 2 bars were trying to outcompete each other in terms of music volume, it would have been quite an enjoyable experience, because a lot of the performances were quite impressive. Curious, my dad went back to the cafe we were at earlier to ask the owner about the show. She said that White Beach is a hub for ladyboys from all over the Philippines. One bar did a show alone for a while, but another started right next door, and it’s been going on like this every night for a year and a half! There wasn’t a crazy amount of people watching, so we were wondering how the bars could afford to pay all the performers, but apparently, since it’s not too far from Manila, it’s very busy on weekends. And during Holy Week there can be as many as 10 000 people on the beach. That whole thing really left us wondering why the Lonely Planet said White Beach was a family friendly destination!
Well, with the fish in Sabang and the ladyboys in White Beach, I can definitely say that we saw some interesting stuff during our time in northern Mindoro.
P.S. Here’s my first published book!