Mindoro

Alright alright, I slacked already. I knew it would be tough. But the problem was that I went away for the weekend! To a place without internet! And…and then it was a really busy week! And there was a typhoon! And…

Well, all of that is true, but still is no excuse for my not keeping up with NaBloPoMo. Anyway, the Story of Mindoro:

This weekend I went to Mindoro, an island in the province of Batangas, which is…well, actually, I probably couldn’t point it out on a map to you, but it’s somewhere south of here, about a 3-hour car ride and one-hour ferry ride away.

Of course, if you choose to leave on Friday night and miss the last ferry, you’ll be forced to stay the night in Batangas, where you’ll drive around looking for bars until you end up singing bad karaoke songs and downing San Miguel Pilsners until the wee hours of the morning with the escort waitresses that work at the bar…but anyway…

Once you get to Mindoro, you’ll have a great time. Mindoro, like every small Asian island town I’ve been to, doesn’t have a whole lot going on. Don’t come here looking for discos or high-end shopping or swanky beach resorts. Come to think of it, don’t come here looking for hot water even.

But if you want a sandy beach, salty waves, colorful boardwalk huts and the lazy tropical island feel that makes you imagine that this is the perfect place to escape a felony conviction, then Mindoro is the place for you.

We arrived in the early morning hours and found ourselves some bargain rooms to stay in…of course, by bargain, I mean the sheets had a Mickey Mouse print, the owner laughed when we asked about hot water, and in the middle of the night I woke up to find an Asian beetle hiding in my toilet…but the beers were 25 pesos (about 40 cents) and the view could not be beat.

Then we planted ourselves firmly on the beach and proceeded to rel- I mean, be endlessly bombarded by beach sellers with every imaginable product, undaunted by my feigned sleep or the headphones plugged firmly in my ears (“Mam, maybe you would like a massage.” “Pearls, Mam! Real! See???” “Mam, would you like a bracelet with your name? Yes you would!” “Mangoes mam!” “Mam, can I read your magazine?”) The magazine guy, a pearl seller, sat down and started flipping through my tabloid magazine, saying, “Is that Beyonce? She had a concert here, you know! But it was too far, so I had to just stand on the shore and shout, ‘I love you Beyonce!'”, and smiling wide enough to reveal three missing teeth.

There are really only two things I like to do at a beach: build sand castles, and collect rocks. Or shells. It’s the same thing I’ve done at the beach since I was about eight months old. I get bored with tanning. I don’t like beach volleyball. Swimming is only good until you get stung by jellyfish. But a good sand castle endeavor will entertain me for hours, as will an epic search for The Perfect Rock.

Anyways, luckily, this beach had quite a few offerings. Besides being able to buy everything short of new kitchen cabinetry from the comfort of your beach towel, there was also kayaking and snorkeling. I love kayaking. And rafting. And canoeing. It’s one of very few sports I seem to have some natural talent at. We kayaked through jagged rock formations, past jungle-clad islands rising steep out of the water, past hidden white beaches that no footprint had touched in a long time. I scrambled out of my boat to slip on the corals and stare at a huge blue starfish, and to gaze at the tiny fish in the clear waters at my feet.

After the exahustion of the trip (though I left the boys in the wake of my waves with my mad kayaking skillz), we watched the sunset with banana splits and spent the evening telling stories by candlelight over pitchers of Mindoro Sling (rum, orange juice, and Sprite) on the beach, as music thumped from the shops on the shore.

The next day, we woke early to gray skies and rain. The perfect time for snorkeling. People have urged us to go diving here, but you need a certification, and the stories of people dying have turned me off somewhat (okay, the stories are really only two episodes of TV shows I’ve seen…one was House, where the guy didn’t actually die at all, and the other was Surface, where the guy was eaten by a Loch-Ness-type sea creature. Perhaps not the most reliable of information sources…). Truth be told, although I like the idea of sea life and corals and such, I was just never that interested in diving. So snorkeling seemed like a good compromise between diving and staying on the beach. We put on our masks, held on the rope of a motorboat, and plunged into the sea. I adjusted my goggles, and my air pipe (“Has this been sanitized?”), and looked into the water.

And a world I could never have imagined revealed itself to me. I saw jagged corals and soft flowing anemones. There were rigid purple corals with brain-like twists, and bright green corals with tiny spines and hidden centers. There were peaks and valleys, an entire geography under the sea. I saw yellow and black fish swimming peacefully by, and brightly colored rainbow fish that darted in and out of secret passageways. There were shells, and starfish, and sea cucumbers (!), and even a sea snake, laying long and mellow at the bottom of the ocean. I made friends with a crab, its big shell covered in pink and white algaes that blended perfectly with the rock it was perched on. I stayed still and peered at it until I saw two curious eyes poke out from under the shell. Then two feelers followed, and the edges of its legs, emerging slowly from under its safe hideaway. Then there were bigger fish, and huge schools of tiny flickering fish, and tiny jellyfish that stung at us as we swam through.

And that was nothing! I still haven’t seen a sting ray, or an octopus, or a turtle. The world of the sea is so incredible and remains so unexplored; it is truly the last frontier on Earth…we have only explored about 10% of the sea and even that contains mysteries we have yet to solve, hidden deep in the darkness where light, and noise, and human contact do not yet penetrate…

…well, our exploration was cut short by an impending typhoon, which threatened to maroon us on the island for an extra day. The winds kicked up and the sky turned gray, and drops began to fall again, but we were able to escape on an early boat and made it back to dreary Manila in time to sit in traffic for three hours, thinking of bright blue starfish and oyster shells, still hearing the sound of the waves and feeling the rocking of the water…

Check out this video for awesome footage of both the unexplored deep, courtesy of BBC’s Planet Earth series, and this guy’s own footage of Boracay. This is all I’ve got to go on, until my next trip down under…

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