Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan

Welcome to Oriental Mindoro

SuperCat's St. Laurel
The Automobile Association Philippines (AAP), through its wholly owned subsidiary, AAP Travel, in partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT), has been undertaking caravans in various provinces to boost domestic tourism and provide income opportunities in the countryside. 

Last February 6 to 9, the 7th Drive Tourism caravan, with 40 participants in 13 cars, was held at the Cordillera Autonomous Region province of Ifugao and was dubbed as "A Journey From Land to the Sky." 


A warm welcome at Calapan Port

Our police escort
Upon the recommendation of Ifugao caravan participant Mr. Ramon "Mon" Rocamora, the next Drive Tourism caravan was held from May 1 to 3 at Oriental Mindoro, Mon's home province. 

Dubbed the "Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan: Escaping the Urban, Sailing the Southwest, Enjoying a Roadtrip Adventure to Paradise," it was sponsored by the Oriental Mindoro provincial government and Petron and 23 participants joined the caravan, some of them veterans of the previous Ifugao caravan.

Lunch at Benilda ng Bancuro Resort & Restaurant

An array of Oriental Mindoro products
Joining this caravan were AAP president Mr. Augusto "Gus" C. Lagman with wife Ms. Tess Lagman; Ms. Clotilde "Clocel" Marquez; couple Mr. Edgar Tam and Ms. Bethzaida "Beth" Tam with grandchildren Edritz "Aja" Abon and Eyveth "Vea" Abon; sisters Ms. Ming Ming Dy and Ms. Lai Chun Uy; Ms. Frisca Tan with daughter Ms. Sharon Tan; couples Mr. Roosevelt "Ross" Segundo and Ms. Edita Segundo, Mr. Rogelio "Roger" So and Ms. Helen So and Mr. Lorenzo So and Ms. Leandra So. 

Also with the group were AAP Travel Vice-President Ms. Eva Carmona; AAP Travel staff Ms. Maricel "Cel" C. Quiestas (Project Officer) and Mr. Michael "Mike" Quiterio (Project Assistant); AAP travel writer and photographer Ms. Sheena Ferrer; DOT representative Mr. Gabby Gonzales; and yours truly. At the last minute, AAP Director Ms. Mina Gabor had to back out from the trip due to illness.

Participants at Simbahan Bato

Mr. Orlando Tizon of Provincial Tourism Office
The participants all met up at the ferry terminal of Batangas City International Port. May 1 being close to the weekend, the port was teeming with foreign and local tourists leaving for either Puerto Galera or Calapan City.  We were all destined for the latter, leaving on the 11 AM SuperCat fast ferry St. Laurel.  

After a trip of a little over an hour, we safely arrived at Calapan Port and were all welcomed by a marching band, welcome leis and Provincial Tourism officials led by Supervising Tourism Operations Officer Mr. Orlando "Oti" Tizon.  Our 6-van caravan was accompanied by a police escort and the route facilitated by members of the Motorcycle Riders Club of Oriental Mindoro. They were to accompany us throughout our 3-day caravan.

Participants at Bonifacio Monument in Naujan Plaza

Naujan Mayor Mark Marcos (left) with participants
at Naujan Plaza
It being noontime, our first stop, after a 34-km. (30-min.) drive, was Benilda ng Bancuro Resort & Restaurant in Naujan where we had lunch.  

After a filling repast, we toured its facilities - restaurant, swimming pool, overnight accommodations and a beautiful garden with numerous trees and ornamental plants, a wishing well and huge statues of the Three Wise Monkeys. 


The caravan's arrival at Filipiniana Calapan Hotel 

Suite at Filipiniana Calapan Hotel 
From the resort, we next proceeded to the nearby Bancuro Church Ruins, the old, roofless ruin of what remains of an Augustinian Recollect church and priory that was built in the 1690s but was burned to the ground by Moro pirates in 1824. 

A small, native-style  chapel (literally “a church within a church”) was built within its massive walls. 


Donnyland Resort

Provincial board member Paul Luna
From the church ruins, we made a 30-min. drive to the Naujan town proper where we paid a courtesy call on Mayor Mark N. Marcos at the town plaza.  The plaza has a huge monument dedicated to Andres Bonifacio done by noted sculptor Nemesio R. Miranda, Jr. (Nemiranda). Free film showings and zumba sessions are also held here. Before leaving, we were treated to a merienda of delicious bibingka

From Naujan, we made our way back to Calapan City, this time to check in at some of the 50 stylishly-appointed rooms of the 4-storey, 4-star Filipianiana Calapan Hotel, the best in the city.  After settling in and freshening up, we left the hotel at 7 PM for dinner at Donnyland Resort.  Here, we met up with Mr. Mon Rocamora and Ist District Provincial Board member Mr.
Paul Luna

With the Pandang Gitab Dance Troupe

Clocel hitting the notes with the videoke
During dinner, Oriental Mindoro singing idol Mr. Rjay S. Arellano serenaded us and we were also treated to the Pandang-Gitab dance.  Coined from pandanggo (fandango) and dagitab, which is synonymous to “light,” it adapts the basic steps of Pandanggo sa Ilaw (Dance of Lights) which was said to have originated in Lubang, Mindoro Island. 

The caravan participants were enjoined to try it, following the graceful, shallow gyrating of the dancers' hips and torso and the gentle, side-to-side swinging of their hands, careful not to drop their candle-on-glass on both palms and on their heads. 

Halcon Bar & Resto

Merl's Native Delicacies
After the show, some participants returned to the hotel while yours truly, Gus, Closel and Eva sang the rest of the night away via the videoke before calling it a day.  

Breakfast, the next day, was served at at the hotel's Halcon Bar & Resto, facing the free-form swimming pool. From the hotel, we made a stopover at Merl's Native Delicacies where we all did some pasalubong shopping (okoy, suman sa lihiya, native coffee, pastillas, yema, banana chips, etc.).

The next two days were to be  Puerto Galera, the province’s No. 1 tourist destination but, prior to going there, we were treated to a cool and refreshing swim and a delicious lunch along a developed portion of the  Lantuyang River in Baco.  

A long picnic table, filled with grilled specialties (pork chops and chicken), vegetable salad, labong (bamboo shoot) salad and salted duck eggs, plus pineapples for dessert, was prepared for us on banana leaves.
  
Dining al fresco on boulder tables and chairs

Crossing the Lantuyang Hanging Bridge
A number dined on picnic tables and chairs, in the middle of the river, all made with boulders, enjoying the feel of the cool river water flowing past their feet.  Most of the participants also crossed a hanging bridge (built in 1999), many for the first time in their lives. 

After lunch, we all continued on our way to Puerto Galera. Halfway along the road, we made a short stopover at Tamaraw Waterfalls, the largest waterfall in the province, for some photo ops.  


Tamaraw Falls
Located 131 m. above sea level, 15 kms. from Calapan City, it has a man-made swimming pool just below the aptly named Waterfall Bridge, picnic tables, changing facilities, toilets and a number of souvenir shops.

We all arrived at the Puerto Galera municipal hall by 2:45 PM and we were supposed to pay a courtesy call on Mayor Hubbert Dolor.  However, an unexpected emergency prevented him from meeting up with us.  

With Ms. Aileen N. Bareng (Senior Tourism Operations Officer of Puerto Galera), we next visited the Talipanan Iraya-Mangyan Village where we welcomed by caretaker Fabian "Pabling" de Jesus
Puerto Galera Municipal Hall

Iraya Mangyan nito weavers
Here, got to observe the weaving of strands of nito into beautiful but functional baskets, plates with intricate designs, beer bottle holders, place mats, laundry baskets and trinkets.  

We also toured the numerous projects covering education, livelihood development, housing management and health that the Ayala Foundation, with the help of Ms. Beatriz “Bea” Zobel (wife of businessman and philanthropist Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala), have been implementing for these Iraya-Mangyans.

Caravan participants exploring the village

Suite at Marco Vincent Resort
After a hectic day, we finally arrived at the Mediterranean-inspired, Marco Vincent Dive Resort, one of the best along White Beach, where we checked in at some of its 38 rooms. Gabby, Cel, Eva, Aja, Vea and I spent the rest of the afternoon lolling about in its 75 sq. m. swimming pool while Gus, Tess, Edgar, Beth, Sheena and  Mr. Mon Rocamora visited the upscale Infinity Resort. 

Come evening, we all met up for dinner at the beachfront Aqua Bar & Restaurant where, while dining, we were treated to a fire dance performance. 
Marco Vincent Resort's 75 sq. m. swimming pool

Fire dancer
Of course, any visit to to Puerto Galera is never complete without trying out some of the town’s 13 superb beaches and a number of its offshore islands.  

Come morning of the last caravan day, after breakfast at Marivelles Restaurant at the top floor of Marco Vincent Dive Resort, we were driven to the town’s seaside tourism information office.  


Dinner at the beachfront Aqua Bar & Restaurant

Infinity Resort
Here, big outrigger boats were docked to take us to Boquete Island.  Ms. Susan E. Cruz (Tourism Operations Assistant) and Ms. Sienna May R. Manongsong, both of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Tourism Office joined us.

The boat trip took a little over 30 mins. and we made landfall at the white sand beach fronting the unfinished Friday Boquete Resort.  Here, we were to have lunch at one of its picnic sheds.
  
Boarding boat for Boquete Island


Fridays Boquete Beach Resort
As lunch was still hours away, we still had time to do banana boating (PhP350/pax) or avail of a package tour to San Antonio Island consisting  of a visit to an underwater cave and snorkeling the spots around the Coral Garden, looking for a meter long giant clam underneath —all for PhP300.  

Of those who availed of the banana boating, half opted for its milder form (no overturning) while  Eva, Cel, Mike, Sheena, Gabby and yours truly went extreme and were rewarded with three dunkings, the last one when we were returning to shore. 

Participants riding the banana boat
The underwater cave
Of those who availed of the latter package, only Sheena and I were able to visit the underwater cave because of the long queue to get in.  We were also the last boat to return. After a quick lunch, Sheena, Sienna, Gabby and I boarded our boat back to the mainland.

After showering and freshening up at Marco Vincent Resort, we had merienda of lomi and turon at El Patio Restaurant before all boarding our respective vans for the 1-hr. trip back to Calapan City Port where we took the 5:30 PM SuperCat fast ferry back to Batangas City, arriving there by 7 PM.
Sheena posing by the cave's skylight

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.

AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website:www.aaptravel.com.ph.

Provincial Tourism Office: Provincial Capitol, Calapan City, Mindoro Oriental.  Tel: (043) 286-7046 and (043) 441-0306.

Benilda ng Bancuro Resort & Restaurant: Brgy. Bancuro, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.  Tel: (043) 208-3628 and (043) 208-3218.  Mobile number: (0999) 177-8762.  E-mail: benilda_resort@yahoo.com. 
Filipiniana Resort Hotel Calapan: M. Roxas St.,Brgy. Sto. Niño, 5200 Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro. Tel: (043) 286-2624 to 25 and (043) 288-2460.  Fax: (043) 286-2622. Mobile numbers: (0932) 977-8900 (Sun), (0918) 975-1558 (Smart) and (0916) 677-0184 (Globe). Manila booking office: 7/F, RGV Bldg., 5470 Osmena Highway, 1233 Makati City. Tel: (632) 887-0063, (632) 887-1501, (632) 887-1502, (632) 664-6510 and (632) 843-1279. Mobile number: (0923) 800-6379 (Sun). E-mail: filipinianahotel@yahoo.com. Website: www.filipinianacalapan.com.
Merl's Native Delicacies: 146 Ubas St., Brgy. Lalud 5200, Calapan City,  Oriental Mindoro.  Tel: (043) 927-4350 and (043) 286-7684. Fax: (043) 426-4784 and (043) 920-2018.  Mobile numbers: (0917) 707-4803 and (0922) 847-3458. Open daily, 7:30 AM - 8 PM.  
Marco Vincent Dive Resort: White Beach: 5203 Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental. Tel: (043) 287-3590.  Website: www.marcovincent.com.  Calapan City booking office: Marco Vincent Residence Inn, Boniifacio St.  Tel: (043) 441-0235.   Fax: (043) 441-0239-40.  Batangas City booking office: Batangas Pier.   Tel: (043) 723-0983.  Manila booking office: Unit 503, Cityland 10, Tower II, 156 H.V. De la Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 813-6329.  Fax: (632) 892-0309. E-mail: reservation@marcovincent.com and sales@marcovincent.com

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