Wild in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro during Holy Week
Yes, it has beaches (particularly White Beach and Sabang).
Yes, its waters are, well, refreshing – way better than Batangas’ (including the likes of Matabungcay, et cetera) and Digos’, but admittedly not even close to Coron’s or Panglao’s.
Yes, it has dive spots, which were, in fact, recently cited by some international survey as among the best of the world’s bests.
Yes, it has numerous inland natural attractions – better than Boracay Island, I suppose, and getting closer to Palawan, with numerous mountain trails for trekkers, hard-to-reach falls and springs, and so on.
And yes, it throbs (no pun intended – though we’ll get to THAT throbbing later…) as it parties – not as tacky as Boracay or Alona Beach, but yes, it definitely knows how to hold parties.
Having said these, Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro is, for the gay guy, a mini-MUST VISIT. But let me tell you that right at the onset, don’t raise your expectations too high for it to be truly enjoyed.
WHEN TO GO THERE
Two words: Holy Week.
Since it is not that far from Metro Manila (bus ride of over an hour from Taft corner Gil Puyat Ave. to Batangas Pier, and another hour or two of ferry ride from the pier to White Beach), it can be accessed anytime. But, in all honesty – for gay guys, at least – Puerto Galera truly becomes alive (some call it the gay Mecca) only during Holy Week.
Why? Maybe because it’s when (just about) everybody gets a long, long break from life’s neck-breaking speed. Or maybe because a big number of Filipinos are not very much into mourning, which is something the Holy Week often highlights with all the “bawal” imposed during this period.
So when heading to Puerto Galera, forget other relatively long breaks (e.g. long weekends such as the Halloween), since, in my experience at least, they tend to be boring. Head there during Holy Week.
WHAT TO DO WHERE
Boracay (the famed “topical paradise”) this is not, but there are many things that can be done in Puerto Galera.
Take a plunge. No, the water isn’t crystal clear. But – particularly in the afternoons, right around the sunset, when almost everybody is out to wait – it is best to also be seen or be seen near the waters.
Shop at the talipapa. While the board shorts aren’t exactly Quiksilver or Billabong, they do sell well-designed ones (with the fake logos, too) from as less as P80 to only P120. Other finds are one-of-a-kind bracelets, anklets and chokers; crocheted two-piece swimwear (somebody’s lola went blind for these) for women; P25 sombreros; and, for the stingy, three-for-P5 friendship bands as pasalubong (they also come for free when you buy board shorts).
Try the kebab. Costing from over P100 to just under P200, depending on whether you order pork, chicken or beef, these barbecued favorites have become Puerto Galera’s trademark. So, when there, try at least once – and do it in one of those rooftop restos, where the view is nice (try to eat before 7.00pm, though, since, especially during the Holy Week, everything is busy, busy, busy).
Watch the shows. With Puerto Galera long recognized as a party venue during Holy Week, there are lots of nightly performances to choose from – from fashion shows to band performances, to drag shows, to fire dancing. They used to have the annual search for Miss Gay Puerto Galera – alas, this is no more!
Drink “Mindoro Sling”. This is offered (with others, such as the caffeinated Moomba) everywhere, but is best drank in the (gay) nipa huts that hold the nightly parties. Yes, it can be tiresome drinking this – someone has to look after the pitcher to give the shots (annoying for the holder, who’ll end up dancing with a pitcher, while everybody’s just flirting sans looking like a server), but this is Puerto Galera’s great equalizer, so should be tried.
Visit the landmarks. Yes, you can check the falls and the mountains inland. But for gay guys, the landmarks mean the “Jurassic Park” and the batuhan (when facing White Beach’s waters, that’s to the bushes in the extreme right, and to the rocky formations in extreme left, respectively). What happens there? One word: CRUISING. This is best experienced to be appreciated. And, oh, this is where the THROBBING (as earlier mentioned) happens in Puerto Galera.
Island hop. There are beaches around Puerto Galera that are definitely nicer (or worse) than White Beach or Sabang, so try to check them out. Book a bangka from P1,200 – which would be cheaper when divided among friends. Be careful of itchies, though, since they have all these creatures that bite in the water.
Dance the night away – and pick up or get picked up. There are parties from Good Wednesday to Easter Sunday (there’s a lull on Friday, when partying isn’t allowed to supposedly honor the passing of Jesus; but party resumes at a minute past midnight). No matter the events, though, the nipa clubs have thumping music competing against each other (and they’re not even five feet away from each other!) for dancing, so wherever you turn, you have whatever music to choose from to dance, dance, dance…
And no matter what happens, always look good – you’ll never know when you can or will be picked up. If this can’t be done (i.e. you aren’t pretty enough, just always smile – after a pitcher of Mindoro Sling or Moomba, you are bound to ALMOST look peculiarly pretty to, I am sure, get some lay somewhere).
WORDS OF WARNING
Puerto Galera may have its pull, but it isn’t perfect. Here are some words to caution you with.
Prices can be expensive, especially during the Holy Week, when the businesses there become opportunists. How expensive, exactly? Well, during off-peak season, accommodation prices can be as low as P500 per night for an air-conditioned room – that balloons to well over P4,000 during peak season. Solution: when visiting, go with friends so you share the expenses. As for the other expenses (e.g. food, drinks), don’t frequent the seaside restos – instead, leave that for the evenings (when you have to see and be seen) and discover the venues inland at other times of the day.
Know that locals can be homophobic. Forgetting that without the pink peso, this small strip of beach would not have made a mark. But many locals actually openly criticize the visiting LGBTs. Stay with the crowd to avoid them.
Beware of the sex workers (or self-identified “straights,” both locals and those visiting) who are into “fun” for money (this started only around 2004). Particularly, when visiting the landmarks, they tend to compete with other gay guys for your attention – except that, when something is about to happen, they demand some form of payment. So beware…
And be safe in every aspect. For one, be careful of Puerto Galera’s infamous undertow since people have died while swimming in the beaches, so be careful. Secondly, bring sunblock with anti-something (e.g. jelly sting, sand bugs, et cetera) –they have a lot of creatures that bite in the water, causing breakouts or whatever that can ruin the look when it’s time to party. And thirdly, bring condoms for protection (people tend to forget, especially when they’re drunk, that it is always NEEDED).
There are buses along Taft Ave., Buendia in Pasay City, and along EDSA that go to Batangas City pier, where bangkas abound to take visitors to the various parts of Puerto Galera, including the White Beach and/or Sabang (if you’re gay or simply want to have fun, be sure to get off at White Beach, not Sabang). The budget is around P600 (around P300 for the return bus fares, and another around P300 for the return bangka fares).
So you want to check an okay beach near Metro Manila?
You want to dance the night away?
You want to find a lover?
You want to… “book”?
Head to Puerto Galera. And go there now before the hets completely take over what used to be a predominantly LGBT (more gay, admittedly) space and turn it, err… boring.
*THIS ARTICLE WAS UPDATED IN OCTOBER 2013