Saturday, 15 December 2018

Relishing the Sweet Sunshower in the Islands of Bulalacao



The first time I cruised aboard an inter-island ferry boat was many years ago. Our destination was PuertoGalera, Oriental Mindoro. Wide-eyed with wonder, I found myself swimming in crystal clear waters and frolicking over white sandy beaches for the first time in my adolescent life. Sandwiched in our ocean fun spree was a hiking trip to Mount Malasimbo. A year after that, I returned with my mates from the UST Mountaineering Club for our induction climb to Mount Halcon.


Since then I’ve always associated Oriental Mindoro with the beaches of Puerto Galera, the dense forest of Halcon, the Malasimbo Music Festival and the quaint town of Calapan. And despite venturing as far out to its twin province Occidental Mindoro, to explore the Apo Reef, I never realized the region still has more to offer.

A recent visit to the province introduced me to Bulalacao, the southernmost town of Oriental Mindoro. The name of the municipality's name translates to “meteor” and has different versions of how it came to be. The first legend says it was derived from tales about a flock of mythical birds called 'bulalacao', which appears whenever people are sick and mysteriously cures them. The second one was about how a meteor crashed and created the many islands in Bulalacao bay.


Regardless of these origins, the locals seem to find humor with the town's old moniker "Bula-layo", where the suffix "layo" translates to "far". It was a bit a distant indeed, as it takes 3 hours by land from the capital Calapan to reach town, as it lies literally next to Occidental Mindoro.

With the wealth of discovery and adventure we had, it’s safe to say the long journey here by sea and land is very much worth the undertaking.

Island Spotting around Bulalacao Bay

As an incoming typhoon threatens the rest of Luzon, it was sunny when we started our island hopping. We were greeted by a generous sun shower as we boarded our boat. The ample sunshine gave the water a majestic sheen off the blueness of the sky. As soon as our boat picked up speed, we started sighting the dotted islands from afar.

Eager to make a splash on the clear waters was Kara Santos of Travel Up 
There are around 11 islands and islets scattered throughout Bulalacao Bay and visiting each can last you a day or two. The first island we came to was Aslom Island, one of the bigger island in the bay measuring 12 hectares with a crescent shaped sandbar that stretches along shoreline where visitors can chill and relax.

Hannah and Mica explores the first island we visited.
The next island we visited was Target Island, named as such because it was the US Air Force’ bombing practice site during World War II. The bomb drops created rugged craters and carved out interesting patterns on the rock formations. Despite its violent past, the island is still very appealing with a scenic coastline leading to a lake in the middle of the island.

Approaching Target Island
We reached Tambaron Island before lunch time and spent more than an hour just chilling here. Surrounded by coral-rich waters teeming with marine biodiversity suitable for snorkeling and diving, it is an ideal place for visitors to stay for a night or two, thanks to the few cabanas that front the island.

Tambaron Island is perfect for a sweet and lowdown kind of day
Our last stop was Suguicay, the most popular in Bulalacao Bay. To hasten our trip, we went back to the mainland and took a short road trip to Bangkal Port where we walked over a 300 meter wooden bridge protruding from a mangrove forest out into the open sea, and delighted over a spectacular scenery. From here, we took a half hour boat ride to Suguicay, where adventure activities awaited us.

The long and scenic walk
Extreme Adventures at Suguicay Island

After a feasting on local cuisines, including the very interesting and fine-tasting Pasyak shellfish stewed with ginger, coconut milk, vinegar and soy sauce, we jumped right into the activities offered by the Bulalacao Island Adventures.

Me and fellow blogger Tiki during the tandem parasailing
An outdoor company previously based in Boracay, they now offer parasailing, fly fish and banana boat activities in the island. After exhausting our arms during the wild but fun Fly Fish ride, and since the sky was gloomy, we spent the whole afternoon bumming around the island.


Just as I was about to give up waiting for the sky to clear up, an hour before sunset we felt the  whiffling of gentle winds, enough for the crew of Bulalacao Island Adventures to summon us to start our tandem parasailing.

Pair after pair, we took off and flew over the island of Suguicay. I found the experience very Zen-like while I marveled at the sight of the fiery setting sun while glinting the calm blue waters of Bulalacao Bay with its remaining sparkle. 

A Side Trip to a Mangyan Settlement

After chasing beautiful nature and experiencing adventure the previous day, we were then taken by our friends from the Oriental Mindoro Tourism Office for some cultural and community immersion trip to the Hanuno Mangyan settlement in Panaytayan, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro.

Kids from the Panaytayan Mangyan Settlement
Even though it isn't part of the municipality of Bulalacao, this town is an ideal side trip for those wanting to learn more about Mangyan culture.

Aside from ancient burial grounds and an underrated weaving industry, the town of Mansalay prides itself for having a very intact local culture said to be "the well-preserved amongst the eight Mangyan tribes of Mindoro". As part of their collective efforts in preserving their culture, community elders teach the Hanuno script and language to elementary students once a week.

Lola Bugkos shows off the carved Hanuno script
It was here where we met Lola Bugkos Dagay, who demoed to us how to inscribe the Hanuno script (Surat mangyan) - one of the indigenous suyat scripts of the Philippines, on a branch of a bamboo. Afterwards, Lola Bugkos gave the piece of bamboo to me after I politely asked for it. 

Some of the elders also perform their cultural dances in front of the visitors
The Hanuno script reads:

"Si aypod bay upadan No kang tinaginduman. May ulanh madi kagnan. May takip madi kaywan. Ga siyon di sa adngan. Go pagtangdayon diman” (”You, my best friend, oh too far. My thoughts of you make me sad. River digs the dungeon gap. Forest breaks our world apart, as if, you're here on my sight. Sitting, so close, by my side")

Those words were overflowing with beauty, romance and reflective poetry, the most fitting token to remember these islands on this side of Mindoro.

For a detailed TRAVEL GUIDE to BULALACAO Islands, just follow this LINK


This article appeared on the March 10, 2019 issue of BusinessMirror