Puerto Galera

Joowon asked about the best way to get to Banaue and back by Friday, and I had to break the news that she would be spending 80% of her time on a bus or jeepney winding through the mountains, and that she’d have to give up on that plan, and instead join me for a jaunt to Puerto Galera, an island paradise only 3 hours away from Manila. PG was highly recommended by some of Sharon’s friends, especially if you wanted to get away but didn’t have a lot of time. Sangyup didn’t have any better suggestions, so the three of us jumped on a bus and headed to the port.

As soon as we landed on White Beach, we were accosted by touts trying to book our entertainment and accommodation for the next year or so. We already had a guesthouse in mind, Coco Roma, recommended by my couchsurfing friends. Our new friend wouldn’t let up and insisted on showing us the way, even though we had an idea where we were going. As it turns out, Coco Roma was a little less comfortable then you could whitewash with “rustic;” the dusty rooms were unreasonably expensive, considering the only furniture was a mattress on the floor. This wasn’t helped much by the desk clerk’s lackadaisical attitude as he half-assedly waved his hand at the wreck of a room he was offering for double Joowon had paid for her small room in Manila. Fortunately, our friend “knew a place,” and walked us, quite literally, next door.

The rooms there were actually quite nice, large, comfortable and well furnished, and priced about the same as Coco Roma. Since our friend had gone to all that trouble to secure us a room, we agreed to take his boat out later to do some snorkeling. So, for the second time in less than a week, I hired a private bangka to take me on an island adventure.

Puerto Galera seems to have its set sights, much like other parts of the Philippines. They took us around the horn and into a lovely bay, and the deep blue water suddenly came to life as we rolled over the shallows and began to see the massive live coral bed.

Somewhere along the way, a small boat attached itself to our bangka, towing itself behind. I figured he was a local just trying to save¬† a little gas on the trip, but as soon as we jumped into the water to explore the underwater playground, he began to pester us about taking his small boat to see some other things which supposedly can’t be reached with our big boat. We had just arrived at the largest, most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, in the clearest water I’ve seen outside of a brita pitcher, and this guy was trying to take us somewhere else? I tried to be nice at first, but he kept up with his limited English, a whining soundtrack to our otherwise pleasant swim. He followed us in his boat like a lost cuttlefish, trying to coax us to go with him, pleading for our own sakes to pay him to take us away. “DUDE, we just paid 2,000 pesos to get this bangka, we’re trying to enjoy our time HERE, leave us alone!”

Still, he wouldn’t let up.¬† He kept trying to inject himself into our space, telling us to grab onto his boat so he could troll us across the reef, or jumping into the water to point out stuff or grab shells from the ocean floor to give to us “for souvenirs.” This guy was a fucking nightmare! He had annoyed us so much that we were determined not to give him anything; not to let him win. At some point, Sangyup was swimming some distance from the boat and accidentally kicked a sea urchin, and our new friend swooped in to rescue him, towing him a few hundred meters to our bangka before sitting there expectantly. Sangyup paid him some money for his assistance (I think it was 100 pesos), which I think satisfied him immensely. It was getting dark so we decided to start heading back, and on the way back Joowon told me that while the guy was in the water, he had been grabbing at her extremely inappropriately. I was so pissed off that this guy tagged along so he could ruin our enjoyment, it was a good thing he had already started puttering away or there would have been trouble. It was too late to do anything about the man in the little boat, but when I got off the boat I told the guys what the man had done. A word of advice: if you do rent a boat from White Beach, tell them up front what you want to see; if you don’t want to pay extra to see the “giant clams” or the “underwater cave,” and you see a little boat tack onto your bangka, tell them to fuck off. And if it’s a dark-skinned man in tightey-whiteys with a whiny voice, punch him in the throat for me. Then cut the line, flip his boat, and set it on fire.