a weekend in new sabang

i spent the long weekend with kuya mar in sabang, puerto galera, a place i once described as exceedingly seedy, parts of it seems to have been carved out of corners from manila, pasay and olongapo. without having to look into my archives, i readily remember that i referred to sabang as gomorrah: the other half of sinful puerto galera, with white beach being sodom. however, on the sunny afternoon that our outrigger boat approached the beach-less cove of sabang, the mash of resorts perched on the slopes of moderate hills looked almost chaste. there was something different about the place, it was almost refreshing, and had the colors been more coordinated, it would have looked like some sea-side mediterranean town. upon our arrival, i immediately noticed that although the boat parks directly beside the small barangay's sewer which flushes out onto the same sea where everyday children and novice divers submerge, that it was noticeably clean. there was no dank odor on the beach, and it looked as if trash had been picked up, or at least that small things were no longer thrown out onto the beach. when we purchased tickets for the trip, we were very surprised to find that a new fee had been imposed: a P50 green fee for all tourists going to any of puerto galera's ports. if the relatively new feeling of cleanliness in sabang was somehow a direct result of that added fee, then i'd say it was worth it. but i couldn't help but be skeptical. because although sabang itself isn't disgusting per se, it doesn't necessarily mean it isn't dirty in some other primeval way.

kuya mar wanted beachfront accommodations for us, and he wouldn't have it anywhere outside a few select places. eventually, we chose this hut in el galeon perched a few steps from the shore-less edge of the water. it suddenly began to rain late in the afternoon, and we were left to watch the olympics at the bar populated by rugby enthusiasts from australia. they all wore IDs with photos of women: their wives, girlfriends, fiancés. ironically, however, these men are probably undergoing some chauvinist ritual, and the following day, after a night of binging on booze, more than 15 young filipino women were delivered to their rooms. the women, wearing make-up under glaring daylight and clothes that put together spelled easy, chattered about the type of guy they hoped would choose them. "ayoko ng panot," said one. "basta hindi mataba," whispered the other. it was only 9 in the morning, and the australians were still dead drunk from the previous night. later, after kuya mar and i decided to go to talipanan, the girls arrived with the aussies, in pairs. i wonder who got to choose ahead of the others.

and this is the side of sabang that overshadows its potentials as a diving hub. i have not seen more well-equipped dive shops in so little space than in sabang, but because this barangay attracts foreigners in bucketfuls: europeans, koreans, australians, chinese, and even arabs, discos, the likes of those found in p. burgos have also sprouted. i counted at least 4 of them among its narrow passageways. sabang is a prime example of potential not being realized earlier, and planning being tossed on the wayside. instead of an organized grid of paths and roads, there is only one street which ends at the water's edge, while the rest are a maze of narrow alleys that snake around buildings built without foresight.

nonetheless, sabang retains some charm, and it looks pretty at night, with the dazzling lights of resorts sparkling on the water, even on a season not frequented by tourists. also, despite the lack of class, there are many pockets of luxury in the place, and restaurants serving europe-priced food are built alongside carinderias that offer undernourished dishes. the former are for the tourists whose foreign currencies go far in these parts, and the latter are for the filipinos, who are in sabang to cash in on the tourism potentials. they are dive instructors, restaurant and resort workers, pearl vendors, disco dancers, boat owners, masseuses. i'm really not sure which came first to sabang though: the tourists, or the prostitutes? i am certain, however, that its charm had always been there before either.

talipanan is now missing its long beach | white beach is less charming these days

since kuya mar wanted a weekend filled with luxury, we ate and dined in the finest places, going as far as luca's in talipanan for good pasta and hand-rolled pizza. interestingly, the beach at talipanan has undergone some major changes, both natural and man-made. some resorts have built permanent structures close to the edge of the water, and last year's typhoon frank scooped out more than 15 meters of sand, so now, luca's dining area is a balcony directly over the water. under the law, there are such things as avulsion and accretion, when one's land area may actually be reclaimed by nature (although as i remember it, these terms generally applied to riparian owners of land alongside the river). it would seem actually that resort owners have built past the foreshore, but it was actually the sea that came in and took away the beach. trouble is that it isn't readily identifiable where the sand had been moved, so the lot owners couldn't be properly compensated in that sense. ah! legal stuff. blech.

narrow alleyways in white beach | buses are now equipped with this modern ticketing machine | kuya mar could identify with this prayer

nevertheless, the food was still very good at luca's. we had a seafood marinara pasta and an anchovy pizza. yum. at about the time that we finished, the aussie rugby team and their consorts arrived, so kuya mar and i moved ourselves to white beach for a massage. two old women worked on me, although one of them was much older -- 70 to be precise. her massage was not impressive, i felt like she was just touching me with her course palms. anyway, i've never stayed in white beach since after graduation in law school, and it looks so much more commercial than before. there are less boats on the beach (the sand in talipanan must have transferred here), but the stalls and the resorts now extend farther to the northeast. it looks sad that the tourism industry is eating up this beach. but i've never liked white beach so much as i do talipanan.

after our massage, we took a tricycle all the way to sabang. we checked out a few bars, and drank a bottle each at the point and at rafael's. the previous night, i had around 4 shooters, when just by staying there, these white guys were showing off by buying drinks for all of us. i had a kamikaze, a B52, and two other shots. i also spoke with an underwater photographer, and i was just floored by his photos of these dolphins, sharks, and birds enjoying a sardine colony. he also had photos of sperm whales, whale sharks, and fantastic underwater shots taken in and around our islands. i am so going underwater... if i could afford the casing!

on our last morning in sabang, kuya mar wanted to rent a buggy. my only concern was whether it was a stick. if it were then there's no way i'd drive it confidently. but it wasn't, so off we went to the lighthouse. for something just over 200cc, it handled the inclines rather well, and we even breezed through bumpy roads with little to worry about. kuya mar was pretty impressed with my driving, and i actually felt really good doing it. also, the view at the lighthouse is very nice. you see verde island and the western side of mindoro island all the way to the horizon.

on our way back, kuya mar asked if it was hard to maneuver the buggy. i said no, and he decided to drive it up to a certain point. apparently kuya mar is afflicted with a need for speed, and he drove the buggy like a madman, stepping on the accelerator even when the terrain was pretty bad. from a distance, i saw this puddle and i thought nothing of it because i knew kuya mar would steer away. but i was wrong, because instead of avoiding it, he drove the buggy directly over it, splashing mud all over the buggy, and our clothes. i was actually more concerned about my camera, which was covered in mud as well, so i spent a few minutes just wiping it while kuya mar was worried if i was okay. while riding and driving these buggies can be fun, i think that everyone should be wary about renting these ATVs, because it's possible that they may not be in the best condition possible, and many parts have suffered wear and tear. there's a provision in the agreement that any part that's damaged should be paid fo. so this becomes a sneaky way of replacing the parts for free, when the reason they've bogged down is probably because they're already really old.

buggy knights

anyway, we returned to song of joy (el galeon was just too expensive for us, although we had both our buffet breakfasts there), and prepared to leave sabang in the last afternoon trip. it was a smooth trip back to batangas, and our bus passed through the new section of the STAR tollway, a two lane extension from the former exit all the way to the intersection in mabini. it shortens the trip by as many as 30 minutes, i think, although the 4-lane expressway separated by a 5 meter island merges into a just two lanes, separated by a flourescent line. there is space allocated for the other two lanes, and i guess this will be built in due time. the views are also quite nice, although the expressway is finished in concrete, so it is a little bumpy compared to the SCTex. i hope they layer the entire stretch with asphalt. it would make the trip short and smooth!

so now i have a quandary. another long weekend is in the offing and i haven't the faintest what to do. any ideas?