First off is the tiny island of Pandan in Mindoro Occidental that My Bibe and I first visited in April of 2007. It's a small outcrop just a few meters into the sea from the mainland in Sablayan, a mere 10 to 15-minute boat ride, where a small resort operates.
A section of the front beach on Pandan Island, with the mainland and another islet in view.
Established in 1986, the resort on Pandan Island is devoid of luxury and the usual creature comforts. For one, there's no electricity on the island, so there's no air conditioning, no fan, no TV -- although there's lots of cold beer and soda.
The resort has 2 family houses, 1 double bungalow, 9 standard bungalows, and 5 budget rooms, all with thatched roofs and constructed primarily of native materials. While the bungalows each have their own bathrooms, the budget rooms share 2 bathrooms and 2 toilets located on each end of "the Bronx" strip. (For a preview of the accommodation options, click here.)
The strip of budget rooms.
We stayed in one of the budget rooms then because surprisingly, the bungalows were fully booked weeks ahead of our trip. The room had two single beds with a thin mattress atop each of them. It was very basic and quite charming in its no-frills stance. This is definitely not a place for the finicky and the pampered, and a lot of Westerners are clearly not that type because they make up most of Pandan Island's clientele. More so, Marina, the resort manager (who's quite a character!), tells us most of them are regular clients; they just keep on coming back.
A peek into the budget room. Mosquito nets are standard fare for all rooms, though.
Curious as to why there's no electricity but there's cold beer? The resort has some solar panels installed but are just not enough to power the entire complex. Supply is concentrated in the kitchen and the bar (for your cold beer), so each room is left with a single tiny light source:
Guests can recharge their gadgetry at the dive shop, however. Yes, you can still use your cell phones and tablets. But why would you when you can just spend the day in a hammock reading a good book?
The bar, right smack at the center of the resort. Not just beer, they've got a good selection of wines, too.
The restaurant serves good food. It's not fancy but good. While they serve anything from sandwiches to pasta any time of day, the kitchen closes for the "mandatory" buffet dinner (the buffet lunch is optional). Marina tells us she basically serves whatever she finds in the market, so expect anything from fish to meat, vegetables and seaweeds (much like how it's done in Siama Hotel in Sorsogon City). It was actually the first time I came to appreciate boiled patola (sponge gourd). I never thought I'd like it the way it was cooked but I did.
As with most islets in the country, fresh water is a concern. In Pandan Island, ground water extracted by a pump is used for washing and bathing while fresh water brought in from the mainland is used for cooking and for that last rinse when bathing. There's no shower here; you use a bucket and a dipper.
The boat that brings in water from the mainland. Notice the tank there?
The island itself is a beauty: white sand, lots of shade, clear waters, corals. The beach is far from the perfectly manicured shrubbery and frequently raked sand of many a posh resort. Instead, you'll see dried leaves, coconut husks, and some dead seaweed washed ashore, which only add up to the "natural" feel of the surroundings. They do clean the place but not to the extent of being overzealous about it, which is just right with me.
The island is blessed with a house reef that makes it ideal for snorkeling. Chances are, you'll even get to spot and swim with some hawksbill turtles just a couple of feet from the shore! Awesome, right?
Perfect for sunbathing, perfect for swimming.
The beach is as natural as it can get with dried leaves strewn across the sand.
The island is mostly forested. On the other side of this paradise you'll find several rock formations and pockets of beaches in between. It only takes a short hike to get there.
Getting here is actually good exercise. Nothing much to do here, though, but enjoy some alone time.
Pandan Island is all about peace and quiet for the most part, advocating nature preservation at its core. Apart from taking pains to preserve the corals surrounding the island, the resort also has a handful of birds. In the past few years, they also took a step further in nurturing turtle eggs and releasing them into the sea when the time is right. That, however, I still have to and would love to witness.
This is Karla, the freewheeling parrot with a seemingly serious case of OCD. She just can't stop picking her feathers! Hence, the bare breast. I don't know if she's still alive, though.
Pandan Island is also an excellent base for some serious diving. It's only two hours away by boat from the famed Apo Reef. They even hold safaris to as far as Coron in Palawan down south. But for a non-diver like me, I'm just content with doing nothing here.
For rates and other information about Pandan Island, visit www.pandan.com.
From Manila, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Airphil Express, and Zest Air operate flights to San Jose, Mindoro. Flight duration is an hour or less. These aren't daily, though, so check their flight schedules.
From San Jose, there are buses, jeepneys and vans that can take you to Sablayan. Travel time is about 2.5 to 3 hours.
Once in Sablayan, take a short tricycle ride to Punta in front of Ludi's Place. The resort's outrigger boat will then whisk you away to the island in about 15 minutes or less. Charges apply and be sure to prearrange this with the resort beforehand.
Dimple Star buses (+639086315495, +639086964803) can take you straight to Sablayan from either Cubao, Sampaloc or Alabang. It will take you about 8 to 10 hours all in all, traffic and dependencies on ferry schedules considered. Once in Sablayan, do the tricycle-outrigger boat route.
If you want to do it the hard way -- like we did five years ago -- take a two to three-hour bus ride to the Batangas port from practically any bus terminal in Metro Manila. At the Batangas port, book a ferry ticket to Abra de Ilog. Take note of ferry schedules, though. At least two shipping lines, Montenegro and Besta, ply the route (Batangas port hotline: +63437238243). The ferry ride will take around 2.5 to 3 hours.
Once in Abra de Ilog, you can either hop on a bus or get in a van going to Sablayan. Travel time is around 3 hours.