Mindoro is one of the most accessible islands near Manila. It is also the 7th largest island in the country with very promising potentials; realistically- in terms of tourism but has also been dubbed as mineral rich thus the name Mindoro from the Spanish term Mina de Oro (gold mine) came from. It has some of the most challenging mountains to climb like Mts. Halcon and Baco as well as white sand beaches and great dive sites, the most popular of which is Puerto Galera and Apo Reef respectively though new destinations are out there waiting to be discovered and/or promoted.
For Manila cyclists, this is the most sensible place to start island exploration by bike especially for those who have already exhausted most of the places within Luzon Island. It is near Manila and accessible via sea travel so budgetary requirements for the expedition are within reasonable. It has challenging flat roads, mountain roads, and off roads. There are plenty of towns to consider for stop overs with affordable accommodations. It has good tourist spots if you would like to further extend the trip for either cultural or natural explorations. And the most important part is that the roads, especially in the Occidental part, has very little to no traffic at all so biking can really be enjoyed by the group wherein you can literally ride side by side with each other.
I would say, for an average and fit rider, the entire island which has a circumferential road totaling to around 500 kms can best be ridden in four days. But it can still be done in three days for those with limited free time but it will require much effort to do so; ideal for the fit and experienced riders. The entire island loop covers around 99% of the island as there is still a gap (no connections what so ever, except via pump boat ride- updated 1-2012: was informed that there is a trail linking Puerto Galera to Abra de Ilog) between Puerto Galera and Abra de Ilog so you can start at Abra de Ilog and end up in either Calapan City or Puerto Galera or the other way around; a reverse circle. I would recommend to start at Abra so that the final days can be spent in the more urbanized part where it’s safer and more convenient and you can still end up in the resort town of Puerto Galera for R&R after the exhausting ride. In our case, we have originally planned for 4 days but we cut our trip short to 3 days- and that does not mean we are above average riders; we just learned how to tolerate and manage the pain better. Here is the itinerary and our trip story with some helpful information:
For more map details please visit my Everytrail at: http://www.everytrail.com/my_trips.php?user_id=46765
- Day 1- left Manila at around 11 PM the previous day to arrive at Batangas City Pier by 1 AM. The ro-ro ride we took leaves Batangas City by 2AM and arrives at Abra de Ilog at around 5AM. We boarded the Montenegro Lines (which has an internet website for your inquiries). Fare cost is 208 Php without any fees for the bikes. We took our bikes upstairs at the deck near the cabin so that we can occasionally look after it.
After arriving at Abra de Ilog, we started our ride immediately and after 40 kms, we arrived at Mamburao, the Capital of Mindoro Occidental. There we had our breakfast at Juliet Hotel, the only restaurant we saw near the highway. Then we left for Sta Cruz (+28 kms). It’s useful to have the E-Z Roadmap of Mindoro which is available on most local book stores for travel reference. From Abra port to Sta Cruz, it’s fairly flat and the road quality is good- newly paved concrete (though its better to ride asphalt roads).
- A few kilometers after Sta Cruz (at km 83) is the start of the rough roads to Sablayan. It is also the start of some climbs as you will need to pass by a mountain range, though it’s not really that high. Stores are more difficult to locate, and in one section, we had to go out of our way just to get to a store.
- Sablayan is the usual Day 1 stop over (135 kms from the port). But if you would be doing this entire trip for 3 days and would want to ensure reaching Calapan or even Puerto on day 3, I advise to ride further to Calintaan (+44 km) to even out the days milage. You will actually arrive at Sablayan at around 1-2 PM and Calintaan is still around 44 kms further. Usually, by the time you reach Sablayan, riders are already be too tired to consider riding further but as mentioned, if you want to ensure to complete the loop in three days, better push further. We stayed at Sablayan, not only because we were too tired to continue but we were uncertain if there are accommodations in the small town of Calintaan. We found out the next day that there is some form of lodging in Calintaan (a resort owned by the first restaurant we saw in the highway entering Calintaan- they offered it to us when we asked about possible accommodations in the area). There is also a midway resort around 20km after Sablayan- in Raagay. That is another option. Back in Sablayan, there were several beach resorts that were advertised in the E-Z map but as it turned out, there is no beach, just sea front property and most of the accommodations are not that enticing. There is one though, the Adventure Camp which looks ok but all of their rooms don’t have a/c so we just went back to the town proper to search for inns and ended up at Emily with a 600 Php a/c room. We had our lunch at GVD Kainan sa Kubo and our dinner at Emily’s.
Day 2- The next day, our itinerary was up to San Jose City only which is a less than a 80 km ride due to some considerations such as- San Jose, being a city have good accommodations and after San Jose is the dreaded mountain pass to Bulalacao which during that time was still a mystery to us. But we agreed to play it by ear when we reach San Jose, if we will continue further. After leaving Sablayan, we found out that there are other better beach front resorts around 5 kms outside the town so these are other options for you, if you would stay at Sablayan. The road from Sablayan to Calintaan is alternating between rough roads and cemented roads with about 80% on the rough side (very challenging if you are riding a hard tail and/or with rigid fork, like I did). But after reaching Calintaan, it’s like being transported back to Luzon with well paved roads, more traffic and developed/ urbanized sceneries all the way to San Jose.
- After reaching San Jose, we were like kids after seeing the familiar Jolibee kilometer marker (in the Philippine Jolibee is the sign of a town’s prosperity). So we went straight to Jolibee and had our lunch there at around 1PM (I had a chiken and spagetti which according to Dindo are the top 2 in terms of Jolibee’s national sale, so I guess I am a typical Pinoy then). After lunch, we decided to push further to Bulalacao passing by the mountain pass that separates Mindoro Occidental from Oriental. There is this fear in us that we might get caught by dark within the mountain range (we asked a security guard who told us that we can’t make it as it requires an entire day, and he also told Dindo that his bike is not the best one for the job as it required a mountain bike! So that made us decide that we have to do it). We found out later that it was only a 2 km steep climb which is not really rideable, because it is too steep with loose rocks. So we ended up hiking that portion with a local family who are also on their way up. After that 2 kms, its was rolling then downhill all the way. The mountain pass has about 20% rough roads only. We reached Bulalacao by 5 PM. Funny thing is that there are Cubao bound buses that comes from San Jose that passes through that mountain pass so technically, you can ride back to Manila even in those portions that seems too remote. So most probably this is the most remote place where you can catch a direct ride back toManila.
- We were lucky to contact South Drive Inn (0928-503-3327) for a place to stay in Bulalacao. They have a restaurant and the rooms they were renting out are pretty decent and clean. The owner which is also the Planning Officer of the town offers good stories about the town. Bulalacao by the way is the southern most tip, the one nearest Boracay so they are planning to build a port that would serve trips to Boracay, an hour faster than from Roxas (though politics may prohibit that). We had our hearty dinner at their South Drive Grill with some drinks before calling the night off.
The next day, we were advised that it was now flat and cemented all the way to Calapan which is still around 180 kms from Bulalcao, so we thought it was doable given that scenario. But in reality you have to pass first the hills of Bulalacao to Roxas before the real flats starts so we were actually drained by the hill’s “interval training.” Worst, we didn’t consulted the map and there were no road signs that the nautical hi-way to Calapan goes inside Roxas then towards the coast. We rode straight to the mountains of Bongabong. We were climbing rough roads and wondering why it was not paved and flat when we were told of our mistake by some bystanders. But as a consolation, we actually enjoyed the long downhill, about 10 kms to Bongabong. Though admittedly, we were already bonked when we reach the town for our lunch at around 2 PM. The side trip was an additional 15 kms of roads with steep climbs.
- We continued on riding one town each- Basud, then Gloria, when we decided to just hire a van and commute to Puerto Galera. Anyways, the roads were already boring- all flats, sun was out so it was really hot and we were already thinking of longer hours spent in the beach as we already decided to go home early the next day. Gloria is still around 70 kms to Calapan and Puerto Galera is still 40 kms from Calapan.
- As we ride the van, we found out that there is still this last hilly section in Victoria before entering Calapan- one consideration for future riders. We also saw the challenging and awesome roads from Baco to Puerto Galera which we think would make even a Calapan to Puerto Galera ride only a worthy trip from Manila.
Here are some thoughts I was able to reflect while doing the Mindoro Ride:
- Despite being located in the same island, it is only recent that the two halves have been joined and the economic disparity of the two provinces is pretty much obvious. And surprisingly, there is more balance, despite in the lower end- in the less priviledged side.
For outsiders, it’s a no brainer to choose the lesser developed Occidental side but from the residents themselves, the progressive side is more appealing. So this is the very conflict between progress and environment and in most cases-its outsiders who want to conserve to a point of making the decision for the residents themselves. How do we balance both sides?
- As from the previous point, the situation of the Mangyan minority is a parallel reflection- do we preserve their culture, an easy thing to say since we are not the ones living in that state. So how do we preserve at the same time upgrade their living?
- The entire trip on the Occidental side was really fulfilling- the only time I was able to ride while seeing crows, king fishers, tame rock pigeons and even the “wheel magnet” chickens scattered on the road. Pigs crossing, numerous goats- I guess its too much to ask (and too dangerous) for a Tamaraw to cross the road.
- You can really see the economic challenge on the country side- even from the simple condition of the money circulating in the area (most 20 peso bill you will get as change are too worn out). But there is something different between country side poor from urban poor. I am not sure if I can define it- but it seems its more of the dignity, disposition and the hope of the people.
- This experience once again validates that travelling is a really enriching experience- from intellectual, to cultural and even emotional. As I have mentioned quite a lot in this blog- cycling is the best form of travel as there is actual interaction. More granular experiences than just images seen from a motorized vehicle.
Here are the photos of the ride (Riders- me and Dindo Narciso):
MIndoro Bike Ride, a set on Flickr.
Next Stop- Negros Islands