Trip Start Aug 30, 2009
244Trip End Dec 25, 2009
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Where I stayed
Sabang, Puerto Galera, Mindoro Island, Philippines. A small place, a compact place, a friendly place, a place for scuba diving. These days, there are only two reasons to come to Sabang. One reason is for the scuba diving and the other reason I'll cover in a different blog but if you know anything about South Asia, I’m sure you can guess the reason.
Sabang must have once been a small fishing town, wayyyy back when. The locals probably had their boats and shacks on the beach or close to it, maybe up a bit from the beach in case of high tides and storms. Then someone discovered the reefs and the corals, the fish and the sharks, the clams and the turtles and diving became king. Now it is such a dive town that if you are here and not a diver, and not here for the other reason, I think it would be a very boring and dull place. There are two types of people here now, the divers/tourists and the service staff/locals.
The beachfront is chockablock dive shop/accommodations/restaurants. In Sabang, everything touches everything else. To walk through the town usually means walking through shops and restaurants and through someone’s outside patio where they are cooking but also selling small items. The dogs and cats and kids roam freely.
I think most of the beachfront and the dive shops have been bought out and taken over by expats. There are still some accommodations and restaurants owned by locals but they seem few and far between. The dive shops offer just about everything in the way of diving and there are so many of them that they have to come up with hooks to get their share of the divers. Some shops specialize in nationalities. There are several shops that cater to Japanese or Korean divers. There is at least one that caters to Scandinavians. Others go after Germans. Others offer basic classes for free to get you started. You get to try diving in their pool.
My dive shop is Frontier Scuba. I think he’s the best in terms of service, looking after his divers, courses offered, good equipment, good boats, and good dive masters. I’ll talk more about him in another blog too.
Sabang starts early in the morning. The restaurants are open between 6 and 7 if they serve breakfast. The small shops (usually offering drinks, chips, canned goods and have a small beauty section with shampoos and the like) are opening up by 7. The kids are off to school by about 7 in their uniforms and the housekeepers and gardeners, sweepers, builders, and laundry workers have started by 7 as well. The souvenir shops are also opening their doors by 7:30 or 8. The dive shops are open by 8 and people are diving by 9.
You’d think then that with the early start, everything would close up by about 5 or 6. Doesn’t happen. Most of the small shops stay open until 9 or 10. People just live in them. Friends come around for tea and a game and they sit in the shop and play cards and gossip. If a customer comes in, any of them will jump up and help. The restaurants are open until late and there are a whole slew of restaurants that also open around 4 or so when the bars start opening as well. The night clubs are opening then as well.
Sabang is built on a hill and moves up the hill from the beach into the jungle. There are walkways between the cottages and houses and back porches where the work is done. Walking through the buildings, you can catch glimpses into these areas where there is usually someone working on laundry or building some shelves or painting a door or planting something.
Most all of locals work in the service industry here. Some of them still live in Puerto Galera, a jitney ride away. Others are tucked way back into the hill or down an alley or above their tiny, tiny shop or restaurant. They sit in their shops for hours and live in the small area around the shop, cooking on the walkway, playing cards, braiding hair, playing with the baby, all outside and in view.
The other service providers/vendors are the walkers. They walk up and down the walkways and the beach all day long, from one end to the other and back again. They all have something to sell or offer necklaces, sunglasses, massages, woven bracelets, guitars, shorts, etc. When they get tired of walking, they’ll take a break on the porch of one of the accommodations that has outside chairs. You could come back to your room and find 5 of them sitting on your porch. They are all so used to speaking their spiel that as soon as they see a non-Filipino face, they mouth it automatically. "Massage lady?", “Pearls?”, “Shorts for your husband?” If they are tired, they don’t even bother to get up unless you make the first move towards them and then they get animated. Some try the “what’s your name, remember me, tomorrow” routine and then they come around the next day looking for you.
For all the people here trying to sell you something, there are also plenty of people here that are just happy to have a job and be living here with friends and family, both locals and expats. So it is a very friendly place and very relaxed place and very good place. There are plenty of problems as there always is with a country that knows a lot of poverty. But for now, I am happy to be here and relax in the atmosphere and get in some good diving.