Summer 2013 Destination #2: Apo Reef Natural Park, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro
When we mention reef here in the Philippines, the first thing on the list is the Tubbataha, a natural marine park in Sulu Sea southeast of Puerto Princesa. However, a larger reef can also be found in Occidental Mindoro. Apo Reef Natural Park covers a total area of 34 square kilometers making it the second largest reef in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
We left Alabang midnight of Friday with our bus from Dimple Star rushing to Batangas Port for the 2AM RoRo schedule to Abra De Ilog. After 3 uncomfortable hours in RoRo and another 3 hours of a bumpy hell bus ride from Abra De Ilog, we arrived in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro around 8 in the morning. We went directly to the Sablayan Tourism Office for the assistance needed and to settle the boat and the guide for the Apo Reef visit. The park is approximately 33 kilometers away off the coast of Sablayan which is 2.5 hours boat travel. After a total of around 12 hours, we reached Apo Island. Don’t be confused with Apo Island in Negros Oriental.
A very pristine, powdery and fine beach welcomed us that replenished our energy. The crystal clear waters of the area enticed me that I was the first one to jump off from the boat. It was high noon but I didn’t consider the scorching heat of the sun to take shots of the sand and the sea.
Apo Island, the largest of the three islands comprising the Apo Reef, is 22 hectares in size having a lagoon with a mangrove forest and a 49-meter high lighthouse, a historic landmark way back to the Spanish Period. It is also on this island where people from the local government and Department of Environment and Natural Resources set up quarters to monitor the sanctuary. DENR declared Apo Reef as a protected area thus making it a “no-take-zone” which means fishing within the area is prohibited.
Since we arrived at the island at noon, the people we coordinated for the meals started to cook for our lunch as we pitch our tents. We had some free time to check out the island and take photos of its very picturesque view. About half of the island is restricted and I didn’t have the opportunity to ask why.
We had our first meal on the island. The guys prepared an Adobong Manok and Spicy Shrimp for everyone. After having lunch, we spent an hour or two just sitting under the shade of trees feeling the fresh air from the sea. It was around 3 in the afternoon when the group decided to try snorkeling near the shore. Underwater photos courtesy of Claire of http://iamtravelinglight.com/
Since swimming is not my thing, I went to our boat and got my life vest to save me from drowning and also to enjoy the view underwater. The water is very shallow that you need to walk for about 100 meters. On my first attempt, I have witnessed the very nice life underwater: table corals of different colors, starfish, school of fishes and even Nemo. The other members of the group who went farther saw a sea turtle swimming with them.
I was so tired that I went out of the water and surrendered after about half an hour. The snorkel was then followed by the sunset viewing and climbing of the historic lighthouse. The steel stairs going to the mid of the lighthouse will literally test your balance due to its steepness and narrowness of the cases. We stayed for an hour in the lighthouse witnessing the view of the island reef. The tide went low and some parts of the reef were already visible above the water.
Darkness covered the area. Since we pitched our tents away from the ranger station, there were no sufficient light to guide us when we had our dinner. Luckily, the glow from our flashlights was enough to illuminate the dining area. We had tuna and fried fish for dinner together with the very invigorating vegetable/fruit salad and watermelon.
After dinner, we brought out some beach towels and laid it on the sand by the beach for the socials. A bottle of cheap brandy added some intensity to the activity. A question will be asked by Dong and a shot of brandy goes around where everyone needs to drink it before giving his/her answer. The first round was, “What work are you willing to do for free and you’re not going to do even you’ll be bribed with a Mac book Pro and 100K?” Weird and cute answers were given. Mine was cleaning for free, and for the other question, embalming a dead.
The moon shone us as we continue to share stories which resulted in horror experiences. The experience was creepy since the moon was full; we were on an island with no electricity and talking about ghost stories. But I enjoyed the activity. Everyone shared their own experiences and one by one falling to sleep.
I woke up from a nice sleep when someone from the group woke us up coz a sea turtle was making a turn on the sand and going towards us. It was 2 AM that time. It was my first time to see of its kind and I’m lucky it wasn’t in a zoo but in their natural habitat where they are free. I transferred to the tent since it was already chilling that time. Around 6 AM when I woke up by a noise of excited people scrambling for something. I went out of the tent and saw another sea turtle moving towards the water. Sun was already rising.
We were advised by our tour guide to prepare for the effortless snorkeling. An activity where you only need to grip on the ropes of the boat and it will wade you through the water. The first snorkel attempt that day failed with the water having clusters of sea lice with a stinging sensation every time they had contact with our skin. Most members of us had irritations all over our body. Thanks to Kat for bringing a pouch of vinegar which lessens the itchy feeling.
Dong told the tour guide to move to another location. Our location, aside from the sea lice, doesn’t have a superb underwater view. We moved to another part of the sea but I didn’t enjoy it due to trauma from the sea lice.
After the tiring snorkeling activity, we headed back to shore for breakfast. We then had the break-camp and packed our things for leaving. Before heading back to the port, we dropped by at the “green” part of the reef and continue snorkeling. The water current was so strong that returning to the boat was a hard time for me. I also saw a jellyfish on the way to the boat that made me freak out. After the last snorkel activity, we finally end our Apo Reef visit and headed back to the shores of Mindoro.
THE APO REEF CASTAWAYS
Apo Reef Natural Park is undeniably a hidden paradise in the middle of the sea; the very rich underwater life, the sparkling and crystal water and the unspoiled beach. Apo Island is now on top of my list for having the best fine and powdery beach in the country. Here’s the travel guide to Apo Reef Natural Park.