Byline: DEEPA PAUL-PLAZO
Approximately three hours from crowded, sweltering Manila is an island getaway where the seafood is fresh, the sand is dazzling white, the water is a beautiful clear turquoise, and good vibes abound. It is a getaway for adventurers of the 'strike anywhere' variety, who think nothing of hopping on a bus on a whim, armed with nothing but a swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops. It is a refuge for the low-key urbanite escaping the frenzied crowd at Manila's latest 'in' spots (the same crowd that currently overpopulates Boracay). It is my paradise on the cheap--Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. Centuries ago, during Spain's colonization of the Philippines, Puerto Galera was a historic port of call for Spanish galleons plying trade between Mexico and Manila. Today, it is a popular summer haunt for young, middle-class Manilans. The opening of an affordable ferry route to Boracay via Mindoro has also made Puerto Galera a pit stop of choice for those who prefer to hie off to the upscale island getaway. Life in Puerto Galera revolves around White Beach, where a significant number of affordable, frills-free cottages are available for rent. I'm often asked how to book reservations in Galera. The answer is, you don't. (This answer often leaves born planners in a cold sweat.) Upon stepping off the ferry, visitors are besieged by a number of resort owners calling out rooms and rates--the Galera equivalent of Manila's street hawker. For those who absolutely must have their fluffy bathrobes and room service, upscale private villas are located on the other beaches of Galera, such as Coco Beach, Big La Laguna, and La Laguna.