Pandan Island – A Great Place to Collapse

After our nightmarish transit from Banaue back to Manila, Mandeep and I were finally on the plane to the Mindoro Island, where we plan to do some world class diving in Apo Reef. The airport in San Jose is small to say the least. Baggage claim consists of a guy loading bags off a dolly that goes back and forth between the plane and the airport. Its pretty much a free for all. Before we even leave the building tuk tuk drivers are waving at us through the window asking if we want rides.

Its very early. 7am, but the sun is out and the temperature is climbing. After a failed attempt at breakfast in town, we ended up back at the airport cafe for our first real meal in almost 24 hours. The owners were friendly and gave us directions on how to get to our final destination, the small town of Sablayan. We were so put off by the locals in San Jose, even just spending 15 minutes walking in town. The drivers are aggressive and follow you even after you decline. Everyone seemed to be selling you something and I couldn’t help but feel these were really greasy people. The fact that we were extremely sleep deprived didn’t help.

Sunrise in San Jose, Philippines

We make our way to the bus station. Fare is inexpensive and we get on this open, local bus that services all the towns and villages between San Jose and Sablayan. The weather is great and we drive past vast open fields, some rivers and really rickety bridges. At times, the pavement is nonexistent and we are literally driving on gravel/dirt roads. It was a bumpy ride for sure. I for one could not stay awake for the life of me so it was fine by me!

When we finally arrive in Sablayan, we find out that 4 dives will cost us $400 CAD, without an option for fewer dives. It was low season after all so we had to front the money for the boat to take us there all on our own. We definitely weren’t willing to pay that much. What a bust! What’s worse is that the hostels here looked really dingy and unsanitary. However, our saving grace was news of this island 30 minutes off the coast. Pandan island it was called and it was home to a resort that specialized in diving. Why not? We were already here anyways!

Makeshift harbour at Sablayan. There is a tiny office with a schedule and fares for Pandan Island.

So off we go, the only ones on the motorboat ferry, soaking in the sun and enjoying the views of endless blue water and bright sky. Pandan Island turns out to be exactly what we need after the hellish transit we endured just 6 hours earlier. The sand is pale gold, the sea is crystal clear and best of all, beer is cheap! Rooms are quite affordable too. We each got our own queen bed with mosquito nets and our own washroom. Showers are cold and salt water however. Food is also provided. The total for each of us was $20 per night.

A little much needed paradise at Pandan Island
I try to be clean but I usually end up being a bit of a slob when it comes to partially unpacking haha. On checkout day, there was a palm sized spider that we saw crawl into our room by the window you see here. I never packed my bags up so fast.
Sunset and relaxation. And San Miguel beers

Dinner here turns out to be quite fun. We start at the bar, where we meet the French owner who’s been running the resort for well over 15 years. We meet some of the other guests (there are probably 10 in total) and surprisingly, they all hold very prestigious jobs. Corporate bankers, neurologists, corporate translators and physiotherapist all came together in bathing suits and sandals to the buffet dinner prepared by the 2 in house chefs. The food is the best I’ve had in my time in the Philippines. Fish is braised in a light soy, produce is fresh and the dessert of banana and peanut spring rolls leaves me wanting more and more (I managed to control myself though…barely). To be honest it just felt good to nourish our bodies with something other than granola bars haha. After dinner, its more beer and chatting. By 8pm, I’m about to collapse from exhaustion. We’ve had around 4 hours of sleep in the past 36 hours.

Mandeep and one of the resident sea turtles. There are all screenshots from my GoPro so resolution is mediocre.
They may not move fast, but they’re definitely hard to photograph!
Yeah he’s probably had enough of me following him around.
To this day, I don’t know how to work a snorkel. I opted out within 10 minutes of trying to get it to work and choking on salty water haha. Free dive all the way!
Bourg gets credit for spotting these lionfish. They were my first! Watch out for these guys, they’re really cool looking but poisonous as hell.

The next day is all about snorkeling. We rent our equipment and swim around the beach looking for the resident sea turtle. After a few hours we manage to find it an a few lion fish. First time seeing them and it was very unforgettable. We meet a Slovenian couple, Tinka and Bourg, and find out we are on the same flight back to Manila the next morning. They hear of a hotel that is reliable in town and that evening, we make our way there. Chatting over dinner we share about living in Canada versus living in Slovenia. Apparently the cost of living is comparable.

Often times while traveling, you’ll come across things you don’t expect. Its always disappointing to look forward to some great experience only to find out its incredibly out of budget. But more often than not, when one door closes another opens. Pandan Island was not in our itinerary, but going, even for one evening, helped us rest, relax and meet people from different countries, giving us a great opportunity to share about your country and learn about another. Fellow travelers, especially seasoned travelers, are great resources and they’re often willing to help you out so don’t shy away from making new friends while abroad!

Before I finish I just want to give a quick shout out to my fellow traveler, Ciaran. He’s been traveling all around Canada (particularly the West Coast) on a super tight budget. If you’re into the outdoors, camping, CANADA or even hitchhiking, make sure to check out his blog for read about his awesome adventures.

Travel Notes

  • There is a ferry that can take you to Pandan island for fairly cheap. Just go to the harbour and ask around
  • If the open, local bus is not your thing (its an interesting experience!) there are AC’d coaches that run direct for a few dollars more. Bring snacks and motion sickness pills if you get it. The road is really bumpy. We took one for the ride back to San Jose and they even played Titanic for our in-drive entertainment haha
  • in my experience the hotel owners are great people. Our first choice in hotels was full but they called a sister hotel, reserved our room and even arranged for a pickup.

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