MARINDUQUE, Philippines—It could be a tricky trip down the island village of Maniwaya to a favorite destination: the Palád sandbar.
It is not clear how the patch of white earth, inescapable in the glass-like, bluish-green waters, got its name.
One resident said it may have gotten its name from palad, the Filipino word for palm, since it looks like an open palm of the hand. Another likened it to a plate of bibingka, the white and flat Filipino rice cake, floating on the water.
So imagine yourself tripping and tiptoeing on the palm of the ocean—if nature is kind enough to open its hand.
The tricky part in going to Palád is the timing. Palád “surfaces” and becomes visible only during low tide, and “disappears back into the water,” as residents put it, as the tide grows higher throughout the day. In full view, the sandbar emerges 50 meters long and about 20 to 25 meters wide.
“It should be visible any time of the year but only during the early hours, somewhere between 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., and again in the afternoon from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Maniwaya village captain Francisco Principe. Some residents, however, observe a longer period of low tide during the months of December to February and believe that chances of seeing the sandbar are greater then.
But even this is not an assurance that the sandbar would show itself. When the Inquirer visited the island one April morning, the water on Palád was waist-high. We had to plant our feet firmly on the white, fine sand lest the current carry us to the deeper portions of the sea.
“What I like here most is that the water’s clean, there’s no pollution and it’s not crowded,” said Jastin Cortez, 23, a first-time tourist on the island. He said he was invited to Palád by his cousins on Maniwaya.
Maniwaya (land area: 1,300 hectares; estimated population: 1,500) is the second of the three island villages of Sta. Cruz town when traveling from mainland Marinduque province. Like the other two—Polo and Mongpong (also spelled Mompong)—villagers rely mainly on farming and fishing.
Household water is sourced from deep wells or the rains. The power supply is available from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., except for a few homes that have installed solar panels. A mobile phone signal is not always reliable and, of course, there is no Internet connection available.
But Maniwaya’s 2-kilometer white sand beach is slowly, and steadily, capturing Manila’s attention, mainly through word of mouth, social media and the travel blogs of visitors. Principe said the island’s annual local income had increased from P1.2 million a few years back to P1.7 million when local and foreign tourists started coming in.
Maniwaya is also, by far, the most developed of the three islands if gauged by resort and accommodation facilities, particularly on the island’s eastern side. For one, there is the Residencia de Palomaria hotel and resort (room rates start at P2,000 to P2,500), which offers tour packages and water sports facilities, and about nine other smaller beach resorts (estimated room rates: P1,500).
Ungab rock formation
If you miss Palád, don’t worry. There are other sites to complete the island hopping.
There is Polo Island, the first that comes into view from Buyabod port. Polo Island, though, is not ideal for beach bummers.
“The water in Polo is just as pristine but you can [feel] a bit itchy because of the mangroves,” Principe said. According to the Marinduque environment office, most of the island, or about 200 ha, is planted with mangroves. There is not a single beach resort on Polo but it is a prized view for nature-trippers.
From Maniwaya, the Ungab rock formation on Mongpong Island is definitely another site worth visiting. The cove located in Sitio Ungab boasts of an overarching rock formation that towers about 100 feet above the water.
Ungab beach is perfect for the more adventurous or those who wish to be away from the rapid-paced life in the city. There are no hotels or resorts but a single thatched cottage built by the community. A small signage indicates a P300 charge for the rent but residents say they aren’t strict about the fees.
“Tourists can just pitch their tents on the beach for free,” says Cherry Pardilla, 37, a caretaker of one of the private lots near the rock formation. Her 11-year-old son, Brian, is a witty, young tour guide who entertains guests by diving into the sea from one of the rock formations.
“Every time there are tourists, he will swim and talk to them,” Cherry said. Brian said most local tourists came to Ungab on Black Saturday. “Sometimes there are foreigners, too,” he said.
Village councilor Victoria Relano said the island might not have high-end facilities or first-class resorts “but what we can offer is our people’s hospitality. The people are kind and honest. You can just leave your stuff around and no one will touch it,” she said.
True enough, tourists may just request residents along the beach to use their bathrooms. However, a container of clean water, since it has to be fetched from deep wells, is sold for P10. Seafood lovers won’t have a problem at all, as there is always a fresh catch that the locals are also willing to cook for a minimal charge.
A close-knit community, villagers in Mongpong (land area: 316.7410 ha; estimated population: 1,388) depend on farming, fishing and arrowroot-making, a famous pasalubong from Marinduque made from the flour of root crops. With baby steps, the village is starting to explore the island’s natural potentials in tourism.
The island’s lone resort, Casa Marino (room rates: P100 per person), is in Sitio Bayanan, offering a picturesque sunset view. There is also a diving spot locally referred to as Palumpon-Bato in Sitio Layag-layag and white sand beaches in Sitio Malakundong. Village officials said they would soon begin exploring the caves on the island as an added come-on to tourists.
“We are open to anyone who proposes a project that will help Mongpong, as long as we don’t have to sell our properties,” said village councilor Victoria Relano. She said the residents welcomed tourists but they wanted to retain ownership of the land.
Marinduque, (total aggregate land area: 95,920 ha) is an island province 170 km southeast of Manila. Over the years, it has drawn thousands to its century-old Moriones Festival that highlights the Lenten season.
But Marinduque has more to offer, said provincial tourism officer Dindo Asuncion. One of these are its summer destinations, including the islands in Sta. Cruz.
“Since [the beaches] in Maniwaya are mostly privately owned, we are developing Mongpong for community-based [tourism programs],” he said. He said on the government’s “drafting board” was training villagers on homestay packages to accommodate tourists should there be a tourist overflow in Maniwaya.
How to reach Maniwaya?
There are only two boat trips in and out of Maniwaya. Residents call it the salubungan. From General Luna town, Quezon province, a passenger motorboat leaves daily at
6 a.m., stops over at Maniwaya and proceeds to Buyabod port. Buyabod port in Sta. Cruz is the jump-off point to the three islands if you are coming from mainland Marinduque. By 1 p.m, the same boat leaves Buyabod, makes a drop at Maniwaya Island and heads back to Quezon. The fare from Buyabod port to Maniwaya costs P70 per person.
If traveling in a group, village officials advise tourists to rent a boat that will also take them to Palád and to the other islands.
The downside in hiring a boat owned by seaside villagers is that there are no fixed rates and schedules yet, although Principe assures visitors that there are enough boats for hire during the summer. The boat rates, he said, range from P2,500 (capacity: 15 to 20 passengers) to P3,500 to P4,000 (capacity of up to 50 passengers).
Residencia de Palomaria offers a ride on its private speedboat for its guests directly from Lucena City in Quezon.
How to reach Mongpong?
Mongpong is the farthest of the three islands, about 19 km from mainland Sta. Cruz. From Buyabod port, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour by boat to reach Sitio Bayanan, where the village hall is located, and another 15 minutes to go around the island to Sitio Ungab’s rock formation.
A passenger motorboat from Mongpong leaves the island daily at 6:30 a.m. and returns from Buyabod port at 10:30 a.m. A one-way trip costs P100 per head.