It was our first time to climb Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, for the famed music and arts festival it’s been hosting for six years now.
We first headed to the picturesque, grass-terraced amphitheater on March 4, welcomed by the sight of a woman patting a sleeping baby to the gentle beats of Golden Sound and the sweet falsetto of Laneous.
Their music was entrancing, the same as that created by the DJs on the Mangyan Village stage a few meters away. If you lay on the grass, they could actually send you into a deep slumber.
The daze was soon broken by Filipino bands Brigada, Brat Pack, and the Reo Brothers. Except for Beatles-playing Reo Brothers of “Pilipinas Got Talent” fame, we hadn’t heard these bands until then.
Brigada put the crowd in a festive mood. Brat Pack earned praise, as its members demonstrated its passion for the blues.
As we headed back to the White Beach area where we were billeted, we sat beside a drunk foreigner whose head dropped on our lap like a log at one point during the jeepney ride. Before he spiraled into Dreamland, he said, “I’m just checking the place out for tomorrow.”
We were as excited about March 5 because, like another man (maybe in his 60s, seated beside his wife) in the jeepney said, “I heard it’s going to be dope.”
Come Saturday, even the situation in our shuttle service proved how dope the night would be. With us were an American couple that decided to spend some nights of their honeymoon in Malasimbo. (We hope they fall in love even more through the fest, like the viral couple that met and got engaged there.)
The quiet couple brought a loud, congenial woman, who in one breath revealed she was a senior citizen, a Jew and in a hurry to get to the venue. She pressured, if not harassed, the driver by repeating, “Kuya, tara na.”
We caught the Malasimbo Collective on stage—musicians from various bands, again playing calming music.
Next up was Jacob Collier, who with about a dozen instruments, made music that the crowd, in awe, swayed to. He was one stage-hogger we weren’t annoyed with, as we both nodded in ecstasy and shook our heads in disbelief.
Of course, Malasimbo virgins do not get it right the first time; we could have done a couple of things better.
We could have gone up the venue a little earlier, perhaps, to watch the sunset, and stayed a little longer to watch more acts. (I didn’t catch Manila Symphony Orchestra’s collab with Tom Thum, once on TED Talks for “The Orchestra in My Mouth.”)
Because of that, we could not verify if the musical lineup was really “disappointing,” as we overheard a girl saying over lunch. Many acts fit our perception of the Malasimbo sound, though—June Marieezy, Venus Flytrap Collective, Sinosikat?
Nearly 30 artists joined the al fresco art exhibit, including Leeroy New, Hiyas Bagabaldo and Jinggoy Buensuceso. There were coconut masks, cutouts that moved with the wind, an installation made with what looked like abaca fiber.
Consumer brands joined the exhibit. For example, hanging between two coconut trees was the work of Ipanema, highlighting its sandals of varying prints, made of recyclable materials.
At night, it was hard to look for some of the artworks, but the event was still unmistakably an arts festival. Many works were visible from the amphitheater.
Going up in the morning would have been a brilliant idea, if only we didn’t stay up too late drinking at White Beach. We could have joined some morning workshops, like the capoeira-painting or yoga sessions.
Most beautiful bays
It was not entirely our fault. Puerto Galera is a paradise of shores and coves, one of the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World.” We visited Tamaraw Falls and swam in its cool waters. We were also at Elizabeth Hideaway on Saturday to watch the Rider Malasimbo Kiteboarding Exhibition, one of the many side events of the fest.
Our engagements all over town would be good news for Hubert d’Aboville, who, with son-in-law Miro Grgic (musical director) and daughter Olivia (art curator/director), conceptualized the festival—as well as the lights and dance fest on March 24-26—to promote the paradise municipality.
“We are focusing on music, arts, indigenous people and the environment,” said d’Aboville. Covering the last two items are the Mangyan Village on the Malasimbo grounds, where people from the Iraya and Hanunuo subgroups sold indigenous products; and guests enjoying the outdoors all day.
The festival is a gathering representing 30-plus nations, he noted, “and it keeps getting better.”
It surprised us that Puerto Galera could be our regular weekend getaway. But the Malasimbo festival is not cheap.
We estimate you must fork out about P10,000 if you want to enjoy—not just survive—a day of the festival, a price that we think sets apart the authentic hippies from what a friend called “manufactured” ones.
That’s a lot of “gimmicks” and other “extracurricular” activities to avoid months before the fest, but it’s an option we might just take next year.
We’re no longer Malasimbo virgins; in fact we want to have a taste of it again. More #MalasimboMagic, please.