Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Philppines: Puerta Galera


Sabang, the best diving spot in Puerta Galera, seemed to be from a different world: beautiful clear seas, white sandy beaches and the freshest air any of us had breathed in five months. Within an hour of arriving on the island, I was heading out to sea for my first ever snorkelling experience. Once I’d got used to the snorkelling mouth piece and the sensation that my lifejacket was trying to throttle me, I thoroughly enjoyed myself lazily paddling about observing brightly coloured tropical fish and coral. I was so absorbed that I was late back to the boat, and it’s definitely something I want to do again. It even made me wish I was a proficient swimmer, and has got me vaguely interested in the possibility of learning to dive.

white beach at dusk

That evening we girls invested in a bottle of the native Filipino rum, which we despatched sitting on our ocean view terrace, listening to the sea and trying not to be horrendously distracted from our card game by the fact a lady boy prostitute was visiting the room next door. She was obviously not up to standard as she left the room after only five minutes, yabbering into her mobile and looking most disgruntled.

W and Ken, an American guy teaching in Taiwan that we had met on the boat from Manila, obliging went out to buy themselves take away pizzas, which we then stole. The rest of the night passed in a bar where drinks kept magically appearing in my hand.

beach art, or a sandcastle

Surprisingly, the next day I woke up at 8 am, completely unhungover, and enjoyed a breakfast of coffee and real croissant whilst gazing out at the ocean. When everyone else had hauled themselves from their beds, we rented a private jeepney and headed out for White Beach, the best beach in the area.

It was the quintessential tropical beach, and was the perfect place to spend the next two days. We swam and messed around in the sea, relaxed on the beach, got varying degrees of sunburn and wrote a ‘No Thanks’ sign in the sand that failed to deter the souvenir hawkers. I spent an enjoyable hour or so one afternoon building a sandcastle. On our last night, relaxed and contented, we ate the best barbeque food I’ve ever had at a little restaurant directly on the beach.
view from our white beach hotel

Puerta Galera is filled with lady boys, many of which were frighteningly skinny, and we occasionally whiled away lazy hours on the beach by trying to guess people’s birth gender. The area is very popular with sex tourists, and seeing a middle aged or just plain old man with a very young Filipina girl is a common sight. It could be extraordinarily uncomfortable to watch, sometimes simply because it was simpky gross, and at others because of the degree of manipulation, abuse of power and deception on display.

This is not just limited to the bullying, controlling and often quite disgusting way some of the men would treat the girls they were with, but also the degree of self deception some men displayed. They would act affectionately towards the girls, stroking their arms, holding their arms, whispering sweet nothings into their ears, sometimes looking completely besotted. The girls would submit to caresses and kisses, but when the man they were with couldn’t see their faces, they registered variations on disgust, despair, contempt and avarice. Puerta Galera was a carefree island paradise for us, but the poverty and desperation that made Manila so unpleasant was still evident here, and still blighting lives.


  1. Hallo J. I came over to thank you for visiting my blog and have found your wonderful pictures and story of a life so very different from mine. I think you are quite young, and having a fantastic time in faraway places; what memories you are storing up for the time you will settle down.
    I will be back to see you again.

  2. Hi, same thing as Moannie, thanks for visiting! Your life is so different from mine - will be interesting to follow you. Beautiful beach! Sad life stories though... Looking forward to your next post. Warm greetings from West Africa,

  3. Thanks both of you. I'm so glad that I took up the opportunity of teaching in China, it has given me so much.