Distant bells ring across the sea from the village of Sablayan on the set side of Mindoro Island. It is Easter Sunday morning on Pandan Island.
Clear sea laps against the white sand beach, calm and glowing with the reflected colors of the rising sun. Mahal, the diving banca, is being prepared by the Whitetip Divers for a day trip to Apo Reef, while the larger Amas rests, picturesquely silhoutted, after its five-day diving safari to Busuanga.
The palm-thatched roof of our bungalow rises steeply. Outside, yellow-breasted bulbuls fly busily through the leaves and green-winged ground dove, its bright emerald green-colored wings with glossed bronze, rustle through the grass. in the lush forest behind, coucal and fruit doves call, while the brilliantly yellow, black-naped oriole, dashes over the tree tops. Walking along the narrow path through the forest to Wild Lagoon and Spanish Nose, the now rare, Mindoro imperial pigeons can be heard but are seldom seen.
The large, open-sided thatched dining room is silent bur for a few divers sleepily munching on breakfast, amid the chatter and activity in Tess’ prodigious kitchen. Breakfasts are ordered a la carte, while lunches and dinners are served, buffet-style. The fare is simple tasty, and plentiful.
Dominique Charlut and his energetic, vivacious wife, Marina, came to Pandan Island in 1986. They were joined a couple of years later by Dennis Godard and their partnership has been te force behind the careful development of the resort, the only one in the island. The resort has 17 reasonably-priced bungalows surrounding the central bar and dining area. It can accommodate about 40 people. The mixed sounds of German, Swiss-German, French, Tagalog, and English reflect the resort’s international clientele.
During the day, children’s laughter echoes along the beach. In the evenings, lively conversation over card games and billiards drift across the cool sand to dreamers contemplating the night sky.
The impressively equipped and efficiently run Whitetip Divers is a focal point if the resort and offers a range of sporting activities apart from dive safaris and diving in the protected reefs around the island. Kayaks and windsurfing boards are available and there are boat excursions offered for those who wish to explore the nearby coasts and villages. Radek Jaerger and Peter Treadwell started the diving operation in 1992, later joined by Swiss divemasters Monika Ditle and Andy Himmerlsbach They have trained an excellent group of Filipino divemasters and mechanics. They also offer PADI dive courses for visitors to the island.
The long and dusty trip back, either to Abra del Ilog, and the ferry to Batangas, or to San Jose and a flight to Mnila, is punctuated with vivid images of underwater vistas — bright coral reef, glimpses of graceful green turtles and myriad colors of the fish. Among the favorites are the long-nosed butterfly fish, spirited clownfish, golden sergeants, moorish idols and magnificent emperor angel fish. Most memorable of all were the dolphins leaping around the prow of our banca in the last rays of the sun as we returned from Apo Reef, a world away from reality.
How to get there
By air, land and sea, 55-minute daily flights on Asian Spirit or Air Philippines from Manila to San Jose City. 2.5 to 3 hours by jeepney from San Jose airport to Sablayan. 20 minutes by banca from Sablayan to Pandan Island.
More photos here