It is not everyday that you get to be welcomed by a resident sea turtle. It is not also everyday that you get to share an island with other wild creatures like Emerald doves, Philippine scrub fowl birds, fruit bats and occasional reptiles.
On a tropical island off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, all these are part of the everyday when staying on this island named after a plant–pandan. Not the Pandanus amaryllifolius or the common pandan leaves that are used for rice flavoring, but the Pandanus tectorius, the tall pandandagat or screw pine that grows on sandy beaches and mangrove forests.
The aromatic leaves of the pandandagat can also be used to flavor rice dishes. You just need a giant pot of rice to steam its giant leaves. The leaves of the plant, as well as roots, also have folkloric medicinal applications. But it is the edible fruits that bring wild animals like bats, birds, crabs, reptiles and even turtles to places where the pandandagat grows plentifully. And in Pandan, where it is in abundance, the scent of ripening fruits invites these animals to take refuge on the island.
This 27-hectare island, which is actually called North Pandan, as there is another one called South Pandan, is about 2 nautical miles from Sablayan. The two Pandan islands used to be the favorite picnic destinations of the locals of Sablayan and neighboring towns. This somehow changed in the 1980s when it was “discovered” by a French adventurer who built the Pandan Island Resort in North Pandan in 1986.
The French adventurer made sure that all the sights and flavors of the island would be preserved when the resort was established. Cottages and most structures were all built from native materials. And they were all constructed around the natural palm trees and pandan growing on the eastern side of the island. The western side has retained the tropical forest for wildlife residents of the island to nurture.
Pandan is a tropical retreat that allows visitors to appreciate more the beauty of nature. The water surrounding the two islands is teeming with colorful corals, tropical fish and marine mammals, while the inland forests are sanctuary to migratory birds and reptiles.
The resort has become a haven for travelers who wish to get away from the noisy city life. The resort can only accommodate up to 50 guests, and many tourists, particularly those from Europe, come regularly with their families to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the place.
When we visited the island, I saw one of the resort staff trying to catch a small snake so that he could bring it inside the inland forest. Two young Caucasian girls came running to us, and one of the girls was shouting, “Please don’t kill the snake!” I asked the young girls if they aren’t afraid of the snake, and they replied “No.” They said they have been coming to the island regularly to escape the winter in Europe, and that they have gotten used to its reptilian residents.
How to get there
Pandan Island, which is under Sablayan, is located in the province of Mindoro Occidental. The fastest way to reach Sablayan is to take a plane from Manila to San Jose, and then a two-hour bus ride to Sablayan. Another way to reach Sablayan is by getting on a Dimples Liner bus in Cubao, and after 7 to 8 hours of highways, ro-ro and dusty roads, the visitor lands in Sablayan.
But the best and most scenic way is to drive all the way from Manila. From Manila, drive south for two hours through SLEX and STAR highways, then head straight to Batangas port, where ro-ro ferries for Abra de Ilog are waiting. A ferry ride takes two and half hours and costs around P2,000. From Abra de Ilog, Sablayancentro is 125 kilometers of good and gravel roads, passing thru the provincial capital of Mamburao.
At the back of the public market in Sablayan, there are parking slots for visitors going to Pandan. Park there and take the 20-minute boat ride to the island.
What to see, what to do
They say Pandan is for people who like to spend time in tropical surroundings without cars and television. It is true. Pandan is best enjoyed spending the day on a hammock catching up on sleep or reading a good book while watching the sun set.
It also has a beautiful white-sand beach on the south side and a nice secluded beach with tall pandan at the back. In between is an inland forest with tall tropical trees where one can watch wild birds who made this island their sanctuary.
The water between the two islands is a rich natural coral garden. Glass-bottomed boats can be rented in Sablayan, or you can bring out snorkeling gears to explore the underwater beauty of Pandan. Be prepared to be greeted by the giant sea turtles that have made Pandan their home.
Pandan Island is also the popular base for divers exploring Apo Reef, and for discovering the other attractions of Sablayan–the Penal Colony, the old Parola Park, the Libuao Lake and the Siburan Forest.
Where to stay, what to eat
Visitors to Pandan can stay either in Sablayan or on the island. In Sablayan, there are plenty of budget accommodations available. But why stay there if you can enjoy being lulled to sleep on the island by the singing of the birds?
Accommodations in Pandan range from P900 for double occupancy in a budget room or P3,750 for superior family bungalows that can accommodate a maximum of six persons.
All guests who will stay overnight are required to take at least one buffet daily for P470. A full-board meal (1 breakfast and 2 buffets) is quite a steal because guests can feast on the freshest seafood of Mindoro.
Staying in Pandan allows visitors to enjoy the sights, tastes and flavors of the island.