On arrival to the shoreline of Tuko Beach you are struck instantly by three things. The first is the strength of the shoreline with waves crashing ferociously over boulders. The second is that there is no internet access, and for some of us, no mobile coverage either. The third thing you will notice is how isolated you are here, from the rest of the world.
Walking through the gates of the Tuko Beach Resort it feels very much as if you are being transported away in to another world. Nestled on the mountainside surrounded by jungle, small cottages sit nestled in a dense garden, and winding pathways play ‘pick your own adventure’ with the children. The website says the cottages are designed for ‘living close and in harmony with nature’ and you certainly are. Windows are thrust open for natural air conditioning as the sea breeze blows through, cleaning away the dust of city life from your skin. The sounds of the waves crashing on rocks was loud and soothing and instantly took me back to my hometown on the coast of Australia. Funny isn’t it, how sounds of nature are so similar across continents. The occasional distant motor of a banka driving past adds a new beat to the natural melody played here.
Wildlife is in abundance and there is no shortage of friendly visitors. This is the home of the Tuko Gecko. This beast is not like your normal hang-around-the-house gecko, this guy is huge. It can grow to around thirty five centimeters and is grey with red spots. It can change colour to suit its environment and the ones we saw were a bit green as well. We had a large lady living in our bathroom and she would come out from behind the tiles each day to check on us and make sure we were behaving. At night she would sing loudly – Tuk-Tuk-Tuk and in my sleepy haze I would tell her to be quiet, I was trying to sleep.
Occidental Mindoro occupies the western side of the island of Mindoro and I think it is one of the Philippines best-kept secrets. With a small population and rugged coastline this place is far from the bustling touristy Puerto Gallera, Boracay and Palawan. Here you will find secluded beaches with only your footprints and sandcastles left behind. This section of ocean has the second largest reef in the world, the Apo Reef which makes for world class diving and snorkeling. You will find nature at her finest with rich marine life, coral gardens, waterfalls and a menagerie of incredible wildlife. It is no surprise that this stretch of coast is a turtle nesting area and Michaela, owner of the Tuko Beach Resort, has been the pivotal person who has worked tirelessly with the locals and government to preserve this area and protect these beautiful creatures. A great story to be told, and which you can read more about here.
Aside from relaxing, there isn’t much to do on the island except explore. Pathways weave around the coast taking the explorer from beach to beach. On arrival, the children got busy beach combing, finding seashell treasures and building sandcastles. The sand is rough and made up of colourful rocks, coral and shells. Tiny sea critters run for cover as little fingers reach out to them. The weather was overcast, windy and a bit wet for our visit so swimming at the beach was not really available, it was just too rough. Nobody seemed to mind though. The sky and the sea were a matching gunmetal grey and clouds swept across the sky. Sunlight filtered through making the water sparkle and it felt like Perth on a winters day – wild and gusty, only still in the mid 30-degree Celsius range.
The winds blew away any leftover residue of Manila life and BB said ‘we should stay here forever’.
Local villages lay interspersed along this area, and passing through on your adventures local children smile and say hello. There is curiosity on both sides as we look around to take in a way of life so different to ours, and they wonder what strange land we came from. Two rivers flow down from the mountains and meet the ocean and on our first day we walked along the Udalo River, marveling at the ferocious, cool waters. We sat at river’s edge and let the children explore the shallows looking for rocks, glistening in the water. BB thought he had found gold as the sparkles reflected in his eyes. A crude rickety bridge of bamboo and wood was used by the locals who did not blink an eyelid as they skirted across. The cables wobbled and gaps between planks gave a peep show of flowing rapids underneath. The children thought this was awesome and walked across with courage. Then SB walked across and as I gestured for them to come back, they said ‘no’. I am not a fan of wobbly bridges and as I made my way across I muttered various words under breath. I made it to the end with my heart beating out of my chest.
Later in our stay we met with a guide Noli and he took us on a big trek through the countryside and through different villages. We smiled at the locals and brought snacks at a sari-sari. We watched some rice being milled using machinery and looked across rice fields glowing in the sunlight. We walked up to the mouth of the second river, at Kabasingan, and the children rolled down sandbanks into the water, squealing in delight. There was this moment when I found myself standing at the point where the river met the ocean. I remember looking around and all I could see was just ocean and beach. The wind was whipping my body and I was holding my phone out, waving my arm around trying to find that current of wind on which the phone signal traveled so I could get back in touch with my world. It had been three days without contact. I remember stopping and thinking how stupid I felt, how desperate I must have looked and how really, unless my parents had contacted me there was nothing at all that could be more important than enjoying this moment with my family. This was a turning point for me in how I live with the online world. As the wind changed direction I got a weak signal and a message came through from a concerned friend. ‘I haven’t heard from you, I’m worried’. I quickly messaged back, reassuring her we were well and truly alive. I switched off my phone, turned and walked to the river where the children and SB were getting muddy, swimming and having a glorious time being swallowed up in rapids and quicksand (not real quicksand, just really wet mud that makes you sink to your thighs, making big farting noises as you pull yourself out, much to the delight of the children).
After our tour Noli took us to his home and collected fresh buko for us to snack on. We hung out chatting to his wife Chanda and an American couple who were staying on the premises through Airbnb while Chandra’s mother showed the children how to feed the baby chickens.
The air here is fresh ocean air. Clean. One afternoon I sat in the restaurant listening to the loud rains pour down. The scent of the air changes with the rain and it becomes earthy as dust is kicked up from the beating raindrops. It is fresh, cool and primal. A hint of lime filled my nostrils, BB played close by and I sipped a cup of tea.
Michaela is the owner of the Tuko Beach Resort. A German by descent, back in the early 1990’s she found herself on the shores of Occidental Mindoro. Somewhere along the line she built the resort, and her vision of a sustainable hideaway blends seamlessly with her European hospitality. The layout of the resort is like a puzzle and Michaela says there was no real plan for it, it just got built little by little. Hideaways, where you can dream as you watch over the ocean lay dispersed among the cottages, and are hidden by tropical gardens. The restaurant at Tuko Beach Resort is open air with a rooftop, and surrounded by tropical plants to protect you from the elements. It is small and intimate with dim lighting, decorated with wood paneling, shells and local crafts. The main wall dividing the kitchen from the room is painted teal and Ginger the cat is a regular at night, wooing the guests with his nonchalant stare and gentle presence. As he sits against the wall you would think you were in a Gauguin painting. The restaurant is closed to locals wanting a quiet drink, but open to friends. A long term neighbor and friend was a nightly guest, as was the visiting neighbor who was building his house on one side of the resort. Our first day on the beach we had met another couple who exclaimed ‘Hello! It is unusual to find strangers along here…this is quite a surprise…’ After a short exchange, we learned these friends from overseas lived in one of the houses and worked on the island. A few nights later they came over for dinner and quiet conversation. There was a moment when we were at dinner one night, the children were playing with Ginger in the soft light and we were chatting with new friends like we had known each other a while. Sharing stories on life across continents. The night air was warm, the sea breeze was blowing loudly through the jungle-like gardens that surrounded us and the sweat beads were beaten away with cold beer and wine. Michaela sat apart from us on a low wall, enjoying her evening cigarette. Smoke curls drifted up towards a few small Tuko Geckos who were hanging out on the rafters searching for food.
I could stay this way forever.
Getting there: Head to the port in Batangas, catch the Montenegro Shipping Lines (MSL) ferry to Abra De Ilog, Occidental Mindoro. Here is a tip. The ferry service will not confirm until 9am if the ferry is sailing. A porter may suggest it won’t go and try to offer you an alternative, just wait it out until 9am. Go to the counter and ask.
Should there be any issues, you can head to White Beach as an alternative, at Puerto Gallera.
The ferry ride is around 1.5 hours, then the banka ride to the resort is about twenty minutes. Your feet will get wet so wear thongs (flip-flops).
(ferry rides here are such fun, boy band love ballads boom out of speakers, on some you get a movie on repeat, all that’s missing is the videoke)
Ferry Costs: 260p adult, 130p child, 30p adult tax, 24p child tax. Take snacks, there is a canteen selling cup noodles and soft drinks.
Tuko Beach Resort: Costs depend on the type of accommodation you require so check out the website.
Make contact through the website, Michaela is very helpful and will assist in getting you from port to the resort. I took snacks to keep in our cottage for afternoon munchies. Breakfast and Dinner are served, I took plastic containers and packed up the breads, meats, cheese and salads put out at breakfast and we had those for lunches. Don’t worry, you will not go hungry. There is plenty.