A Mambu Mamburao Weekend

March 13, 2015 Travel

Weeks ago, I received an SMS from Mr. Randy Urlanda of Manila Bulletin, inviting me to the foundation day celebration of Mamburao, the capital of Occidental Mindoro. I had been hearing about the municipality, along with Sablayan, as the emerging tuna capitals of the country. 

Without a doubt, I gladly accepted the invitation. After all, who would decline a free trip?

We decided to catch the 1 AM bus to Batangas Port last Friday.

Mamburao is accessible through Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) vessels that operate between Batangas Port and Abra de Ilog. From Abra de Ilog Port, there are vans available to reach Mamburao, which is less than an hour's travel from the port.

We opted for the 4 AM RORO trip to Abra de Ilog. It was a beautiful night for sailing, and the captivating sights of the full moon and the rising sun kept us awake.

We arrived at the Port of Abra de Ilog at dawn, which serves as the northern gateway to the province of Occidental Mindoro. The municipality of Mamburao had organized a van to pick us up from the port.

The Tuna Highway

This was our first view of the Mindoro Strait, the new tuna highway.

Starting in 2008, Mamburao and Sablayan have emerged as major tuna suppliers. Most of the tuna exported to Japan, Korea, Australia, and European countries originates from these towns. They have benefitted from the changing behavioral patterns of tuna, sustaining this through the adoption of sustainable fishing methods.

Fishermen in these areas use the traditional hook, line, and sinker method.

I first learned about this fishing method from Chef Paolo Nesi of the L'Opera group when they opened Prego, an Italian Restaurant at City of Dreams. Chef Nesi explained that tuna caught individually remain intact, hardly having any bruises on their bodies, and taste better.

Both the World Wildlife Fund and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources commend the towns, suggesting them as role models for sustaining fish populations in the seas.

The Search for Mang Edgar and Fresh First Balls

Yes, you read that right – fresh fish balls. 

After our much-needed sleep, we decided to explore the town to look for Mang Edgar, who has been featured on television for his fresh fish balls. Being a fish ball fan, I couldn't resist.

It took us three tricycle rides because our first two did not know Mang Edgar. Just when we were about to give up and have dinner with the rest of the group, we found him.

Say hello to Mang Edgar and his fresh fish balls.

Most of us are familiar with the taste of frozen fish balls, commonly used by many fish ball vendors. Mang Edgar's fish balls, however, are different. They don't have the typical fishy and salty taste; instead, they are crispy and fresh. He also serves them with the popular manong fish ball sauce.

Day 1 was a success!

The Tuna-tonelada Festival

The highlight of our visit was the Tuna-tonelada Festival.

Before coming to Mamburao, we watched a feature on Living Asia Channel, so we were excited. The tuna float parade started promptly at 7:00 AM. Schools, government offices, and other stakeholders joined. There weren't many people on the street to watch the parade, so we had good vantage points.

What's a tuna parade without tuna?

Of course, the stars of the parade were the tuna. We actually thought there would be none because it was a full moon, which makes them difficult to catch. But, they were there.

After the parade, we went to the town's function hall to watch the performances. The kids were much livelier this time, and they did well in their well-choreographed dance numbers.

According to Mamburao's former tourism officer, Ms. Elma Tejada, who conceptualized the festival, it was much grander during its early years, with the parade culminating in a cook fest where guests get to partake of the town's best tuna fishes.

In the festival schedule, we got hold of, there was supposed to be a cook fest at 3:00 PM, which we failed to see. We did, however, party with the good people of Mamburao at their mardi gras. There, we had our kilawin and grilled tuna.

For the Road at Jopay's 

The group we were with wanted a nightcap at Jopay's.

One of my secret bucket list wishes is to drink at a sleazy bar. No way am I doing it in Manila or any other places where a lot of people know me. I got that fulfilled!

When we got there, they actually had good music playing. I must admit, I enjoyed their music more than the band playing at the town's mardi gras. It was the perfect nightcap. The band played most of our requests, and we had cold bottles of my favorite San Miguel Beer.

Other things to do in Mamburao:

Relax at the Beach

Any day or any time is a good time to go to the beach. We managed to squeeze in a few visits. We were not prepared to swim, though, so we just took photos. Mamburao is a coastal town, and there are lots of good choices. There are resorts, but none that serve food, as these cater mostly to locals.

Eat freshly pickled vegetables

Mamburao's OTOP (One Town One Product) is pickled fruits and vegetables. We got to try the pickled bitter gourd or ampalaya and garlic stems at Abdala Store. Since one of my favorites is bamboo shoots or labong, I got a bottle for P 120.00.

Mamburao also makes patis and bagoong.  

Lastly, stay at Maru's

When in Mamburao, stay at Maru's. They have good food, spacious rooms, and it is a few steps away from the beach. The beach is not for swimming, though, but more for relaxing walks and watching the sunset.

The owner is Ms. Elma Tejada, the former tourism officer of Mamburao. She and her family are very nice, and they know how to entertain guests. They can share lots of good stories about Mamburao when they are not too busy.

Try their drink called Perk and their Chicken Fricassee.

Puerto Galera Side Trip

Instead of heading back to Manila on our third day, we decided to drop by Puerto Galera for our side trip. We missed the regular boat trip to Puerto Galera, which leaves at 12 PM, so we rented this small boat for two thousand pesos. I really thought we would not make it, but we did, and we did get to appreciate more of Mindoro's coastline.

Good food and music continued in Puerto Galera. We were lucky The Brasspackers, a group of students from France, were there. We first saw them in Zambales.

We relaxed on our second day at the beach, then took the 2 PM boat back to Batangas City, arriving home before nighttime.

Thank you very much to the local government of Mamburao for inviting us to the Tuna-tunelada festival. Special thanks to the people of Mamburao, especially our gracious host, Ms. Elma Tejada. I would also like to express my gratitude to Mr. Randy Urlanda, Mr. Robert Evarola, and the rest of the media team who covered the festival. Additionally, a big thank you to Mayor Ed Gadiano for treating us to dinner.

Before I conclude, let me express my deep admiration for the people of Mamburao and Sablayan for choosing sustainable fishing over other methods. I am grateful that you were not lured by easy money. The rest of the country and its future generations owe a lot to you. Thank you!

The next stop is Sablayan!

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