By a tranquil, azure bay on the north side of Mindoro, around 120 kilometers south of Metro Manila, Puerto Galera earned its name in the 16th century as a port in a storm for Spanish galleons. Today it’s a Unesco-designated reserve, and instead of colonial merchants, young travelers from around Asia, and further afield, are washing up on its shores. Each year the crowd gets bigger and bigger as they celebrate one of the biggest international music and arts festivals in the country, Malasimbo. This year, in celebration of its 5th anniversary, the weekend festival had gotten bigger, with a Music & Arts Festival that happened March 6 – 8, 2015, and the newest weekend addition, the Lights & Dance Festival that took place from March 13 – 15, 2015.
After scoring three-day passes for the newest festival from the fun folks at GRID Magazine, I was unusually chipper during the almost two-hour bus ride from the Alabang bus terminal to Batangas port (Php 130 one way). Jericho, my photographer friend, and I chatted excitedly as we boarded a crowded catamaran (Php 270 one way + Ecological tax of Php 50 once you dock) filled with musicians, party goers of different nationalities, and divers, making our way to Sabang, a little village that is also a popular diving community in the area. Prices for hotels at the most popular White beach had spiked for the weekend, and we rented a cozy studio apartment in Sabang for a very reasonable price.
The festival starts at 4 o’clock every day, with accredited jeepneys making the rounds of bringing party goers up the winding roads of Malasimbo. As they are the only form of transportation allowed up the mountain for the three-day weekend, they get to charge what I consider to be an exorbitant amount (Php 200 – 300 per person per roundtrip, depending on where you’re stationed at). You are surrounded by security and police as soon as you get off and there are lots of security checks before getting in, as well as roving security confiscating smokes that aren’t the nicotine kind and the like.
Safe Payment System
Most of the folks at Malasimbo pay for their tickets online, which is a lot cheaper than getting them at the door. To make for a hassle-free festival experience, we were given RFID cards that were strapped to our wrists that worked as an e-wallet – we would top up a certain amount before going in and all the vendors needed to do was scan the cards to collect payment. This saved me a lot of trouble for fishing through my wallet or having to bother with checking if I got the right amount of change back. Not only does it keep the line moving, it makes for a pretty awesome souvenir, too!
Upon entering, one doesn’t see much until you reach the part of the hill that leads out onto an emerald slope, rolling down into a broad clearing lined with palm trees. Lights installed among the fronds cast kaleidoscopic rays across the tree line, displaying sculptures scattered on each side of the path. The festival’s amphitheatre stands in the middle of the clearing, where DJ Katsu was hammering out a series of complex, syncopated rhythms our first night there. We charge down the hill.
Food & Drinks
Aside from the music that long weekend, people seemed to be trekking up to Mount Malasimbo for the food as well as the performances. Out of all the food concessionaires, the Dabu-Dobo and Kesong Puti Panini were hands down the best-sellers that weekend. For those looking for something a bit more familiar, there was also huge portions of Lasagna, Chicken Curry, and oh-so-fluffy Coconut Cake by the neighboring food station.
It wouldn’t be a party without booze, and just to make sure nobody had to wait in line for too long, there were three bars scattered around the amphitheatre selling water, San Miguel Beer, and cheap-as-chips – but far more potent – Tanduay and Don Papa Rum concoctions.
The Mangyan Village
At the heart of Malasimbo is the Mangyan village, where exhibits and workshops showcase their rich culture and beautiful crafts. The demo Mangyan village, built by Mangyan craftsmen in 2010, is a permanent feature of the Malasimbo Grounds and showcases the seven Mangyan tribes of Mindoro. Each tribe is represented through life-size houses respecting their original architecture. There were vendors selling everything from woven wrist bands, baskets, bags, and purses.
The Malasimbo Lights & Dance Festival caters to a specifically targeted market – the millennials – and that weekend was an immersive feast of state-of-the-art light shows enhanced with contemporary and traditional dance performances, full-circled with hip hop, house and electronic dance music.
I loved the juxtaposition of old school meets new school music and traditional dance meets modern moves. You have your throwback – waaay back in the case of the Pandango sa Ilaw performance that Friday and old school scratching courtesy of DJ Kentaro – as well as proud Pinoy performances from Philippine All Stars and Lyrically Deranged Poets. Other performance that weekend were from the likes of DJ Shortkut, Manolet Dario, Swindle, Goldie, Hifana, and DJ Mitsu The Beats.
Everybody loved the fire performance by the guys at Philippine Zips Luminaries, and the A Team and Daloy Dance Company X gave showed off their stuff on the last day of the festival.
Silent Disco #TangamPH
When we needed a break from all the dancing at the amphitheatre, Jericho and I headed off to the Silent Disco, located near the Mangyan Village, for a change of pace. The concept is pretty simple: you are given Tangam wireless headphones with two channels to choose from, each one letting you listen to one of the two DJs spinning. The color of your headphones change to show your friends which DJ you’re listening to – green or blue. Each DJ has their own unique sound, so it was cool to listen to old school hip-hop beats and seeing Jericho enjoying his house while in the same confined space. If you want to talk, just take your headphones off and converse like normal human beings, there’s no need to shout. With Tangam, silent is the new loud.
After a night of partying, Jericho and I slowly trudged back up the hill, passing by the sculptures that looked almost eerie at night, making our way to the jeepneys waiting to take us back to Sabang.
“Why should I pay so much to party at Malasimbo?” you might ask. The folks behind Malasimbo party hard, but also have an eco-agenda, with some of the proceeds going towards the d’Aboville Foundation. The foundation uses its funds to promote mangrove tree planting, the use of solar power, the protection of the endangered tamaraw in partnership with French organisation Noé Conservation, coastal cleanups and other ongoing projects within Puerto Galera, member of the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World.” For anybody who wants to keep the islands of Mindoro as lush and beautiful, for future generations to enjoy, this is one way of giving back while having a whole lot of fun in the process.
Will I be going back to Malasimbo next year? The answer is a resounding yes! The Malasimbo Festival is an experience-driven event – regardless of the lineup of acts, one is sure to have an unforgettable time. The biggest headliner in Malasimbo is Malasimbo itself, and for those who seek culture, adventure and magic, this is the place to discover it.