Beach, mountains, nature, waterfalls, wilderness, and a mecca for kitesurfers. You can find it all on one island: the scenic Mindoro, in the Philippines.
After landing at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we change terminal and fly for another 45 minutes from Manila to Mindoro's San Jose with Cebu Pacific, then get into the taxi and head full speed to Bulalacao.
It is not the final destination yet, but from that little harbor town, it is a pleasant drive through bamboo forests and banana and melon plantations that gets us through rice fields and locals waving and sharing big smiles at the roadside.
The final destination of our trip is the newest kite spot in the Philippines: Bislig Beach and Amansinaya Resort's Cabrinha Kite Center.
The kitesurfing resort is 18 kilometers away from Bulalacao, facing the windy side of the Balatasan Peninsula on Mindoro island, only three hours by ferry from the very well-known kite Mecca of Boracay.
"Difficult roads lead to the nicest places on the planet" is a saying that hits the nail in this case.
Actually, the steep road slopes lead to a grassy bay with a white sand beach, palm trees, and turquoise water. We're in a shallow bay protected by an outside reef.
After a very warm welcome from the staff, a coconut drink, and a big breakfast buffet, we move into our bungalow with a sea view on the spot. Jet lag hits, and we end up in bed.
The following morning kicks off with blue skies and strong wind. Time to get into the water! Here, you can jump from your bed onto the board and sail away.
With water and air temperatures of 79 °F (26 °C), plenty of sunshine, and constant 18-to-20 knots of wind, it is easy to fall in love with the spot.
A Downwind Heaven
We're feeling adventurous and would like to visit some of the other kite spots, islands, and sandbars nearby, so we booked downwind trips.
Our first downwinder was a day trip to Liwagao and Nagubat, two white sand islands without electricity and tap water but with a huge shallow water lagoon with crystal-clear waters and friendly and curious locals.
Beginners start by boat from the nearby harbor, located in the fishing village of Balatasan. Here, we met the rest of the group, who arrived by boat and got ready for kiting in the shallow water lagoon.
We join the guided downwind tour, a 25-kilometer challenge to Liwagao.
After a barbeque on the beach and two hours kiting in the bay, we continued downwind for another eight kilometers to Nagubat island, a tiny palm tree island with only one man and three dogs living there.
At sunset time, our boat brings us back to the starting point in Bislig Beach.
Although the wind is on every day, there are plenty of adventures that you can embrace out of the water.
Exploring the area by tricycles, we drove into the jungle of Bulalacao and swam in the waterfall to refresh ourselves.
Back in the resort, lunch was ready. Buffet gets cooked every day with local ingredients depending on what can be bought in the market.
Banana flowers, chicken adobo, sweet and sour fish, soup, rice, and watermelon fuel us for the afternoon session on Aslom, an island located west of Bulalacao.
Perfect waves and shallow water make us smile, and another spot was ticked off. But you'll find many activities for non-kiters, too.
The early birds at the resort can join the six o'clock shopping at the market in Bulalacao.
There are no supermarkets nearby, only small stalls with fresh goods such as fish, vegetables, chicken, and pork.
The Mangyan - the indigenous people with red-colored teeth and colorful costumes - come from the mountains many kilometers away from the marketplace to sell their products.
During the hustle and bustle at the market, we briefly caught up with the owner of Amansinaya Kitesurf Resort, Kathrin Borgwardt.
"You have to accept that not everything runs smoothly as planned; you learn to be flexible and to be happy with what you get. So, be very creative and make the most out of it," says Kathrin.
She smiles and continues shopping and searching for alternative ingredients as the locals tell her that today, there is no fish or meat to buy.
Something we learn here very quickly is that the island has its own pace, so if you wish to be happy, go with the flow.
Activities for Non-Kiters
A holiday destination outside of the usual tourist path - that's the summary for Mindoro.
We resume watersports with a relaxing stand-up paddling session in the mangroves of the river in Bulalacao, watching the sunset over the steep grassy slopes while the local kids use palm tree leaves as sleds to go downhill in the distance.
We then climb Mount Bislig and spend the night on top, cooking on the campfire and waking up with the sunrise.
There are many tiny islands a stone's throw away from Amansinaya Resort - Suguicay, Tambaron, and Buyayao are some of them - and wherever you go, you meet smiley locals who are happy with the little they have.
Volleyball and basketball are the number one sports in the Philippines. Locals love to play against tourists, and it's obvious who is winning most of the time.
Those who wish to have a glimpse of the local life should jump on a motorbike and drive into the mountains.
Just ten kilometers from the main road, you enter another world, the world of the tribal Mangyan people, who are running around with arrows and spears.
Their diet consists of bananas and rice three times a day along with their daily catch; more options are not affordable, but they are not poisoned with modern pesticides.
The Mangyan live the traditional way of life, hunting and collecting what nature offers them for survival.
The day before we left, we were determined to enjoy the spot and the peace again. So, while everyone else was on a day trip, we were able to kite, kite, kite, and kite in the bay with constant wind and sun.
The icing on the cake was Jovy's massage after our kite session, as well as the legendary dessert after dinner: the mango float.
It's the end of a wonderful time. A short trip off the usual kitesurf and tourist path showed us how little we need to be happy.
If you plan a visit to Mindoro, you can catch a European flight to Manila, then a domestic flight with Cebu Pacific to Mindoro's San Jose.
If you're traveling through Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, book a direct flight to Kalibo and then get on the three-hour ferry from Caticlan to Bulalacao.
The best wind season for Mindoro is November through mid-April.
Take cash with you - euros, dollars, or pesos, as ATMs are almost nonexistent in the south of Mindoro. Bulalacao has only one, but it doesn't have money most of the time.
Words by Kathrin Borgwardt | Owner of Amansinaya Kitesurf Resort