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Puerto Galera joins rank of most beautiful bays

Source: THE PHILIPPINE STAR, March 1, 2005

Adventure-seekers who step on the shores of Puerto Galera are forever enchanted by the place. Some keep going back there, others decide to live the rest of their lives there. One couple who built their residence there 22 years ago were Hubert d’ Aboville, a Frenchman, and his Filipino wife, Ara Valenzuela. Hubert went on to promote the fabled island cove by talking about it with unbridled enthusiasm during every trip he took to Europe and his native France. His efforts have borne fruit. Puerto Galera has just garnered The World’s Most Beautiful Bays award for the year 2005. It is the 30th bay to get such a global award, and the third in the Asian region after Halong Bay and Nha Trang Bay in Vietnam.

Hubert made his marketing pitch before 80 members of the Club of the World’s Most Beautiful Bays in Agadir, Morocco in November last year. His video presentation of the bay, the serene cove, rock formations, fishes, coral reefs, sea grasses, mangroves, verdant forest – and the people (approximately 9,315 persons living in 1,863 households, and not counting the vacationers and backpackers), left the discriminating viewers no choice but accredit Puerto Galera as one of the world’s most beautiful bays.

The local government of Puerto Galera, together with d’ Aboville, will receive the award in Nha-Trang, Vietnam, at the end of this month.

The club was an initiative of the tourism office of the Vannes region on the Gulf of Morbihan in France. It was founded in Berlin in March 1997, with the objective of protecting the environment and the development and enhancement of marine and bay resources worldwide. It has the full support of UNESCO.

Puerto Galera is located in Oriental Mindoro, and can be reached by ferryboat from Batangas City. It was discovered in one of the explorations made by Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo on their way to Manila in 1570. But since the 10th century, Puerto Galera was known to seafarers as a trading port and a strategic harbor along the important trade routes to and from the Near East, Indian Coast, Indo-Chinese coast, China, various points within the Philippine archipelago, and the kingdoms of Sumatra and Java. Its Muelle Bay area was recognized as one of the safest natural harbors in Asia and was used extensively for dock repairs and as a safe anchorage for all types of sailing vessels.

According to Hubert, in the 60s, European backpackers "discovered" Puerto Galera – its series of pristine bays and coves, snow-white sand, and fantastic coral gardens. When German backpackers wrote for a large-circulation magazine about the romance and beauty of Puerto Galera, enhanced by scenic photographs, it created a tourism storm. Instantly, Europeans knew more about Puerto Galera than the country’s capital, Manila. The ensuring tourism explosion has attracted tens of thousands of foreigners over the years and has made Puerto Galera what it is today."

Hubert spent his own money "selling" the place. He and Ara met in 1980 in Manila. Ara was actually assigned to promote the Philippines in France for Rajah Tours, and Hubert was in Manila as a timber exporter. Ara was telling him was the most beautiful place in the world, while Hubert was telling her the Philippines was his most beautiful in the world.

Both have something in common: having historically famous ancestors. Ara’s great grandfather was Dr. Pio Valenzuela, who was a part of the triumvirate (the others being Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto) that played an important role in the Katipunan. On Hubert’s side, seven generations of the d’ Abovilles were in French military service, an ancestor headed the French Art 17th century. Hubert’s brother, Gerard, rode sole by rowing a kayak from Cape Cod to the coast of France in 1980, and negotiated 10,000 kilometers, also by rowing, for 134 days from Japan to America.

Hubert and Ara wound up marrying, having four children, and running an estate ( a demo farm where they also manufacture virgin coconut oil) in Puerto Galera.

In 1992, Hubert founded the Philippine-based Together-Ensemble, a foundation for development and progress, which was active in relief operations in Real and Infanta, Quezon, during the recent disaster. The foundation was created after Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Since then it has been involved in many emergency relief missions in Luzon and the Visayas with the French NGO Doctors of the World, and in Mindanao in a long-term agricultural program. Later the foundation was incorporated in France to draw French funds to help Filipinos.

Hubert says the accreditation of the World’s Most Beautiful Bays award is based on four considerations – protection, enhancement, promotion and commitment to the project. He says that Puerto Galera has had its share of foreign and local tourists, but it has remained the country. Local tourism has to be promoted to earn revenue, without sacrificing the four considerations above, in as much as it does not receive any financial support from the Club of the World’s Most Beautiful Bays. I guess just being beautiful enough is a quality to be valued, but it can also be capitalized on to make it more beautiful.

Getting an award for his "adopted: town is not enough, certainly, Hubert is taking the initiative to exploit the international award to help develop Philippine tourism, always keeping in mind the protection of its fragile environment. He is sitting down with Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on tourism, and Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano, to map out an international media strategy.