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Magical Malasimbo

posted by in Dot Dot Dot

(photo: Terence Angsioco)
This article was written for The New Standard here. With permission from its lifestyle editor Bambina Olivares-Wise, I’d like to share my personal love affair with Malasimbo here on TGN.

When I think about how Malasimbo the music festival began, I have to go back to the first time I ever explored the mountain. My mom’s cousin and my aunt, Ara d’Aboville, who together with her pioneering husband Hubert and their gorgeous four children, created a haven in Puerto Galera, and we had a standing invitation to visit their sanctuary. With a big family reunion looming in 2006 and several relatives visiting from abroad, we decided to finally make the trip. We are quite a big family so many of us stayed in resorts near the D’Aboville property and Ara kindly arranged to have us picked up and brought to their home for lunch and a leisurely stroll about the grounds. With my uncle Hubert as our ringleader, those who did the tour followed him up and down the hilly slope while he talked to us about the area, the indigenous Mangyan tribe who lived there, his plan to make Puerto Galera a part of one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and he even showed us his beekeeping farm. The property was enormous yet easy to navigate. A cool, fresh breeze steadily blew and everyone felt like they were on an exciting nature adventure. Another aunt, Shirley, was on vacation from San Francisco and decided to walk the chilly tour in what she was already wearing: her bathing suit and slippers. We laughed then at her eccentricity but looking back now I realize she was quite ahead of her time for a scene that would utterly embrace concepts off the beaten track.

I attended the 2nd Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival as part of a diving weekend in Puerto Galera with friends and had absolutely no idea what to expect. We stayed at Coco Beach Resort, which belonged to our friend Luca Burmeister’s father, and he kindly lent us his Hummer to get to the music festival at the base of the Mt. Malasimbo. We wore what we thought were festival clothes—cool T-shirts and shorts for the boys, and Woodstock-inspired attire for the girls. Once there, we needed to climb up a steep hill before reaching the site where the musical acts perform, so good walking (and dancing) shoes are definitely a must.

Then, as now, to welcome you to the event is an Instagram–worthy, life-sized iron horse by artist Dondi Katigbak. There are several art installations on the forest floor and in the trees. Immediately the scene feels surreal.

When you finally see the stage where the musical acts perform and the people drawn to it like a moth to a flame—your mind will be blown away. The mountain forms a natural amphitheater, which funnels down to the stage. To make matters even more interesting, it is complete with bleacher-like seats carved into the mountainside, as if the mountain were always for people to sit here and enjoy.

Amphitheater shot, Pandanggo sa Ilaw Baco

Amphitheater shot, Pandanggo sa Ilaw Baco

Those present that first time I went were in a good mood—open-minded, while sharing blankets, food and other things, with people they just met. The music was an eclectic mix of local acts no one has really ever heard of, and that was just fine. There were several bars set up in the area as well food stalls, with an eating area behind the stage. We purchased walking sticks and Vietnamese non la. We visited the different art installations such as Olivia’s ecoconscious coral reef in day-glo colors made out of used cocktail stirrers. We listened to the trees talk amongst themselves while waiting for our turn at the portalet. Malasimbo emitted a folksy vibe. This trip, we went home together with the last shuttle jeepneys so that we could take the banca back to the resort.

When I went to the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival last year, there was a huge contingent of people who had planned to go. It became an attraction for those based in Manila as well as foreigners either already on the island or those who had come specifically to attend the festival. This time, we were on a mission to enjoy the music, enjoy the vibe, dance and meet new people. The festival had become a yearly destination.

There was already a marked difference in just getting there. We had to take a tricycle to a dedicated jeepney stop. Only designated, specially marked jeepneys were allowed to make the trek up and down the mountain. Once we got up, a huge queue formed. One for last-minute ticket sales and one to load your e-bracelet with cash, to be deducted every time you bought drinks or food. The art was explosive. Everywhere There You Are by Wawi Navarozza and Ling Quisumbing Ramilo was a sight flying high in between the trees, like a coral moving to the current of the ocean. Olivia’s new installation, Giant Dandelions made out of recycled water bottles, a metal stem and LED lights were whimsical and fun; even more so with people lounging around underneath them.


Everywhere There You Are by Wawi Navarozza and Ling Quisumbing Ramilo (photo: Renato Valenzuela, Jr); Giant Dandelions by Olivia D’Aboville (photo: Jigs Tenorio)

During the day, there is the promotion of local arts and culture, too. The local Mangyan tribes of Mindoro sell their jewelry, do traditional weaving techniques and more. Families visit the different art installations together. At night when you get to see the scene at the amphitheater—wow. There was a much huger crowd, eagerly anticipating the the cool international music acts such as The Robert Glasper Project or Jordan Rakei. Last year, I heard the scene simply exploded with Joss Stone headlining and it seems Miro Grgic, Olivia’s boyfriend, co-founder and festival director of the event, wanted to set the bar even higher the succeeding year. And he did. The music was amazing, the art was sublime, the crowds were cooperative and no one was unruly. You could leave your shoes and jacket atop the speaker for hours and no one would touch it.

Jungle Boys. Photo by Renato Valenzuela Jr.

Jungle Boys (photo: Renato Valenzuela, Jr.)

I did see something that wasn’t there the last time. Amongst the festive revelers, was a janitor quietly picking up used water bottles and other bits of trash from the mountain floor and putting it into his sack. With growth there is good and bad—better organization, better flow of crowds and more tourists—but that means we have to be even more cautious of caring for the mountain and nature by cleaning up after ourselves and leaving things just as we found them. So come to Mt. Malasimbo: enjoy the music, soak in the art, learn about local Filipino culture, meet new people, but above all else, please, please respect Ara and Hubert’s paradise.

It’s your last chance to book your tickets to the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival! Visit to book tickets, find your way how to get there, look at photos of festivals past and more! To get you in the Malasimbo mood, check out Olivia D’Aboville’s top 10 playlist here.

May all your gypsetting dreams come true,


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"For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome.” - Alex Garland


We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.

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