Occidental? Oriental? Don't be Silliman!

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Harold's Mansion - Dumaguete
Driftwood Village - Sipalay

Flag of Philippines  , Visayas,
Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday March 30th 2009:

It wasn't even 9 a.m and already the humidity felt as though someone has draped a warm, wet blanket around my shoulders. After climbing the 130 stairs to the restaurant for breakfast I sat and dripped embarrassingly. My entire body seemed to be leaking.

We had decided to search out new pastures and briefly considered visiting Siquijor, known as 'fire island’ due to the nightly glow generated by millions of fireflies. Regrettably, reports of horrific sand fly infestations resulting in bodies covered in itchy, red bites was cause for concern. Cathy was already suffering with a skin irritation, picked up while swimming in Pagudpud, which, we were informed, was the result of tropical water lice. That was bad enough, but after her last incident with sand critters in Thailand, which had resulted in a seemingly incongruous bite turning into full blown cellulitis, a gaping hole in her ankle and a week-long hospital stay upon our return to Taiwan, we decided not to risk it.

The beauty of the Philippines is this; if you don’t manage to get to a particular, picture-perfect island, there are, quite literally, thousands more waiting in the wings for you to discover. All you have to do is figure out how to get there. We turned to our trusty travel guide and settled instead on Negros. Rumoured to have some fantastic beaches along with a breathtakingly rugged, mountainous interior separating the eastern, ‘Oriental’ from the western, ‘Occidental’ sides, it had the added the benefit of being fairly close. We began plotting our route, made a couple of phone calls, checked some ferry details and were off and running. Well, not exactly running. I’d only just stopped dripping.

Cathy couldn’t face the thought of slogging up the stairs, and walking a further km with her backpack in the oppressive jungle heat, so we arranged to have a Bangka boat pick us up and ferry us downriver to Loboc. From there we planned to catch a jeepney back into Tagbilaran in time to catch the high speed ferry to Negros. The Bangka was a bit pricey for such a short ride at 170 PhP ($3.50) each, but it was relaxing and easy. We bade farewell to our new pals, Pam and Stu, who were sticking around for a couple more days and set off on our new, and entirely spontaneous, journey.

The boat picked us up and put-putted downstream. We nodded and smiled at old men paddling their bamboo rafts and waved at local children, splashing and performing acrobatic, noisy leaps from the shore into the lazy, dark green river. The Jeepney back into Tagbilaran was stuffed to bursting with sweaty, dozy passengers; myself included. Numbingly cold showers don’t lend themselves to loitering and I whiffed a bit after the brief, frigid, morning rinse and sweaty exertions of getting to breakfast.

We arrived at the pier and bought tickets for the catamaran to Dumaguete; a laid back University town and one of the busiest ports on the island of Negros. Bloody hell they were pricey, 650 PhP (about $13) for only a 90 minute crossing. It was almost twice as expensive as the fare we had paid from Cebu to Tagbilaran, which was, give or take, the same distance. The daily budget was getting bashed, but it really wasn’t a huge concern. We could afford the occasional expensive day as, on average, we were spending approximately $46 per day between us. And that’s for everything folks; hotel, food, buses, ferries, jeepneys and incidentals.

Not bad eh? Traveling on a shoestring is alive, well and perfectly accomplishable.

By the time we boarded the ferry it was late afternoon. The ‘Supercat’ was almost empty and I spent the entire crossing watching the Liam Neeson, action-thriller ‘Taken’. Too bad I couldn’t hear it. Good job I’d already seen it. We arrived in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, at 7:30 pm and in heavy swells. The ferry was rolling and straining at the stout, rope tethers as we made our way towards the gangway. Helping hands grasped our arms as we hurried across the metal ‘plank’ that rose, fell and threatened to clatter into the heaving ocean. As the porters began unloading the baggage we cringed. There was no winch or zip line, they simply picked them up and tossed them across the yawning chasm of saltwater to ‘catchers’ on the other side. I could barely watch as they selected my pack. I really didn’t want it to fall into the briny water and get crushed between the ferry and the dock.

After fending off the trike drivers, we followed a hand drawn map to ‘Harold’s Mansion’ with a young Belgian couple we had met in Bohol. After checking in, we were pleasantly surprised by our digs. Small but colourful, clean and neat, with cable T.V and a hot shower, it offered complimentary toast and coffee in the mornings plus a free 30 minutes per day of internet, allowing us to catch up on e-mail and research places to stay on Palawan. Best of all, it was only 432 PhP with taxes (less than $9). Very budget friendly. We met Belgian Bart and his girlfriend (whose name eludes me) for dinner and, shortly thereafter, turned in for a great night’s sleep. After the jungle din and constant damp of Loboc, the dry sheets and quiet of Dumaguete were a pleasant relief.

Tuesday March 31st 2009:

Free coffee and toast with jam. Yippee!!

How good is that eh?

The remarkably helpful girl at the front desk answered our enquiries regarding transport options to, and accommodations in Sipalay. She wrote down the names of the transfer points, quoted prices, times and gave us the number of a place to stay. What an angel.

We were all set for the next day but before we left we wanted to see the city. Dumaguete is the provincial capital of Negros Oriental and is nicknamed ‘The city of gentle people’, which probably didn’t do much to prevent it from being occupied by Japanese forces in 1942. In fact, it has a long history of being invaded and its name is derived from the Visayan word ‘daggit’ meaning ‘to snatch’.

It has earned a reputation as being the learning center of the South due to the presence of not one, but four Universities amongst a population of just over 110,000 people. It is a mishmash of students, artists, and scholars from all over the world and has the paradoxically laid-back-but-energetic vibe of University towns everywhere. How can you not love a place, whose most prestigious seat of learning is named ‘Silliman’? Say it slowly, you’ve got to laugh.

We felt quite at home wandering the streets but after a while the heat got the better of me and I decided I needed a haircut. We walked into a street barber shop, woke up the young man who was sleeping in one of the chairs and fifteen minutes later I had the best ‘fifty cent haircut’ ever!

Short’ I told the young barber, so out came the clippers and straight razor. He was a like a flashy, Filipino Edward Scissorhands, snipping away at lightning speed and winking at me in the mirror as if he’d just carved a Pinoy gang symbol in the back of my noggin. He did a stellar job and it was cooler in every respect.

Wednesday April 1st 2009:

April Fool’s Day.

No cook for breakfast.

"Ha! Ha! Good one, you really got us. Oh, you crazy Filipinos and your quirky sense of humour. Wait, you’re serious? There’s no cook?"

There didn’t seem to be much point in hanging around.

We got an earlier-than-planned start to Sipalay and, as lengthily convoluted as it had first appeared, it really couldn’t have gone any smoother. We took a trike to the bus station and ten minutes after arriving we hopped aboard the first bus to Bayawan. With no breakfast, and having already sucked back a litre of water, I was simultaneously starving and bursting for a pee. I was really hoping for a few minutes between buses in Bayawan, so that I could find some grub and release some pressure, but it was not to be. As we approached the terminal, our connection to Hinoba’an was already leaving. Our driver flashed his lights, honked his horn and screeched to a halt, we scrambled off the bus, grabbed our packs, jogged across the road and jumped onboard, much to the amusement of the locals.

We were lucky to have made the connection, but with no food and no washroom break it was an uncomfortable couple of hours. Mercifully, we had ten minutes in Hinoba’an before continuing on the last leg to Sipalay. I think the entire station heard my sigh of relief.

The Lonely Planet suggests that the journey from Dumaguete to Sipalay should take around 6 to 7 hours due to the unpaved, rough roads and time spent waiting for transfers. We managed it in a shade over 4 . Surely that was a first for travel in the Philippines. Arriving ahead of schedule? Unheard of.Just to put that into some kind of perspective, the total distance we had covered was 178 kms.

You spend an awful lot of time going not very far in the Philippines.

We wandered the streets of Sipalay looking for the restaurant where we had been told to wait for our Bangka boat pick up. When we eventually found it, it looked as though there had either been a bar fight or some kind of raucous, late night celebration. It turned out to be the latter and, if the appearance of the staff was anything to go by, it must have been a doozy. Boy, they looked rough.

I called ‘Driftwood Village’ and spoke to the owner’s wife, who assured me that our boat was on its way. Twenty minutes later, we rolled up our pant legs and waded through the breaking surf to clamber up a slick stepladder into the boat. The vibrant yellow and blue outrigger pitched and rolled as it broke through the choppy, dark blue waves and we alternated between ducking for cover from the spray and marvelling at the jagged peaks of the stunning coastline.

As we approached the shore we could see Bart and his girlfriend (whose name eludes me) lazing on large, bamboo sun beds on the beach. In the space of less than a day, he seemed to have transformed from ‘decently tanned’ to a reddish, hue of nut brown, like polished mahogany. He waved as we waded ashore. “Hey guys, you made it!!

‘Driftwood Village’ is a popular place with the backpacker set as it feels very ‘Robinson Crusoe’, relaxed and carefree, although the Swiss (I think) owner is a right miserable git. We had reserved a neat and tidy little cabin with an attached bathroom and, although small, it was comfortable, sufficient for our needs and relatively cheap at 700 PhP a night ($14).

We dropped off our gear, changed into swim gear and made for the beach, where we swam and lounged around until the sun dipped below the horizon, surrendering the day in a final, stupendous, blaze of colour. For dinner, we climbed the ladder to the open air restaurant, which served up the best Thai curries we’ve enjoyed outside of Thailand, although we sat and waited so long for our meals that we began to think they’d forgotten about us. Before turning in for the night we played a few hands of Skip-Bo accompanied by some frosty stubbies of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. When we eventually slipped under the single sheet beneath the mosquito net, we were lulled to sleep by the sound of waves gently lapping at the beach and geckos chirping and whirring in the trees.
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