Published: August 6th 2007June 15th 1999
On the Road
The plan leaving Siquijor was to hop across Negros Island and arrive at the capital city of Panay Island, Iloilo, where we’d then catch a 28 hour ferry boat crossing the northern Sulu Sea destined for Puerto Princessa, Palawan. Palawan is considered the final frontier of the Philippines. Most people fly to Palawan. For about $50 return flying is a good option. But we’re on a tight budget and boats are less than $50. That was the plan anyway.
On Negros we made a brief stop at a cheap guesthouse run by an Australian man and his much younger Filipina wife. Down under he was in the cement business which had also taken over his place here. With a huge concrete wall meeting the ocean, concrete patio, concrete bungalows and concrete planters there was no dirt or sand to be seen. We stayed only two nights, not because of death by concrete, but death by unescapeable conversation. He talked and talked and talked and continued talking. Even when you were looking away and making no attempt to even add in “uh-huh’s” and “mmmm’s” and “yeah’s.” But your disinterest in his stories about politics, corruption and rugby
didn’t deter him. Words kept flowing and then stories started repeating. It was at that point we made our exit and flagged down a north bound bus on the side of the highway.
Coming into harbour at Iloilo we spotted the boat that made the voyage across the open ocean to Palawan. Much smaller than we expected, this was the first time we questioned the safety of a vessel. Turned out all the tickets were sold out for the next day’s sailing and we had to decide to:
a)wait 4 days to risk our lives crossing 200km of open ocean
b)wait a week until a more reputable shipping company did it’s maiden voyage to Palawan or
c)island hop and get closer to Palawan over land.
Option C won hands down and on route our next stop would be Boracay - THE beach resort of the Philippines. A place we vowed we would NOT visit due to the flocks of tourists, but ended up there anyways.
The beach is lovely. Outriggers and sailboats float offshore while huge, elaborate sandcastles are the only obstacle on the curving beach. Palm trees give shade while browsing the shops
Doesn't live up to the hype
and restaurants on
Doesn't live up to the hypethe sandy walkway. At night restaurants set up tables amoungst the palms with all you can eat seafood buffets for under $10. You can dig your toes into the sand like a happy cat kneading its claws into a soft blanket while gorging on oysters, muscels, and fish. It’s lovely. But not our cup of tea. Too many boats, shops and people.
On the Road... Again
After three nights we depart and catch a ferry to Mindoro Island, just northwest four hours from Boracay. We stayed the night in Roxas in the cheapest room we could find. A bucket shower in a dirty bathroom, a broken window and ants crawling in a solid line on the wall inches from my bed - it was good enough for one night.
At 5:24am we were woken up by the jeepney driver knocking on our door. Time to GO! In ten minutes we washed, dressed and packed our bags onto the jeepney. A few more door-to-door pickups and we were on our way heading along the southern coast of the island. Destination: San Jose. In a few weeks when
the constant, heavy rains come this road will be impassable and boats will connect the towns. At the best of times the road reminds me of an abandoned logging road; at the worst of times, it resembles a muddy go-cart track.
Over the mountain pass the jeepney’s engine starts to grumble and strain. Slowly it climbs while the engine gets angrier and angrier, louder and louder pausing for breath only briefly when switched into a lower gear and then the whining begins again as it plows through mud and kicks aside loose stones. The driver doesn’t seem bothered by the screaming engine. His expression exudes confidence that we will make it round the bend and to the top of the hill. I’m not convinced. But we do make it and the engine hisses then quiets down after it’s cooled with buckets of swamp water.
Downhill is slow going as well. It’s steep and I have to brace myself holding onto the dash. My waterbottle slid along the floor and was bashing my feet at every bump. The view, however, is spectacular. To the left the land ends with a white ribbon of sand. About a kilometer off shore
two small islands, green hills of jungle lined with white sandy beach rise out of the blue waters. Pristine and untouched the islands are postcard perfect. In front of us the valley flatlands spread out in squares like a quilt. Hues of green blend into blues further away until the fields reach the mountain and the untamed jungle rises into steep peaks. Most of the interior of Mindano is covered by steep, rugged mountains with no roads and only the hardy Mangyan tribes inhabititing the hills. We pass a Mangyan man walking along the road with a bamboo walking stick. He catches your eye easily, not because of his mahogany skin, but because there is so much skin. He wears traditional clothes, the ba-ag - a thin black rope tied around his waist and two pieces of white cloth each the size of a notebook shield his front and back. It’s like what you’d see on Discovery Channel about indigenous tribes living on tropical islands. Oh yes, we are on a tropical island with ethnic tribes!
To Live or Not to Live
We arrive in San Jose, a bustling town of 111 000 people and make our way
to the reliably mediocre fast-food joint, Jollibee’s. It’s a stark contrast to the remote villiage life we’ve just passed through. At San Jose we make inquiries about the boat to Coron, Palawan; our second attempt to make it to the final frontier. The one ferry boat is currently on dry dock. Just our luck. Another option is to take a medium to larger sized outrigger cargo boat as they will accommodate a few passengers willing to make the 8 hour trip across the open sea. We were nervous about the ferry from Iloilo, but taking an outrigger is a definitely a riskier option… but it’s a shorter distance. I wonder if they have life jackets or life boats? Life jackets, maybe upon request; life boats, not a chance.
We decide to postpone the outrigger decision and instead catch a crammed bus north to Pandan Island. The gravel road is much smoother and better maintained but being squished into an isle seat I can only catch a glimpse of the scenery under armpits and between the swaying bodies standing in the isle. I count my blessings - at least I have a seat. Instead of the scenery I admire the
Very common mode of short transport
bus's décor. The front window of the bus is outlined with a garland of white plastic flowers. Affixed to the centre bar in the window is a wooden carved crucifix with Jesus in a loin cloth. He’s adorned with a plastic Y necklace of purple, shiny beads ending with a purple cross. Above the window old CDs catch the light and reflect a rainbow of colours. Dangling from the roof like party streamers are three pictures: Jesus and two of the Virgin Mary. Lastly, in front of all these decorations is a blue knitted banner with fluorescent orange tassels and balls swinging violently in the wind. The banner reads: Pray For Us. So I say my prayers for a safe journey and three hours later we arrive safe and sound at our next stop: Pandan Island.