We begin this blog by expressing our grief and condolences at the shocking news of the tragedies visited upon the Philippines by Typhoon Fengshen
. Scores of people died just off the coast of Sibuyan when a boat capsized. Islands like Illoilo, Sibuyan and Romblon suffered devastating damage to homes, farms and livestock. We feel the pain. The indomitable people of the Philippines will remain in our thoughts and prayers. For the record, our visit was pre-Fengshen.
Spur Of The Moment It was eerily quiet outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila
. But, then again, it was only 5:45 am. A guard, with a welcoming smile, pointed out the way to public transportation and we headed off. Clambering into the ‘jeepney’
after us was Raymond, a Ghanaian. He, like us, had no idea where he was or where he wanted to be. The plan was to get to central Manila and then decide. Oh, a ‘jeepney’
is the result of fusing together a jeep and bus. Pinoys love
their jeepneys and they ‘pimp’ them out with exotic designs and bright colors. We had no Pesos, the local currency. No problemo! The conductor approved the free ride and dropped us
off at the foot of a metro station. The city was awake and busy by the time we got to ‘town’ but it didn’t look like it would offer up the adventures we sought. And so, we hatched a spontaneous plan to find our way to the harbour and take the first boat out to an island. Some island. Any island
Three jeepney rides and a short walk later (and with Raymond still in tow) we arrived at pier 12. Queen Mary, a large ferry, was scheduled to sail at 5 pm to the Romblon Islands. When Raymond heard that we intended to take the ship for a 13-hour overnight journey to an island we knew absolutely nothing about, he muttered something indecipherable and disappeared in the waiting masses Our seats were ‘COB’ - Chance On Board - meaning that all the beds were taken and so we had a ‘chance’
to find somewhere to sleep. Since we still had a few hours to departure, we decided to go back into the nearby community and try to find hammocks. ‘Rough’ would be an understatement to describe the community. We picked our way thru mounds of garbage and thru
local markets and, aided by helpful residents, we found and purchased our hammocks. At the first opportunity, we made our way on board and found a suitable spot to set up our ‘beds’, secure our bags and prepare for the journey.
Queen Mary eased out of Manila Bay. The skies slowly changed from bright blue to deep orange as the sun slid beneath the waterline. We chatted for a while with our neighbours but soon the cool, crisp winds off the South China Sea fanned us to sleep. Sounds of movement disturbed our sleep. Land was in sight. We were amongst the Romblon Islands and heading into a port. Since we didn’t choose a specific island, this one seemed perfect. About 200 pairs of eyes sized us up as we landed on Romblon, Romblon.
Romblon, Romblon It was a national holiday and the town of Romblon was buzzing
. No more than a few streets and shops, the ‘city’ oozed old-world charm. “Right choice”
, we thought. From a tiny bakery we bought homemade bread for breakfast and also found out that there was no telephone directory or public phone available today. “You try San Pedro in Talipasak”, the proprietor
of Kuya Ranns - roadside food and drink stall - offered upon overhearing us discussing finding a place to sleep. Between gulps of juice and nibbles of fried something
on a stick, we negotiated for a tricycle (a motorcycle with an attached sidecar) and then thanked the kind gentleman and off we went. The road was winding and mostly shaded by overhanging trees sometimes with intermittent views of the stunning waters of the Visayas Straits and lush green Tablas Island. Past rice fields and fishing villages, the odd jeepney and a few motorcycles, on past decorated streets and then off the main road, up a steep incline and down a harrowing descent, we rode before turning into a fabulous seaside resort. Much to our surprise, the price was right for all-inclusive sea view log cottage and it had nothing to do with the scrumptious holiday buffet the owners had laid out and had graciously invited us to join. There was absolutely no doubt now. We had come to the right place.
The next few days crept by as we lazed around in hammocks blazing thru novels, swimming and devouring whole yellowtail snappers Chili-style by candlelight on the beach. Fortunately
for us, a dive-shop was close by. We rented gear and disappeared beneath the surface in an area that was designated a marine park. A good dive it was with a decent variety of coral and fish (including some handsome yellowtails - yummy) but the reef showed definite signs of damage from bad fishing practices. Another day, on the walk-up from San Pedro to the main road, we heard the gruff strains of Buju Banton’s “Champion”
blasting from a roadside snackette. Spotting us, the two patrons, a Swiss-turned-Pinoy dude named Thomas and Toffy, a die-hard Romblomano, animatedly invited us in saying that they were always hoping for someone who could ‘translate’ Buju’s Jamaican dialect into English. Totoy, the owner of the establishment appeared, resplendent in a Jamaica vest, in time to hear Vibert’s translation. Buju, Capleton, Brother Bob, Gentleman - one after the other the reggae artistes flowed. Caribbean music blared aloud in this tiny island so far removed from big city life much less the Caribbean itself. We stayed and talked and laughed with our new friends and visited their homes - beautiful, natural structures set amidst the trees and with breathtaking sunset views. This was the ultimate tropical
paradise. And that night, at Thomas’ request, we had dinner with he and his visiting family, Toffy and Totoy at the same reggae bar.
We made many friends in Romblon, Romblon mostly by walking thru the town and its surrounding ‘barangays’ (villages). But it struck us one day that we were yet to circumnavigate the island. From town, at about 1:30 pm, we hopped on a jeepney that usually made the rounds and (just like Romblomanos) climbed up on to the roof, which offered the best views. The jeepney huffed and puffed its way past the turn-off to Talipasak, straight thru a 10-house barangay and around a bend. Civilization vanished. The sea was on our right and hills of palm trees and vegetation of the left. Two hours later, two passengers disembarked in an even smaller barangay and a man with a pig in a bag (no kidding) got on. Soon, it was only we two. And then, in the most unlikely of places, the driver stopped and reversed.
“No more. Turn back”, he said. Astonished, we asked him “Why?”.
“I go home”, said he. “I live next village”
“So, when is another jeepney coming?”, we queried.
This is last jeepney”, he replied.
“But we have to get back to town. It getting dark”, we implored, the early strains of panic in our voices.
“Can’t go tonight. You go tomorrow 6 am. You can sleep in jeepney”. We were in shock stuck virtually halfway between town and San Pedro with no possibility of transportation.
“How far to next barangay? Where can we get tricycle?” we quizzed.
“7 km that way”, he pointed and then took off with the sound of the jeepney’s engine disproportionate to its snail’s pace. We surveyed our surroundings. What was barely a hard-packed mud road was now a just track in the forest. Darkness was setting in. A mile marker displayed “17” as the distance in kilometers to town. We hammered out a grueling pace - Vibert counted off 216 footsteps each minute except, of course, on the uphill climbs. No telling how many steps Shanna took. Soaked with perspiration and on ‘mission improbable’, we must have looked a sight because the people in the two or three roadside huts we passed eyed us suspiciously. “Where you going?”
they’d shout. “To town”
, we’d shout back without missing a beat. On and on -
past more rice fields and big marble carving plants, away from a few inquisitive dogs and waving children - we went all the while praying that the dark, heavy clouds don’t burst too soon. We cleared 7 km in 1 hour 15 minutes (personal bests for us both and, most likely, lifetime records). In the dark, we asked around for a ride to town. Finally, we managed to convince a tricycle driver to get out of bed and ferry us into the city. It wasn’t until we were back in town that we remembered our laundry. We had left literally every piece of clothes we had at the local laundry and now it was closed. Frustrated, we banged on the doors but to no avail until we heard someone call out to us from across the road. The laundry lady had left our bundle and descriptions with a neighbour and surely it couldn’t have been too difficult to identify us. We were saved for the second time in 1 exciting day.
We left Romblon, Romblon for a two-hour boat ride to Sibuyan. Rather uncharacteristically, we had a plan. From a map, we had worked out a route back to
Luzon, the island on which Manila sits. The route would take us first to Sibuyan and then to Masbate by pump boat (a five- or six-hour trip) and then over to Legaspi on the Southeast tip of Luzon via one or two smaller islands (maybe another 2 hours on the sea). From the deck of the Montenegro vessel, we watched the pleasant, petite town disappear and blessed the day we landed there vowing to return someday.
Special thanks to:
Thomas and family
Toffy and Totoy
The kind folks at San Pedro Beach Resort in Talipasak
Proprietor of Kuya Ranns
Titi and all our Romblomano/Romblomana friends
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