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Published: January 5th 2012
So here I am sipping an icy cold beer on the island of Negros and I suppose I’ll start this blog like I seem to have started so many in the past. Life is hard. Truly. Beautiful beaches, stunning islands, snorkelling among pristine reefs, meeting wonderful people and a really amazing experience today that seems to have etched a permanent smile upon my face.
After a long, tedious and extremely drawn-out two-day journey by plane, taxi, ferry and finally on the back of a motorbike in the torrential rain, I arrived in a secluded little spot on the north side of the island of Siquijor. My home for the next four days was one of only two basic but ever so lovely little huts perched on some rocks overlooking the Mindinao Sea. The only sound was the lapping of waves and the occasional chirp of kingfishers and various other vibrantly coloured birds. Unlike much of the Philippines, there was no incessant out-of-tune karaoke blaring out from road side bars, no monotonous thrum of motorbikes and indeed no other people if I chose to sit on my isolated little balcony with a good book and stare out to sea. And after
the big cities of Melbourne, Singapore and Cebu on route, it was absolutely perfect.
Traditionally, Siquijor is renowned for its witch doctors and black magic and actually provokes quite a sense of disquiet and trepidation amongst many Filipinos. Not that much of this is visible these days, although apparently there are still a few witch doctors huddled away in the hills, on hand to cure various ailments and the like. For me however, Siquijor offered a sublime slice of isolation and the chance to unwind and do very, very, very little.
Thus my days there were an opportunity to relax and allowed me the chance to read, swim, get the odd massage and do little else but stare out at the sea. I did manage to motivate myself enough to hire a motorbike for a couple of days and circumnavigate the island which was a lovely trip of around 70 kilometres. The roads were in surprisingly decent shape and almost totally devoid of traffic which meant a beautiful ride – the only real dangers being the goats, chickens and dogs which would frequently dart out in front of you. Speaking of the dogs, I’m truly stunned by the
pedigree and general condition of the canines here on the island – healthy, well groomed and quite friendly. I can’t count how many times whilst travelling in Asia that I’ve been cornered by some flea-ridden, earless, mangy, rabies-infested, hobbling three-legged beast, frothing at the mouth and snarling menacingly while threatening to take a chunk out of my leg. Needless to say, these friendly and docile creatures are quite a relief. Except when they dash in front of your bike of course.
So on these couple of bike trips, I visited some beautiful old churches built when the Spanish ruled the Phillies, as well as some lovely waterfalls and secluded palm-lined, white-sand beaches. I also had a beautiful ride up through the mountains that cover the centre of the island and meandered through some lovely little villages where the locals grow rice, corn and various other crops. Preparations for the impending New Years fiestas were in full swing and I stopped to chat to locals who were stocking up on beer and rum, establishing massive karaoke set-ups and slaughtering pigs in anticipation of the festivities. Being around ten kms from the nearest village, and not really that keen on negotiating
with a drunk motorbike driver to return me home after midnight, my personal festivities involved a bottle of Jamiesons and standing knee deep in the ocean with a riot of stars above, watching the sky light up with the flashes of fireworks on the distant shores of the islands of Bohol, Cebu and Negros.
So after this delightful sojourn in Siquijor and finally relaxed enough to actually do something a little more energetic, I jumped on the ferry to the island of Negros and it’s university town of Dumaguete. I found a great little hotel and the next day sauntrered onto a boat and headed off for a day of snorkelling the reefs around Sumilon Island, about an hours bangka-trip north. After mostly experiencing days of on-and-off rain so far, I was blessed with a beautifully sunny day and spent many an hour flippering over the reefs and multitude of colourful fishies. However, the definite highlight was an opportunity to snorkel with a pod of whale-sharks, a species of fish that are easily the largest in the world. I’ve actually been desperate to do this since Jane and I visited Exmouth on the WA coast years and years ago
when we had just missed the giants, and I had actually pencilled in a separate flight to a place called Donsol to do just that at the end of my trip to the Philippines. However, it appears that changing weather patterns (and some very canny fishermen who can smell an easy peso a mile off and enthusiastically provide the whale-sharks with extensive hand-thrown meals of krill every morning) have meant that they’re lingering in this southern area this year. Admittedly, it is quite nerve-wracking leaping into the water with these massive beasts swimming past – certainly, they’re not going to take a chunk out of you, but one whack of that massive tail and you’d certainly know about it. But it really was such an amazing experience and one that I will never forget and I do feel truly blessed to have seen these creatures up close. I had the chance to swim with four of them for an hour, the largest being around nine metres or so from head to tail and I just marvelled at the bright luminescent spots that cover their backs and the majestic way that they move through the water.
So, one week down
and four to go. I board a flight at some ungodly hour tomorrow morning for a flight to Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan and then make my way north to the reputedly stunning Bacuit Archipelago and the little town of El Nido. There I’ll be jumping on a bangka for five days of slow sailing through the hundreds of deserted islands of the Linapacan Islands and living it up in true Robinson Crusoe style. A hard life indeed.
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