Negros Island, no crowds here!

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May 21st 2012
Published: May 21st 2012
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On the boat from Cebu Island to Dumaguete on Negros Island, the older gentleman who had told me about the Seniors' discount also recommended the Bethel Guest House. He said it was on the sea front, of a high standard and owned by his friend. It was very near the heart of Dumaguete which has a cathedral, bell tower and park.

It took a jeepney and then a tricycle to get there and the Bethel was a very nice hotel, hardly a guest house. It is located on the famous seafront Rizal Boulevard, named after the national hero Jose Rizal who once made a stop in Dumaguete on the way to Dapitan City where he was deported.

A single room with air conditioning (A/C) in the Bethel was €13 after discount. Unfortunately the WiFi could only be accessed in the hotel lobby but a plus was a restaurant/cafe off the lobby. The first room they showed me was right beside the elevator, the top of the stairs and the concierge’s desk. No thanks. The next one was much better situated and very nice altogether, with a full bathroom and colour TV with HBO that I didn’t actually get to see. There were lots of religious publications on the night stand. I think the owners may have been Baptist. There were signs in the hotel – “no smoking, no liquor and no joiners.” I was OK about the first two but had to ask what a “joiner” is because, after all, I’ve joined lots of organisations in my time. She politely informed me, “A joiner is a prostitute, ma’am.”

It was almost 5pm so I scurried around the corner to the tourist office for information about what to do on the island and how to get to nearby islands. The girl was delightful and said that there was good dolphin-watching excursions from Bais City, on the west coast, north of Dumaguete. She said Bais Bay has a mile-long strip of powdery White Sand Bar and is famous for being the playground of dolphins and whales. Nearby is Talabong Island, a heavily vegetated mangrove forest which serves as a habitat for fish, shellfish and birds. That sounded good so I would head for there.

The island of Negros was divided into two provinces by early missionaries who decided that the central
my Bethel Guest House roommy Bethel Guest House roommy Bethel Guest House room

a great room, but noisy morning
mountains were too formidable to cross, even in the name of God. The Dumaguete side is on the southeastern and is called “Negros Oriental” while the northwest side is “Negros Occidental.” It amazed me how residents of one province knew very little about the other side, not even the name of the capital city.

The man on the ferry had advised me to be sure and visit the bell tower near the Cathedral. It had been built in 1811 as a watchtower and a lookout point against invading Muslims and pirates. It gets dark at 6pm and it was nearly that time so I hurried. A crowd of people were lighting fistfuls of long, thin candles and praying at the Lourdes grotto at the base of the bell tower. I asked a woman how to get into the tower and she said, “We have to ask permission before we enter.” I hadn’t time for that so when I saw the door was open I went in and up the narrow, winding stone steps. It was three flights to the top, which wasn’t very high and didn’t really have views because the windows were blocked by leafy branches. But I took photos of the big brass bells in the window openings (I can’t think of the word) and the huge one hanging in the middle of the platform. This was a pleasant, peaceful place to be as dusk settled.

Can you see it coming? I didn’t. The next thing BONG!! The biggest bell rang and nearly frightened me out of my wits. Of course, it was 6:00 – the Angelus! My ears were ringing as I hurried down the now-dark steps. Then the other bells were ringing too, shaking the tower. I couldn’t have scurried faster if the Hunchback of Notre Dame himself was after me! My head was still rattling when I emerged into the night air and the Cathedral plaza. Whew!

Back in the hotel they had an all-you-can-eat fish buffet for only 150p/€3 with my seniors discount. Two of the three dishes were pasta-based so I only took the soup and the sweet & sour crème dory with rice. I don’t know why the Filipinos regularly serve cold white rice with their meals. It puts me off. In the adjacent function room there was a dinner dance for the graduating Grade 8 class of the local Catholic (of course) girls’ school. I was reminded of how the Filipinos love to dress up. I knew that from their participation in Folklorama in Winnipeg. I’m only sorry I didn’t think to take photos of the girls and their dresses. They were really beautiful. I set up my laptop in the lobby and had a lovely time working away, except when the dance music was really blaring, but I always keep earplugs on me. The dance ended with prayers at 10pm and everyone went home and left us in peace.

Unfortunately I didn’t have lot of peace during the night. At 5:30am there was a roar of gushing water overhead, followed by staff chatting in the hall outside my room, then more banging in the room above. Needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep. The receptionist later explained that the water pipes run between the floors and the water pressure is very strong. I’ll say.

I decided I’d seen enough of Dumaguete for now and took a bus heading northwest, over the mountains to the other capital, Bacolod. That was a six-hour journey and I enjoyed all of it. I was thinking of how a friend had emailed to say that she couldn’t tolerate long bus rides like I do, that it took her two hours on a bus recently to get to a shopping centre and she hated it. But I enjoy the journey as much as the arrival. I mentioned that before. I have my old Canon camera and when I spot something interesting I just whip it out and click! Sometimes the photos work, sometimes they don’t, but that’s OK now that you don’t have to pay per photo like in the old days of developing film.

The bus had A/C and a dvd playing up front. I couldn’t hear it or see it so I didn’t bother. When they show films, as dvds or on the TV, they include subtitles in English because, although most Filipinos speak English, they might not understand the fast dialogue and accents of the movies. That is really helpful. I think this comfortable “deluxe” bus cost about €4 for the 6-hour journey. None of the buses here have toilets on board like in South America, but they don’t go such long distances either. They have regular stops so the passengers can visit "comfort rooms" en route. Later I took the ordinary bus which is a real bone-rattler with no A/C, just open windows, lots of dust and lots of stops. But I found that more interesting.

We passed Mount Kanlaon, the tallest peak in the Visayas and one of the thirteen most active volcanoes in the country. The locals say that the geologists are keeping tabs on it and when the internal temperature rises the locals will be told to evacuate. Hardy souls can take a three-day hike up Mt. Kanlaon. Mt. Talinis is a geothermal reserve. I didn’t have time to visit the Fi-Am Japanese Amity Shrine where the final encounter of World War II in the province took place. There are also lakes and caves that I hope to see on a future visit.

It rained off and on during the afternoon, unfortunately during our Comfort Room break so we had to slosh through puddles. When we arrived in Bacalod I had just climbed into a half-covered tricycle when the heavens opened. That rain really comes down heavily! Luckily I had seen the name of Bacolod Pension in my few photocopied pages of Lonely Planet, so we headed for there. I was prepared to take it no matter what, the rain was so bad and I was soaked to the skin after two minutes. At one point the driver took a right turn onto a busy street and then a sudden U-turn, nearly catapulting me out of the doorless shell of a vehicle.

As it turned out, the pension only had one single room. I hope it’s the worst room I’ll have on this trip. Well, it wasn’t so-o bad in that it has a bathroom ensuite (with a cold shower), twin beds with 2” foam mattresses so I can put one on top of the other, and at €4 the price was right. The problem was that there were no windows to the outside and there were only screenless slatted windows out into the hallway. I could hear everyone chatting as they passed by in the hallway. The pension had a small cafe so I could buy dinner without going out. The teriyaki chicken was nice, but not the cold rice. It was fun to watch the geckos running up a nd down the walls.

Also, there was free WiFi, but only in the cafe. My netbook was low in power for some reason and there were no sockets in the cafe so I went out to reception to ask for an extension cord. There was a young woman guest at the desk and when she heard my request she said, “Why do you need a cord to access WiFi? All you need is the code.” I explained that I had the code and it worked OK, but I needed my laptop to have an electricity source. With all the patience she could muster she spoke to me like I had an IQ of about 20, “But you don’t need a wire, WiFi is W-I-R-E-L-E-S-S, ma’am!” I said, “That’s true but you need something to read your messages on.” Rolling her eyes, she said to the young man at the desk, “Oh Lord, give her the code again!” and marched off. I don’t know how I didn’t strangle the brat. But she was noteworthy because she was such an exception to the rule that Filipinos are incredibly cheerful and polite.

As I feared, teenaged guests got up early and ran up and down the hallway, laughing and chatting to their friends. That was my third night in a row of only a few hours sleep. Oh, well. I figured that the cafe kitchen might co-operate with my request to cook my gluten-free porridge and toast. The cook let me come into the kitchen where he was scrambing eggs and we rocked to ‘60’s music on the radio while I microwaved the porridge and made the toast. That was great fun!

Cheers, Sheila

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22nd May 2012

oh, we always have rice...cold or warm it'll always be in every meal :o) hope you enjoy the next part of the trip! x

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