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A Day On The Road In The Philippines

Originally Posted: February 04, 2010

Bob Schiff

Travels with Schiff - pictures from an adventure Bob Schiff is currently undertaking. This is Sugar Beach. (Bob Sciff)

Philippines - Editors note: Hamptons resident and frequent traveler Bob Schiff sent us this note and photos from his recent trip to the Philippines. We're sure to hear more from Bob during his travels.

Every bungalow is themed.

After a month of overindulgence in the international resort island of Boracay it was time to get moving on. A short bangka ride to the main island of Panay and a reasonable four hour ride in an aircon bus from Caticlan to the provincial city of Iloilo (pronounced ee-loo ee-loo) for some restocking and it was off for some adventure.

My choice was a short hop to a small island called Guimaras or bite the bullet and get south and nearer to the next area I wanted to dive. In The Lonely Planet I found a place called Sugar Beach near a small village called Sipalay on Negros island that sounded like Boracay would have been about 30 years ago. The ferry from Iloilo to Bacolod on Negros was one and a half hours and the bus from Bacolod to Sipalay would take about five hours. That would mean an arrival time of 7 p.m. - well past sunset.

To get to Sugar Beach entailed a tricycle ride from a small village about three km before Sipalay to a river and then hiring a small bangka for the trip across. The Lonely Planet warned that the tricycle and bangka guys were world class scammers. My plan was to take the bus to Sipalay and figure out how to get to Sugar Beach in the morning. The catch was that The Lonely Planet did not list any hotels in Sipalay. With thoughts of creepy crawling and reptilian slithering things - and people who don't make in a year what the clothes on my back cost - off I went to Sipalay. Somehow I'd find a safe place to sleep for the night.

A picture from the bus from Sipalay to Dumaguette.

It was an open window bus for the five hour trip - 150 Pesos (about $3 USD). Think stops like the Second Avenue local bus during rush hour for 200 km. The bus started off half full but in short order people were standing in the isles and hanging out the doors. People with bags, boxes, children, food and I swear I saw a guy get on with a rooster under his arm. The road wound around the coast with occasional glimpses of the sea and jagged forested volcanic mountains inland. Banana, coconut and palm trees whizzed by. We passed through rural farm lands, emerald green rice paddies, sugar cane fields, jungle and many small villages. As the only westerner I hear a lot of "Hey Joe" from the guys as we passed. This is the third world - nipa huts made of bamboo and grass, tin roofs, outhouses, oxen, chickens, goats, motorbikes, tricycles, school children in uniforms, young girls carrying babies, young guys just hanging out, burning in the fields, overladen trucks belching clouds of diesel smoke as they lumber down the road, smells of barbecue, and a few modest commercial centers that were a beehive of activity. As poor as the people are they all seemed to have a purpose and a smile.

A very creative resort called Takatuka.

I was crammed into a small seat and after about three hours my butt hurt. After another hour it hurt bad. I wasn't about to give up the seat for fear that I would have to stand for the rest of the trip. As darkness fell I was surprised to see that in many of the huts along the roadside there was a color television (yes, you could see right through the walls - third world air conditioning). No clean water or toilets though. By the way, the guy did have a rooster - he started up as the sun went down.

The bus guy knew I was going to Sugar Beach so when we approached the stop just before Sipalay he pointed to a tricycle driver and told me I should go with him to the beach. Given the warnings in The Lonely Planet and that it was already dark I was hesitant. I asked the tricycle guy, "how much?" and he said 150 pesos. Then I asked what about the boat man and he said it would only be 20 pesos. While it all sounded reasonable I knew once I got off the bus I would be at their mercy - I was in the middle of nowhere, my backpack was heavy, it was dark and I would have no options - and they would all know it.

"My bungalow."

I stuffed my pack into the tricycle and off we went down a dark deserted road. We passed a few shacks and then we were into the jungle with only the dim light of the tricycle. After about a mile and some light conversation the driver said to me not to mention to the boat man that he told me the boat ride across the river would only be 20 pesos. When I protested he slowed and the headlight dimmed further. We're in the middle of a jungle and it's dark. I shut up and we rode on in silence.

We finally stop at a shack with a few guys hanging out. It's dark. End of the road. This could turn out bad. Real bad. The deal is there is a small river and the guy will take me across in a paddle boat but not for 20 pesos and then I would need to walk about a half km through the jungle to get to the beach. I have a small flashlight, a heavy bag and no clue where I am or where I'm going. The other option is that they have a motorized bangka that could drop me right on the beach in front of the resorts but that would be "more expensive." I'm wondering what it's going to cost to get out of this mess. Trying to mask the anxiety in my voice I ask, "how much?" as I ready myself for the shaft. The guy looks up at me, all I can see is teeth and eyes, and says, "two hundred pesos." Two hundred pesos - about $4 USD! We shake and off we go. There are two of them, the bangka is small and it's a moonless night. As I gaze at the stars and try to orient myself I know it ain't over yet - we still need to get down the river and out into the Sulu sea and onto the beach. Hopefully without further negotiations.

"It's pretty awesome."

Takatuka is full but the next place, Bermuda has bungalows. I take one for 1,150 pesos (about $24 USD) - clean attached cold-water bathroom, mosquito netting over a double bed, fan and a nice deck. After a couple of Tanduay rum and cokes, an SMB (that's Sam Miguel beer) and garlic shrimp I crash. I'm up at sunrise to a perfect tropical paradise - six small native style nipa bungalow resorts lining a one kilometer white sand beach, hammocks strung between palm trees, beach furniture scattered about, quiet little restaurants/bars and the clear warm waters of the Sulu sea.

Reminds me of the line, "What's the difference between a tourist and a traveler?" "A tourist doesn't know where he's been and a traveler doesn't know where he's going."

What's next? I have no plan and I'm sticking to it!


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