Island hopping in the central Philippines: The Western and Central Visayas islands of Panay and Negros.
Monday 15.4.1985, Boracay – Iloilo
Leaving Boracay Island I intended getting to the southern part of the island Panay and its largest city –Iloilo – to get a boat to Negros Island. A number of others on the “banca” boat from Boracay, amongst them a New Yorker I had met on Boracay previously, Kenny, turned out to have the same plan.
When Kenny and I after a couple of uncomfortable hours on a jeepney came to Kalibo we discovered that the next bus was leaving until ten hours later, at 10 in the evening. We were half an hour late for the last morning bus. There was nothing to do but walk around in town trying to kill some time. I found a bank and was finally able to get some cash – 20-30 (1-2 USD) pesos was all I had left.
Bus on island of Negros
The bus cost us 40 pesos, was a half hour late and took 3.5 hours. We thus arrived at two in the night. Kenny and I went straight to a hotel and to bed.
- NEW ILOILI INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (tel. 7-47-86), J.M. Basa Street. Dirty place but clean bed sheets. Bad facilities (toilet and shower), but cheap. 40 pesos for a single room and 60 (3 USD) pesos for a double.
Tuesday 16.4.1985, Iloilo
We both wanted to stay a day in Iloilo to see what the town was like. The town has supposedly a couple of hundred thousand inhabitants but the centre was not bigger than we were able to walk around on foot.
For me this was my first town on the Philippines, outside Manila, and I found it interesting to walk the streets watching daily life and shops. There was not much to see really, so after a couple of hours or so I went back to my room, lay down and read Newsweek.
The two of us were naturally interested in finding out what nightlife there was in town. Well, it has not much to boast, but we did find a place with a live band, kind of whimsy service and sweet waitresses to flirt and exchange paper notes with (!).
Wednesday 17.4.1985, Bacolod
The ferry across to Bacolod on Negros left at seven in the morning so we had to get up early. (Price was about 28 pesos for second class.) Despite our second class ticket we went to the upper deck without anyone paying notice. We had a chat with an American couple of the money-spending type. Nice people.
The ferry took not much more than a couple of hours and we climbed into a jeepney for 5 pesos. It took us to the centre of Bacolod and a hostel
- YMCA, Burgos Street. 70 pesos for a double, communal bath and toilet. Okay place.
After showering off my sweat we went sightseeing in town. There are actually no sights so it went fast.Bacolod reminds me in many ways of a ghost town. According to a 1981 guidebook it is supposed to have a population of 250,000, but the streets seemed very empty and there were surprisingly few shops.
We heard that the sugar production on the island of Negros, where Bacolod is the largest city, has suffered hard times. This industry is alpha and omega to this area. Bacolod which flourished very much until the mid-seventies must have fallen deep. Actually all the bars and restaurants listed in that guidebook were closed, in addition to a number of hotels.
Still there were open places. This evening we visited several of them. Ken had a pal here in town who he had met on Boracay. His name was A, an Iranian now working here in Bacolod.
We first entered a rather dubious establishment where at least one girl seemed very burnt-out. This disco was not so interesting and we left for another, considerably more upscale. It was actually a “real” disco similar to the ones I’m used to at home. Apart from the girls of course. The prostitutes here were of the prettier kind, and more expensive (400 pesos according to one). On the way home we stopped on a street stall and had some soup and bread – good food.
The Iranian told us of two Swedish girls who had been very active in bed the previous nights, and loudly so. He invited us to his place where we would be hiding behind a window while he had a going with the girls. He did not find them, and that was perhaps good for them, and us.
Kenny wanted to stay in the area the next day as well, while I wanted to continue to Cebu. We split.
Thursday 18.4.1985, Bacolod – Canlaon – San Carlos
To get to Cebu one has to take a boat from San Carlos on the east coast of Negros. That town is accessible in two ways. The regular route is along the coast on the northern part of the island. The far less used alternative means a longer, somewhat more uncomfortable but also more interesting bus ride. I took this second route.
The bus left around eight thirty in the morning to Canlaon in the middle of Negros, up in the mountains (21 pesos = 2 US$, 3 hours). On the way we passed by sugar farms, banana trees, small huts/sheds housing poor peons, and a volcano. This was the first I had ever seen apart from the glimpse of Mount Fuji in Japan.
Canlaon itself was not much, but there was an interesting large market selling all kinds of produce. I lunched here, and as the sole foreigner for miles around I created huge fuzz. But as usual when people stare and children (and adults) shout “Hey Joe”, I smile and reply something. The response is immediate and everything is just smile and laughter.
The Filipinos are very nice and helpful. What separates them from some other nationalities is that they in addition joke and have a good temper. That impression may arise from the fact that their knowledge of English is so good. The Filipinos boast being the third largest English speaking country in the world. This is partially true but a large number of the uneducated lack this knowledge. Besides all communication between the Filipinos are on the official Tagalog or in one of the many dialects. Despite that all signs and many newspapers are in English. All this is a remnant and inheritance from the period the country was under American rule, and certainly also from the post-colonial American cultural imperialism; Coke is it!
Boy peeking into jeepney, Taticlan
Back to my daily resume. I stayed in Canlaon only a couple of hours before taking a nearly two hour long jeepney ride down a picturesque and rough valley to the lowlands and the coastal town of San Carlos. I was sitting next to a Dutch pastor who had been in the Philippines for twelve years. He was a nice chap who also showed me the way to a good hotel in town.
- V.M. LODGING HOUSE; V. Gustillo Street, right in front of the plaza and the market. The hotel is across the street from the market. A small sign is showing the way, the building also has a large yellow Toshiba sign. Clean, good place. Nice management. Cheap, only 19 pesos for a single room with communal bath and toilet. They wanted five pesos for a fan, but we agreed on one. A fan is a must.
It was a calm afternoon and evening. It kind of suited me well as I wanted to continue to the hecticCebu City the next day already. The ship was sailing at 1330. San Carlos City is a smaller and nicer town than the population of 100,000 would indicate. The centre is made up of a roof-topped market, the plaza (a large, squared and park-like area) and a few shopping streets around.
I walked around in the streets and went early back to my hotel. It was actually the first time in over 3 months that I was alone in a room. There has always been at least one other. It was good to enjoy the loneliness.
Friday 19.4.1985, San Carlos
After breakfast I went over to the plaza and sat down there a while. There were a lot of people out, apparently in memory of an 18-year old girl who had been raped and murdered yesterday. The killers were reportedly being executed today already. That’s a fast “trial”!
I was the only foreigner there and just about the entire plaza was staring at me, the children sat down next to me, the girls went by to show off and I got into conversation with a small (height) guy of around 25 years of age. He seemed okay and when he invited me along I joined him.
We walked through the local sugar mill where the manager earned 3900 USD a month and the average worker salary was 22 USD, numbers that seemed extreme in my eyes. On the other hand the large villa of the manager and the shacks (slum almost) behind the factory were proof enough of the class inequality existing here.
My new friend led me – a foreigner – proudly to his home accompanied by a lot of young boys. The home was one of these poor houses – soil floor on the ground floor but with a cosy living room with TV upstairs. I said hello to his parents and everybody else who followed me up into the living room. I was introduced to a pretty girl living next door.
Will was the name of the man I first met. He has gone to school here in San Carlos but can now not afford to finish his education in Cebu. The girl is called May and lives in Cebu City. She is visiting her relatives in San Carlos in her summer vacation. She is sweet and innocent and perhaps a little naïve. The three of us went over to some fish ponds run by and owned by Will. We sat down there to talk. The end of story was that we agreed to go to a beach the next day, meaning I was not able to get to Cebubefore Sunday. But that did not matter with these nice people.
After a while we went back to the home of May for lunch and drank Tuba (coconut wine) with the men in the family. We agreed on going to a disco the same evening and I returned home. The deal was that they would pick me up at seven. Time is however something the Filipinos have aplenty – Will did not arrive until close to eight. We went up to their place with a pedicab – bicycle cab.
May had dressed up with a blouse and skirt in matching colours and was absolutely gorgeous – I was knocked out. I kind of felt bad in my blue jeans as well. We had a nice evening, first on the plaza where we sat down to talk, then on the disco. Every single person was staring at May and it was a real pleasure dancing with her.
Saturday 20.4.1985, San Carlos
We did some food shopping at the market – fish, meat, rice, and fruit. It all became a bit expensive – I was paying – but I was not going to regret later on.
We went down to the quay and sat down in a banca boat that was going to an island with a fine beach. To my big surprise the American Kenny dumped into the same boat. I knew he was going to San Carlos but this encounter was more than probable. We ended up finding a beach and had a barbeque picnic the four of us plus two dubious girls Kenny came with.
It was a lovely day under the coconut palm where we had laid out my straw mat and put fire to charcoals.
On the way back we, the original three, found that the banca was not returning for another hour and a half. Fortunately a fisherman was returning to town and we were let into his canoe. It was manual; I was given a paddle oar to operate.
The disco that same night was a fine repetition of the previous night. May was equally gorgeous.
Previous chapter: My last days on Boracay Island, a letter home and an epitaph.
Next chapter: Island hopping in the central Philippines: The Eastern Visayas islands of Cebu, Leyte, Samar and back to Manila on Luzon Island