Thursday, March 6, 2014

Iloilo, Philippines

I began today with the option of two routes from the port of San Carlos, where I had arrived the evening before by ferry, to Bacolod, where I would catch my next ferry to Iloilo.  One was 53 miles straight across the island of Negros through the mountains and by the 8,000 foot Kanlaon Volcano. The other was 90 miles up along the northern coast of the island through sugar cane country, the first I had encountered in the Philippines.

The owner of the hotel in San Carlos, where I had spent the night, warned that the coastal road was rough for the first few miles, but he also warned that the mountain road had very steep grades.  I had hopes of reaching Bacolod in time to catch the five p.m. ferry over to the island of Panay, just as I had successfully made it to Toledo that afternoon in time for the last ferry of the day to Negros.  Either way would be a challenge, especially not knowing how high I would have to climb.  If it weren't more than 3,000 nor steeper than five or six per cent, amounting to a two-hour ten mile climb, I might have opted for that, but since that was an unknown I decided on the flatter, longer route so I could experience an area that up to fifty years ago had supported the largest sugar refining factory in the world.  It was still in operation, but was no longer number one.

I was doubting my choice, though, when road was rougher than I anticipated and remained so for over twenty miles. The pavement was badly broken up and haphazardly patched, worse than riding on gravel or dirt. This was almost as bad as Cambodia's Road from Hell from Angar Wat to Thailand.  I was extra wary, as I had broken one of the two arms on my rear rack that attached to a brake and kept the rack in place.  It wasn't weight bearing, so it wasn't too crucial, but if the other side broke, that wouldn't be so good.  At least it has been my own mechanical so far.  No flats or broken spokes, despite some pretty rough going.  

Every so often I came upon someone with a shovel filling holes with dirt they just dug from the side of the road, hardly adequate patching material.   What should have taken me an hour-and-a-half to ride, took two-and-a-half hours.  This less than smooth riding was straining my legs as if they were climbing.  

At least once the road turned into a real road, I could turn my concentration from the road and enjoy some scenery I hadn't seen on this trip.

I can't say though that it was as scenic or as pleasing as the vistas of rice and their many hues of green that had dominated the scenery for the 1,500 miles I have ridden.

Plus I had to be on guard from stalks of sugar cane flying off the overloaded trucks that regularly passed me.

The road was also an obstacle course of stalks fallen off the trucks, though most had been nudged to the road's edge.

But I was moving along at a steady clip once the rough road ended and enjoying all the activity in the fields.

And also along the road loading up the harvested cane.

It was labor intensive, though heavy machinery was involved too.

All manner of trucks were involved in its transport.

With the vast fields of the sugar cane and with it head high and higher I thought I might be able to make it a campsite that night if the road turned against me again or if the heat got to me with my prolonged spells on the bike trying to knock off  ninety miles in less than eleven hours.  At one of my rest stops a fiesty sixty-six year old woman with a grandchild on her lap warned me that I should be careful of heat stroke.  She noticed I was turning as brown as a Filipino, but I was a little red-faced.

She told me that I must be rich to be able to fly from America to the Philippines.  I might have disputed her except that I was drinking a cold soda, a slight sign of wealth, and something I haven't indulged in too often on this trip.  Even though it only cost twelve pesos, just a quarter, it was the same price as a plate of noodles.  Spending as much on a drink as on a meal is a sign of someone with some extra money.  I have generally been content with water here, especially when many restaurants have a cold pitcher of it on the table, but this small village, when I needed a break, only had a lone store.

There were some more rough patches, but nothing prolonged that slowed me too much, and I managed to keep the heat steroid at bay.  When I gained a tail wind at the northwest corner of my circuit of the island and turned south, I knew I would definitely make it to Bacolod before dark and had a good chance to catch a ferry as well.  My map showed a ferry wharf four miles north of the city, making it all the more possible.  I was there twenty minutes before five, but it turned out that it was for the ferry to Manila.  The terminal for the shorter ferry route was all the way into the city.  So much for the five p.m. ferry.  

Rather than getting a hotel, I went straight to the ferry hoping the terminal would still be staffed so I could purchase my ticket for the next day.  But lo and behold there was a 5:30 ferry and there was time to board and also buy some hard-boiled eggs.  There was a fast, expensive ferry that made the crossing in one hour.  This was the slow, cheap ferry that took two hours.  That meant it would arrive well after dark.  I assumed the ferry would dock near the town center as most have, and I could easily track down a hotel as I had the night before.

In my rush to grab the unexpected ferry I didn't realize that it was more of a cargo, than passenger, ferry and docked fifteen miles from Iloilo at Dumangas, which wasn't much more than a wharf and had no.  It would be near suicide attempting the ride into Iloilo in the dark.  I'd have to find a place to camp.  When I saw a fenced in Coast Guard compound I hoped I had found that place.  

The officer at the desk wasn't immediately receptive to the idea.  He said I ought to be able to make it to Iloili in a couple of hours on the bike.  I told him I didn't have a god enough light to bike in the dark.  He said he ask his commanding officer.  But first he had to deal with a few truckers who needed papers signed.  Five minutes later he disappeared and then returned with approval to sleep there, but not in my tent.  I could sleep on a bench under a an waning that was the compound's picnic area.  That was fine for me.

Once again all had worked out and without any need to be upset about a seeming disaster. I'd had a similar such case the day before.  When I showed up for my 10:30 a.m. ferry to Dumaguete on Negros I was told it had electrical problems and was canceled.  It might be repaired in time for the next day, but there was no guarantee.  Luckily I had shown up plenty early at nine a.m., as there was a 9:20 ferry to Cebu that I could take and then bike across the island to Toledo and catch a ferry to Negros there, but not to the southern tip of the island, but at a more northerly point in San Carlos, that would actually save me one hundred miles of bilking. That would give me a chance to see the second largest city in the Philippines and see another island.  I hadn't initially chosen that option as it would require an extra ferry trip.

The ferry arrived on Cebu at 11:30.  It was thirty-six miles to Toledo, fifteen miles down the coast then twenty-one miles and a 1,200 foot climb over a mountain ridge to the other side of this narrow island.  Toledo had a very relaxed and informal ferry terminal.  Like all of them it tacked on an extra, nominal terminal fee one had to pay after paying for one's ticket.  The sign at the desk where one purchased it used that quaint Philippine expression "only" to describe what one had to pay.

Unlike my ferry to Cebu and the one I took to Bohol, this was a genuine sea-going vessel that could handle cargo of all sizes.

I've taken five ferries so far and have two to go if everything goes as planned.  I have nine days to get to Manila.  With luck I'll arrived with a couple days to spare and will have the opportunity to find something to like about a Philippine city, something I have failed to achieve.  Hopefully I will be able to  track down a couple of colleagues of Janina's that she met at a conference and they can help, especially recommending books that will explain the uniquely pleasing Philippine demeanor, molded by  four centuries of Spanish rule followed by two generations of American control.  I will want to read more about its history and culture and its significant figures and what travel books there might be of the experiences of others here. The longer I am here, the more fascinating and significant it becomes.

1 comment:

Dud said...


In Manila a main entertainment is eating. I liked Mangan (several, eg SM North ~P250) for very nice Filipino food and pleasant surroundings. Tapsilog Island for a quick "all day breakfast" meal (lots around, ~P50). Choices abound.

I found much of interest in I found their Spanish & USAn colonial era displays even more interesting that their Marcos era displays. is a pleasant family hotel, a standard room costing about P 2,000 / day (remember senior's discount). Near the museum. An airport shuttle costs P600.

Enjoying you blogging, Dud & Pearl.