This one’s a story about the joys of travel in the Philippines. It's about a trip from Bacolod to Sipalay, on Negros.
By this time Johnny Weekend had joined me for a few days on the road. Sipalay is a remote coastal town in southeast Negros, allegedly about a 4.5hr bus ride from Bacolod, the provincial capital of Negros Oriental. The situation looked grim when we went to the bus station. The first Sipalay-bound bus was packed with humanity while another scrum of humanity waited for the next bus in line. We managed to get decent seats on the latter, but soon each of us was sharing a two-person seat with two or three Filipinos. It was an "ordinary" (non-air-con) bus, and it was beginning to swelter. The bus in the berth next to us looked like a comfortable air-con bus and was headed in the same direction, so we abandoned ship and jumped on that, like birds flying out of a cage. The air-con bus would get us halfway, to Kabankalan, before diverging to Dumaguete. We reckoned that in Kabankalan we’d find plenty of alternate buses continuing south to Sipalay.
We got to Kabankalan in a tidy two hours and waited for something southbound to show up. We only waited for about five minutes before –surprise surprise - our original bus shows up, still bulging with humanity. We were looking at 2.5hrs (actually 3 as it would turn out) in this bus. Our seats were obviously long gone - standing room only. So we instinctively made for the roof, again like birds from a cage. We were pretty sure they wouldn’t let us do it. Rooftop riding isn’t normally done along this route – it’s more common along rough roads in remote areas. But it was worth a shot, so we just climbed up the ladder and sat on the bus like we owned it. As we pulled out of the berth, it appeared that we would get away with our ploy. But then the bus stopped, and a guy came out and asked us to get down. We deliberately stated our case in colloquial English, knowing he wouldn’t understand. He meekly protested – “but, but ….” – before deciding – as we had hoped - that he couldn’t be bothered to debate the point in English and retreating to the innards of the bus from hell for the remainder of the trip.
And what a trip it was. The drive was gorgeous and we were in the catbird seat. There were mountains covered in mist to our left, overlooking the rice and sugar-cane fields that sprawled neatly out from either side of the road like giant, neon-green tapestries. The Sulu Sea, sparkling in the late-afternoon sun, came in and out of view to our right, often in spectacular fashion as we scaled the coastal foothills of Negros’ interior cordillera. There were interesting towns where glimpses of Filipino life were on display – a basketball game or cockfight here, a school dance competition there -plus the enigmatic parade of life that is the side of any Philippine highway.
It was an adrenaline rush too. The wind would distort our faces when the driver’s foot was particularly heavy on the accelerator. Surprisingly, it felt stable up there. We never felt like we were going to get ejected or anything - although I wouldn’t want to use it as a platform for a fistfight, as they often do in the movies. My only complaint was that the cage-like metal grate we were sitting on was clearly built for crates or boxes, not for human asses. But at least it gave us something to hold onto. Overhanging wires and trees were not really a concern, as the cargo on the roof was higher than our heads, although we did intentionally swat at a few leaves just for the hell of it.
We arrived in Sipalay just after the sun had set, grabbed a well-deserved beer in the Driftwood pier restaurant, and boarded a bangka for the 15-minute ride to Sugar Beach, where Driftwood, the ultimate castaway resort, awaited.
I’ve posted a video of the trip’s highlights, along with a few photos.
Total travel time to Sipalay: about six hours.