Day 1: Siquijor (Siquijor Island) by ferry to Dumaguete (Negros Oriental Island) cycle to Malatapay then boat to Apo Island 28.4 km 105m Ascent
Dumaguette was a surprise for us as we had expected a small town similar to those we had traveled through to date, but it was a bustling city with many cafes and western style restaurants. We settled at a cafe and our medium size Latte came in a mug as big as a bucket! Next stop was an Italian restaurant for pasta and salad. There was a lot of traffic heading in the same direction as us, but for the 28 kilometres we had a flat road and a shoulder as wide as a lane, that no other vehicle was using, so we had a comfortable ride. At Malatapay we left our panniers at the booking office for the crossing to Apo Island and then sought out a place to leave the bikes. When we asked the residents of a house nearby, they were happy for us to leave the bikes with them. We returned to the beach where three other tourists had arrived for the crossing, so we were able to share the cost. There was no jetty at either departure or landing points so we waded out to the vessel, helped by the crew of two who carried and stowed our bags. Thus began a roller coaster of wave riding. Sometimes white caps broke over the five of us. We arrived drenched. Having paid our island access fee, that goes towards protection of the landscape and seascape, and dodging a couple of women selling T-shirts we climbed up to Marios Diving and Homestay. They only had a family room vacant, so bigger than we needed, but comfortable, with a balcony, cold water shower, and fan cooling, however electricity is only available from 6 to 10 p.m.
Apo Island was a thriving community, with both an elementary school and high school educating around 300 children. A concrete pathway wove through the populated area, with wooden pushing trolleys being used for carting drinking water, and other goods from the beach to the homes. Wells at each end of the village, provided water for washing. At the end of the footpath street up to Marios there was a square of bench tops and bright lights that formed the internet hub used by island residents.
There were a couple of short walking tracks on the island so as soon as we had dumped our gear, and put our names on the whiteboard to indicate our preference of one of three choices for the evening meal, we walked to the view point to watch the sunset.
Day 2: Apo Island
The waters surrounding Apo Island are a marine sanctuary known for a huge variety of corals and the sea meadows are a feeding ground for Green Turtles. We paid for snorkeling gear and a guide, and walked from the shore into a marine paradise where we spent a couple of hours snorkeling amongst some enormous turtles, colourful fishes and beautiful corals. In the afternoon we walked up to the lighthouse and were surprised to see an area of pasture with goats and cattle grazing. There were also solar panels that we thought might supply the island with the daily few hours of electricity.
Day 3: Apo Island to Bayawan 77.5km 420m Ascent
Our early departure with locals, also heading for Negros Island, was calm, so we remained dry. When we had arrived at Malatapay the other day, there were many seemingly abandoned wooden structures like store fronts and wooden benches, but no people about. Now these were laden with goods as a market at Malatapay was in full swing, and to retrieve our bikes we dodged people and motorcycles with side-frames carrying pigs.
People here don’t give the impression that they have great wealth so we were humbled when the family that stored our bikes securely, wouldn’t take any payment. Back on the bikes we had the ocean on our left, making navigation easy! There was a range of jungle covered mountains splitting Negros into two regions, on our right. This was a day of fast flat cycling, with a gentle push by a tail wind. Being overtaken by vehicles carrying people and animals as they moved to and from the market, added interest.
Day 4: Bayawan To Sugar Beach 87.6km 409m Ascent
Another mostly flat ride until we pulled over to take a photo of the view of Calipapa from the top of a headland. A cyclist was coming towards us so we waved and he pulled in for a chat. Sonny had just completed a 20km ride and his final burst was to ride up to the view point. He lived back down below the view point, in Calipapa and invited us to his house for a cold drink. We spent about an hour with Sonny, and over glasses of iced water took the opportunity to ask him all of the questions we had about the Philippines, and to learn of his life as a Bosun on a ship, away from home for weeks at a time, and of his wife who was a head teacher at a school in the mountains, who lived at the village where she taught and only returned home for weekends.
A few kilometres before Sipalay we had two climbs; the first a bit of a teaser and the final climb twice as high, twice as long and twice as steep. There is always a reward for energy expended, and the downhill to Sipalay was awesome. Sipalay Beach was a long broad stretch of sand, popular with Filipinos as a holiday destination. We had chosen Sugar Beach as our destination so after a cheesy-fries snack, left Sipalay and headed north a few kilometres. We turned left at Gil Montilla and continued to the road end where we asked for Mondo, as we had been told we could leave our bikes with him. The bikes were locked together in an open shed.
Access to Sugar Beach was by a long narrow wooden boat with outriggers, that are typically used for transportation or fishing. The boat squeezed through the sandbar at the river mouth and then motored through the ocean, running parallel with the stretch of white sand along the shoreline. We wanted a rest of three nights staying in one place, however Sugar Beach was popular and we couldn’t get consecutive nights all at one place. We stayed at one resort for the first night, moved next door for the second night and returned to our first room for the third night. So we did stay in one place, only because we didn´t leave Sugar Beach but packed and moved each day. Just as well we had little in the way of items that needed to be unpacked, and had pannier packing down to a fine art!
Day 5: Sugar Beach Day Off
A day of being as lazy as we possibly could be. Energy was only expended to eat food, swim in the turquoise ocean, and soak up the sunset with a walk along the beach.
Day 6: Sugar Beach Day Off
We’d organised a ‘Snorkeling Turtle Island’ trip with One Ocean Diving. It had been my intention to go to Danjugan Island as I had read there were canoes available to use to paddle around the island and there was a nice beach and a walk in the interior; but to get there would be an hour by boat (not Nev’s favourite means of transport). The alternative of snorkeling at a wreck, only 20 minutes by boat was also attractive, so after breakfast a boat pulled onto the sand for us to board. Snorkeling over a wreck was a new experience for us. The water was deep except for the deteriorating bulk of steel directly below. Fish flittered about and it was tempting, but too scary for us, to follow them into the open cavities that led into tunnels. Later we snorkelled in another area, floating over beautiful coral, marveling at the array of tiny fish swimming in schools around us.
Day 7: Sugar Beach to Kabankalan 77.4km, 436m ascent
Our boat arrived just after breakfast and we left Sugar Beach with lovely memories of interesting conversations with fellow travelers, homemade sourdough bread, mango jam, and other delicious meals. The boat was briefly caught on a sandbar, but was quickly nudged free by the second boatman. Fortunately the bikes were where we left them, locked but in an open shed. When we told Mondo we were heading for Bacolod and it would take two days, he found this quite amusing.
We chose a different route back to the main road that wasn’t flat and concrete, as was the road we had ridden to Sugar Beach on. Before long we were on rocky gravel and then climbing; well pushing up the 18% in my case, and then struggling to dig deep and ride up a few other hills. 4.5 km later we were at the main road and I was feeling like I’d completely undone two days of relaxation. Some areas we ride through we are something of an oddity and this last few kilometres was such a time. Faces lit up as we passed and there was no option but to offer a return grin at least equally as broad as the one given, and call back with a greeting. Groups of women squatted beside wells, around large bowls of sudsy washing water. The smell of detergent wafted from clothes hanging to dry and two young women walking by, heading to church, wore the detergent perfume.
Our first 30 kilometres was; climb a headland, take in the view if there was one, drop down to a flat area where the road was bordered by rice paddies; then repeat. As we headed east, the pleasure of finally having kilometres of flat riding was negated by a headwind. We stopped for our ‘go to’ lunch of bread, bananas and peanut butter at a village stage; the only place we could find shade that wasn´t private property. A few villages later we arrived at Caliling where there were no shops but there were a number of market stalls. Many were selling second hand clothing. We purchased Mango slushy with evaporated milk added.
Today’s final 20 kilometres was quite heavy with traffic, the road cutting a swathe through acres of sugar cane. Very old trucks, overloaded with cane, overtook at a pace barely faster than us. Our destination was the bustling city of Kabankalan. Kabankalan had many new buildings including a City Mall, McDonalds, coffee shop and restaurants; quite a contrast to only secondhand goods and clothing available at Caliling.
Day 8: Kabankalan to Bacolod (Negros Island), 89.3km, 143m Ascent then ferry to Iloilo (Panay Island) Ride to accommodation 4.56km
We had a ferry to catch later in the day so made an early start. Breakfast was at Jollibees, the Filipino equivalent of McDonalds. Breakfast for me was garlic rice, a battered chicken leg and fried egg. Nev had pancake sandwich with filling of bacon and egg.
We had a flat ride on the National Highway that started with two lanes each side and as usual no vehicles using the lane closest to the road edge. Maybe that was because at one area the concrete had been poured around a crooked row of power poles leaving them dangerously smack in the middle of our lane. We noticed someone riding a mountainbike behind us and manoeuvred to let him alongside. For a few kilometres we chatted to the young man who worked for the army and was returning to barracks after a 15km trail ride.The rice paddies we had been riding through up to now had been replaced with sugar cane fields extending infinitum and at varying stages of the production cycle. Some fields bare and recently ploughed, others with young growth, and some had recently been burned off and now the remaining stubble was being manually slashed by men with sharp machetes. Many areas were being harvested, with canes being loaded into trucks, some of very old vintage. All work was done manually with large loads carried up to the tray of the truck by men walking a steep plank.
We were passed by many cane trucks and other overloaded vehicles. The most common vehicle on the road was the motor-tricycle usually with too many passengers, or sometimes carrying lengths of bamboo that extended many metres for and aft, with the rear scraping the road. At the 7/11 at Binalbagan we had coffee and from a ‘donut kiosk’ cabinet we chose the most delicious jam doughnuts. There were only a few tables and chairs available, so we moved across our seats to let a man who was standing, share our table. We then had an enjoyable chat with Glenn who was a dive instructor and resort owner, who was traveling to Romblon Island on his motorcycle.
On leaving Hinigaran the two lanes each side of the road were now in full use, as traffic volumes had increased. There was no sign of rain today and the days heat had gotten uncomfortable. By mid-day a severe head-wind added to our discomfort.
We finally arrived at Bacolod and rode directly to the port. The bikes were manhandled by crew to stand at the front of a very old boat that looked more like a floating aircraft carrier than a ferry. Next stop Panay Island.