My Bicycling Adventure

Monday, 8 April 2013

Philippines Visaya Islands Part 2

San Agustin to San Pedro (Romblon) 15km + ferry

The ferry to Romblon was scheduled to leave at 8am. When we arrived there was already quite a crowd of people sitting on the sea wall while the porters loaded the boat. They carried our bikes over and laid them on the roof. A couple of jeepneys arrived and unloaded more prospective passengers. Once we were allowed to board the little bangka there was a bit of a scrum to grab one of the life jackets that the crew were distributing. The law is that every passenger has to have one to be allowed on the boat. We both grabbed one and jumped on.

The small cabin at the rear was already full and the only way to access the front cabin was to crawl through one of the window openings. Difficult wearing a life jacket. The only vacant seats were right at the front of the boat. Not so much seats as a plank to sit on. A large crowd of prospective passengers remained on the quay, prevented from boarding by the coast guard as they had no life jackets. Gradually we dug out a few from under the seats and passed them out so most of them eventually got on.

It took about an hour to get to Romblon. As we arrived there was a class of children from the school having a swimming lesson in the harbour. At the quay side we met an English man who advised us that the best place to stay on the island was a place at San Pedro, about 10km south.

This lovely, peaceful resort, right on the  beach, was one of our favourite places of the whole trip. It seemed miles away from the real world, with a private beach and a row of huts built from natural materials on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

We shared it with a trio of French backpackers, (Vincent, Frank and Julie)  Richard, an American, and his Filipino partner Gloria.

San Pedro - Day Off

This was a day of relaxing on the peaceful beach, snorkeling around the small coral reef in the bay and enjoying the homemade local food in the restaurant.

San Pedro - Romblon Town - 35km

Today we completed the circuit of this little island, in total only 45kms. The road alternates between rough surface and cement with only a few vehicles. It is never far away from the sea, with frequent views over the ocean and lots of shady palms.

On the east side of the island the regional road takes a more inland route, through the hills,  but we continued along the coast on an unsurfaced track.

Climbing back up to the national road was a pretty steep, first gear, job at first  but then an easy gradient up to about 250m over the hills at the north.

This area is renowned for its marble, with numerous quarries and workshops producing statues. Most eye-catching of the offerings was of two dogs in a compromising position but we couldn't imagine who would want to buy it.

A long downhill took us into Romblon town which is a pretty little place, surrounded on three sides by tree covered hills and centred around the busy harbour.

The town has a small community of European expats, with a couple of cafe bars serving pizzas and western style foods. There is an old Spanish fort perched on the hill above the town which we climbed to up steep stone steps. At the top were good views of the town but the fort was in desperate need of renovation and looked in imminent danger of falling down the hill.

Romblon Town - Magdiwan (Sibuyan) ferry

Today's ferry was a ro-ro, a much easier boat to get loaded bikes onto. During the three hour journey to Sibuyan we were entertained by a young man travelling with his guitar and sound system who used the time to practise his songs.

The ferry arrived at Magdiwang and there was a minibus from Sanctuary Resort, where we planned to stay, waiting to pick up passengers. Edgar, one of the owners, gave us directions to get there and we arrived before the bus.

The resort is about 1km from the national road, set in the foothills of Mount Guiting Guiting, the 2060 m high volcano in the centre of the island. The peak of the volcano was shrouded in cloud for the whole of our stay.

We found that Julie, Vincent, Frank, Richard and Gloria from San Pedro were also staying there as well as Hannah, a Polish backpacker. The resort had large attractive gardens and a clear, deep river to swim in.

Around the restaurant area were a couple of aviaries with birds and a large cage to house a pair of orphaned young adult monkeys who had been had been hand reared.

Magdiwan - Day Off

The resort had its own jeepney and today a trip had been arranged to circumnavigate the island, stopping at a couple of waterfalls on the way and taking a pic-nic lunch. Richard, Gloria, Hannah and the french trio were all going so we decided that rather than cycle we would go with them.

Fighting cockerels, Sibuyan
The road to the west of the island had been badly affected by flooding several years ago. All of the river bridges had been washed away and had been replaced by temporary metal ones. A couple of the wider valleys had no proper road surface, just a track over smooth small rocks which would have been difficult with loaded bikes.

Look closely to see Hanah's jump
Swimming in the river at the base of the waterfall was refreshing, and Steve and Richard joined the youngsters jumping into the pool  from the top of the cliff. Edgar's aunt, a retired teacher, joined us for the picnic and entertained us with stories of her teaching career and love life.

Magdiwan to Cajidiocan - 39km

The road on the east of the island had escaped the worst of the flood damage and is in a better state of repair. It is mostly unsurfaced and there is very little traffic. About 10km down the road is another small waterfall, reached by a footpath from the road. We left the bikes and walked up to swim in the cool river.

There was nowhere to eat until Cajidican and even there it was difficult to find food. We were directed to a small cafe with a long menu of western food in the window but the only thing available at 2pm was a meagre burger. Although there were two small pension houses in Cajidiocan  they were both full so we had to ride another 3km to a small German owned guesthouse called 'Reiners Place'.


Cajidiocan to Masbate City (Masbate) - 67km + ferry

The breakfast at Reiner's Place was memorable for its very good, home made bread, served in large quantities with marmalade. Still not quite sure of the ferry departure time, we made sure we got there before 8am. As there was no boat at the jetty we asked the coastguard who sent us to a small bangka on the beach.

The boat crew said they had never carried bicycles before. There were a lot of locals waiting at the beach side while the crew loaded the various cargoes, our bikes and a motorbike. At last the jeepney from Magdiwan arrived with the five french travellers from Sanctuary resort and all the passengers climbed aboard.

As the 'senior westerners' we got to sit on the big shelf in the wheelhouse which was much more comfortable than the narrow planks that served as seats in the main cabin. The journey took four hours as the boat was quite slow and had to be steered around the bigger waves.

This was the first time we had been on a bangka completely out of sight of land. The only navigation aid was a portable compass and the engine was controlled by a length of fishing line wound around a wooden block.  We had a really good view out of the front of the boat but the only thing that we saw in that time were groups of flying fish.

The boat arrived a t Mandaon at 1.00pm and after a quick lunch at the harbourside market we set off to try to get to Masbate City, as the only place on the island where we were certain there was accommodation. It was 63km and we had about three hours of daylight. The road was quite smooth and quiet, slowly climbing up into the hills.

The terrain was unlike anything we had seen so far in the Philippines with no trees and grassy hillsides which reminded us of Scotland. This is important cattle rearing country and riding their horse down the road towards us was a group of Filipino cowboys with lasoos and spurs.

After a long climb we reached the col with views over the surrounding hills and then a long snaking descent back down to the coast at Milagros. By now it was 4pm and another 20km to Masbate so we tried to find somewhere to stay. After being directed to the town hall we were given the name of a resort about 5km out of town called ' Winter Farm'. Luckily it was on the road towards Masbate City, because when we found it it was closed.

 With no option but to continue we rode as fast as we could but the last 10km were in the pitch dark. At least the road was smooth, there were no pot-holes and very few people drive in the dark here.
Arriving in the city at night made finding a good hotel even more difficult and we settled for the first Guest House we saw which was probably one of the worst places we have stayed in. But at least it had a small restaurant with ok food, internet and friendly staff.

Masbate City to Cataingan - 83km

After eight days of no internet access it was at last possible to catch up with e-mail and look into ferries from Masbate island. The web sites of the various ferry companies are not up to date and don't show all the ferries, or even the right day and time of departure, so the only option was to go down to the port and ask.
 Once we had confirmed that there was a ferry which goes from Cataingan, in the south of Masbate, to Bogo, in the north of Cebu, departing every day at 12md, there was the beginning of a plan.

The next problem was that there was no information about accommodation in Cataingan. It was too far to try and get there before 12md. Sitting in the guest house restaurant, searching on the internet, a man approached us and asked us if we were backpackers and could he help us with anything. We told him our problem and immediately he made a couple of phone calls and arranged for us to stay at a resort near the town in a property owned by a friend.

By now it was 10.30am so we packed up our stuff quickly and got the bikes. Karen's rear tyre was flat so, with an audience of about twenty people, Steve patched it using the last patch in the box.  The road down the east coast of the island wasn't quite as smooth and well surfaced as the one yesterday and was a mixture of concrete, tarmac and unsurfaced sections. The scenery here was more like the rest

Only 10km after setting out Steve's front tyre side wall split and the inner tube exploded  with a spectacular noise. We had to put on the emergency spare tyre and use the last patent inner tube. Finding a new supply of good inner tubes and patches was now a priority.

The road continued along the coast, skirting the edges of some nice wide sandy bays but except for a couple of shabby local day resorts there were only fishing communities on the shores. It was very cloudy with a cool breeze, ideal for cycling. Closer to Cataingan there were several short sharp rain showers and the sky darkened.

Arriving in the town we went straight down to the small port to check the ferry details. With possible worsening of the weather there was no certainty that the boat would arrive from Bogo the next day. We just had to hope that it would.

As we rode back up the hill to get to the resort it started to pour with rain and we were quickly soaked. Just at the top of the hill was a newly built hotel so we decided to stay there instead of continuing a further 3km in the rain.

The hotel may have been newly opened but it had all the annoying features of most other Philippino hotels. The water pressure in the bathroom was too low to use the sink, there was no hot water, there was not a single shelf or anywhere to put anything except the floor, no hangers or hooks for towels and not a single electric socket except the one for the TV where there was not enough depth to plug in the adaptor. The room had a double bed but only one towel. A request for a second towel put 25 peso on the bill. Breakfast was included in the room rate but was only available between 6am and 7am and it did not include any drink. 

Cataingan to Bogo (Cebu) - Ferry

We were awake early so had breakfast in the snack bar. It was as bad as expected: cold overcooked fried egg, revolting bright red mushy sausage and sticky rice.The morning weather was a great improvement on yesterday with blue skies and little wind so there was little doubt that the ferry would run.

 With little else to do we set off to the port and to buy some food for the five hour ferry journey. On the way through the town a policeman waved to us and we thought he was just being friendly. But no, he wanted us to come into the little police office and bring our identification documents. He was accompanied by a young, apparently new, recruit. The young guy spent a long time copying  every detail from our passport into a large, apparently new, ruled notebook. He  even copied out  the long sequence of numbers and letters at the bottom of the page. He then asked us both for our father's and mother's full names and also  the names of all three of Steve's siblings. This seemed to satisfy them both, even though neither of them thought to check wether we had a valid visa. Once the formalities were over we got to the real reason for accosting us, they wanted a photograph of the crazy cyclists with the young recruit.

At the port office we paid our terminal fee and set off for the ferry but were turned back as we hadn't paid a terminal fee for the bikes! New one. The ferry was a big old ro-ro. Unlike the ferries in the west there were no cars on this one, just lorries, a bus, two bicycles and a pig.

 The weather was beautiful and the sea very calm so the five hour journey was enjoyable, passing many islands, some of them just bare rocks.

The boat arrived at Bogo at 5.15pm which should have given us about half an hour of daylight to cycle the 5km into the  town centre. But it took nearly 40 minutes for the boat to get into the right position on the ramp. It appeared that it was the new  apprentice's first try. The boat went forwards, backwards, sideways, the ropes went onto the mooring and were tightened but still the boat ramp and the dock  were not meeting. By the time we got off the sun had set and once again we had to ride in the dark into town.

We booked a room at the Nagano Pension which had no window but did have a very quiet air-con and one of the most comfortable mattresses. It also had its own restaurant with reasonable food. The town only seemed to have three types of shops: Pawnbrokers, pharmacies and bakeshops. A bit of a problem when all you want is a bottle of water and some wash powder.

Bogo to Malapascua - Bus and ferry

We left the bikes in the hotel garage to travel to Malapascua island, just off the north coast of Cebu. This island is supposed to be like Boracay was 15 years ago with white, coral sand beaches, good diving and not too many resorts.

 We got a trike to the bus station then had an hour's ride on a bus to Maya, on the north coast. From here there are bangkas to the island. There is a small jetty but unless it is high tide, the bangkas anchor offshore which means that you have to pay for a small boat to take you to the ferry. The process is repeated at the island which just seems like another way to con everyone out of another 40 peso.

On the island there are no roads, just a few sandy tracks and motorbikes. We stayed at Evolution Dive Resort, owned by a friend of Simon's.

Malapascua - Days Off

Thresher shark
We spent three nights at the resort, enjoying the good food in the restaurant and relaxing on the beach. Steve did two dives. Having to get up at 4.30am was not easy, but the reward was diving with the thresher sharks at Manod reef.

Malapascua to Bogo - Ferry and bus 

Being in no hurry to leave, we spent the morning on the beach and then had lunch at a restaurant. High tide was about 3pm today so we could get directly onto the ferry. It quickly filled with the minimum ten passengers so the crew cast off and then tried to start the engine. It had no electric starter so the five crew had to pull start the engine with a rope.

 Despite their energetic efforts the engine showed no signs of life after about eight attempts. By now it had drifted well away from the shore. The crew re-anchored and the youngest one was sent swimming back to shore to fetch oil.

That did the trick and the engine started at the next try. At Maya there was a Ceres bus waiting to get us to Bogo where we jumped on a trike. He also had engine problems and took several tries to get going.

Bogo to Danao - 82km 

The bikes were still safe in the hotel garage and it was nice to get back on them again. For the first time in weeks we had a choice of route and needed to check the Google map to find out how to get onto the minor road along the coast.

It was a lovely ride along a well surfaced road. There were a few patched potholes which we could easily avoid as the traffic was very light. The road climbed gradually to about 200m, through palms, sugar cane and mango orchards, then descended again to join the national highway at Sogod.

Thirty more kilometers on the flat coast road took us to Danao where we went to the port to check the times for the ferries to the Camotes Islands. A fruitless search for accommodation in the town followed and we ended up going about 3km inland to the 'Intersan Resort'. It has a water park and a variety of rooms. We were the only guests and chose the cheapest option, a little chalet close to the swimming pool.

We didn't fancy going back into Danao to eat so had dinner in the resort restaurant, all alone.

Danao to Santiago (Camotes) 60km + ferry

Breakfast was again a lonely affair but at least we got fast service. The ferry was a ro-ro, departing at a very civilised 8.30 am, for the two hour journey to Consueles on the island of Pacijan. Our plan was to ride around this first Camotes island today, stay for the night  at Santiago then cycle over the causeway to the next island, Poro. From here, the Rough Guide and the ferry web site assured us, we could get a fast ferry into Cebu City. We needed to spend a day in Cebu to extend our visas.

The small scale map that we had showed the road following the coast but in fact it was quite a distance inland, mainly through coconut plantations and fairly flat countryside. As we passed through Santiago we booked into a small guest house at the edge of a beautiful pale sand bay, meaning we could continue without the panniers. The south-east coast was the most enjoyable part with plenty of shade and several short steep hills. There were a few sections of unsurfaced road but practically no traffic and ocean views.

Coming to the north of the island we decided to find a nice beach.Turning off the road at a signpost for a beach, we followed a track for several kilometers. The beach was at a closed down resort and the whole place had a massive fence and a padlocked gate. Instead we returned to Santiago and had a swim there.

In the evening we strolled to a little seafood restaurant with tables on the beach just below our accommodation had some fantastic  sea-food. We asked the resort owner about the times of the ferry from Poro to Cebu and were told that it only operates in high season. So there was no option but to get the ferry back to Danao and ride to Cebu City on the national road.

Santiago to Cebu City - 35km + ferry

View of Danao and Cebu island from ferry
We felt a bit cheated having to go back the way we had come, but there was no alternative. As we got off the ferry in Danao a port official approached Karen and asked her for money.

Steve was well ahead and she tried desperately to ignore him. With the port gates in sight we continued but he showed amazing agility, sprinting ahead and closing the gates, blocking our exit. He said we had to pay extra for the bikes on the ferry. When Steve argued with him, saying we hadn't had to pay for them on the way out, he made us pay double!

Scrap metal and bike parts in railings in Cebu city
The road from Danao to Cebu was busy and for the first time we saw a lot of local road cyclists, out for a Sunday ride. Approaching the city the traffic got manic, with hundreds of jeepneys and 4WD's.

At least everything moved very slowly. We had booked a room at 'Kiwi Lodge' which was conveniently just a hundred metres off the main road and convenient for the Immigration
Office and the port.

The next day we had to get our visa extensions and apply for our i-cards. As we climbed out of the taxi, a man spotted Steve's shorts and ran across to hire him a pair of jogging bottoms as shorts are not allowed in the immigration office. It was busy in the visa office with lots of people waiting, but the organisation was much better than at Dumaguete, with an easy to understandable system of collecting, filling in, handing in and paying. After an hour we had another month's visa and paid for the i-cards which had to be collected in three weeks.

Cebu City to Tagbilaran (Bohol) ferry

We planned a route from the hotel to the harbour which, although along main roads, only involved right turns so once we had negotiated a first left turn it was plain sailing.  Finding the ferry was more complicated as the information on the internet was out of date.

 Having found the right pier we then had to go 100m further and round the corner to the ticket office, then over the road to another office for the freight tickets and finally go to the departure waiting area at the pier. The 11.00 ferry was fully booked so we had to wait for the 2pm departure. We wished we'd booked in advance, a lot of package holiday groups use this route.

Typical Bohol traditional house
When the ferry arrived at Tagbilaran there was chaos on the pier as two ferries were unloading passengers. They were all scrambling to find their luggage as the passengers for the return journey were trying to embark. It was difficult to find enough space to prop the bikes and clip the bags on.

We didn't ride far up the road before finding a reasonable and cheap hotel and booked in for the night.

Tagbilaran to Jagna - 67km

There was a clear blue sky today and so it was  very hot. Riding out of town we passed the 'Blood Compact Memorial', but even early in the morning there was a crowd of Chinese tourists taking photos so we didn't stop.

 The road hugs the coast and passes through some pretty towns with some surviving Spanish era buildings, though many of them could do with repair. The road was quiet and there were several long stretches right on the beach side.

It was Sunday so we had trouble finding somewhere to get food at lunchtime. It was past 1pm before we found a little eatery. The whole family came in to chat to us while we ate.

As there was no school today there were fewer 'hello's' but the roadside rest houses were full of men drinking the local rum and offering to share it with us.The sea was crowded with families cooling off.

Jagna to Mambajao (Camiguin) - 25km + ferry

There are two ferries from Jagna to Benoni on Camiguin island, a slow ro-ro and a faster passenger one. We decided to use the ro-ro as it would be easier to get the bikes on and cheaper. On the way past the port on Sunday we enquired at the ticket office to make sure that it operated on a Monday. Yes, was the answer, departing at 1.00 pm. But 24 hours later there was a notice to say that it was cancelled because of engine problems.

So there was no choice but to go on the pasenger ferry. This reduced the journey time to two hours. Compared to the other ferries we have travelled on here, this was a relatively well organised operation with a comfortable waiting room and a wide easy gangplank onto the boat so the bikes went on with the panniers on the racks. Departure was delayed by 15 mins and the journey time was nearer to 2hrs 45 mins so it was 4.30 pm before we got on the road in Camiguin with about 24km to the main resort area of the island, just beyond Mambajao.

It was an enjoyable ride, along the east coast, with the volcanoes disappearing into the clouds on our left and the ocean to the right. As usual there were hoards of children walking home from school but their greetings were very polite and respectful, with no demands for money. The road here is cement, in very good condition and flat all the way so our progress was rapid and we arrived at Mambajao in under an hour, but it was already getting dark so we needed to find somewhere fast.

The first resort we passed was full but they directed us to another place a few hundred meters along the beach called Seascape. They had a simple hut on the beach for 600 peso as well as a bar/restaurant and the sun was just setting, time to have that beer.

Camiguin circuit - 73km

With a circumference of just 65km Camiguin is a great island for a day's ride. It has a lot of things to see but a day is not enough time to do the ride as well as visit them all. We set off with a will and arrived at the old volcano, where you can climb up the steps and footpath to a viewpoint, passing the 15 sculptures depicting the Crucifiction.

 A short distance down the hill is the 'sunken graveyard' which is under the sea following  a volcanic eruption in the 18th century.

 Then there's the ruins of the church, another victim of the eruption. Taking a left turn we climbed up into the hills to swim at the 'Soda Pool'.  By now it was well past midday and still another 50km to go.

So we had to forgo the pretty waterfalls,  the hot and cold springs and the giant clams to make sure we got back to our resort before dark.

Mambajao - Day Off

Giant clam shells, victims of the last typhoon
We hired a motorbike for the day and rode back to the north to see the giant clam sanctuary. It was a lot further from the national road than we expected and there were a couple of steep hills to climb and descend on a rough track.

 We hired snorkelling gear and went with a guide to see the huge, twenty five year old clams and spent a long time chatting to the sanctuary manager and her staff while we had lunch.

Mambajao to Loboc (Bohol) - 79km + ferry

After returning to Bohol on the ferry we cycled back along the coast as far as Loboc before turning inland to cycle a couple of kilometers up the Looc valley to get to a riverside resort called 'Nut's Huts.

The easiest way to travel is by boat from just north of the village but we didn't fancy having to load all the gear onto a small boat. Instead we rode further up the road, climbing for about 1km through beautiful forest.

 At the top was a signpost pointing along a rough track off to the left. This dropped back down into the narrow river valley, ending at the top of a steep flight of steps down to the resort. The bikes could be locked in the outbuilding at the top but we had to carry the bags down to the accommodation by the river.

Loboc to San Isidro (Panglao) - 65km

View of the river, zip line starts from building top right
It was quite a toil hauling the bags back up the 400+ steps from the riverside to the track back onto the road. Riding back up the hill wasn't as bad as we remembered, but there was no option but to push up the steepest rocky sections, especially as a light shower of rain made all the surfaces very slippery. Once on the road we cruised down the hairpins and back into Loboc.

This is one of the most attractive towns we have seen, with its traditional style wooden buildings, church,  bell tower and even a small museum. From here we took the inland road back to Tagbilaran and then crossed over the causeway to Panglao Island.

Ricefield scarecrows
The weather was overcast and grey and we didn't have a detailed map of the island which didn't help us as we searched for the resort we had booked.  It started to rain, there were lots of roadworks and we ended up riding round most of the circumference of the island before we found it.

San Isidro - Days off

We hired a motorbike again to do some sightseeing around Loboc - the 'Chocolate Hills, butterfly gardens and tarsier sanctuary.

We will definately be returning here in the future to explore more by bike.

San Isidro to Tagbilaran - bus

It poured with rain all night so we expected to awake to blue skies. Instead it just got heavier and the forecast for the rest of the day suggested it would continue. This meant either booking in for another night at the resort and hoping it would pass by early tomorrow, get soaking wet cycling the 12km to Tagbilaran or get the resort owners to take us into town in the jeepney. We opted to go in the jeepney and were glad that we didn't have to ride through all the standing water on the roads.

Tagbilaran to Dumaguete - ferry

It was still raining in the morning and the ferry was due to leave at 8.30am. We had an early breakfast and checked out then had to don our rain capes for the short ride to the ferry terminal. Arriving there we were told that the morning ferry to Negros had been cancelled due to high winds at Dumaguete. If the weather improved then the afternoon one might still sail so we went back to the hotel and spent the morning in their cafe drinking coffee and using the internet.

We made many calls to the ferry offices in Dumaguete, Cebu and Tagbilaran to try to find out if the afternoon ferry would run but they went unanswered. Convinced we would be stuck for another night we returned to the ferry terminal and found that the boat was sailing.  With a four hour journey we would not arrive until 7pm. This meant that we would need to be picked up at Dumaguete as riding in the dark is far too risky there. Because of the morning's cancellation the boat was absolutely packed and the time passed very slowly.

Simon was waiting for us at the port and took us back to Atmosphere to meet up with Steve's brother and sister for a two week family holiday.

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