Nemo: found.

The final few days of this wonderful, tropical break before the onslaught of an arctic Seoul winter have been in some ways fraught with typical travelling misadventures, but in most ways glorious. From Bohol to Boracay, we were to traverse at least half way across the central Visayas islands by buses and ferries (my choice) rather than taking the hour long flight (Wonderboy’s choice) in order to spend a few days lounging on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

From Dumaguete, where I could easily have spent more time if I weren’t on a short break, the journey to Boracay by bus, ferry, bus and then another quick ferry crossing is simple, but not short. On this occasion it was less simple than usual.

We departed Dumaguete on the 8am, non air-conditioned Ceres liner; a cheap option for the 5 – 6 hour journey to Bacolod on the north-western corner of Negros. A brief tiff with the cobrador over the price of the ticket cast a pall over the start of the journey, but I had a good book with me and settled in for the ride.

The route passes over the hills in the centre of the island, where it continued to rain until mid-morning when the sun came out and lit up the emerald fields and omnipresent palms along the road. It was Sunday, and all the towns along the way were filled with people enjoying their day off. In several places the carnival atmosphere we’d encountered the day before continued, with school grounds full of groups of students and their families in what looked like school open-day celebrations.

Arriving in Bacolod in the early afternoon, we decided to head straight to the port where we hoped to pick up the ferry for the one hour crossing to Iloilo on the island of Panay. Unfortunately, we had badly miscalculated the impact Bacolod’s famous MassKara festival would have on our travel plans and arrived at the port to find all the direct ferries were full for the day. We joined the lengthy queue for Montenegro’s ro-ro ferry to Dumangas, a two hour crossing to a town a little further north, which was due to depart a couple of hours later. We queued for an hour before tickets went on sale, only to find that twenty minutes after sales commenced, all of those tickets had been taken too. Facing the choice of an even later ferry, followed by a bus journey and an eventual arrival in a town we didn’t know to try to find a hotel late at night, we dropped out of the line and decided to buy a Supercat ticket for the following morning and look for a place in Bacolod for the night.

This also turned out to be a tough job. We had found out about the MassKara (meaning masks, but also ‘many faces’) festival while we were planning our holiday, but had decided to do other things instead as we would have struggled to fit it in to our limited time, and we had also struggled to find hotels with rooms available to book. We started looking thinking that as this was the final night of the weekend everyone would be heading home for work on Monday and it might be easier to find something. We were wrong. In the end, a very helpful receptionist took pity on us and provided a list of numbers and a phone and we eventually found a place which had a room and wasn’t going to charge us five times our usual nightly budget – only double. We sucked it up and found ourselves in a very comfortable mid-range hotel for a well-earned change.

Although exhausted and irritable by the time we finally stumbled into our haven for the night, I still wanted to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity to check out what remained of the festival, and so I headed the few blocks down the main road to where a 3km stretch was closed to traffic in order to host a multitude of stages, food stalls, drinks stalls, trinket stalls, costume stalls and hundreds of roving revellers. The majority of the ‘do’ seemed over, but it was good to soak up the ‘last night of the party’ atmosphere.

The final indignity of the day came when we unloaded our cases for the night only to discover that one of them was soaked through with some kind of fish juice. The case had looked a little wet after we disembarked the bus, but it had been raining heavily in the morning and a soggy corner here or there is part of travelling. We’d also both noticed that it was heavier than usual, but neither of us had questioned why, or thought to remark on it to the other. On opening the case, it turned out it was saturated all through with some kind of greasy, fetid, stinking fish-water. Papers had to be thrown away. T-shirts rung out, even shoes dismantled and put through the shower, and the case itself scrubbed out and left upturned in front of a fan to dry overnight. Fortunately it was not the case with the laptop, camera, or passports and tickets in it. We fell asleep steeped in the aroma of hotel soap and lingering fish markets, hoping for better fortune on the next leg.

This was granted. We thanked our foresight for buying our tickets in advance when we reached the ferry terminal the next morning, as by the time we arrived our boat was sold out and there was a lengthy queue for the next one. An easy crossing, a simple taxi to the colectivo stand (just before the Ceres liner bus terminal at Tagbak) and we were on our way to cross our final island, Panay, separated from Boracay at its north-western tip by a boat ride of only ten minutes or so.

The bus journey, even in the smaller, slightly pricier minivan, was still over five hours, but the ease with which we reached our destination was a joy. The van dropped us directly at the port in Caticlan, where we purchased tickets for one of the small shuttles which leave every few minutes throughout the day, depositing workers and tourists alike on the heavenly shores of Boracay.

Sunset on White beach from station 3

Sunset on White beach from station 3

Two days of travel adventure left us in full lounging mode for the next few days. Being not only lazy, but also cheap, I opted to do nothing more than sit on beautiful beaches reading books. On the first day, I walked the length (4km) of the famous White Beach, bought some goggles and had a bit of a swim in the crystal clear waters, and read my book.

On the second day, we took a tricycle (of the motorised-with-sidecar-for-paying-passengers variety) to the far north end of the island and Puka Beach, where I swam about a bit over some rocks and coral close to the beach, and then read my book.

On the third day I did book an excursion on a glass-bottomed boat, which is painted up like Nemo and proudly advertises, “We found him!” from a banner on its side. By this time I had improvised a snorkel from two drinking straws to complement my goggles. I did this mostly through fear (extremely unwarranted, I hasten to add) of being caught out by a stray shark whilst swimming. I’m aware from a long-ago diving course that if you happen across a dangerous sea creature, you’re supposed to be as still as possible until it gets bored and chases something flappier (my paraphrasing) and I felt that I would be more confident with this tactic if I had a straw to breathe through. You can’t deny the logic, although you may question its efficacy.

Fortunately, the lovely chaps on the boat throw in snorkels and life jackets for all to enjoy, and not only did I get to see several wonderful clownfish swimming under the boat, but I also got to swim with them and a host of other colourful sea critters, not a shark in sight.

Returning to White Beach after the trip, I returned to my book and enjoyed another stunning Boracay sunset, a San Miguel, and a feeling of peace with the world.


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