On a purely superficial level, when you tell people that you’ve been to the Philippines, the first thing they want to know about is what the beaches are like. Or rather, to be more precise, they want to know about one beach in particular: Boracay.
To be fair, I can’t say I blame people for asking about Boracay; for two years it’s been named Asia’s number one beach on Trip Advisor, and it’s topped global lists as the best beach in the entire world. Known for its white sand beaches and pretty-as-a-postcard sunsets, Boracay is THE island paradise that everyone is clamoring to visit.
But not Tony and me.
Every year Bacalod throws a four day bender that centers around dance troupes from the various barangays (neighborhoods) competing for prizes and prestige. Born of desperate times when Bacolod was on the verge of ruin, MassKara was meant to be a way of laughing in the face of despair and rising up despite having nothing to stand on. Really, its existence is remarkable and typifies the spirit of the Philippines we had so quickly come to love, so it seemed like the perfect festival for us to be a part of. Celebration, spectacle, and food in the Philippines. The costumes are elaborate, the floats are ornate and the party is amazing.
We had been in Dumaguete for three days and were looking for something to do outside the city. The noise and the heat was getting to us and we were itching for a good day trip. I had read that there were a couple of really great waterfalls not even 15 kilometers from the city and that they could both easily be done in a day. We decided to rent a motorbike through our hostel and have an adventure.
Sans Rival. The name is a whispered hosanna on every Filipino’s lips. Filipinos love to eat, especially sweets, so the walls of Sans Rival, a purveyor of desserts, are nearly as hallowed as the Catholic church that sits proudly in the middle of Dumaguete.
Sans Rival. A French name for a Filipino bakery that was established in 1977, it means “without rival”. It is a statement, a promise, a challenge.
Trite as they may be, sometimes there are real pearls of wisdom to be found in the old bromides we break out when the seas of life get choppy. When our first attempt at snorkeling in the Philippines left us rather underwhelmed, rather than hanging up our mask and fins, I simply embraced the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and became all the more determined to find a slice of underwater paradise for us to explore.
Check any guidebook and it is likely to describe Dumaguete, the capital city of the province of Negros Oriental, as charming. Full stop, no qualifiers. But chances are that if you are the kind of person who would benefit from a guidebook, your definition of the word “charming”—like mine—is very different from how it is used in the Philippines.
When we decided to start our trip in Asia, the thing we might have been looking forward to the most was the food. From sushi in Japan to bahn mi sandwiches in Vietnam to fragrant and spicy curries in Thailand and India, we could not wait to start eating our way through the continent. And that doesn’t even take into all the new foods we would discover along the way, like Malaysian food, Cambodian cuisine, and… Filipino fare?
I never feel as exhilarated or as free as I do when I’m riding a motorcycle. Maybe I’ve got something of a daredevil streak in me that motorcycles allow me to indulge, but there are few things that give me the visceral joy that I experience when I’m zipping along on two wheels, the wind gently caressing my face. It’s by far my favorite way to travel, as it lets me feel far more connected to my surroundings than I do in a car or even a train; there’s nothing between me and the world but the air I breathe deep into my lungs.
Enough preamble—we’ve read your comments and we know that all you really want to know about the Philippines is what the beaches were like. Can’t say we blame you, as when we headed to Bohol, we were planning to spend scads of time lolling about on white sand beaches and frolicking in the ocean.
Before we left on our Big Trip, the Philippines was a place we casually considered visiting, but it never officially made it onto our itinerary. Truth be told, the only reason we ended up there is because in our desperate bid to get out of China, it was the cheapest place we could escape to; and so it was that within 72 hours of purchasing our tickets, we were touching down in Manila.
We landed in Manila just after four in the morning. After a restless flight from Shanghai, stuffed into overcrowded and under-cushioned seats, the adrenaline of our “escape” from China had worn off and we were in a fog. Bleary-eyed and fatigued, we shambled off the plane and down the jet bridge towards customs. Walking down the brightly lit concourse, the only sounds were the echo of our footsteps and the occasional murmur of the other passengers from our flight. Manila Ninoy was deserted and we felt a little odd wandering through cavernous arrival halls on our own.