Saturday, August 3, 2019

(Big) Island Hopping

From the powdery beaches of Boracay to the familiar boulevard of Dumaguete

Travel date: 17-30 July 2019
Destinations: Kalibo, Boracay Island, Mararison Island, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Dumaguete City
Images: Gregg Yan


At the ridge-side of Lantawan Peak in Mararison Island with mainland Antique in the background || GREGG YAN
At the ridge-side of Lantawan Peak in Mararison Island with mainland Antique in the background

At the height of Habagat season, we agreed to take two weeks off to cross the island of Panay in Western Visayas towards Dumaguete in Negros Oriental. I would have done it solo, as usual, but since a few moons ago, adventures and excursions have become a pleasant joint affair.

Melt-in-your-mouth oysters for lunch

Our adventure started in Kalibo, the almost-city capital of Aklan province. I met him at the arrival gate just as the torrential rain stopped and let his plane disembark. We then walked a couple hundred meters, dodging puddles and tourist vans, to catch a late dinner and beer. The following day, we negotiated a tricycle ride (aka the taxis of the old that would bring you literally anywhere at the right price) to New Washington where I almost cried eating melt-in-your-mouth fresh oysters.

Oysters are filter feeders that eat plankton and algae. They are a low-trophic type of seafood, which means that they sit very low on the food chain and are sustainable and low-impact sources of food. Although plant-based food will always be my go-to, locally-sourced and sustainably-produced food is the higher goal.

Two pairs of clean feet with slipper tan lines on powder-fine white side in Boracay Island || GREGG YAN
Two pairs of clean feet with slipper tan lines on powder-fine white sand in Boracay Island

Switching to beach mode

Later in the afternoon, I found myself in awe (for the nth time) of White Beach in Boracay. The wind was blowing strongly, the sand was white and powdery as ever, the waves rolled in one after the other, and my eyes twinkled and smiled in a heart-shaped manner. The carpet of tourists that stretched from Station 1 to 3 even added to its appeal and energy.

For the next seven days, we got out of bed late, walked 10,000 steps, ate both cheaply and expensively, sought random adventures, and drank beer before bed. Laptop work was pushed to the back-burner, but only because internet was not available where it should be.

On most afternoons, we headed out to White Beach and played like kids, either in the water or on the sand. On others, we walked into luxury resorts and enjoyed their amenities, sometimes with a resort fee and sometimes for free.

One high-energy activity that we did though, was horse-back riding. We trotted across golfing hills and galloped down beach coves -- by "we" I mean "95% him, 1% me, and 4% our guide". It was my real first experience and it didn't seem as scary or dangerous as I thought. I also didn't expect it to be extremely exhausting.

A trio of jolly horse-back riders at the golf course of Fairways and Bluewater in Boracay Island || GREGG YAN
A trio of jolly horse-back riders at the golf course of Fairways and Bluewater in Boracay Island

Tiny but terrible Mararison

By day 9, heavy rains have descended onto the paradise island. Luckily, we were already on the move towards the tiny island of Mararison in Antique.

Accessible from Culasi Port via a 20-minute boat ride, Mararison* Island (aka Malalison Island) is a 55-hectare hook-shaped picturesque island that features rolling hills, white sand beaches, marine sanctuaries, and a welcoming community. It offers a feast for outdoorsmen and nature lovers with its varied hiking trails, long stretches of sand, and protected snorkelling sites, not to mention it has a cave, a lake, an islet, a solar power plant, and mobile and internet signal.

After asking about local celebrities who have visited and of local spots to check out, we followed Ate Jiji to catch the sunset from Lantawan Peak, all the while badgering her with a million questions and a thousand photographs. She shared both her personal history and her island's history while we posed on steep slopes and beside pitcher plants.

The following morning, we were up and about way before my set alarm. We set out to comb the entire beach for sea glass**, finding some rare colors, and ended up walking over marble boulders at the other side of the island. On the way, we saw kids burying each other in the sand, so-called "jackstones" that break down incoming waves, a washed-up porcupine fish with pouty lips, and several typhoon-damaged house ruins.

*"Mararison" also translates to "the naughty kid/sibling" in the local dialect. Mararison Island is part of a trio of small islands located west off the coast of Antique, together with Maniquin Island and Batbatan Island. It is presumably "the naughtiest" of the three island-siblings.
**Sea glass refers to shards of broken glass that have been weathered by the sea, thus acquiring a frosted appearance and smoothened edges.

I paused to pose with my full travelling pack before boarding our boat at Culasi Port in Antique || GREGG YAN
I paused to pose with my full travelling pack before boarding our boat at Culasi Port in Antique

Quickie in the city

After a 6-hour, semi-comfortable, stop-and-go ride aboard a non-air-conditioned Ceres bus, we arrived at our internet- and cable-equipped, white linen-dressed, standard hotel room in Iloilo City. It was an opportunity to catch up with some laptop work and to get some quality sleep, but only for the next 15 hours.

Newspaper hunting in inasal country

Despite the battering rain, we managed to get a taxi to the fastcraft terminal in Iloilo City. The two-hour fastcraft ride to Bacolod City seemed out-of-budget at Php300, but it does include a free movie chosen by whichever midshipman has the remote. In this case, it was Alita: The Battle Angel.

Arriving at Bacolod City, our priorities shifted between getting lunch and finding a newspaper -- both ridiculously difficult goals at that time -- before running out of buses. It was already 3pm and buses run only until 8pm to Dumaguete, which is at least a further 6 hours away.

Almost synonymous to chicken inasal*, or Filipino grilled chicken, majority (if not all) restaurants in Bacolod City specialized in some variation of chicken inasal, while non-meat dishes were unthinkable. We ended up at Manokan Country, a line of local, independent restaurants all dedicated to the local delicacy. I was already settling for rice and plain soup but thought oysters might be okay. Well, I was immobilized with a stomachache the next day.

While I was saving our table at Manokan Country, he made a run to the local central market where newspapers were allegedly found. This was after checking convenience stores, coffee shops, supermarkets, newspaper stands, and bookstores for that Sunday's issue of the Manila Bulletin, the country's largest English language broadsheet newspaper by circulation. At a time when paper publications are dying and in a region where Panay News dominates, it took a great deal of inconvenience, hustling and asking around to grab one of few copies of Manila Bulletin's Panorama.

With these goals ticked, we settled into our air-conditioned Ceres bus seats and drifted to sleep.

*Inasal, esp. chicken inasal, refers to a method of grilling chicken that originated in the City of Bacolod. Typically, specifically-cut chicken parts are marinated in a mixture of calamansi, pepper, coconut vinegar, and annatto then grilled over hot coals, and served with rice, soy sauce, chicken oil, and sinamak.

All smiles and some wine for these nature- and environment-minded peeps || GREGG YAN
All smiles and some wine for these nature- and environment-minded peeps

A meeting of green minds

It was the start of the week and the end of our trip. Work duties have been knocking so we began to transition back to our work routines. This just meant drinking coffee, getting up before 9am, sitting in a cafe or restaurant somewhere, and typing on our laptops.

Additionally, we met up with friends of mine and friends of his for dinner and drinks. This consisted of people from different backgrounds and hometowns who all ended up in Dumaguete that night, primarily because of environment- and conservation-related work. Over Italian-style mushroom pasta, hard goat cheese, gin and tonic, and the requisite San Miguel beer, we exchanged stories from the wild, from previous travels, and of ridiculous anecdotes. Passion and compassion were shared around without actually being said and it felt very comfortable and familiar.

A few hours later, at the break of dawn, we were back in Manila and having a second round of breakfast at McDonald's.

Treasures from the sea: inorganic, differently-colored shards of glass [left] and organic, algae-eating mollusks [right] || GREGG YAN
Treasures from the sea: inorganic, differently-colored shards of glass [left] and organic, algae-eating mollusks [right]

Sun-down silhouettes: a mid-air taekwondo kick, a paddle boat instructor, last-light beach-bathers; last-trip paraw sails || GREGG YAN
Sun-down silhouettes: a mid-air taekwondo kick, a paddleboard instructor, last-light beach-bathers; last-trip paraw sails

The oft-called Batanes of the Visayas: rolling hills, grass lands, ocean views, distant clouds, sunset glow || GREGG YAN
The oft-called Batanes of the Visayas: rolling hills, grassy lands, ocean views, distant clouds, sunset glow