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11th January 2014

It seems that the weather pattern is set. Still, dry but grey in the morning followed by an afternoon of rain showers, some long and heavy, before returning to stillness when the sun has set. We travel in the mornings so that keeps us dry but it makes for a miserable afternoon when we want to do things. Chris is especially unhappy as travelling eight thousand miles is supposed to guarantee sunshine.

We stayed overnight in Dumagete purely as a transit point to pick up the bus heading for the reputedly fine beaches around Sipalay around 200km north of us. A short trike ride deposits us at the Ceres line bus terminal at around 7am. The guide suggests that to get where we want to be we have to make 2 changes of bus and that the total journey time is going to be in the order of 6 hours.

When we ask at the station we only have to change once and the first leg leaves in 20 minutes so we sit at dirty and rickety old wooden benches drinking coffee and munching hard boiled eggs.

The bus to Bayawan is the AC express. It’s modern, comfortable and the driver has no aspiration to be Lewis Hamilton. The 3 hours to where we change at Bayawan passes so smoothly I sleep for the majority of it.

Towns in the Philippines have a tendency to look the same. The only differences are on of scale. Bayawan is no different, dirty concrete box buildings flank a dusty careworn street. Aged advertising hoardings are everywhere competing with what I like to call “Asian wire”. Wires are everywhere in Asia strung at low roof top level between endless ugly concrete pylons. It is almost impossible to get a photo of any town without getting a lens full of power and telephone cable.

We have 40 minutes to kill so we head off in the vain hope of finding decent fresh brewed coffee. No chance but we do find a bar that serves Halo Halo a kind of milk drink with crushed ice and sections of brightly coloured jelly. It sounds disgusting, looks like something you might dream about when you are 8 years old but it is in fact very refreshing.

The bus for the second leg is a different animal from the first. It’s older, larger and more dented and has a driver that thinks Lewis Hamilton pilots a pedal car. It has seats so narrow that make Ryanair seem like BA first class. Seats are arranged in rows of three either side of the aisle. I’m not especially big but three of these seats would only just accommodate two of me but I spend most of the journey pressed hard up against the side of the bus being blown to smithereens by the open window.

Off our driver thunders at speeds you might not think possible in a town so choked with tricycles one hand on the wheel the other pressed firmly on the horn. Its something that you just have to get used to. Not thinking about the bus that was driven off an overpass in Manila a couple of months back killing 13 helps.

This is the “local” bus to Bacolod so it stops any and everywhere to pick up and drop off and takes much longer. We want to get down at Sipalay so have no choice.

The buses have what we lost many years ago, conductors. They are all men are short on words and have prodigious memories. Passengers are jumping on the bus every couple of minutes or so and the conductor will note where they are sitting. Every 10 or fifteen minutes he will sweep up and down the aisle taking fares. In one hand he has a ticket book which is tied at the top firmly with elastic bands. In the other between his knuckles he has folded Peso bills. If he can make the change exactly by one of these bills he hands it over straight away. If as in my case he needs to collect more coins he waits until he has enough from other fares before handing it over. His other function is to signal to the driver when to stop and when to go. This he does by rapping his ticket punch on the metal ceiling or making a noise between a whistle and a grunt. I try to ascertain which means stop and which means go with no success.

Every few kilometres we pass another yellow Ceres bus going the other way with it’s lights flashing. Both buses stop and an inspector with an official looking badge transfers from one bus to the other. Both buses then resume their journey. The inspector leafs through and scrutinises carefully the conductors ticket book while making notes on a folded piece of scrubby paper. Occasionally he will question a passenger briefly. When he is happy with what he is paid to be happy with he passes the ticket book back to the conductor then waits for the next yellow bus to pass in the opposite direction before transferring to presumably start the process again. Perhaps not oddly, we were never questioned throughout the whole journey.

At various points on the journey the bus would stop at a checkpoint, the engine stops and the driver and conductor will get off and sit in an open shack with another bloke with an even more official looking badge who makes notes in a bigger but no less grubby ledger. I have no clue what they are doing but it’s fascinating all the same.

These points are clearly well know as vendors of snacks jump on the bus with baskets of crisps, nuts, hard boiled eggs, cakes and pies in hand. They all shout what they are selling at full volume and the produce is all ridiculously cheap. A couple of eggs for 5 Pesos, fried banana with a caramel sugar coating for 10.

Finally after 4 hours of bum numbing crushed torture it is time for us to get down at Sipalay. We have a choice of 2 nearby beach resorts “Sugar” beach about 8km north and Punta Ballo the same distance to the south. We select the latter as by all accounts one can snorkel from the beach. As its the afternoon the rain has started and we spend a very damp 15 minutes in a trike heading down to the beach.

Punta Ballo is a small Barangay on the hill behind another fine beach. There are 3 quite isolated resorts on the beach itself and we are dropped at the northern end at the “Artistic” dive resort. They have a cottage available but only for one night. We want to stay for three so will have to change to a small hovel of a room above the bar for the other two nights. It’s the weekend and the beach is busy with Filipinos.

Whilst Chris views the rooms at the Artistic I have a wander down the beach to have a quick look at the other two “resorts”. Robinsons@Cruse (pun intended I’m sure) and the first, most well established and most expensive Easy Diving at the southern end. They are all full so it’s a night at the Swiss German owned Artistic full of weekending Filipinos.

The weather is now appalling so there is nothing to it but to wander down the beach to the bottle shop I spied a little earlier, buy another bottle of Tanduay rum and do what a Brit is supposed to do when on holiday.

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