14th January 2014
Time for the rhythm of travel to kick in again. Stay a few days, move, stay a few days… Today we will mostly be moving heading up to Bacolod the major city in north Negros then immediately on to Silay just for a single night stop. We read that back in the nineteenth century Silay was the epicentre of the Filipino sugar industry. Fortunes were made and they were spent on raising “ancestral homes” in a distinctly Spanish Hacienda style.
As the architecture in Silay is all we want to see we booked, the previous evening, a trike to pick us up at 6.30am giving us time to get a bus to Bacalod then on to Silay giving us time to see the sights in the afternoon then move on the next day. For me the fun of a travel holiday is in part the sights you see but equally part the travel getting to them.
Filipino travel infrastructure looks rudimentary but it is remarkably efficient and after a short wait we are climbing up into another yellow Ceres line “local” bus for our five hour cramped, bumpy, windy and dusty journey to Bacolod.
Our bags of aching, compressed bones are dropped at the Bacolod south bus terminal. The sprawling station is on both sides of the road and in common with transport hubs all over Asia it’s not automatically obvious where you should go. Also in common with transport hubs all over Asia drivers of rickshaws are all over you like an itchy rash asking where you are going.
Silay is 14km north of Bacolod so it seems logical that there will be a Bacolod North bus station. We are tired, getting a little ratty with each other and just want to get to Silay before the weather closes in too much. The thought of more time in a trike followed by yet a jaunt in another local bus is not appealing. We are not exactly paupers so we do a deal with a taxi to take us straight there. Whilst we have been trying to outrun it I think we have zero chance of avoiding the typhoon this day.
Talking about paupers, Silay has almost no obvious accommodation choices on the ground so we follow one of the guide’s recommendation and check into the Baldevia Pension House at the cheapest rate yet, 450 Pesos, about £6. We are in the room and it’s almost worth the money. Maybe for an extra 50p we would have got a toilet seat thrown in and a shower that you would not need a monkey wrench to operate. This fazes neither of us, it’s for one night and we have seen worse in India.
Evidence of the sugar trade thunders by the Main Street every few minutes. Huge lorries loaded to the gunnels with raw cane on it’s way to one of the huge sugar factories we passed on the way up here.
Like I said we have zero chance with the weather which is now awful and getting more than a little tedious. We are trying our best to be proper little tourists learning about the 19th heyday of Silay and it’s sugar barons but it is so demoralising when rain stops play and you are forced into the doors of the nearest museum.
That said, the two museums where we take refuge the Balay Negrense Ancestral and Bernardino Jalandoni ancestral houses are well worth the effort. Both houses have main accommodation on the upper floor. The former house has a quite magnificent dark wooden floor in the widest planks I have ever seen. We are told the name of the wood but immediately forget.
The latter house is perhaps a little more kitschy with it’s collection of Barbie and Ken dolls dressed in local garb. The Kens posing as General McArthur and his staff wading ashore in Leyte is particularly amusing. Both museums are staffed by ultra knowledgeable and helpful lady staff. It’s a pleasure to be in both.
There is a small window in the weather so it’s time to make a break for the rest of the sights. Chris is on a mission with a map so it’s down this street click, down that street, click. As with all previously mega wealthy towns the Church is large and impressive.
There is a mass in full swing (pun intended) but more of interest than the priest within is the really creepy way Jesus is looking out at his flock from the round stain glass window
I’ve had enough of ancestral homes and the weather so much our enemy in the past few days rides around the corner to my rescue. It’s beer o’clock and time to hunt for a bar.
It is clear that Silay is not heavily touristed as in addition to no hotels there appear to be no bars. We wander up and down Rizal Avenue in a vain attempt to find a place to drink beer that has ambiance between an ice cold brightly lit box and a dark, dirty grotto.
Chris resorts to the internationally accepted sign language for “I’m gagging for a beer” by chanting the word “bar” and tilting her right arm and head back in unison. One guy when he has picked himself off the floor laughing gesticulates up the street and we follow.
There is a bar and yes it’s a filthy little hollow with rickety benches and what suspiciously like a Karaoke machine in the corner. It’s partly full of swarthy looking Filipino men some looking already a little worse for wear. Just outside are a line of barbecue stalls cooking up pork and chicken skewers. The smoke from the charcoal drifts about the wind around the bar.
The choices are simple, a sprite in a blindingly bright 7/11 maybe an I’ll get an ice cream if I am a very good boy, back to our filthy cell block H of a room or dive into the bar.
After 3 bottles of red horse beer (extra strong) this bar is beginning to feel like home. Chris is competing with the Filipinos to see who can choose the best music from the jukebox come Karaoke machine. A big plastic wallet book serves as the music menu and offers hundreds of choices, mostly American rock and big ballads. The Filipinos like their ballads.
The local lads lead the music challenge with Aerosmith, did lead singers ever look like that? Chris counters with Tom Jones “Sexbomb” she shares thumbs up with our drinking mates before I trump them all with “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The whole world knows the words and the sight of pissed up Filipinos head banging to Queen makes the trip up here worth it on it’s own. This bar is getting more comfortable by the bottle.
Maybe this is a deliberate mistake but my final choice is the Hollies “The air that I breathe” and a microphone is thrust in front of me. There perhaps two types of Karaoke singers in the Philippines, mildly inebriated westerners and the locals who no matter what the alcohol intake take it very seriously indeed. I sing my heart out looking into my wife’s eyes more for pity than support. If the Hollies lead singer is no longer with us he will be spinning in his grave. Following my frankly pathetic attempt at Justin Haywood the challenge is met by one of our new found best drinking buddies who, taking up the mic completely wipes the floor with me with his rendition of something by Perry Como or Matt Munro.
My memory is failing me now particularly after the final 2 bottles of red horse bought for us by one of our drinking buddies, a Silay City official. He simply wanted to thank us for visiting the city. I secretly think that it was really in appreciation of my singing!
We pay our ridiculously low bill, take time to scoff barbecued pork and liver on the stagger and sway home sliding into oblivion in our prison cell which now looks strangely comfortable.