Hello Negros.

I had left you, dear reader, on my last night on Boracay, sleeping in my friends bar due to lack of a bed and jumping off the next morning for who knows where.  Actually, I did know where.  When "planning" this trip, and I use the term loosely, I had absolutely no idea where I was going to go after Boracay.  I knew I wasn't going to go South to Mindanao as that is not a safe place at present.  I have just heard of another Australian being kidnapped and apparently they have set the ransom at $US 2 million.  Well, nobody is going to pay that kind of money for me and there is only so much rice and fish I can eat, so I'll give it a swerve.  I was bound for the wonderful island o Negros, where I still find myself today, having become somewhat marooned on a sea of travelling inertia, enjoying a wonderful and somewhat interesting lifestyle.  I shall regale you with stories of playing gigs, riding with "outlaw" bike clubs, the small matter of a 6.9 earthquake and much more besides, but all in good time.

The photo above shows my parting glimpse of Boracay, and I was sad to leave but it was a little touristy and I wanted to see new places.  I had had a great time there with the VT gang and I may well go back some time but time to go.  The VT reference leads on to where I was going.  Even before I had left UK, I had corresponded a fair amount with a VT member called Buena (VT name buenababe if you want to look her up) who was a great source of information and seemed very pleasant.  I know she may read this and I don't want to embarrass her but she is an absolute star and I am glad to have her as a friend.  Having heard of my lack of direction, both general and specific, she suggested the island of Negros was worth looking at, and specifically her home town of Bacolod.  Well, it was as good a plan as any other.

Off the banqua and onto a bus, a Ceres Liner.  Ceres are the main bus company here and they drive big yellow buses.  They are to be feared.  There is a joke that Ceres drivers are taught that if they run over someone, they should reverse to finish the job as it involves less writing and hospital costs for the company.  Well, I think it is a story but having seen them drive, I am not sure.  Have a look at the inside of the bus.  Four seats in a row are not nearly enough, so they distribute little plastic kiddie seats for people to sit in the aisle.  This is fairly standard practice throughout Southeast Asia.

A seven hour journey took me to the Souther port town of Iloilo, and try pronouncing that one!  It would have been a lot quicker but the buses stop everywhere.  There is no concept of bus stops except in the major towns where the stations is the place and people can flag down what is effectively an intercity coach wherever they want.  Here is what one of the murderous beasts looks like.

Eventually, we got to Iloilo and the bus sttion, as usual, is three days bloody camel ride from anywhere.  I am actually convinced that the siting of bus stations is controlled by the taxi / trishaw / pedicab / jeepney etc, mafias, and this is the same all over Southeast Asia.  In the absence of a local bus system, they have a captive market.  Iloilo bus station is about 6 km. from the centre.

Naturally, the drivers scented blood and swarmed about me like they usually do.  The long nse (as they call us here) means easy money and a ripoff.  The first two quoted me ridiculous amounts and were politely told where to go.  A third driver quoted a sensible price but explained in barely comprehensible English that I would have to share with two ladies whom he indicated.  No problem, I can do that.  Ten minutes were wasted whilst he tethered all our luggage to the roof with a grotty bit of twine evidently salvaged off a fishing boat.  This was totally unecessary as there was ample room for it inside.  The ladies naturally sat in the cab and I was on the rear seat, facing backwards.  Not too much headroom but not too bad.  Well, not too bad until he took off anyway.  My God, it was terrifying.  It is scary enough looking forward at where one of these phsycopaths is driving but doing it backwards is a scene from Hell.  Why do you think some of the scariest rollercoasters go backwards or in the dark.  I was hanging on for dear life but managed to snap this one image.

As you see, we are barrelling down what is meant to be the hard shoulder, strewn with parked vehicles, with the distinct possibility that anoy of the vehicles could turn left and wipe us out at any point.  A tortuous route later we arrived at a shopping centre.  Silly me, I thought that the ladies were also going to the ferry port.  Wrong.  They were going to get a shuttle bus to the airport at completely the other end of town.  Brilliant, bloody brilliant.  The last ferry goes at 1700 and irt is now gone 1600.  Another five minutes to untie the baggage and then he wheels it for the ladies into the place (obviously in search of a tip).  Back he comes, and insists on tying my one small bag on the roof again.  In the name of all that is holy, why?  There was more than enough room inside.

Indicating my watch, he shrugged and took off.  If the first half of the journey was scary, this was positively suicidal.  He clipped his wing mirror twice and never even thought about stopping.  Utter lunacy.  Somehw or another he managed to get me to the ferryport and I got my ticket etc., went through the very rigorous security and onto the boat, shown in the picture above.

Now imagine the scene.  I have been texting Buena (yes, I know, people that know me, I can actually text now!) and she had insisted on picking me up from Bacolod ferryport and had indicated we were going straight to dinner.  Well, four hours kip, ten hours on bus and sea in stinking hot conditions and the trishaw ride from Hell with all the heat and dust left me marginally short of my fragrant best.  Into the heads as I believe they are called on boats.  The thing is pitching and tossing on a fairly choppy sea and the stripwash and change of clothes was quite an operation but I managed it.

Buena, fellow VT member Gregg (Canadian guy and a really nice bloke) and Buena's mate Kenny turned up in Kenny's pickup and off we go.  We arrive at a strip of restaurants on a quiet little road and go into one.  Sure, table reserved for eight as we had more friends coming.  Great.  First thing Buena says is, "Come on, we are going to the market."  OK, so she has forgotten to buy something that day and we are not all assembled yet.  Wrong.  The next portion is a cut and paste from my VT pages as I am not going to sit and retype it.

"A two minute walk brought us to a very good fish market, which I shall deal with in a seperate tip, and she started to load up on "fruits de mer" like I have never seen. Scallops, various fish, huge prawns, minced crab meat, it was all there and I am sure I have forgotten something. As she did, she explained the principle to me. You go to market, buy what you like and the restaurant charges for cooking to your requirments and presumably making a few pesos on the drinks.  Here it is in the raw state.

I think I am right in saying that this is what the word tulahan means as all the restaurants on the strip were X,Y and Z Tulahan. I stand to be corrected if this turns out to be the area name!

The food was deposited with the chef and we sat down for a bit of conversation. This place was popular and I was glad we had the reservation. In contrast, many of the other places seemed nearly empty. I am a great believer in local knowledge and these guys really knew what they were about in picking this place.

The food began to arrive and it was truly fit for a king, brought out at reasonable intervals, but there was just so much of it. Unfortunately, the five photo rule on tips does not allow me to show you all the dishes but we feasted on the most succulent grilled prawns in sauce, minced crabmeat with a few bits and pieces mixed through and grilled scallops which were cooked to perfection. Next up was a soup particular to the Philippines which features large lumps of fish in a broth which is flavoured with a slightly sour local ingredent, the name of which I cannot now remember. Gregg wasn't so sure but I really liked it. A couple of huge tuna steaks done in a local sauce with a few onions completed the meal.

I cannot stress again how good the food was and I am guessing at prices and comparative expensiveness as Buena embarrassingly insisted on paying for all of it, so do not take these figures as accurate, I have picked the median in each case as I genuinely do not have a clue. Asking would have been hugely impolite, even from another VT member who writes tips! Also remember that you provide your own ingredients which further complicates the issue.

If you are not fortunate enough to have Philippino friends, do not be put off. I spoke to a Croatian guy who had heard about the place, asked where the market was, came back with some produce and was happily tucking in as we left."

Here are a few pics to give you an idea of the finished article.

 Trust me, it was every bit as good as it looks.

Tired and replete, I could have done with a sleep but the night was not yet over.  However, we have already had one power cut today so I will save this and continue shortly.  I don't want to lose 90 minutes work.  Yes, that is how long it takes me to keep you up to speed on my progress.  I just hope someone is reading it.  Please drop me a small comment if you are.

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