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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

entry arrow1:03 AM | Going to Sugar Beach

Second of Six Parts

[read part 1 here]

Getting to Sugar Beach in Sipalay from Dumaguete is a matter of a four-hour road trip by car, which may necessitate a stop for lunch—if you happen to start out early in the morning—in Bayawan in Negros Oriental, or in Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental. I prefer stopping by the charming seaside boulevard of Bayawan, because the Hinoba-an stretch can be daunting in size and its, umm, “ravaged” nature. Along the Bayawan Boulevard, there are now a few, comfortably roofed food “stalls”—with box-like frames fashioned out of wood and bamboo—right along the seashore, where one can have your picking of typical, simple, small-town fare of fish stew, bistik, and what-not. This is also right beside a tabo that sells fruits and all sorts of local delicacy, so the picking can be varied and interesting. (I’m not sure though what are the proper stops when one travels by car or bus from Bacolod.)

The trip can be a breeze—and going through Basay, the last Oriental town down south can be a passage of breathtaking beauty, because Basay is where one can arguably find the most picturesque of Oriental Negrense countryside—emerald rice fields, gleaming hills, a slowly thickening growth of reforested trees, the glimmer of ocean that separates Negros from Mindanao—all of which is refreshing after the increasingly shocking wasteland of Siaton. What has happened to Bundok? This once lovely stretch of rolling plains and hills with the perfect view of Cuernos de Negros? I remember Bundok from my childhood, traveling to-and-from my hometown of Bayawan, as a place of magnificent beauty. Today, it looks like a sad desert, whose only saving grace is the sereguelas trees that dot the barren landscape. We buy two bags of the berries, and go on our way.

Past noon, we arrive at the beach at the edge of Sipalay town. That day, the ocean was a sparkling green, and the shoreline were virtual dunes of light brown, stretching far and wide, the sand dry and hot from the relentless summer hear. It was quite windy when we arrive, and a kind of sandstorm was engulfing the place. There was sand in our hair, in our clothes, in our mouth. We alight from the car, and my brother Edwin calls out to a buxom woman wearing the skimpiest of clothes. She was browned from so much sun, and was all smiles, suddenly, when she saw us. “The boat is coming in a few more minutes,” she chirps.

“Will the car really be all right, parked here?” Edwin asks. Two men were already busy loading our luggage towards the seashore. In the distance, a boat was nearing.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says.

“It looks like the waves are huge,” Moses says.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says again. She smiles more widely this time. In the five or ten minutes that we wait for the boat, she has sold Moses a sun necklace made of coconut shell and beads. The fifteen pesos it costs comes from me. “I have no change,” Moses simply tells me.

Here, for P250, one can hire a pumpboat to take us straight into the cove that is Sugar Beach, which is inaccessible from the rest of town by any form of vehicular transport. Going straight to Nauhang via Gil Montilla is the less-expensive alternative (a bangka across the narrow stretch of Nauhang River only costs P5 per head)—but it is more of a hassle in terms of transport negotiation, and the bangka may not be big enough to handle the capacity of oversized luggage. Even for its sheer expense, the 15-minute boat ride straight into Sulu Sea and then a gentle U-turn right into the embrace of cove is perhaps the more dramatic way of landing into paradise. The sloping waves certainly were dramatic, and so we quickly learned to distract ourselves by singing the most inane Broadway songs. We went from a repertoire consisting of hits from Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables, and finally to this one pop song from the 1980s that has become an icon of pathetic anti-feminist warbling—“I’ve Been to Paradise (But I’ve Never Been to Me).” That Moses—mad chameleon and minstrel—knows the entire lyrics of the song is hardly a surprise, and so we sing along, singing louder as the crest grows, and laughing all the way through. We sail through the waves and into the bay singing pathetic songs.

In the stretch itself, a few resorts have put up shop, each one connected to each other by a charming sandy road lined on each side by the most rudimentary of markers—coconut husks. Each one is distinct from the other in terms of, for lack of a better word, “character.” For instance, Takatuka, the first resort in the stretch (and perhaps the smallest and most compact) nearest the small village of Langub, is where the majority of the foreign tourists stay. This is also the more playful and colorful in the bunch, as if a child’s playground has mated with a tropical island, and has birthed this kaleidoscopic hybrid of a place. But the kitsch of its design is never overwhelming, and the place has an easy feel to it. The food is surprisingly good.

Bermuda Beach Resort right next to it is the more sedate, the most “typically” resort-ish of all the resorts in the place—but I would wish for better care of its grounds (especially the rear section), faster service (an order of French fries took forever), and better lighting for its rooms. (My room had two incandescent bulbs, two electric outlets with one socket each, and one small electric fan which I had to unplug when I wanted to charge my phone—and that was about it. Travel on the cheap? Surely. But…)

The resort at the farthest end is a hulk of a “modern” house—and you will forgive me if I don’t mention it at all: it is an eyesore of “modernity” that is out of character from the place. I always believed that one way anyone can contribute to the beauty of any place they love is to have things, like houses, blend well with the things we love about it. Langub Beach Resort right next to it is exactly the same thing: a crass collection of cottages that nevertheless attract the hoi polloi. Because it is cheap, this is where the locals—transients who mostly stay for a day—go and frolic. Sulu Sunset Resort right next to it is also charming enough—but the staff, or at least this diminutive young girl who tends the bar, is rude. I order brewed coffee—twice—and she gives me a look that is a cross between apathy and boredom; she never answers back, and goes back, petulantly, to her texting. Only when she is done sending the message does she sashay over, asks me what I wanted, frowns a little, and goes about her way to fill-up my order. And when my bacon sandwich finally arrives, it is a hulk of a thing with barely any bacon, its bread crumbly at the touch. It falls apart before I can even take a bite.

Driftwood Resort does not look like much from the outside—it has a rustic look to it and the place blends perhaps too well with its surrounding trees and plants—but it has the most character of all places in Sugar Beach, which is certainly not for everybody, save perhaps if you are a backpacker who knows the real deal of traveling with character. There is just something about Driftwood that seems entirely right for the very nature of Sugar Beach: a laidbackness that does not feel lazy, a charm that does not feel manufactured, a coziness that does not overwhelm. It helps that its bar is the most happening on the stretch—Sugar Beach’s equivalent of a night life, which is something considering that all you have is a snooker table, a pool table, and a sandy-floored bar. It helps matters—especially when you’ve had too much to drink for the day—that the staff is chirpy and helpful, even reopening the kitchen way past midnight, simply because we want a little chicken mami soup to go with our beer. It attracts a young European crowd, and this is where I meet Henrik, a 23-year-old Norwegian, a bartender on a five-month tour of Southeast Asian beaches—and we talk about snow and midnight suns and Moro pirates and literature and dead Norwegian authors.

“Henrik,” I say.

“You are the first Filipino I’ve met so far who can ever pronounce my name right,” he says.

He is on his twenty-fifth bottle of Pale Pilsen, or so he says, and I am on my sixth San Miguel Lite. I am tipsier than he is.

“That’s because I know Ibsen.”

“You know Ibsen?”

“I’m a literature teacher in university.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“I thought you were a college student.”

My liver expands—and I decide it is time to go home and catch up on sleep.

To be continued…

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