Itineraries make a traveller’s trip an organized adventure. It facilitates decision making and offers a reference point whenever the group gets out of the time schedule.
The drawback of such programmed tour, aside from being less adventurous, is less spontaneity; reason enough why hardcore backpackers rely instead on feedbacks from the locals as means to make their vacation exciting. I never really envisioned myself not having one. If you ask my friends, they know that I have this fear of communication with persons I don't really know much more with strangers.
But there came an instance when I was forced to overcome my fear. It was when Agnes and I went on a short backpacking trip in the western part of Visayas. At the province where there is a place called "City of smiles". It was during our trip to Negros Occidental.
As our day began, the first challenge was tracing our way to Sipalay Sugar beach. Fortunately, the taxi driver from the airport gave us all the information we needed. It was actually a good start as the man knew how to speak in Tagalog. But as we moved forward and got on the bus, the conductor spoke to us in Bisaya. I think he could understand what we were trying to say but he didn't know how to put the words across.
Luckily, and as my observation, people in Negros are one of the friendliest people in the Philippines. As we struggled to understand what he was trying to say, other people would chime in and translate the words in Tagalog. They were all smiling and giggling at us, making the awkward conversation a comfortable one.
That started our trip in a good way. There was an instance when the person translating told the conductor that he should know Tagalog. I was really okay with it. We were the guests so we should be the ones who had to adjust.
Anyway, growing with friends who constantly speak Bisaya, I somehow understood other parts of what he was saying. And actually, he was just trying to say the fare fee and the place where we would be alighting from the bus, but it took us about 5 minutes just to understand each other.
It was quite challenging, but seeing him smile while making us understand his words was nice. Never in Manila would you experience a person adjusting for your sake and being happy doing it.
After 5 hours of travel, we finally came to the shores of the beach. We decided to spend the day at a resort named "Sulu Sunset". The resort was nice. The only challenge was that the owner of the resort was German. And I, am not really that fluent in English.
We tried to talk and share stories about our travels. Surprisingly, it was comfortable even though we both were really trying hard to speak in English. I can hear in his voice the stuttering and difficulty in pronouncing the words but I, not to be outdone, was experiencing the same thing.
It was awkward at first but the blissful experiences and the beautiful places we shared made the talk a pleasant one. Coincidentally, we both have Palawan as our favorite province in the Philippines. We stayed at his resort up to noontime the next day then continued with our trip.
As for our next destination, we went around the tourist-friendly city of Bacolod. Once again, it was a challenge asking for directions from the locals but still, we had delightful conversations with them. They would constantly ask where we came from and pleasantly suggest other destinations we should try.
We tramped almost the whole city walking through the streets when the destination was just near. Riding their jeepneys was sort of confusing because all of the routes had "Bata" as the staging point but it was all the same fun. Talking with the drivers, speaking with other passengers, it was a new experience trying to know another language.
After the fun "hike" through Bacolod, we decided to rest at the Mambukal mountain resort. Since day 1, all of the people we've talked to suggested the place and it was actually one of the destinations we were eager to go to.
I'm not really a fan of hot springs but boy, the pools at Mambukal was one of a kind. Like an ordinary heated spring, it had the hot water but what separates it from the rest was the cold fountain splashing on your upper body while the lower was submerged in the hot pool. It was the perfect ending for a day of activities. We stayed for about an hour then afterwards, retired to our beds.
After the wakeup call, we hurriedly went back to where the hot spring was. We were supposed to be there just to see the meter-wide bats when unexpectedly, a very generous local offered a guided hike to the 7 falls of Mambukal.
We thought it would consume more time but he assured us that if we had the experience of climbing, an hour of our time would be enough to pass through until the 6th waterfall. It was a quick and energetic hike. After 30 minutes we arrived at the 6th waterfall.
There were kids diving from a 20-foot platform to the deep waters of the river. Our guide suddenly went to the higher part then jumped at almost 30 feet. I got envious and desired to brag. Other tourists were just looking at the locals diving into the waters so I decided to take the plunge.
Growing up in Nueva Ecija, diving from cliffs was normal for us. As a kid, I always loved climbing up rock faces then jumping down into the waters after the ascent. It was a good run down memory lane as my head splashed through the cold waters of the river. It was just like in Nueva Ecija but this time, I was the only grown up in the bunch of jumpers.
After the hike, we went straight to The Ruins situated at the city of Talisay. It was a mansion of an elite family burned down intentionally so that the Japanese could not use it as a strong hold.
It was a visit through our country's history. Indeed it was kind of surreal as we walked through its contours. The building was really magnificent.
After walking to one of Talisay's treasures, we went straight to the so-called "Paris of Negros". With Silay being close to the airport, we decided to take the last hours of our trip walking on its historically paved streets.
We walked from one old mansion to another relishing its awe inspiring facade, surprised by how many rich families lived in the once capital city.
After 3 hours, we were already at the airport, ready to board our plane, satisfied from our just concluded short but fun backpacking trip.
Before the start of this adventure, I was the guy who was once afraid of communicating with other people. I never really knew how to start a talk and never really knew how to make it interesting.
Thankfully, this trip made me the kind of person I am today. For just a short span of time, Negros Occidental taught me the skill of communication. I may still be some kind of stranger to others but at least now, I make sure to try talking with them.
Because of this, it made me realize that Bacolod city is truly the city of smiles and Negros Occidental, as a whole, is absolutely home to one of the most caring and friendliest people in the Philippines.
*Credits to Agnes Navales for the photos in this blog