Some countries have a natural tourist circuit. In New Zealand we traveled from the North to the South, stopping at most of the popular sites along the way. We even saw some of the same people at various points on the route. With 7107 islands, the Philippines has no natural circuit, at least that we could discern. The Philippines is organized into three primary geographical areas: Luzon in the North, Mindanao in the South, and the Visayas in between. Our only plan on arrival was to travel north to the mountains of Luzon for the 2000-year old rice terraces at Banaue and to travel south for beaches and diving. While in Manila, after several hours of relatively uninformed discussion and debate we decided to head towards the Visayas, and first to Sugar Beach near Sipalay on Negros island. We chose Sipalay after reading that it was relatively untouristed, despite its beautiful palm lined beaches. It was also a natural starting point for a tour around the Visayas.
After flying from Manila to Bacolod, on Negros, we traveled four hours south by bus to Sipalay. We’d arranged accommodation from Manila, and on arrival our resort sent a boat for us. Sugar Beach is accessible by land, but a rough road and river crossing make the boat a faster and far easier option. We waded to shore and walked across the beach to the Sulu Sunset Beach Resort.
Once we’d settled into our cottage we quickly fell into what would become our routine for the next three days. The daytime hours were hot but not unpleasant, benefiting from a consistent cooling breeze, and we spent our time reading and occasionally swimming. In late afternoon, with the sun lower in the sky, we would emerge from the shade of the resort to walk along the beach. At sunset we’d watch the local fisherman set out in their small outrigger canoes.
The resort’s few other inhabitants included Jogi, the German owner who rarely strayed from his stool at the end of the bar. He initially appeared a little rough around the edges, but chewing the fat with Jogi quickly became one of our favorite activities. He’d lived in the Philippines for over twenty years and owned the resort for about ten. Starting with only a few tents he soon added a restaurant and bar, and then a collection of small cottages. Jogi had little enthusiasm for an improved road, which would have made construction much easier but would undoubtedly bring more tourists and bigger resorts. During the slow season, which was rapidly approaching, he returned to Germany to work in construction for several months. The most difficult part of his annual transition to the western world was having to wear shoes.
We appreciated Jogi’s German attention to detail, particular with respect to the room lighting. The cottages had halogen overhead lights and bedside reading lamps instead of the woefully inadequate single fluorescent typical of budget accommodation in the Philippines.¹
Time passed generally unnoticed at Sugar Beach. Most of the four or five other guests at Sulu Sunset seemed to lack any definite plans to leave, or had at least stayed longer than originally intended. Without the regular weekly trip to Sipalay for the Friday market it’s likely that the day of the week would be forgotten entirely. Although tempted to prolong our stay, we had only a 21-day visa and high hopes for other destinations in the Philippines, so we reluctantly packed our bags, paid our bill, and headed for the boat.