It is rarely that I will write a tip about something and tell you not to do it, or at least not without caveats but this is one of these occasions. It concerns a place locally known as Coco Village and you really do not want to go there unless you are with someone who is known there. So why am I including it? Well, firstly because it will give the reader an insight into a side of Negros Oriental normally closed to travellers and if the reader should be able to organise it, it is a fascinating experience.
There are many "shanty towns" all over the Philippines where the levels of poverty are almost incomprehensible to a Westerner and this is one of them. It is effectively a community built on swamp land so poor it cannot be developed, with no road access and only a central pump for water. When it rains, the entire site ends up under a foot or two of water and mud. I was told that people pay 200 pesos a year to live there. That is about £3 or less than $5. A year. It really puts things into perspective.
Literally a week before I visited, the only viable vehicle access to the place was closed off when the land adjacent (higher and drier) was bought and fenced off. I saw several scooters sitting in the settlement and I genuinely do not see how they are going to get them out to the road. Undoubtedly, they will find a way.
I was taken there by a European friend whose girlfriend lives nearby and is well-known so I was told we would be OK and so it proved, but I must stress that you need to be with someone. There is much anecdotal evidence of shootings, stabbings and all sorts going on down there, and the police just do not bother visiting the place. Nothing is ever reported anyway.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I made my way down the tiny dirt path, over the bench and tyres you can see in the image and into the maze of alleys and dwellings that makes up the community here. Not many Westerners get down this way and we were greeted with a mixture of surprise from the adults and fascination from the children. I suppose I do look a little odd to them with the long beard etc. Whilst surprised, the people were friendly enough and we watched the lads playing basketball on the court that forms the communal area of the settlement and had a bit of fun playing with the youngsters. We were offered tuba, the local home-made alcohol but declined on the basis that 1. we were riding motorbikes and 2. it tastes like deisel!
After a few minutes and a couple of photos, we made our way back to the road. I must say that even living in such primitive conditions, everyone looked presentable in clean clothes and the kids all looked scrubbed and tidy. I really do not know how they manage it. I shall let the images give you an idea of what it is like.
It was a fascinating time and I am really glad I did it. I wonder how many of the expats eating European food every night on the Boulevard in Dumaguete even know this place exists.
In my travels, such as they have been and so much more still to do, it never ceases to amaze me the things you can find in the unlikliest places, often by pure chance and this is the case here.
I had enquired around Dumaguete from both locals and long-term expats as to what I should see snd do on my visit and was told that a visit to the Twin Lakes was an absolute must and so I decided to take the motorbike up there one day. Things had conspired a little against me and I was quite late in the afternoon and I eventually decided against the lakes this particular afternoon after taking advice from a local man. I did visit later and they were spectacular but that is a seperate tip.
I had almost ridden past the church you see depicted and almost disregarded it but my natural curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look in. There was one workman asleep on a table in a little shelter beside the church but it was a warm afternoon and he had probably had a hard day. Letting sleeping workmen lie, as it were, I had a bit of a look round. The first thing I noticed was something that could only hapen in Asia. The front "door" to the church was actually a wrought iron gate and secured with a stout padlock as you can possibly see in one of the image. OK, I can understand that. What completely baffled me however was the fact that the rear of the building was completely open to afford a view of the shrine, as you can see, thereby rendering the rendering the padlock about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine.
I had a look round the church and shrine / grotto and was about to leave when, on a whim, I had a look inside the shelter of the now semi-conscious labourer. I was absolutely astounded at what I saw. Alongside a few old and very faded photographs was a complete story painted onto the whitewash and describing an alleged miracle that happened on this very spot on the 4th March, 1994. The story goes as follows.
A medical team accompanied by an Army security detail was in the area attendingt to the medical needs of the fairly por rural community in this barangay of Cambaloctot. All of a sudden, all those present apparently witnessed the sun advancing and receding, dancing in the sky and appearing as if in a prism. This was apparently witnessed by a number of the group including some of the soldiers, not normally noted for being overly superstitious. I am not a religious man, nor do I believe in miracles, but it seems hard to explain so many people having the same experience.
From my research I am unclear as to whether the shrine was here previously or indeed the Church but if you are going up to the Lakes under your own steam, it is worth stopping. If you are3 utilising one of the bikes that ply for hire to the Lakes from the Highway, you may have to request them to stop as they seem intent on getting you up and down as quickly as possible. If you are riding / driving, the road is paved as far as here but becomes much rougher later on.
Readers of any of my other Asian pages will probably be yawning already with boredom but one of the first places I head for in any new place I visit is the market. I simply adore them even though I rarely buy anything, not generally having cooking facilities. I just find Asian markets to be fascinating places to observe local people going about their daily business. There is always a very lively atmosphere and countless photo opportunities.
Sibulan is a busy sort of a place although it is really now a suburb of Dumaguete City and it boasts a very fine public market. All the usual things are here, meat, fish, vegetables, clothing, household goods etc. etc. It is spotlessly clean and is a great place for a wander. If the sight of all the produce makes you a little hungry, there are numerous places to eat and naturally several videoko (karaoke) bars should the need to warble suddenly assail you.
A great place to spend a little time people watching.
4652 Cangmating Beach Road Sibulan, Dumaguete 6200 Negros Oriental Philippines
Good for: Business
Much as I love the Negros Oriental region, and I really do, there is not actually a huge amount in the way of natural attractions but this tip refers to one of the beautiful places you can find if you look around a bit. Everyone had told me I should visit the Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao. Although the natural park containing the lakes actually encompasses three different municipalities, I have decided to put it on the Sibulan page as this is the natural jump off point to reach them. I shall write a travelogue concerning the wonderful day out I had here and confine myself in this tip to the more practical aspects of visiting a site you really should see if you are in this region.
To get to the Twin Lakes, you need to go North from Sibulan almost to San Juan and you will see a large sign on the left side indicating where the road is. You can get a jeepney from Sibulan out to here for a few pesos. At this point you have a few options. You can either walk up as I saw one extrmely fit but slightly crazy English woman doing but I don't recommend it. Otherwise you will find a few guys sitting about in the little hut who will take you up on the back of their bikes.
Obviously, if you have your own transport, as I did, you can do it yourself but a word of warning here. I was on a 125cc geared road bike and it was hard enough going. Some of the road has never been paved and other parts have been badly degraded by the floods that followed the recent typhoon. I was riding off-road bikes back in the 1970's and am fairly confident in my abilities and that of the machine I was on but this is no place to be learning off-roading and I really would not advise an automatic or semi-auto scooter. I know the locals do it but they do it every day.
Do stop and take in some of the specatcular views on the way and eventually you will come to a thatched hut and a barrier in the road. This is the ticket office. Entrance is 100 pesos for foreigners and 10 pesos for Filipino nationals. Everyone pays 50 pesos for camping. There is an additonal fee of 10 pesos admission for the bike and a further two to park it. I really don't know who thinks up these figures. Once through the barrier you come to a small restaurant with the most stunning views of the first lake which is actually a filled volcanic crater. The restaurant did appear to have a full menu although I settled for a drink. You can then either go down to the lake (on foot) by the concrete road or the steps to the left of where you park the bikes. I warn you that the steps are a bit slippery although more scenic.
Once you get to the bottom and having taken your photos, you can hire a boat to take you round the lake. Unfortunately, time did not permit so I was confined to a bit of a chat with the friendly locals and the usual VT flag photo.
Unfortunately, due to the logistics I am afraid this is not really a practical excursion for mobility impaired travellers.
Certainly it is a bit difficult to get to but the rewards are immense and I thoroughly recommend you do visit here.