After five fantastic years based in the picturesque village of Aninuan, Puerto Galera we made the bold decision to relocate the team and training facility to the quaint city of Dumaguete on the island of Negros Oriental.
Aninuan is, and always will be a special place in our hearts but lack of good internet, power cuts, being ‘trapped’ from travel during storms and it’s general remoteness was starting to hold us as a business, and our partners The Reef-World Foundation back. After a week recce trip scouting different locations and amenities, JJ and Alan give the go ahead that Dumaguete can give us all we need to operate. So at the beginning of May we embarked on an epic journey to move our whole lives.
So the first step was to decide HOW. As an archipelago of 7,107 islands (at low tide) a cross-country move across the Philippines presents it’s own logistical challenges. There was no way we could get all our belongings PLUS the office on a plane. There are also no major shipping routes from Puerto Galera to Dumaguete. Much to our delight, the only option was a major jeepney roadtrip.
So JJ and Alan scoured the town to find a reliable driver with a jeepney big enough to fit our lives in it. Whilst we packed, in just over a weekend, it struck me how little stuff we had (ok, full disclosure, I’m not talking about the random stuff I’ve hoarded over the years, but our office). Five desks, a couple of faulty chairs, a few bookshelves, a printer, a server and a wi-fi router basically constituted our office. It was pretty awesome to think of all the work we’ve done with just the basics.
Moving day came and we prepped ourselves for an estimated 30 hour drive across three islands.
The first challenge was to get the jeepney to our place. Imagine a 30 point turn no a tight little village road. It took the better part of thirty minutes! The next challenge was to load three flats worth of stuff on it. Chloe and I delighted in our colour coding system of the boxes separating office and homes. Our driver, Darrell and his crew had Tetris skills in abundance and within a few hours we were loaded. With tearful goodbyes to our neighbours and friends, especially our adopted older sister Analyn, Alan and I packed in the front seat and we were off. Kind of. The big jeepney still had to navigate it’s way out of the village!
A quick stop at Darrell’s place so he and his team could shower, change and load three days worth of food (read rice) and water, and several stares from people looking at the top-loaded jeepney, and we were really off, this time on fairly comfortable benches at the back of the jeepney.
For those of you who have done the Puerto Galera placement, you know that one rarely has reason to venture past the next city of Calapan. We were heading into unexplored territory in Oriental Mindoro. Notable sights included:
- Three people on a bike, one casually bearing a rifle slung over his back
- A dog treating himself to a treat, if you know what I mean
- One truly epic sunset over rice padi fields
- Unbelievable view of a starry sky in almost complete darkness, save the few working road lamps.
We arrived at our first port around 7pm for our first Roro ferry trip (the Roro is the passenger/ vehicle ferry service that connects the inter-island highway) scheduled for 8pm. We were in the queue and bang on schedule. Time to settle in with our dinner – a sandwich from the famed Mira’s Deli in White Beach while Darrell and the team whipped up a quick meal on his contraband mini-gas stove. As the passengers start to pile on, the vehicles start to board. We literally drove onto the ramp of the ferry before we were turned away! No room! Next ferry at 10pm. We can wait that out right? If we’ve learned anything living in this country it’s patience.
10pm rolls round. Then 12am. We sleep, ignoring one overzealous mosquito who won’t leave us alone. At 3am the guys wake us up to commence boarding attempt #2. We’re on the ramp, fingers crossed. It’s looking really full and there is a real chance history is about to repeat itself. Luckily the ferry guys are also adept at Tetris and we squeeze on. Onward to the island of Panay!
Four hours and a heavily disrupted sleep later we emerge into the bright sunshine of Caticlan (gateway to Boracay) and a brand new island for both Alan and I. We sit wide-eyed at the back of the jeepney driving through one of the poorest islands in the country, eating our saved second deli sandwiches for breakfast. Boracayers wave to us from their cars, kids stare as our behemoth jeepney rumbles past, and we start to slow-cook in the metal jeepney driving through the sunshine. Fuel stops are opportunities for quick dashes to the toilet and a desperate search for anything to drink that isn’t lukewarm water. It’s a beautiful island though; probably even more so when it isn’t summer and the land has had some, you know, rain.
We arrive at our next port Bacolod with hours to spare before our next ferry but the waiting list is already one and half pages long. Note to future road tripping self: arrive hours and hours before the ferry you want to take. Bring more food that you did last time.
We manage to snack on some Chippy, and took a hit of instant coffee to keep us going. We watched ferries come and go, buses taking up coveted space in the hulls. When it’s finally our turn, Darrell’s driving leaves no mistake that he is getting on this ferry. No. Matter. What. Another close call but again we manage to squeeze on the end and we begin what is one of the most beautiful ferry trips in to the sunset.
Nothing says ‘starting anew’ like the wake of a boat and the end of a day. Alan and I congratulate ourselves on our patience gleaned from years of Philippine living. We talk about how this is truly a professional development skill if you want to work in developing countries!
A short two hours later and we’re in Bacolod on Negros Occidental! Just half an island to go! This is 29 hours into travel and although we might look it, we’re not feeling so bad. We’ve got some wet wipes to unclog the dust from our faces, and managed to change clothes so we smell only minimally. A quick stop for some Lechon Manuk (roasted chicken) and rice and we’re good as new. Well, newish.
Darrell chooses a direct but bumpy route to Dumaguete and we steal what can only be described as power naps on slightly less bumpy stretches of road. At least there are no mosquitos tonight! Stars aren’t an option but we’re driving through a forested area and the moonlight is just as entertaining. Pretty much anything is when you’ve depleted your battery packs and you need that last 10% to load Google maps to find your way to your new home!
37 hours after we left Aninuan and we’re finally pulling into Dumaguete at 4am, just when the world is starting to wake up. Darrell, who did all the driving sits smug in a chair as we and his team unload the jeepney at the office and our new home. We made it. We’re too tired and sweaty for it to really sink in, but we made it. How to celebrate? Sleep.
Two weeks later and we have a routine going, and we’re already prepping for the next ZEP programme in June. Not only do we get to work with six new budding marine conservationists, we’re excited to kick off our partnership with Marine Conservation Philippines who have a really awesome base just down the road in Zamboanguita where we’ll be doing the training. We’ll be posting more updates on this blog and on Facebook so keep in touch as we start what is going to an amazing next chapter for Zoox.