I took my first 3 semesters in UP College Cebu, before moving to UP Diliman in the 2nd sem of my sophomore year. So, from 1980-81, I got familiar with Cebu City and some of the province's other municipalities, aside from learning the Cebuano language. From my home town, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental (64 kms. north of Bacolod City), the only route then to go to Cebu City was via San Carlos City, the last city of Negros Occidental bordering Negros Oriental. Then take a boat for a 2 hours (sometimes longer) trip to Toledo City, Cebu province. Then there were many buses competing for the alighting passengers. Once packed, they would be racing against each other as if to impress with their passengers that their buses are in good condition and the bus driver is expert in both the winding roads of Cebu's mountains, then the flat roads leading to the provincial capital, Cebu City. I had fun watching the "mini race", sometimes waving ba-bye to the passengers of the other buses that our driver has overtaken.
Since 1981, I never had the opportunity to take the San Carlos-Toledo-Cebu route. I had some opportunities to visit Cebu City, but by plane from Manila. So I arranged my schedule to take this route again, towing my wife Ella and her younger sister, Baby. I wanted to visit our relatives in Barili, a town south of Cebu City. We travelled last December 27.
San Carlos-Toledo is now served by fast crafts that can cross the sea in an hour, though the bigger boats that take 2 or more hours to cross the same distance are still there. The bigger boats charge lower fares and carry cargos.
Toledo City, western side of the province, has somehow improved compared to its 2+ decades ago apperance. For instance, there is a central bus terminal now. From Toledo to Cebu cities, you have to cross a mountain range, go down at the municipality of Naga (eastern side of the province), then a flat road to Cebu City. I was greatly disapppointed with what I saw. The Toledo-Naga roads have greatly deteriorated. Some portions of the roads are comparable to those I have seen in Cambodia (from Vietnam border) 5 years ago when I went there! Though there are a number of road construction and improvement being undertaken, they are patchy and isolated compared to a largely potholed and dilapidated winding roads. Many roads in my province are bad and never maintained for the past 3 or 5 or 10 years. But the Toledo-Naga road are a lot worse! I really wondered why this part of a province known for economic dynamism in the Philippines has regressed.
The buses that ply the Toledo-Cebu City are now fewer. Our bus was jampacked with passengers to the hilt, you can hardly squeeze in even a 5-year old child inside the bus! We were lucky that we were seated in the front, but bags by other squeezed-in passengers were also put in the front. Perhaps the bad roads have discouraged other bus companies to ply this route, so that passengers were willing to suffer the congestion just to get a ride. Earlier, I have thought that our bus driver was so greedy with passengers that he does not care if the new passengers have something to hold on as they squeeze in very tightly. Later on, as I saw many other people wanting to ride but the driver ignored them. I reckoned that perhaps, our bus driver is a little bit of a "hero" for giving rides to those people inside our bus. After all, suffering the congestion is better than no ride at all if you're in a hurry to go somewhere.
We reached Naga, time to get off the bus (heading north to Cebu City) and take another bus heading south (to Barili). Now, how do we get out considering that it's jampacked at our back? Simple: jump off the window! First, we gave our bags to the bus conductor. Then I jumped; Baby had no problem jumping, while I assisted Ella to land softly on the ground when she jumped. The two ladies' first time to jump out of a bus window!
From Naga to Carcar, it's mostly straight roads. From Carcar to Barili, the bus will climb again some mountain ranges and hence, another set of winding roads.
(Another posting on Barili alone in the coming days, as that simple town has lots of majestic attractions for visitors to see).
The province's road network are generally good and smooth. When we travelled from Barili to the provincial capital, I was happy to see that from Naga to Cebu City, it's now a four-lane highway (two in each direction). From Naga and neighboring municipalities, you can see Bohol island from a distance. There are occasional fraffic congestion in Talisay City...
Cebu City has become more dynamic and busier...
A new route between Cebu and Negros islands is via Tabuelan, Cebu, and Escalante, Negros Occidental. I don't know when this route was opened to passenger buses, perhaps 5 or 8 years ago. Curious to see this new road, we took this route. We wanted to arrive in my province early, so we have to take the first 2 bus trips, 4:15 and 4:30 am. December 29 morning and there were just too many passengers in Ceres bus terminal in Cebu City. We arrived at the bus station around 3:20 am and boarded the 4:30 am bus as the 4:15 am bus was already full. If we arrived some 10 minutes later, we would have difficulty boarding the second bus. Our bus left at 4am as it was already full.
After more than an hour of generally flat and straight roads on the eastern coasts, we reached the town of Carmen. Ceres buses stop here and the driver/conductor take their free meals, courtesy of the restaurant owners who are more than happy for bringing in with them captive customers. From Carmen, a few more kilometers of coastal ride, then the bus head to the mountains to cross to the western side.
Cebu's northern municipalities seem poorer compared to their counterparts in the southern part of the province. They're rocky and mountainous, though fronting a sea. There are few agricultural plantations, except for some occasional patches of coconut plantations. Corn and bananas are planted in hilly and sloping soil without terraces. The municipal halls (Sogod, ...) are smaller and more modest.
Tabuelan is a sleepy town which became more famous only in recent years because of its port that connects vehicles and boats to northern Negros province. The shipping route is monopolized by EB Aznar shipping company that operates the roll-on roll-off (RORO) boats between Tabuelan and Escalante. The boats take in cargo trucks, buses, small vehicles and passengers, take about 2 hours (or more) to cross the sea.
It's a tiring trip since you lack sleep and go to the bus terminal very early in the morning. Our bus reached Tabuelan around 7am, then you queu to get a boat ticket, then ride the boat. Just the prospect of reaching home to see your family and loved ones make the trip bearable.