The Strong Republic Nautical Highway.
The Strong Republic Nautical Highway in the Philippines is an integrated network of highway and vehicular ferry routes, which forms the backbone of a nationwide vehicle transport system. The 919 kilometer nautical highway was opened to the public on April 12, 2003. It was very easy to convince Mok, the duck dude, to come along for the adventure. We would use aprox. 600km of the route.
On Tuesday morning I was up at 4 to load the kids bikes into the car. I had previously packed a portable air conditioner, folding chairs and tables, mattresses, kitchen equipment and our luggage. The rear of the car was now full. We headed to BREDCO wharf in Bacolod at 545AM. The first ferry was the 7AM. After getting nickel and dimed by all sorts of small fees from Coast Guard clearance to wharf entrance fees, we boarded the RORO (roll on roll off ferry) paying a total of about USD25 for the car and two passengers. I got a text from Bernie. The power went out at 6AM. The inverter and battery did its job. The temps in the bator stayed solid. At 8AM the power returned. I was now very happy with my decision to get the battery myself and take it home.
The ferry ride was smooth sailing for the entire 2.5 hours to Dumangas on the island of Panay. We drove off the ferry and headed north. Panay is fairly large. The 225km from the South East corner to the North West tip took us through fish ponds that grow milk fish and tilapia, sugar cane fields and rice. Along the North coast we wound our way along rugged cliffs and incredible views of islands dotting the sea. Travel is slow in the provinces. The 140 miles took just over 5.25 hours with a quick stop for lunch. Between road works and being caught behind slow moving trucks and tricycles, it’s was pretty average speed and we arrived in Caticlan on schedule.
Caticlan is the gateway to Boracay – an island with the most perfect white sand crescent beach that has reached world fame. It is filled with resorts from local bed and breakfasts to a Four Seasons. The ferry terminal was filled with scores of busses that had made their way down from Manila along the path we were about to take as well as those who flew in. There were hundreds of foreign and domestic tourists vying for pump boat tickets to the island just a mile from the port.
The 4pm ferry was sold out for vehicles but we were able to get on the 5:30 trip to Roxas in Mindoro. The 3.5-5hr trip was smooth. One of the downfalls of taking a car onto the boats is that by the time you are loaded, every seat is occupied or being “reserved” with bags and baskets. Despite being smooth sailing, this ride was tough. We had not had dinner so we bought some boiled eggs and ramen noodle soup and settled down in a poorly ventilated corner of the boat on a low hard seat. I was so pleased when we saw the port in front of us – then became frustrated as we learned that the terminal was full and we had to wait on anchor for an hour for a ferry to leave. At 11pm we headed for the port of Calapan.
The road through Oriental Mindoro was starkly different to the roads of Negros and Panay. Though plied heavily by semi trailers and busses, the absence of grossly overweight sugar cane trucks kept the roads in good condition and made for faster travel. We did the 120km in just over 2 hrs. We found a McDonalds, had our dinner and checked in to the hotel. We were sleep just before 230am.
We awoke in Calapan at 6 to a beautiful view of the bay. After booking our passage on an 8am ferry we were loaded up and on our way to Luzon, the most populous island of the nation. From the city of Batangas it was an hour up the expressway to our exit. At 1pm on Wednesday, April 29 I got to hug my kids for the first time in eight weeks. We unloaded the car and took Mok to Manila Airport.
We had covered four islands, three ferry rides and nine provinces in 33 hours. Total cost for one car and two travelers transport on ferries, food, hotel and gas was just shy of three hundred dollars. The return trip in November will take us down the eastern route to complete a huge circle in the Philippines. We will allow a week that trip.