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From Davao to Manila
Source: Manila Bulletin
Date: 2007-02-26
EVERYDAY, thousands of people make the trip from Mindanao to Luzon. Speeding from airport to airport, passengers ride tubes of rolled aluminum and zip past the landscape at over 300mph. But while the view of the islands at 33,000 feet is nice, how many of us actually understand what its like to live in those barrios and barangays below the clouds?

For those looking for a more up-close and personal means of traveling there are other, more leisurely ways to get from point A to B and since 2004 Iíve driven through them more than a dozen times. There are actually two principal routes and choosing which to take depends on the reasons for making the trip in the first place.

Those concerned with speed might want to drive along the old Maharlika Highway. While well below the speed of a jet, Iíve done this trip in 30 hours and I recommend it to those who are in a rush.

On the other hand, if time is not a factor and beaches are your thing, I suggest taking the Nautical Highway.

Traveling on the Maharlika from Davao, it is a six hour drive across Agusan to the port of Lipata in Surigao and another four hour ferry trip to Lilo-an, Leyte.



Arriving usually just before noon, itís an easy drive along good roads until you hit Calbiga in Samar where the road turns hellish and the driving pace slows down to a literal crawl for the next 200 or so kilometers.

Good thing though is that the scenery does make up for it with deep canyons and winding streams, roaring surf and pristine beaches, rolling hills and tree-lined highways and my favorite part Ė the sprint across the snaking San Juanico Bridge.

At the end is the port of Allen where boats depart almost every hour for Matnog in Sorsogon. But for travelers on a tight schedule, timing is very important since there are two ferry operators and they have strict schedules that they guard jealously. A car arriving one minute past one operatorís time will have to take the other operatorís boat even though (1) there is already a boat about to depart and (2) the next one is still slated after an hour.

Once past this bottleneck however, itís clear driving all the way to Manila, through Bicol and the Mayon Volcano, scenic Camarines, the history-laden towns (and tricycle clogged streets) of Quezon, and finally the familiar traffic of our beloved capital.

But for those not in hurry, winding past the western shores of the Philippines, is the Nautical Highway and it is a beach loverís dream. Ferries weave through the Visayan sea, stringing islands like a strand of pearls in its wake.

While the first few times I went by this way I had to cope with the challenge of juggling the different ferry schedules, I eventually settled on my now preferred method of island jumping, which is via Cagayan. There I board the TransAsia ship that leaves 8 p.m. and arrives 6 a.m. the next day in Cebu City. Taking breakfast on the road, Iíd drive around the province to either Tabuelan, Toledo or, if I want to pass through Dumaguete, Ginatilan on the southern end.


Past Cebu and into Negros, the baywalk of Dumaguete, the hulking Mt. Kanlaon on the road to Salvador Benedicto and the rolling, green sugar fields and pastry shops of Bacolod are my favorite spots. After another ferry ride you find yourself in Dumangas, where you either take a left to Iloilo City or right for the shortcut through Barotac and on to Caticlan. Incidentally, the port that finally takes you to Mindoro lies in Malay, and it becomes almost a clichť that you have to take a side trip to Boracay.

Itís a five-hour trip from Aklan to Roxas in Mindoro and another two hours for the drive to Calapan. Having made it this far, it is simply a matter of booking another ferry trip across to Batangas.

Then, depending on the traffic, the road into Metro Manila can be easy or extremely tiresome. But after driving from one end of the country to the other, at this point Iíve always found that itís a lot easier to take things in stride Ė after all, you learn that the journey is the destination.

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