In the highlands of Negros Occidental, there is a small landlocked municipality that, by virtue of its location, is gifted with cool breezes and with a significantly lower temperature than the surrounding lowlands. This is Don Salvador Benedicto, named after a former vice governor of the province, who distinguished himself during World War II. The municipality is one of the youngest in the province carved out of 2 older ones, and was formerly a hotspot for armed conflict between government forces and communist rebels. This is all in the past as peace and local governance has stabilized the place and it has since been designated as Negros Occidental’s summer capital.
FINDING MY WAY TO DSB
Recall that I had a terrible bout of food poisoning the night before, so I barely had enough sleep and was obviously feeling sick. I seriously was thinking of cancelling that day’s plan of exploring Don Salvador Benedicto (or DSB, for brevity) and just rest in my room the whole day. But then I thought that would be a sorry waste of valuable time. I considered that since I was already there in Bacolod, it would be better to just endure whatever pain I was undergoing and make the most out of my time in Negros Occidental.
So the first thing I did upon leaving my hotel that morning is to look for the nearest drug store and buy myself an ample supply of Imodium. And learning the lesson of the day prior, I bought enough food for myself so that I won’t need to buy from any eatery in DSB when I get hungry there.
All the blogs I’ve read about getting to DSB were not clear as to how to get from the city proper to the bus station, so I got along by asking around. As I’ve observed before, Ilonggos and Bacolodnons have this particular trait of assuming you understand Ilonggo when you ask them in Tagalog, so I had to constantly remind them please translate what they are saying in Tagalog. 2 jeepney rides later, I found myself at the bus station and was instructed to board the bus with the “San Carlos” sign. Apparently, all buses that go to San Carlos City on the east coast of Negros, pass through DSB.
Thankfully, the Ceres bus was air-conditioned and felt pretty new. Unlike the previous day, there was no traffic as we exited Bacolod City proper. It was smooth driving as I once again was on my way to the Negros Occidental countryside. DSB was further from Bacolod than Murcia, so the trip was around an hour longer. Eventually, the roads began to ascend up towards the mountains and I knew that we were piling up on the altitude when my ears started popping from the reduced pressure.
At some point, I was sure that the bus had already reached DSB because I began to see road signs that indicated such, and I also came across lots of pine trees that always get featured in all the photos of DSB that I’ve come across.
But then a dilemma arose. I realized I did not actually know where to get off. In all my research on DSB, I forgot to take note of that one vital detail. The natural course of action was to ask the bus conductor. But due to my mild panic of seeing a lot of people getting off at one bus stop, I decided to join them and get off too so that I would not be left behind. Thankfully, the conductor saw the confused look in my face and asked me where I wanted to go. And since I did not really know where I wanted to go other than “Don Salvador Benedicto”, I blurted out “municipio” as a quick educated guess. (I figured that if I wanted to tour DSB, then the town’s municipal hall will be the best place to start.) I was told by the conductor to re-board the bus as the municipal hall was still far off. And so I sheepishly got on the bus again.
A few minutes later, I was then dropped off near the municipio. And appropriately enough, it was also a place where a lot of establishments clustered. It was already around noontime when I arrived at DSB. Although the noontime sun was already blazing, the air was nevertheless cool and very fresh. Every now and then a light breeze would blow which felt very soothing after sitting for a couple of hours in a bus. It also carried with it a faint scent of pine.
The municipal hall could be reached from the main road by walking/driving up a hill. At that time, I was still at the peak of my physical fitness (despite my ailment, that is) so the hike was no sweat. One thing I noticed about DSB was that it is very sparsely populated. Even at its “busiest” area, it felt like a ghost town. Only the occasionally passing vehicles provided some noise. There were few people lingering about too. And it was lunchtime. On one hand it was very peaceful and certainly was a fresh change from noisy and (somewhat) polluted Bacolod. On the other hand, it felt a bit eerie.
The silence continued as I hiked up and even as I reached the municipal hall. Except for a lone security guard, there was absolutely nobody else there. It was in a good location at any rate. Were it not for the very many trees that surrounded it, it would have had an overlooking view of the town and the main road. The building itself is not grand. It was only 2 stories high and its architectural style is reminiscent of the bahay na bato.
Near the building, I came across a poster showing the local political dynasty. No judgments there. I have no idea what kind of political family rules DSB, but a dynasty is a dynasty.
THE “TOURISM OFFICE”
The guard being the only one there, I then asked him if they had a tourism office. I was told that the town’s tourism office is located at a building some distance away. So I hiked down the hill and promptly lost track of which building I was supposed to find. Luckily, there was a nearby police station so I asked them the same question. They pointed to a building that was just on the opposite side of the road. Thanking them, I headed there.
To make a long story short, I found the fairly new building to be deserted. The municipal hall at least had 1 security guard. This building had absolutely none, and the doors were all closed and locked. Thinking that everyone was still in their lunch break, I just loitered around the building. Then when I got tired of loitering, I went back to the main road and walked some distance to see if I could take pictures of nice roadside scenes.
I was impressed by the condition of the main road in DSB. While certain sections were still being constructed when I was there, these were very few and far in between. For the most part, the concrete road is wide enough, smooth and very well-made.
When I had my fill of roadside and mountain scenery, I then returned to the building and just decided to wait and hope that lunchtime will be over soon. I was loitering there when I chanced upon a Manong who seemed to be a groundskeeper, so I asked if I was in the right place. He confirmed that I was, and seemed a bit puzzled that the door to the tourism office was locked. A while later, the employees arrived and I finally was able to inquire about touring there.
I don’t want to say anything negative about the people because they really tried to help me, but I’d have to give the honest observation that the “tourism office” was seemingly just set up for the sake of having one. The room was packed with posters and the shelves were stacked with brochures, but when it came to actually giving me options to go from one place to another, all of them depended on me having my own means of transportation. It was by pure luck that the Manong who found me loitering by the office could be contracted to drive me around some sights that afternoon. Seeing no other alternative, I went with him and we began the tour right away.
TOUR FINALLY BEGINS
[Unfortunately, I forgot to take note of the name of the Manong, so for the purposes of this narrative, I’ll simply refer to him as “Manong.”]
Manong’s transportation was a small pink multicab, very similar to one that I used to tour Sabtang, Batanes a few years back. Due to the limited time that I would be spending there, I told him that I needed to see the Malatan-og Falls and DSB’s own version of the rice terraces. Other than that, I left it to him to bring me where he thought I’d find interesting, as long as it stays within the time limit. So he decided to make the falls and the terraces the 2 last stops while he brought me to a couple of privately owned resorts first.
The first resort we visited was really nice-looking. Had I had more time, I would have been interested to stay there. Incidentally, there were guests there whom I recognize were in the bus with me going to DSB.
The next resort wasn’t as nice looking but wasn’t all the bad either. In addition, it was more extensive and has better views of the surroundings.
What surprised me about this place was that according to Manong, it is owned by a priest. Hmmm…
DSB’s RICE TERRACES
I tried to temper my expectation of DSB’s rice terraces because I know that tourism websites and brochures have a penchant of exaggerating whatever beauty a place has just to get people to go there. (I realized this beforehand when I saw for myself that DSB isn’t as pine tree-covered as the official propaganda claims.)
Anyway, the Rice Terraces were still a delight to see. Sure, they were a lot smaller than the great rice terraces up north in the Cordilleras, but what it lacked in scale, it made up for in aesthetics. It’s hard to explain why it is so. You just have to be there.
By the way, that time of the year was near harvest time, so the rice stalks looked golden in the distance. I’ve never seen terraces with a golden tinge before, so there’s that.
I made sure that we had enough time to hike to the falls and back, as I did not want to be left behind by the last bus that goes to Bacolod. I had not enough money on hand, and I didn’t really want to undergo the inconvenience of having to beg Manong to find me a place to stay for free.
Anyway, I was assured by Manong that the hike towards the falls is only less than 30 minutes long. In fact, the falls are already very much visible from the jump off point by the highway. I figured we’d spend 2 hours at the most for this final leg of the tour.
So Manong was also my guide for this hike. Tourism in DSB isn’t that much developed yet, so other than the sign telling people to take care and have a guide during the hike, there weren’t any fees collected, nor any registration required. Since going to the falls was a downward hike, I found it relatively easy. There were only a few steep parts in the trail and I had a makeshift hiking stick that Manong gave me at the start. I could have made it completely dry to the falls were it not for one careless misstep which caused my left foot to be completely soaked in a stream. It was really no big deal, but given that I was still trying to recover from a nasty ailment, it caused me to blurt out a curse.
So we made it to the falls, and we were the only ones there. We perched ourselves on some rocks that were on the stream (the falls being the source of the stream.) Our vantage point was pretty near the falls, so all throughout the time we were there, there was a thundering noise of falling water, as well as a fine mist-like spray that cooled every inch of one’s exposed skin. It was an overwhelming experience just watching and listening to the falls. I spent some minutes just looking at it and trying to be one with the surroundings. (I previously posted a video clip of the falls. You can see that here.) To his credit, Manong made no effort to make small conversation or nudge me from my enchantment with the falls.
I eventually had my fill of the surroundings and decided it was time to get back. We left as silently as we came. I don’t remember the way back to be any harder, even if we were hiking upwards. Once we got back to the jump-off point, we had some snacks by the store that was conveniently located nearby.
It was during merienda that I suddenly remembered there was another attraction that I wanted to visit in DSB, and this was the statue of the lion that marked the entrance to the municipality. I asked Manong to take me there as the very last stop of the tour. Once we arrived there, I realized that I never asked him how much he would charge for the afternoon tour. I intended to give him P300 as a fair fee, but was shocked to find out that I only had one P500 bill, some P20s and a lot of coins on me at that time. So I just went ahead and gave him the P500. I’m not sure if he thought I gave him too much or too little.
I don’t know if it’s intentional, but given that DSB claims itself to be the Baguio of Negros Occidental, but putting a statue of a lion at its entrance was a lame (sorry) attempt at copying. In any case, I wish they made a better statue. The one I saw in DSB didn’t look too impressive and even the proportions were a bit wrong.
Anyway, the lion was located near a viewdeck, so at least there’s that to see aside from the unattractive statue. It was approaching late afternoon so the winds were becoming chillier by the minute.
While the mountain breeze gave some comfort after an afternoon’s worth of touring and hiking, I realized that I had to board a bus soon going back to Bacolod because I had no jacket with me and there were no street lights in the vicinity. It would really be hard for me to get stranded there once the night falls. In hindsight, I realize I chose a very poor location to be my last stop because it would be very difficult for any vehicle driver to see anyone in the area at night.
So I sat on a rock by the roadside where I was sure I’d surely be seen by any passing bus. And then I waited. I tried to preoccupy myself by taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook which, to my surprise, generated some comments right away. A couple of people even recognized the place and one assured me that a bus would eventually arrive.
So the minutes ticked by. Cars passed by, and then motorcycles, and then enormous trucks carrying lumber, but still no bus. It came to a point where the sun has already set, and the passing vehicles already had their headlights on, so I was getting really worried about being stranded there. The temperature had dropped significantly too, and I was feeling really cold because I was just only wearing a loose dryfit jersey and light cargo shorts.
Then finally, salvation! From a distance I already saw the outline of a bus, so I made exaggerated movements to hail it. For a split second, my heart sank because it drove past me. Then about 10 meters away, it stopped. (The road was sloping downwards at a pretty steep incline, so I figure it needed a few moments to be able to completely stop safely.)
Of course, I ran towards it. It was an old bus without aircon and It was packed beyond its normal capacity. But I could not afford to be choosy. I knew that it was probably the last bus servicing that route that day so I had to be on it if I wanted to get back to Bacolod that night. So I squeezed myself in all the way to the middle of the bus. I was only able to sit at around past the halfway mark of the trip, when a lot of people got off at Murcia, but I was still thankful.
I arrived at Bacolod with an enormous appetite. Day 3 is done. My year-end vacation is almost done.