Saturday, January 24, 2009

On the Island of Negros

I'm forcing myself to give just a simple account of recent activities. I want to save the 'words dripping from tongue' narrative for a moment when I'm able to accompany those words with photographs.

The past couple days I've been traveling across the length and breadth of the Philippine island of Negros. The name is derived from the small, dark-skinned aboriginal inhabitants who now occupy wild stretches of the volcanic highlands in the center of this and a few other islands in the Philippines.

The first day I hired a motorcyclist to drive me (and guide me) up to a couple ancient crater lakes festooned in jungle. There we kayaked in absolute solitude, caught a giant centipede with mirrored scales, and did a bit of trekking through the cloud forest. My guide also illegally harvested some young orchids from the trail we took, but I guess that's pretty much par for course in the Philippines.

The second day here I took a long bus journey up across the length of the island, in the shadow of a gigantic active volcano named Mt. Kanlaon. I had wanted to hike on the mountain, but this was obviously the wrong time of year. The top was shrouded in storm.

Today I find myself in a sugarcane plantation boomtown (once known as the 'Paris' of Negros) now gone bust. There are some lovely 'ancestral' homes which are more than a century old; also a 75-year-old swimmer/model/patron of the arts named Ramon Hofilenya who showed me around his family's ancestral home. He has an amazing collection of Filipino art, some from an untaught, unknown local genius who obviously mastered numerous painting and drawing styles... and kept some masterworks in his nipa hut where the sun and rain could damage them.

Tomorrow I'm planning to visit a church at a plantation... the church has one of the most amazing, detailed, frenetic religious murals in the world. Sometimes called the 'Angry Christ' mural, because the face of Jesus seems a bit wrought (with love, not anger, says Ramon).

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