Road Trip to Bacolod
It was an epic road trip that I have taken ever — a land trip from Manila to Bacolod via RORO, bringing my car with me in this whole adventure. I’ve traveled for six to ten hours to various parts of Luzon, the largest island in the 7,107-island nation of the Philippines. I’ve ridden overnight buses and trains across Southeast Asia traveling from one country to another. I’ve taken a nine-hour train ride in California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
This one took me to four major islands in the Philippines and six ports. More importantly, it was a road trip that led me back to home. After two decades of spending my life in the capital, I’ve finally decided to be with my family once again. I had to think hard, really discern for it, and prepare for this grand adventure. (Read my post “Preparing for my Road Trip to Home”.)
Through this article, not only do I want to take you with me through the journey I had, but I also want to share with you pertinent information that will be useful for those who want to embark on a similar adventure. I had to do intensive research, make several phone calls, and ask the advice of those who have taken the same route from Manila to Bacolod to know the cost, the time line, and other minute details necessary for the trip. Equipped with those, I was more than ready to take the Strong Republic Nautical Highway through the Roll-On, Roll-Off (RORO) barges.
START – Manila:
Day 1 – 11:50am; 62,200 km in my meter
The sun was scorching hot as we loaded my things inside my hatchback car. Good thing that all my stuff fit perfectly at the backseat and the back compartment. I had to seek the help of my uncle who flew all the way from Negros Island to Manila to help me drive through unfamiliar roads. But first, I had to take the wheel while we were still in Metro Manila as I was more familiar with the streets and highways as well as the traffic rules in the city.
We made a short stopover at a gas station along the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) in Muntinlupa, the last city of the National Capital Region in the south, for lunch and gas. At half past 12 noon, we continued with our sojourn and, this time, my uncle driving the car. We passed through various towns of the province of Laguna.
The drive from SLEX to the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Toll was easy and fast as both highways are now interconnected. There were some parts of the STAR Toll that were being repaired and only a single lane was used at that time. Still, the ride was smooth and swift. By 1:40pm, we were already at the Batangas port.
Batangas is a province in the southern part of Luzon. Batangas Port, located in Batangas City, is one of the busiest ports in the region.
Day 1 – 1:40pm; 62,277 km
As we entered the port, we were told to proceed to Gate II where a guard at a booth handed us a ticket for the Arrastre of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and for the toll gate fee. We drove towards what seemed to be a parking lot and a man signaled for us to proceed through a lane. He asked us of our destination and pointed us to a guard who let us inside the pier. There, we proceeded to enter Montenegro Lines’ Reina de las Flores which was bound to leave at 2:00pm.
All these we did without even having to step out of the car or line up at a booth. We paid for the car and extra passenger inside the barge. The two decks above were full. The lower deck had an air-conditioned area where passengers could dine and watch television. The upper deck had beds and benches where passengers could rest during the trip.
The ship left at 2:26pm, 26 minutes delayed, passing through oil depots and the Verde Island Passage. I preferred to stay outdoors where I could see the view and take photos. Yet, halfway through the trip, when no breeze could be felt, I wandered around the ship and stayed at the front deck below the bridge. Suddenly, the three-island group near Mindoro was already in sight. Baco Chico Island was the largest, followed by Pulong Gitna (middle island), then by Pulong Munti (small island). Further on, Calapan pier was already visible. With more than two hours at sea, we finally docked in Calapan at 4:44pm.
Calapan is the city in the province of Oriental Mindoro, which is near the famous Puerto Galera beach. Mindoro is a two-province island known for Mt. Halcon, the tamaraw, the Mangyans, and various beaches and waterfalls.
We had to visit my mother’s cousin who has migrated to Calapan, where we opted to stay for the night. As they live in Barangay Sapul in Calapan, we had to traverse Roxas Drive and pass by the Calapan City Hall before we got to my aunt’s house.
Calapan, Mindoro Oriental:
Day 2 – 6:00am; 62,286 km
Leaving Brgy. Sapul at 6:00 in the morning, we took the C5 road to the Strong Republic Nautical Highway. Passing through the towns of Naujan, Victoria, Socorro, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud and Bongabong before we got to Roxas was easy because of the signages erected in strategic areas and distances. Also, the welcome arches for every town were artful and colorful.
My uncle was able to drive through Mindoro Oriental to Roxas port in about two and a half hours. But as we got to the port, we encountered the biggest setback in our trip. Although I was warned by those who plied the same route who had to contend with the challenges at the Roxas port.
Roxas Port, Mindoro Oriental:
Day 2 – 8:35am; 62,408 km
We parked and walked to the PPA office only to be told to go to the Montenegro office first, which was a few meters away. Sadly, the person at the Montenegro office told us that we couldn’t take the 8:00am trip, although it was already 8:35am at that time, as the ship was still docked at the pier (again delayed) because we never made it to the cut-off.
From my research, I thought there was a 10:00am trip only to be told that the next trip was at 12:00nn. As I asked around the Montenegro office, as well as with other passengers and the vendor at the pier, I discovered that there were only four trips during daytime and all were by the Montenegro Line. There was the 4:00am, the 8:00am, the 12:00nn, and the 4:00pm. At night, there were more trips as Starlite had two scheduled trips at night.
So we were told to come back at 10:30am for the ticket as no reservations were allowed. We decided to eat breakfast and wait until the office opens again to issue tickets for the next trip. At 10:15am, there was already a long line outside the office. As the windows finally opened, we were given by the man at the Montenegro office a booking slip and told us to pay first the dues and Arrastre at the PPA office and come back to pay for the ticket. Since it was approaching high noon, the sun was unbearable but we had to go a few meters away towards the PPA. After settling the fees, we had to go back again to the Montenegro office for the ticket. Passengers were already impatient especially that the office opened at about 10:40am. While battling for the first slots at the line, I met Joy and her brother who were on their way to Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanao. They, too, were heading to Caticlan and Bacolod and onward to their ultimate destination.
There was one guy manning the cashier vis-à-vis the long line of individuals and vehicle owners wanting to purchase tickets. I guess maybe because there were a few trips and only a single shipping line was operating at daytime, the process was a bit of a hassle at Roxas port. Bear in mind that when you take the RORO, there are no reservations or advanced booking, so all the tickets for the barge were purchased at a first-come-first-serve basis. And when we thought everything was fine, we were stopped at the gate to ask if we already had the approval of the coast guard. I had to walk through a narrow alley to the back of a building to a makeshift office to get the coast guard’s pass.
As we entered the port’s premises, we ate at one of the stalls and waited until we would be allowed to board the car to the barge. Other stalls were also selling local products. My uncle bought garlic, which he was able to haggle at P200 a kilo, which was already P280 to P360 in the markets of Manila and Bacolod, respectively.
While we positioned our vehicles at the mouth of the Reina Timotea barge, we were told that passengers had to board the ship first. Joy asked me and my uncle if they can join us towards Bacolod as they do not know the way.
The 12:00nn schedule was again not followed as the ship left port at 1:05pm. And instead of just four hours at sea, we arrived the Caticlan port at around 6:00pm. We passed Tablas Island of the province of Romblon before we entered the Panay Island area. The ship went slow at the area of Boracay Island, famous for the white sand beach, to wait for another ship to first sail out from the Caticlan seaport. While at the area of Boracay, we watched flying fishes, parasails and colorful boat sails. Resort hotels perched on hills could also be seen from the ship’s deck. Several planes took off from the Caticlan airport.
Caticlan Port, Aklan:
Day 2 – 6:00pm
Caticlan port must be one of the busiest ports in Western Visayas. This is due to the large influx of tourists going to Boracay. As we arrived, we were asked to get off the car to step on a large rug with disinfectant. From there, we proceeded towards the Aklan West Road. At first, the view at the coast of Caticlan was breathtaking because of its picturesque mountains and beaches. But quarries and construction projects seemed to be destroying these natural views.
As there are a lot of national highways in the island of Panay, I had to rely on my phone’s GPS to navigate us to Dumangas. My uncle drove through zigzag roads, uphill and downhill, and through road repairs as we tried to make it to the next port at about 9:30pm, based on Google Map’s calculations, which was not translated to reality.
The whole route was estimated to take us to about three hours and a half but we were able to finish it at almost six hours. The highway was already dark and we had to navigate carefully through the route. We had to stop several times to check on Joy and her brother who were following us but we lost them along the way. Also, at 9:30pm, when we realized we couldn’t make it to the schedule, we decided to stopover at Tres Hijos Restaurant in Passi, Iloilo.
It was past 11:00pm when we got to Pototan and Dumangas. We decided not to stop by another aunt’s house because of the lateness of the hour and we already wanted to get to Bacolod at that time. We braved through a narrow dusty road with high grasses on both side. The fish ponds were not visible on the dark night but we knew that we were surrounded by water. At 11:45pm, we entered the gates of the Dumangas port and Montenegro’s Maria Teresa was getting ready to leave at midnight. After paying the usual Arrastre at the PPA office, which took us in less than five minutes, we were directed towards the barge, were we paid for the fees onboard.
There were a few passengers but all of them have occupied the benches, lying on them as they took their sleep. Although this was the shortest sea travel in our journey, with just an hour and a half, we fell asleep easily because of it was already late at night and were tired of the long journey. It seemed like we slept through an entire night before the ship signaled that we were docking at BREDCO at the Bacolod port.
Sadly, this is the only port in the entire journey where we had to pay for a fee as we arrive. But all’s well that ends well as we arrived home at past 2:00am, happy to finally reach our destination.
FINISH – Bacolod BREDCO port:
Day 3 – 2:00am; 62,627 km
Below are some information that you might find useful:
|SLEX toll fee||P 214.00|
|SLEX toll fee||25.00|
|STAR toll fee||67.00|
|Batangas port gate||30.00|
|Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) Arrastre||129.00|
|Fare – car with driver||1,536.00|
|Roxas port toll||30.00|
|Fare – car with driver||2,944.00|
|Fare – car with driver||960.00|
|Gas consumed||30.83 liters|
|Arrival at Bacolod port||62,627 km|
|Total km covered by the car||427 km|
|Total hours on the road||10 hours 20 mins|
|Total hours at port (waiting and sea travel)||11 hours 45 mins|
Total hours of travel including stopovers and overnight: 38 hours and 10 mins.