February 25, 2016: Today we took a break from bookkeeping and boat projects and rented two scooters to tour around the island. The grand loop is about 50 kilometres with road conditions varying from smooth new concrete to steep, rough, rocky sections and construction zones at various stages of development.
We started by heading south down the west coast. As we got further and further from Romblon town, the road got sketchier and the towns, now further apart, became smaller and more traditional in appearance with most homes made of bamboo and thatch. We spotted several beautiful beaches along this stretch and no crazy resorts.
At the south end, we passed through a village celebrating its fiesta. Although it was still early morning, we met one man who was very friendly and quite drunk. He flagged Chris down and invited us to join the festivities. I think his own personal party was still going strong from the night before. As tempting as that was, we opted to continue our ride instead.
We stopped and refueled from a bottle near Sablayan and pondered whether to take the road up the centre of the island or continue on along the coast. Our map gave them equal standing but we’d heard the coast road was pretty rough. In the end, we decided to ride into Sablayan proper and see what was going on there, but the town turned out to be teeny tiny. Even the newest church in town was teeny tiny.
Determined to see how bad the coastal road really was, we headed that way. But that didn’t last long. A boy was walking the road about as fast as I was going after the concrete of Sablayan turned into a rocky track. We wouldn’t want a flat as far as we could possible get from the bike shop in Romblon. We returned to the cross roads and headed up the middle of the island.
Now we were winding up through the hills and valleys of the central highlands where it was quite a bit cooler. That was surprising, as the highlands on Romblon really aren’t all that high. The highest point on the island is around 400 metres, only.
This road, newly concreted with only a few construction zones, still presented plenty of other obstacles. Like dogs sleeping on the warm concrete in the middle of the road, roosters strutting along the edges, children playing, large trucks transporting marble, marble factories tempting us with their roadside displays, and turkeys. Turkeys? Yes, turkeys! How unusual to see turkeys in the Philippines.
Romblon island is known as the marble isle and the town of Ilauran, in the central highlands, is the hub. Here we found marble quarries, marble cutting (utilizing everything from giant saws, power tools and lathes, to wedges and hammers), and marble factories producing all manner of marvelous marble masterpieces from novelty items and art pieces to furniture and construction materials. Romblon marble is high quality and comes in a wide range of colours, including white, grey, black, gold, brown, green, pink and red.
Along the way, we spotted dozens of people, from young children to elderly grandmothers, breaking larger marble rocks into smaller marble rocks along the side of the road. I asked one young fellow if it was hard work. He said not hard and continued right on breaking. It looked hard to me. You’ll note in the photos that safety equipment is not a high priority here although some workers did have at least some sort of cloth to cover their faces to keep out (at least some of) the marble dust.
Further along, we passed fields of rice and other crops and found a few peak-a-boo views toward the eastern coast off in the distance below us.
As we drew closer to Romblon town, we found the marble factories that we had tried walking to on our first day. Although we had enjoyed great weather up to now, and I was pretty sure I was getting sunburnt, suddenly some dark clouds appeared and opened up on us. Chris was ahead of me when I stopped and waited out the deluge under the roof of one of the marble factories. Before long the rain slowed to a light drizzle and I found Chris waiting it out (and waiting for me) under a big tree a little further down the road.
Now wet and hungry we decided to zip into town for lunch before heading back up the hill to check out the marble factories more closely. I’m sure you could custom order just about anything you could think of here.
By now we were all marbled out and decided to go find some information about diving in the area. We had missed spotting a dive shop and resort called Duck Divers on our first trip around the island, so we headed south again after lunch. But first, we took another detour up to one of the two cellular towers on the hills around Romblon for stellar views over the bay. Zoomed in we could just make out MOKEN on the far side of the bay.
Later, at Duck Divers, we got some great pointers from Patrick and Philippe, two of the three brothers that run the place, on dive sites which we could easily access from Romblon harbour with our dinghy. They were full up with a group or we might have gone diving with them. The only other dive operator on the island had been hard hit by a recent typhoon. When I called them, the owner said they were busy rebuilding and not open.
We retraced our route back to Romblon town and ended up returning the bikes in the early afternoon. We could have kept going, there are supposed to be some nice beaches on the eastern coast too, but by this time our butts were getting sore so back to town once more.
The shop where we rented the bikes is located near to the marble market that faces the central square. Here we ogled everything from large marble tables and graceful carvings to wine coolers, vases, small bowls and kitschy Romblon souvenirs. The quality was excellent and the prices were very reasonable by our standards, but with limited room on MOKEN for large marble pieces, we ended up settling for a beautiful small covered bowl and a duck. How cute is that? A marble duck for our Diesel Duck.
Riding and marble weren’t the only highlights of the day. We had time that afternoon to zip back to MOKEN and dinghy out to beautiful Bonbon beach once more for a relaxing snorkel. The perfect end to a stellar day…despite the earlier downpour.
Next up, we spend a couple more days around Romblon and make our first exploratory dive.