About an hour ride away from Masbate City and the lackluster qualities of a provincial capital gives way to spectacular scenery. The town of Milagros about an hour drive south is what I’ve always imagined Masbate to be – a large patch of a deep verdant, green carpet, surrounded by rolling hills and peppered with grazing cows. There are some portions of the main highway where it feels like driving on a highway somewhere in Montana, where the wide expanse of land is matched only by the skies.
My first destination is the Fazenda de Esperança, Portuguese for Farm of Hope. The place is just about 40 kilometers away from Masbate City but it might as well be another island altogether. Part of that has to do with the relative inaccessibility – from the city, I took two tricycles and the trip all in all spanned just over an hour.
I arrive at the place with nothing resembling a plan; I don’t really know anything about the place beforehand, other than I’ll probably find some grass and some hills with cows on it. And it delivers on the grass and the hills – spectacularly, if I may add. But there are no cows and not even people. The weather is warm and nice, the greenery making the surroundings even more serene, but it seems I’m the only person, along with my tricycle driver, who parked in front of what appears to be the front office building.
Fazenda de Esperança is actually a rehabilitation center run by Catholic priests for former drug and addicts. Here, the residents are given spiritual care, while allowing them to work on the farm, thus teaching them the value of hard work and earning through it.
A narrow path around the small building – more like a large house – leads to another wide open space at the back, where at last I saw a group of ladies sitting on the porch of another large house overlooking the hills in the distance. I let out a weak “good morning,” unsure whether I’m actually welcome here, since I haven’t called in advance to make an appointment. But they seem to be indifferent of my presence, so I walk on.
Further along the path, I come across a man who looks like he’s harvesting rice, except this isn’t a rice field, so I’m not really sure what he’s doing. He’s hunched on his back, working on some stalks, like he’s raking them together on a spot by the road.
“Hi, sir, is there a ranch in here?” I ask him. “You know, where the cows are.”
“Ah, yeah,” the man says, straightening up. “Just follow this road, and behind this…”
He points to another house in front of us.
“…there’s another path that leads to the ranch.”
I thank him, follow his directions and come to a fork at the end of this path. Turning left toward the direction of the house, I walk for a few meters, coming across a group of men. Finally, more people! The path reaches another fork, where I turn right, and at the end of it is the ranch. Inside are the cows.
Yay, score one for me.
The motorbike ride that afternoon is no less beautiful. I actually planned to visit a lighthouse in Aroroy, the northernmost town of the main island of Masbate. It turns out that I have to take a boat to get to the lighthouse itself, and because it’s Good Friday, there are no scheduled boat trips.
So Marlon, the motorbike driver I hired to take me to Aroroy from Masbate City, offered to take me around Mandaon and Milagros once more – of course, with additional fee. But I figure it’s worth the extra expense to explore more of the province than to spend the afternoon in the city.
And I feel justified. The trip takes the better part of the afternoon, with us zooming through the mostly empty highways snaking past sweeping meadows and undulating hills. Every now and then, Marlon stops on a side of the road so that I can take pictures of the scenery or chat up with locals. There are few tourist spots in Masbate – at least of the traditional kind. Other than beaches and a couple of caves, the province is really about the raw experience of traveling, the kind where it’s not about ticking off items to see or do.
As hackneyed as it may sound now in the age of travel quotes posing as Instagram captions, here, it really is less the destination than the journey. Although the destination rocks as well, mind you.