The Ultimate Holy Week O.B.T. of Negros Island

Ian Rosales Casocot
9 min readMar 31, 2023

The term “O.B.T.” — for “one big tuyok” — was probably first used by Dumaguete resident Raffy Teves in 1982. It caught on, and decades later, we’re still using this term for the now “traditional” habit of going around Dumaguete in a car or motorcycle for several cycles before heading home. It started when quiet Dumaguete, once a city of 𝑡𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑙𝑙𝑎𝑠 or horse-drawn carriages, started having a considerable number of cars on its narrow roads. According to Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio, “There was nothing to do, so we would be hanging out at our homes, on rotation each week, for tapok. Then, if we ran out of things to do, Raffy would say, ‘O.B.T. ‘ta!’ and we’d all get on our rides and do a big tuyok of Dumaguete, which included all the cemeteries in town!”

Renz and do this, too, all the time. And so do many of our friends.

But back in 2018, in time for Holy Week, I did the ultimate O.B.T. with my friends Xandro “Chucky” Dael and Felix Dela Peña Mosqueda III: to go around Negros Island at the top of Holy Thursday, and return to Dumaguete at the end of Easter Sunday. Our haphazard aim was to see if we could do it, and also to see the various sites in our island that we’d heard so much about but never got to see, because life was always busy. I also decided to do, on a lark, a bit of heritage documentation: I wanted to photograph every single Jose Rizal statue in all the towns and cities we passed by, and to photograph every parish church.

You need four things to be able to go around Negros Island in four days:

First, have an absolute and heedless denial in impossibility. This is essential. An impromptu O.B.T. around an island as huge as Negros will have most people say, “No, thank you.” We said yes instead.

Second, have a company of a few friends to share the madness with. Chuck and I have always shared a love for traveling — we used to do staycations a lot — although we differ greatly in our estimation of what constituted great accommodations: I love the rustic charms of nipa hut resorts, and he loves them chic and modern. Nonetheless, I love going on daytrips with him — something we actually hadn’t done ever since the pandemic happened. But in 2018, we just decided out of the blue to take this O.B.T. trip. It was completely decided on a whim when we were chatting on Facebook one night right around the beginning of Holy Week, and I think I said something like, “My dream is to do an O.B.T. of Negros Island.” And he replied: “Let’s do it this Thursday.” And that was that.

Problem was, I don’t drive — so it was left to Chucky to do all of the driving around Negros Island, 206 kilometers of nautical highway in total. [The poor guy developed a wrist problem right after.] Also, I’m such a bad companion on the road: I always fall asleep the moment the car I’m in speeds on a highway. Good thing we had Felix to accompany us. He provided the laughs, especially when I slept, and he was there to break whatever indecisiveness the two primary instigators of the trip landed ourselves into. [In the meantime, I charted our trip, determined our stops, decided on the tourist spots to visit, and booked all the hotels.]

Third, have a car that’s stocked up with gasoline and chichirya for the road. This is a must.

Our original route, which we followed almost religiously, all 206 kilometer of nautical highway.

Fourth, have a good map to track where you might stay for every stop for the night. Since we only had four full days to do a complete trip, I determined that we needed to do three nightly stops. I decided that our first stop should be in Negros Oriental — and that should be Canlaon City, right at the border of the two provinces, and which would provide us with our only excursion to the interiors of the island, and at least see Kanlaon Volcano and pay homage to the gods from the vantage point of what is said to be the oldest balete tree in all of the island. We earlier determined not to visit the interior towns for lack of time, hence no stops in Pamplona, Mabinay, Don Salvador Benedicto, La Castellana, Moises Padilla, and Isabela.

In Canlaon, we stayed at Mountain Citi Hostel, and enjoyed our first O.B.T. night going around the mountain city at dusk, looking for cheap food, and pondering about the first day of madness we just went through. Our first leg from Dumaguete to Canlaon was probably our most familiar trip, because we’d been through these cities and towns before — but doing it during Holy Thursday added a different flavor to the trip. When we stopped by Tanjay, we managed to catch a glimpse at the Semana Sanata kasikas in this most Catholic of Oriental Negrense cities. It was interesting. The Oriental towns going north also increasingly became rustic, and because I was documenting all the parish churches, it was jarring for me to take note that they became more garish the more up north we went, save for Tayasan’s. Also, we couldn’t find the poblacion of Vallehermoso, so we skipped that. [Truth: I have never seen the población of Vallehermoso.]

In Canlaon City.

On our second leg, we started by going from Canlaon City to San Carlos City — a city I love — and then we were on a route that was no longer familiar to us. We were now in the Occidental side of Negros, although all the towns until Manapla — which includes Calatrava, Toboso, Escalante City, Sagay City, and Cadiz City — were all Cebuano-speaking. But suddenly in Manapla, while we were looking for the Gaston heritage house where Peque Gallaga filmed Oro Plata Mata, we started hearing more Hiligaynon, just like a switch being turned on. [Also in Manapla, we chanced upon the Chapel of the Cartwheels — something we did not plan to visit at all, but glad we did. It was near the Gaston house anyway.]

It was also around here that I really began to feel the grand sugar heritage of my island. Sure, I’ve seen sugar haciendas in Bais and Tanjay, and in Sta. Catalina and Pamplona — but the sugar fields of Northern Negros are something else altogether — a vastness of sugar fields that essentially serve as time machines. In Victorias City, we decided to visit St. Joseph the Worker Chapel, commonly known as the Church of the Angry Christ, which is located inside the Victorias Milling Company — just to see the famous mural done by Filipino-American modernist painter Alfonso Ossorio in 1950. Also in Victorias City, we witnessed the biggest Santo Entierro procession we have ever seen in our whole lives, and we made this strange distinction: Oriental towns and cities seemed to go into somber mode during Holy Week, while Occidental towns and cities were practically using the high holy days as a chance to, well, party. There was such a festive atmosphere the moment we entered Victorias, and which carried us all the way through our trip to the southern Occidental towns. Another observation we made: Occidental towns and cities really do flaunt their wealth — you could see it in the ornate [and preserved] architecture and other infrastructures, even in the smallest of towns. The whole thing brought a certain honesty in the Occidental Negrense boast, “Sa amon ya, ang kwarta ginapala, ginapiko.” It’s true.

This second leg would end in Silay City, where I chose the German Unson heritage house, now a thriving bread-and-breakfast, to be our second stop for the night. I thought that there was just no other way to stay in Silay — a city famous for its heritage houses from the heyday of the sugarcane decades — except be in an actual heritage house. We did our requisite tour of all the sugar houses in Silay — which, lucky for us, were all open on a Holy Friday. But all of us had been to Silay before and had done this heritage tour, so we soon opted to loiter around town looking for a place to eat — and even though the city was festive and full of people, we could not find a single restaurant that was open. We ended up buying diyes chicken off the streets, and spent the evening under the shadow of the grand San Diego Pro-Cathedral.

In Silay City.

We began our third leg by leaving for Bacolod mid-morning. We didn’t really intend to stay and explore Bacolod, because we’d all been here before — but we took time to take a photo of the San Sebastian Cathedral, and a photo of the Jose Rizal statue along Araneta Avenue. We knew the road to Sipalay, our third stop, would be long — the longest leg ever in our O.B.T. — so we immediately went our way, although we decided to bypass the sea route after Bacolod to do a quick interior look at Murcia and Bago City, where we promptly got lost on our way to find an exit to Pulupandan. We laughed nervously when we finally found our bearings, knowing we lost an hour or so going round and round the interiors, and then it was smooth-sailing to Kabankalan. From there, we were finally in the heel of our boot-shaped island, the southern tropical wilderness of Ilog and Cauayan — which was absolutely beautiful for its density of foliage. It was nearing nighttime when we reached Cauayan, and then suddenly we were in the middle of a heavy downpour. We weren’t even near our destination yet! We braved on in the uncomfortable darkness that suddenly was everywhere, the highway blurry in the rain. Finally, after a few apprehensive hours, we did reach Sipalay.

What Chuck and Felix did not know however is that I booked us accommodations, not in Sipalay itself, but in Sugar Beach — a cove which was only accessible via a pump boat the resort was sending us. In the increasing darkness of evening, around 8 PM, while the rain was petering out but was still quite strong, we finally boarded the pump boat on rough seas, with rainwater and seawater drenching all of us. It was in this condition — fun for me, but horrifying to Chuck and Felix — that we finally reached Driftwood Village Resort, a place I’d stayed in from a few years back when I spent an entire Holy Week vacation with my brother Edwin. The rain was no longer as harsh when we settled in for the night, and we spent dinnertime in the company of hippies and expats. By Easter Sunday morning, the sun was out in full force — and Chuck and Felix finally found out why Sugar Beach is called exactly that: the fineness of the sand and the gloriousness of the view were all worth last night’s heavy rain. It was beautiful.

On Sugar Beach in Sipalay City with Chucky.

By noon, we were preparing to go on our final leg — the homestretch to Dumaguete after a brief stopover in Bayawan, Chuck’s hometown and mine, to visit family and friends. It was already late in the afternoon when we started on that final stretch — but not without a final decision: “Do we go through Pamplona, or through Siaton?” I opted for Siaton, knowing I could catch more photos of churches and Rizal statues that way.

We arrived in Dumaguete near dusk, stopping for a bit at M.L. Quezon Park to behold our Jose Rizal statue and our Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, just within a stone’s throw of each other. We were finally home — and our O.B.T. was a grand success I don’t think the three of us could surpass again.

So, which churches were the prettiest and grandest? Silay’s, hands down, architecture-wise. Art-wise, the Church of St. Joseph the Worker in Victorias, but Manapla’s Church of the Cartwheels is fantastic for its idiosyncracies. But in terms of traditional feel, Bacong, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Pontevedra, and Valladolid were the tops — although Valladolid’s has terrible interiors. The churches in the south side of Oriental are older and more beautiful, but in the north side, especially after Bais, not so much, except for Tayasan and Amlan, the latter which somehow managed to preserve the old architecture. In terms of lovable strangeness, I love the parish churches of Cadiz, Bais, and Amlan. The saddest were the churches in San Jose, Toboso, Basay, and Ayungon. And the most disappointing is probably Tanjay. For an old parish, its church is unbelievably garish.

As for the Rizal statue documentation, that’s another story.

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Ian Rosales Casocot

Interpreter of hamsters. Author of Beautiful Accidents: Stories and Heartbreak & Magic: Stories of Fantasy and Horror