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pull off from the black sand beach on a bangka (an elongated wooden boat), heading southeast towards Apo Island, a tiny green speck on the horizon. Within minutes of leaving shore, Atlantis Resort vanishes behind the narrow shoreline amidst the tall, swaying coconut trees. The island becomes its own sea of green, set against a dramatic backdrop: The peaks of the dormant volcano Bukid Talinis ( bukid meaning “mountain”) towering at 1,903 metres above sea level, reach into a cloudless sky. From this vantage point, it’s hard to believe nearly 30,000 people live here, in Dauin, as you can see little sign of human life once you’re a mile offshore.
Apo means “grandchild” in Tagalog, the Philippines’ national language, and so this small island is referred to as the “grandchild” of Negros. Less than a square kilometre in size, the island is surrounded by the Philippines’ first community-organised marine reserve, established in the late 1980s. It is home to nearly 1,000 people; the waters hugging its shores boast 650 documented species of fish and over 400 species of corals, allowing divers the opportunity to see the majority of the 450 coral species indigenous to the archipelago. The reef is healthy and colourful, with a variety of both hard and soft corals. While snorkelling, we spot jackfish, barracuda, a banded sea snake and hawksbill turtles.
Just seven kilometres away from this diver’s paradise is the southeastern tip of Negros Island in Negros Oriental Province. Negros is the fourth largest island in the Philippines, home to four million people – only two percent of the nation’s population of around 100 million people, spread around its 7,641 islands. This lush volcanic island offers an abundance of little explored terrestrial and aquatic wonders, and a laidback environment without hordes of tourists.
The name of the island is hardly politically correct in contemporary times; when the Spaniards arrived in April 1565, they named it after the island’s original inhabitants, the negritos (which translates to “little black people”). The volcanic land is incredibly fertile, but there are only two commercial farming industries: sugarcane (Negros produces half of the Philippines’ sugar) and coconut.
We The reef is healthy and colourful, with a variety of both hard and soft corals. While snorkelling, we spot jackfish, barracuda, a banded sea snake and hawksbill turtles
We visit Silliman University – a prestigious private school boasting a small anthropology museum with a magnificent gem collection – and the oldest bell tower in the Visayas. Driving along the coastal boulevard, we sample silvanas, a tasty frozen meringue-like cookies with layers of buttercream, coated with crumbs. This Dumaguete specialty is the gift of choice Filipinos take home from Negros, and so the airport’s departure terminal is peppered with people carrying the signature blue-and-white cookie cartons.
The Philippines consists of six unique biogeographical areas – groups of islands once connected. During the last Ice Age, a 120-metre drop in ocean levels led to their separation, isolating various species such as the now-endangered Visayan spotted deer and the Visayan warty pig, as well as various small birds. It’s heaven for Nature enthusiasts, and avid ornithologists can get their binoculars out at Twin Lakes – two crater lakes at the foot of Mount Talinis – with over 114 bird species indigenous to this area, including the endangered Negros bleeding-heart and the Visayan wrinkled hornbill. Our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Jake, from the Negros Oriental Tourism Office, identifies all variety of whistles emanating from the canopy branches.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting at the time of the full moon, visit the Manjuyod sandbar, a pristine strip of white sand that is only exposed during extremely low tides in the Tañon Strait. If you’d like to rent one of the basic stilted structures for the day (or the night), you’ll need to coordinate your trip in advance with the municipality. Otherwise, rent a private boat for the day from the nearby town of Bais, and combine your trip with a dolphin watching excursion.
A 30-minute drive from Dumaguete takes us to the town of Dauin, from where you take an exquisite muck diving trip. Here, an abundance of cool critters can be found, such as frogfish and ornate ghost pipefish. Offering easy dive conditions, this is a perfect spot to learn to dive, but it’s also an underwater photographer’s haven, with excellent conditions to capture unique marine critters, such as flamboyant cuttlefish eggs hatching.
Atlantis Resort is well positioned to see the best of Negros Oriental. It’s nestled in a tropical garden looking out over the sea. From here, it’s easy to get to Apo Island, Dauin, and Dumaguete. For food, check out Tokos and Finbar in Dauin, and Kri in Dumaguete. Visit www.atlantishotel.com
Dumaguete is located on the southern tip of Negros Island, 500 kilometres south of Manila, and 110 kilometres from Cebu. There are daily flights from Manila and Cebu. From Cebu City or Liloan Port you can also take a ferry to Dumaguete. The best way to get around Negros is to rent a car. Try Kabayan Car Rental: www.kabayanrentals.com. For more information, visit the Negros Oriental Tourism Office www.negrostourism.com
Both countries have struggled with managing their respective multiethnic demographics, but their disparate approaches were a significant source of conflict during the merger months. The delicate balance of ethnic Malay and Chinese interests continues to be a sensitive topic, with Malaysian nationalism imbued in the Bumiputera policy of positive discrimination – particularly in the face of Singapore’s ethnic Chinese majority.
Today, Malaysia has diversified its production-based economy. Under the Najib administration, the state is working towards growing domestic markets. A sophisticated regulatory regime shields the country from financial risk and global crises, but vulnerability in the ever-important export sector remains, especially in electronics, oil, gas, palm oil and rubber. Najib’s propositions to reduce the preferential treatment afforded to ethnic Malays were predictably met with domestic opposition, despite their potential to attract foreign investors.
Unlike Malaysia, Singapore has little to offer in the way of natural resources, but has instead drawn her economy from its strategic position as a port. While also largely dependent on exports, the country specialises in consumer electronics, information technology, pharmaceuticals and financial services. Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, efforts to reverse a recent growth slump are underway, with projects in place to train locals for positions currently filled by foreigners. Singapore maintains her status as the financial and high-tech hub of Southeast Asia, attractive to investors owing to political stability and apparent low levels of corruption. ag
The Parties While both countries declare themselves democracies, they remain targets of media criticism for autocratic practices
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