MY FIRST TRIP TO VISAYAS
Jose Antonio Cangco
(This piece was meant for light reading but there’s a lesson or two to be learned here somewhere.)
The Philippines is divided into three island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. I have been out of Luzon island several times but I have never stepped foot on either Visayas or Mindanao, except now, in 2015.
This was my first trip to Visayas and I had chosen to go to Bacolod, the City of Smiles. I booked a regular flight on Cebu-Pacific for Bacolod and, for the return trip, I bought a ticket from 2Go Travel for onboard the sea vessel St. Michael the Archangel. This would be my first long trip on an inter-island ship, excited to be spending New Year’s Eve at sea, far from the noise and sulfuric smoke of festive firecrackers on land.
On December 29, Typhoon Seniang made landfall on Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, and I received a text message from 2Go Travel not to proceed to Bredco Port in Bacolod City. Not wishing to be stranded in the south, I rebooked for January 15 and January 17, the days when Pope Francis would be in Manila.
Ready to travel per my new plans, I read with anticipation of another storm again entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility on the week of my travel. I had barely slept the night before my morning flight; coming home from work, I accessed websites of PAGASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the U.S. Naval Oceanography, as well as other sites that tracked rainfall or showed satellite images of the storm. Concluding that Typhoon Amang would not pass over Negros Island and would turn upwards to Bicol away from Manila on my return trip, I packed my things and took a taxi for NAIA 3.
The flight was uneventful. The crew were no smilers, it didn’t matter, I was going to enjoy my holiday. At Bacolod airport, which was actually located 14 kilometers away in Silay City, the sun was shining in all its glory. A barker and a driver persuaded me in a mixture of melodious Ilonggo and Tagalog to take the van instead of a jeepney which I wanted to try for the experience. They said jeepneys come far and between. Looking at the wide expanse of sugar cane fields and the empty highways, I nodded--they could not be wrong.
The van went around the city depositing passengers. Noticing that there were only a handful of us remaining, Sister Elena (not her real name) reminded the driver to drop her at the bus terminal bound for Estancia. With much gesticulation, the driver serenaded her that we had passed the terminal some distance back, and that she should take a taxi instead. Sr. Elena sang back that that would make her spend more. So, to appease her, the driver gave her a few pesos. A couple, also their first time in Bacolod, remarked that the locals seemed nice people; I said I thought so too if only judging from their sing-song speech. The man joked that they ought to be careful though, less they mistake angry talk for friendly banter.
I checked-in at Northwest Inn, then I went for lunch at an open restaurant on the corner of Lacson and Rizal streets which offered a good view of the commercial district. The tourist industry will not give me any cordial welcome for I am not a food connoisseur nor a fervent tourist visiting popular attractions and spots. I mixed with the locals in the public plaza , lagoon, malls, and streets. I would have liked to chat with the hotel guard but his Tagalog was barely understandable. I wanted to visit the public market where one could see a cross- section of the local people in their true selves, not hiding behind fancy dresses and make-up, but time and directions forbade. I had sizzling daing na bangus and calamares on two meals, another time with chicken wings marinated in a slightly sweet, tangy sour concoction. Two dishes and a cup of rice cost seventy pesos; I tried Bacolod's specialty chicken inasal in a popular food chain but I preferred the lowly chicken wing costing thirty-seven pesos. I passed newly cooked piaya (which I regret not buying, something different from what is available, packaged, in Manila).
I bought bread and pastries from local groceries but restricted myself to drinking mineral water and Yakult. One kind of bread was flat and round like a disc with either chocolate or ube (purple yam) filling. There were different kinds of fruit tarts, polvoron, barquillos, chicharon, and fresh camachile. There were also slices of sweet sticky calamay wrapped in plastic; I wanted to buy calamay in a polished coconut shell but it was bulky and heavy.
The hotel served breakfast buffet the next day, and I had from several kinds of dishes, sautéed diced Baguio beans, two slices of meat loaf, two pan de sal, and brewed coffee (I have only drank brewed coffee once or twice in my life.) After breakfast, I received a text message rescheduling the ship's departure to an earlier time. No matter.
While looking around on Rizal Street deciding where to go next, I saw a half-filled flat-nose jeepney waiting for passengers. I got onto the front seat, asked the driver if his route was ikot to which he responded in the local dialect, then he started cursing the brief delay caused by a taxi which blocked us while trying to avoid a car. In Manila, who cares?
Most of the passengers in the jeepney went down at the bus terminal. I followed them then I took a bus to Victorias City, the sugar central of Negros Occidental. I sat next to a girl, probably going home after working on a night shift. She slept for the whole duration of the trip, and kept resting her head on my shoulder. The view was very relaxing--wide fields of light brown dried sugar cane and the distant mountains on the horizon. We passed workers carrying a load of sugar cane on their backs, going up a plank propped-up on the rear-end of the truck to deposit their load. Pieces of wood nailed across the plank served as rungs for footage to the procession of workers. I noticed the boards barely bent with their weight.
Back in Bacolod City, I went to a mall to buy several books I had seen earlier. This was the first time since college that I bought so many books, four of them hard bound, and they were heavy. I also did a last minute shopping that included a bunch of Morado bananas and snacks that I planned to bring home or eat on the ship.
I rarely take pictures of the places I visit, preferring to rewind them in my memory. Bredco Port is in the Guimaras Strait between the islands of Negros and Iloilo. I wanted to take a few shots of the area but no tricycle would stop for me so I took a padyak. I told the pedicab driver, a thin man in his forties, darkened by the sun, to get as close to the ship as possible to see if it was St. Joan of Arc, my vessel for next day’s trip. I could not see his face where I was seated, but he hollered above the throng of people milling about, “SI MICHAEL YAN! HINDI KO ALAM KUNG NASAAN SI JOAN!” (THAT’S MICHAEL! I DON’T KNOW WHERE JOAN IS!”)
That night, I got an advisory again from 2Go Travel that the scheduled departure had been cancelled due to Typhoon Amang. I switched on the TV for news, then went down to the hotel lobby to verify flight schedules on the Internet, and asked the front-desk for directions to the airport. I wanted to book a flight early in the morning, being well aware that Manila would be placed under Typhoon Signal No. 1 in the afternoon.
For breakfast, I had a big chicken sandwich, still full after having eating much of the snacks and a lot of bananas I had planned to bring in on the ship. After paying my bill, I rushed toward SM where the airport vans waited for passengers. I reached the van at the same time as a passenger bound for Davao arrived in a tricycle. The van, with only one passenger, would not leave until it was full. The Davaoeño stepped out from the tricycle and murmured his flight was at 8:30 then jumped right back into the sidecar. I asked if I could ride with him to Silay airport, and he said yes. A man who was observing all this suddenly appeared, offering to take us to Silay City in his taxi. We tried to bargain to have the fare lowered, but knowing we were running against time, we accepted four hundred pesos, and I gave my share to the Davaeño.
At the airport, I thanked the Davaeño for his kindness and hurried to the ticketing office of a low budget airline while he ran to the departure/arrival gate. The ticket for an afternoon flight cost five thousand pesos plus. This was way above what I paid going to Bacolod City so I proceeded to the Philippine Airline office.
This one had two doors: one had a sign hanging that read CLOSED, inside was a man bent over his cellphone, and the other that read BREAK, taped on the glass door. It did not mean break the door. I knocked and the man let me in, apologizing profusely for watching videos of anaconda in Florida. I said there are also many alligators in Florida but that I needed a plane ticket for Manila immediately. He said something like there was a lot of it inside the airport and motioned for me to follow him.
He accompanied me past security, and once inside, he asked for my I.D. and told me to sit and wait. After several minutes, he came back triumphantly waving a boarding pass. He told me to remain seated while he’d go get the ticket. This time he was gone away more quickly, clutching when he returned, a ticket printout and a receipt in his hand, (which was unusual—the boarding pass before the ticket.) After thanking him, I handed him a hundred peso tip. The ticket cost P 3,216.00. At the boarding area, I was wondering what he did at the airport for a living when he emerged from the aircraft, happily pushing a PWD on a wheelchair.
The crew on this flight were big smilers and greeted the passengers copiously. When I walked passed them, they looked in the distance, seeming to check the weather. In water stained sneakers, faded blue jeans and faded striped-blue shirt, I did not resemble the typical airline passenger. Inside my backpack was another fresh, clean thick shirt that I had specifically brought along for wearing at sea, but it was even more faded. The two better shirts I brought along, I had used going to, and around, Bacolod City.
We got off at NAIA 2 just after lunch. The crew were still all smiles, thanking the passengers for flying with them. As I walked passed them, they seemed focused again on the distant horizon. It did not matter. I reached Manila before Typhoon Amang did.
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