, February 08, 2023

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The Joys of Travel


  •   5 min reads
The Joys of Travel
Photo by Kenny Kuo on Unsplash
By Jing Montealegre

Start with a long bus ride from the city to the province. If you’re one for adventure, take economy class. Buses by the hundreds ply the islands from end to end, with or without the luxury of air-conditioning and air-suspension.

It’s easy to spot the perfect ride: a windshield framed by a dazzling frilly curtain decked out with disco lights; above the windshield, a Santo Nino staring down on you; and a conductor tiptoeing daintily around baggage stacked in the middle aisle.

You’ll know you’re in for a wild adventure when the first blast of wind hits you in the face and the staid-looking fellow in the driver’s seat has suddenly turned into a daredevil, zipping past every motor vehicle (you’ll learn later he must get to the passengers waiting down the road before the other buses get to them), and the clunky 20-year-old junk you’ve boarded has transformed itself into a monster bus, spewing dark, deadly fumes, and trivializing everything in its path.

Photo by Pew Nguyen

When it arrives at a pre-arranged pit stop, you’ll be glad to see the balut boys and the hawking mamas rush up the bus, together with a fresh batch of passengers who will occupy every inch of space in the middle aisle (you think this is great because the fresh batch enhances safety on board by serving as human airbags in the event of a collision).

With a full stomach and an empty bladder, the daredevil fires all cylinders and the bus roars down the highway.

But you all get to your destination in one piece, a little battered but no worse for wear, and jump out the bus with the bravado of one who’s just participated in a raw, bruising exercise in power. “Great trip!” you proclaim with a wide grin and a nervous tic on your cheek, thoroughly convinced that a boat trip the next time around might not be such a bad idea.

Except that long ago you’ve taken that boat trip to Boracay from Manila through the port of Dumaguit in Panay. The ship, the Nuestra Senora de Lipa anchored in Manila’s North Harbor, was geared for leisurely travel, good enough for people who didn’t have to be at a certain point at a certain time, and certainly good enough for cheapskates like me.

The Lipa didn’t look like one of those floating coffins either. The unrelenting government scrutiny and the usual high-profile congressional investigations of the Marina and the Coast Guard after every sea mishap convinced me that inter-island sea travel is safe.

I had bought passage in the tourist class, with six double-decked bunks to a room. After taking my beddings from a counter and fixing my bed, I went topside to watch a dozen scrawny, sea-browned boys below stalking the ship on styropor rafts (a clever contraption - four flat styropor pieces held together by two bamboo poles on each side - buoyant enough to carry one boy).

Out-diving each other for coins tossed by the ship’s passengers, the boys execute ‘retrieval operations’ efficiently, getting to the sinking, wobbling coins before these reached the bay’s murky bottom.

You could tell that the boys were nobody’s fools, spreading out around the Lipa so that each coin tossed into the sea was within a few strokes of one of them. The coin-tossers were no fools either as they only threw in small coins, and not their watches, jewelry, or travel companions.

Richard Parker via Flickr

As the Lipa undocked, the styropor flotilla dispersed, paddling away from the ship toward the shanties lining the breakwater to count the day’s loot. Not too bad a livelihood for something that every boy loves to do.

I took a table at the ship’s cafeteria with a view of the sea. There I saw one ship after another overtaking the Lipa, which gave me reason to believe that my fifteen-hour journey to Dumaguit, our port of debarkation, could last a year. Well, no one’s in a hurry, I told myself. Except that every second spent on board the Lipa felt like a year spent in harm’s way.

By early evening, people flooded the cafeteria. While it served meals, most of the passengers brought along dinner in plastic containers. I smelled adobo, a few other Filipino delicacies, and the ever-present Lucky Me noodles. So, that was the trick to save on onboard expenses.

As the lights along the coast vanished and the Lipa finally crossed the China Sea, I called it a day. By daybreak the following year, we landed in Dumaguit, safe and sound.

From Boracay I decided to take a plane ride home. The Fokker turboprop may not be the fastest plane around but flying is still a breeze compared to traveling by land or sea. You still go through the gauntlet, get thoroughly frisked by eagle-eyed airport officials looking for contraband - lighters, colognes, toothpastes and bullets - but you get there fast. Certainly faster than in the Lipa.

This particular flight was quite bumpy and a little boy kept throwing up. Across the aisle, a matronly female had her pink curlers on for the ride. I ignored the boy and paid attention to the pink curlers. That’s how you get by on most of these flights.

Any discussion of air travel would not be complete without a plug for the old NAIA 1. Unlike the sparklingly-new airports of Hong Kong and Singapore, the old NAIA 1 welcomed each passenger with chirping rondallas, a cacophony of voices from peddlers and fixers, and the usual harassed cries of passengers and airport personnel. With the new terminals 2 and 3 and upgrades on NAIA 1 completed, air travelers should worry that the old airport’s Third World charm could become a thing of the past.

Air travel today is not so much fun as before. With aviation fuel hitting fantastic highs, in-flight food and drink are no longer free. You’d be lucky to get a free biscuit up there. Like in the Lipa, the aroma of adobo and bagoong is something we’d like to experience in today’s inter-island flights, a local touch I’m sure foreign tourists would begin to appreciate and get their own airlines to adopt.

That, I’m sure could bring back the joy to air travel.


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