Saturday, May 28, 2005

Going to Pandan Island, The Bus Ride

Culture-education and the ultimate test of my patience! Yep, this was the bus ride!

In my mind I was cursing why we were seated on this bus. A mini-bus actually. I was seated on the right side of the bus, window side of course. I couldn’t let this trip pass without seeing the countryside as we rode along! My seat was a two-seater but on departure, no one sat beside me. My companions were on the left side just across me. They were on a three-seater but it looked to me that the seat was just enough to fit the two of them. No one also sat beside them when the bus departed from the pier.

The distance between my back-rest to that one in front of me was less than two feet. How did I know this? I have already measured long ago that when seated, the length from my lower-back to my knees is exactly 22.5 inches. But on this seat, I could not sit erect facing front! Without a choice, my legs had to be at an angle from my body – which is probably the reason why no one opted to sit beside me!

This was to be a three-hour ride on mostly unpaved road to Sablayan. I knew it was not comfortable but I kept reminding myself: “do it for the experience”!

At the start of the ride, I busied myself shooting the countryside sceneries on my videocam. The views were amazing especially that it was early morning. The color of the skies behind the hills and beyond the plains was a merry mix of gold, orange, white and blue. Fantastic! But only to my eyes... videocam technologies as of date cannot (yet) perfectly imitate or emulate exactly what the eyes see. Oh well...

As the dear bus ambled along, and it was not very fast, passengers would board to join the trip while others would get down at some town or barrio. The joining passengers became too many than those getting off!

At some point during the arduous travel, a woman passenger hopped in and obviously, the last remaining vacant seat was that space beside me! So she was asked by the conductor to sit there! My protesting mind was already debating if I should complain. Things rushed through my irritated brain. If I protested, I would probably have been asked to pay for the extra space I needed. And if I did pay, where would this woman sit?! Didn’t I have the kindness in my heart to let a woman be comfortably seated? Oh well, so sit she did and I could only grimace. This went on for about 30 minutes until I could not anymore take it!

The resolve… I asked the woman to sit by the window and I took the supposedly vacant space by the aisle! She liked it and thanked me. I liked it and was also thankful (at least for a few minutes) since I was able to position my legs on the aisle as they won’t fit inside the seat anyway! Besides, I already stopped shooting with my handycam as the ride was getting too dusty.

My celebration for having enough legroom was short-lived! As we went on, other passengers joined in and with the bus already full, they had to stand by the aisle. At some point, another passenger joined in with a cavan of rice or palay – whatever. The whole sack was laid on the aisle where there were only a few people standing – and that was of course right beside me where my feet were supposed to be resting. In front and behind the sack was the passenger’s baggage composed of a “maleta”, a rucksack and a tin can (the kind used as container for biscuits). The passenger/owner of that sackfull even courteously told me that I can rest my feet on top of it. However, in this country where religion and cultural beliefs run deep, I could not rest my feet on the “grace of the lord”. That was food inside the sack and people were already starting to glance if I was actually “trampling” on it or not. I was sure they feared bad luck would descend upon them or us if I did rest my feet on top of the sack of produce! So my feet were clipped between the sack of rice and my seat since I cannot push my knees inside. Oh the rigors of being a six footer in the Philippines! As if these were not enough, the right arm of another passenger was constantly brushing or banging my left ear since she was standing on the aisle.

Nearing the second hour of this seemingly endless trip, I was already feeling too much discomfort from the thighs down to my toes! So I attempted to stand up thinking I would at least be able to stretch a bit and let blood flow to my extremities. This I did as the bus went on. It did help. But unfortunately, my head was banging the ceiling of the mini bus! Oh brother! So I had to bend a little which positioned my head just over the head of the passenger seated in front of me! After a few minutes, I was back in my old cramped seated position.

Along the way, (I was sure this was to everybody’s delight) some passengers got off the bus – including the woman beside me. So passengers took seats where others left off – except beside me!. At some point, everyone in the bus was finally seated – and I could once again stretch my feet on the aisle. Some rear seats were even already empty. Yes the sack of rice was still there but I just placed the back of my legs on top of it so I was not actually trampling on it. I tried to observe how other passengers reacted to this position and glancing at the looks in their eyes, it seemed acceptable!

Let's see in the next few stories if I invited any more bad luck...

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