Monday, April 28, 2008

To Catbalogan via Tacloban (again…)

This is just an account of my latest trip to Catbalogan with a lot of notable things as far as my lowly mind is concerned! Every time I pass this way it’s always different but I really never bothered to take notes. One of you asked me to observe details, and so I did. Am not sure if this “taking stock of the details” made me real happy but I learned a whole lot!

Here we go…

Availing of the lowest airfare there was/is from Manila to Tacloban, I took off one morning via Cebu Pacific’s earliest flight of the day – ETD 0455H. Had no sleep the night before as I was home late from the office and had to be at the domestic airport by 0255H. Gosh! Let’s not anymore dwell at how I got to the airport as it was a breeze with no traffic along EDSA!

Check-in. This was one rare occasion where I had all of 95 kilograms for checked luggage – 5 boxes and a big bag. Oftentimes I do not even have a checked bag when flying around this country! At the airport I called on a porter and asked for his assistance. He obliged but tried calling another porter motioning that this other porter take on my other boxes. As I thought it was very much possible, I politely requested the original porter to take on my entire luggage – he agreed. I didn’t want to be looking at two porters rushing around with all those boxes, plus I didn’t like the idea that I’d be tipping a heftier sum with two porters instead of one. The first x-ray check was a breeze and I was at the check-in area in no time. I was readily processed, paid excess baggage charges, given my boarding pass, tipped P50 to the porter and went to the smoking lounge. There I found that I did not have my claim stubs for the checked baggage. Rushed back and the check-in agent who couldn’t find them claim stubs. So he wrote an entire set of tags, gave me the claim stubs, promised me he will be able to identify my boxes and suitcase and re-tag them with the new set.

The WAIT. At 0315H with a 0455H departure, I was torn between sitting around at the non-air-conditioned check-in area or the air-conditioned smoking room. Entering the air-conditioned pre-departure area where there are TV sets was not an initial option as I knew I would crave to puff before boarding. Oh my vices! So, I filled my lungs with about 3 sticks worth of puffing cigarettes plus punished my nostrils (and lungs) even further by inhaling other people’s smoke. Gosh my inconsistencies – I am a smoker but I hate the smell of second hand smoke hehe! And I also dislike very much the smell of cigarette smoke on my clothes! So, why the hell am I keeping this vice? Ahh whatever the reason/s, please don’t let me stop from smoking… please?!

In that stinky smoking room (ang kapal ko ba calling it “stinky”?), I came to a difficult decision-point with three choices – 1) to stay and light up my 4th stick, 2) to speed out of this room and spend some time at the check-in area (so I can get back to this smoking chamber later), or 3) to finally call it ENOUGH and head unto the air conditioned pre-departure area – of course with plans to come back out anytime I felt like puffing again. The good in me prevailed to take option 3 – meaning I decided to enter the pre-departure lounge by arguing with myself that it was more comfortable in there and that I can snooze or I can watch TV or watch people around – plus, I could come back out later if I really craved for another smoke but suffer the shoe-removing ceremony hehehe!

So, next step… the terminal fee is still the good old expensive P200. Now the 2nd x-ray and security check is still the same ugly ceremony I don’t even know if they’ll ever change the procedure. First, you remove your shoes and put them in trays to pass them through the x-ray machine. I was wearing my heaviest pair of shoes to be used in Catbalogan so that I can save luggage space. Ah how cumbersome this ceremony. Next, as before, you are told to put all coins, anything metallic plus your hand phone in the same or another tray that must also pass through the x-ray machine. Then, after walking through the “security gate”, you are frisked by an AVSECOM guard. He gropes through anything that’s inside your pocket. As I was in this kind of ceremony, I said hi to the x-ray machine operator and we made some “how are you”s. He has already become some kind of a friend to me by my frequent pass-throughs in this ceremony hehe! A second later, the guard frisking me asked if it was a disposable lighter in my pocket. I said yes, and was about ready to turn it in but the x-ray operator said “pare, okay na yan”! And I was let in with the disposable lighter still in my pocket! If you are wearing hiking shoes with laces, the re-wearing will take time – but at least there are seats just after the x-ray machine for you to do that! I took a grand sweet time doing this as I was happy my very expensive disposable lighter (worth seven pesos hehehe) was still with me and I was still almost 2 hours away from boarding time… argh!

The next ceremony is still the same as it has been before – an airport employee who has a counter that blocks your way will demand to see your boarding pass with the stapled terminal fee coupon and what they call a Passenger’s Entry Pass in turn stapled to it! Say that again? Well, it is called a ‘Passenger’s Entry Pass’ (a small cut out of a bond paper) that is attached to your ‘Terminal Fee Receipt’ (red coupon) that is attached to your ‘Boarding Pass’! This employee removes the “Passenger’s Entry Pass” and you will be happy your boarding documents are getting tinier hehe! What is the entry pass for? I have yet to know and am itching to know! I promise not to forget to ask about this on my next pass at this “ceremonial hall” hehehe – which is probably next weekend anyway!

Now now… at 0323H with a 0455H ETD, what do I do in the noisy pre-departure lounge?! Sit and be merry watching out for beautiful and ugly people around, or sit and snooze not minding the cacophony of sounds from beautiful and ugly people around – those were my only two options! In either option, I was sure to hear boisterous groups of giggling young adults or irritating older folks who talk like loud speakers because they’re already hearing impaired plus the occasional whines & giggles of little lovely tykes running around the place. For whatever reason, I did both – meaning tried to snooze and tried to watch everyone around me plus a visit to the food stalls to grab something to bite! Not bad actually! At 0443H, my flight was being boarded! Yey! I said to myself… “at least we are going in the aircraft as per published ETD but that would still take a lot of time for the plane to taxi the long way towards the runway. I was wrong!

The Flight. No wonder the 3 stewardesses seemed to be rushing things right after the doors were closed. There was the usual “push back” – which did not go very far, then the aircraft turned around some degrees and the pilot was saying “cabin crew prepare for take off”! I initially raised my sleepy eyebrows and smiled. I said to myself, the captain probably wanted to get his communications with the cabin done as early as possible. I knew there was still to be a long taxiing roll to the runway. But oh boy was I wrong! In a few seconds the engines whirred with full might and there we were hurtling forward and upwards!

In a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment and a mixture of fright and excitement, I sat there looking out the left window of the plane and there was terminal 3 quickly disappearing. I knew that for a long time, runways 13 and 31 were not being used… but how come we were taking off at runway 13?! Then I remembered there was a time when all flights coming from this airport were delayed due to runway repairs. I appeased myself to be happy that apparently the repairs are done! Whew! Anyway...

Let me share to you a secret… since my younger years, when on a morning flight to the southern islands from Manila, I always request to be seated by the left side window – that means an “A” seat. This time however, I remember I just said “I need more legroom please”. And so I was seated at 10C and I did not at all care since I can also stretch my legs to the aisle. Now the secret… especially on flights to Naga, Legaspi, Masbate, Catarman, Calbayog, Tacloban, Tagbilaran and even Cebu, the sunrise views are most often great. And since the craft is heading south, that sunrise view will naturally be on the left, thus, the preference for an “A” seat. Then the beautiful haze of the morning sun came… ahhh unfortunately a foreigner taller than me was seated at 10A and when he realized what I was looking at, he immediately started clicking shots. Oh my badness I was swallowing saliva with envy. My fingers were itching to also do some shots but I was not too comfortable asking this “visitor” to move over from his “official” seat so I could do my own shootout. Oh my badness!

So I busied myself with the in-flight magazine with constant glances at the magical colors of the pre-sunrise sky while it was still too dark down on earth. Then my attention shifted to the irritating way the third stewardess was blurting her announcements. She had poor diction, poor memory and poor decorum. This was a first for me to see such a mediocre lady amongst the CEB crews. She would forget her lines, un-press the PA system, make faces while everyone was looking at her up front. She was acting like an embarrassed schoolgirl who made a booboo. Her actuations would have been cute actually except that she is tall and healthy to be called a little girl. She even stammered when about to pronounce the flight number and another such booboo when about to announce the flight’s captain. I smilingly thought “this whore ought to go back to training or be married to a politician so that she can just be herself while gaining more flab”! Gosh!

Thankfully this was just a flight to Tacloban.

Tacloban touchdown. At the airport’s arrival area, the porters were lined at the lobby – as usual – inviting everyone to get them for baggage assistance. I chose a strong-looking manong as I knew my boxes were more than heavy! Gave my claim tags to him and went out of the terminal to puff a cigarette. While doing so, virtually everyone I see was inviting me to take their taxi. Never allowed myself to be bothered by them and just thought “taxihin nyo mga mukha nyo” as I went on to finish my stick! While on my second cigarette, I went further out to look for my ride. Ah, there he was the van driver all with a whole sheet of bond paper with my name written on it! As I acknowledged him, I smiled to realize that his “placard” said my name “and party”. Told him I was alone, gave him my hand carried bag and returned to the arrivals area for the porter and my luggage. Hmm, I entrusted my bag with the driver? And it had my camera, some documents, some cash, my tripod, my 120 gig external drive, two flash drives, chargers, battery packs, IDs, credit cards and just about everything about my life hehe! But this was Tacloban. I still know and feel when to be alarmed in this place – at least I think so!

Back at the arrival area, as expected, I found my porter with none of my luggage yet. I checked in too early so I already expected my luggage would be coming out later than most passengers. Scanned the faces of my co-passengers lest I spot someone I know also going to Catbalogan so I could be a “Good Samaritan” by offering them a free ride on a big clean air-conditioned and fairly new van. With this act, I actually was already trying to solve an anticipated boredom – traveling for more or less two hours on rough road with no one but just my driver. Arrgh! That’s already mild punishment for a talkative dude like me hehe! Did not recognize any of my co-passengers  so when all luggage was accounted for, I exited with the porter – not after the time wasted by the door where a guard meticulously tried to match my claims stub with the tags on my luggage. What else, due to my 6 big pieces of check luggage being twisted and turned by the guard to match tag numbers, a long line of passengers trying to come out had to ensue! Sorry na lang hehe!

Some notes on Tacloban. I lived in this city for about one happy year of my life, yey! As has been so since the birth of humanity, there are no true taxi cabs at the Tacloban airport nor at any place in the whole of Region VIII - meaning Eastern Visayas. Those men who will be inviting you for a taxi ride have either vans or cars or AUVs old or new that they offer to you at a haggling price of usually P800 (only you and your companions) though I had an instance that the asking price was P1,200 when I foolishly asked in English saying “how much”! Gosh! Then by haggling you would usually get to meet halfway at P250 or P300.

There are vans too that take as many passengers as can fit their vehicles and that would usually be from P100 to P150 per head. Am not very sure but I seem to remember that’s also about the price of the “official” rent-a-car service that has personnel inside the arrival lobby.

Okay, this is the Philippines and of course there are jeeps. They’re cheaper but will just invite your ire. You hop on any jeep to the city and the fare will be from P20 to 25 whether or not you have a hand carried luggage. If you have checked baggage, it’s an additional payment more. Those same jeeps would at times already have local residents as passengers or would pick up some local residents along the way. How much do they pay? From eight to ten pesos! Now you’re asking why? I’ve been asking that question since eons ago – no acceptable answer or explanation so far! There was a time I only had my laptop with me and I was asked to pay P30 from the airport to the city while the woman beside me who seemed to be destined to a palengke to buy lots of fish with an empty pail between her legs and an empty palanggana on her lap paid eight pesos. What’s the diff? That’s what I call “Tacloban Logic”!

Now again, this is the Philippines so there are tricycles that can whisk you from the airport to the city center. How much? From P100 to P200 depending on the driver! Oh la la la! As they say in Tacloban… “ambot nala”!

By the way, the airport is about 5 miles or roughly 8kms to the city center. That is about the same distance to the bus terminal in Abucay. Oh yes, though about the same distance from the airport, the city and the terminal are two different routes or ways since the bus terminal was erected in a remote place to lessen traffic at the city center. Final note… regular “San Jose – Tacloban” jeeps don’t pass by the bus terminal. You’ll have to switch jeeps somewhere in the city.

So what does the city need for the convenience of air travelers? Regulation – that means a lesson from Edward Hagedorn of Puerto Princesa City – where even if the main transport mode from the airport is just the lowly tricycle, there is a big tarpaulin right outside the arrivals area that tells you how much is the fare from where you are to where you want to be!

Now back to my Catbalogan trip!

Oh, I purposely titled the above topic as “Some notes on Tacloban” since this time, I did not have to pass through the grueling choices of price ranges – yes, they’re always a “price range” and that depends on the driver! Remember I had my driver waiting for me? And his van I commissioned via a phone call to Grand Tours in Catbalogan costs P1800 from the airport all the way to Catbalogan – all in. They call that arrangement “pakyaw” – meaning you pay for what the normal capacity of passengers would be paying for the trip. Had to do it due to the amount of luggage I had with me. So my “Some notes on Tacloban” came from previous trips – but I did observe that it was still the same thing during this trip.

Quick Tacloban run-through. On a Wednesday morning, cruising by the road towards Tacloban city proper was as I remember it, not too heavy a traffic with tricycles dominating the scenes. So as expected, it was like traversing Ayala Avenue on a Sunday morning! Oh there I saw the gigantic coke, sprite and royal in cans by the rotund as we veered right from the airport. When I was younger some centuries ago, I remember they were not “in can” but gigantic bottles! Golly, for the many years I have been passing by this area, those became common sights to me not worthy of anything, but when I showed a pic of the three cans to a niece, it was like she saw the moon up close hehe! Then… oh there was that famed convention center that I did not see last year! I did not ask the driver to slow down but just the same I clicked some photos as we passed by. It sits on one of my favorite Tacloban views going to or coming from the airport – the big expanse of water’s edge road with no buildings, houses or structures (yet). Well, the vacant space is still big and I hope it remains so, since, it for me is one of the remaining scenic places in Tacloban. The view of the placid sea just by the side of the road is really good (not to mention that there is a good restaurant in this area that I frequent for their seafoods).

Nothing much for me to see or anticipate as I have passed this way many times, but I did request my driver to make a quick roundabout before we exit towards Catbalogan. Oh there was the Sto. Nino Shrine with still clean and serene surroundings; oh there was the People’s Center that looked cluttered with so many things posted by the walls and grills. Is it still the People’s Center that it was designed and made for? Or is it now a school – I wonder and will know sometime this year. Oh Calle Real is still the same; Imelda/Juan Luna not much change; Imelda/Paterno still the same; oh well the DWU complex seem to be already habited! Has it re-opened? Naaah! Or is it being rented to another school? Probably! Hmm there are more coffee shops now along Imelda! Burgos, Gomez, Zamora, Salazar, Sto Nino, Del Pilar, Romualdez Streets are still pretty much the same with some new establishments here and there. Oh UP has new buildings! Whoa Leyte Park is still alive! Ah the “memorable” Botanical! Yes the Madonna of Japan still there and still silent… hmm, am sure the afternoon to evening “miracles” still happen by and behind it – mapusta ako! The Balyu-an, the city hall everything looked still fine to my eyes. Nostalgia nostalgia sniff sniff and I had to signal my driver that we head on out for Samar!

The way out of the city this time was not anymore via “Progressive” (the High School) but I think it is via an extension of “Avenida” that I did not like as there are stretches of ugly road even if still in the city area. Gosh! Okay out on the highway towards San Juanico was pretty much the same morning views that I remember.

San Juanico. “STOP, PARA”! That was almost a command that I loudly exclaimed to the driver as we neared the two military guards and the bridge marker. I quickly went down to see if the marker was still readable. In the process I disturbed a dog resting by the foot of the marker that readily scampered when I approached and tried reading it once again – which I think I last read some 3 decades ago when I was just a tyke! I can still read it but my camera won’t since the morning sun was harshly in the direct opposite. Okay, while I pass here almost every year… I seldom get to stand in this place and savor the wind and the views. So, I stood there just looking out to the body of water below the bridge that never seem to stay still. The past came rushing on my mind and I recalled when the city still had that mini bus plying the route of the city center and the foot of this bridge… when me and some friends would come out here then walk the entire length of the bridge teasing each other that we could be another Dante Varona who jumped from atop it… that we could be the 12th to jump from and instantly die under this bridge… and so on. Oh those days when I was just learning how to fall in love hehehe!

CUT! That was a command I told myself… and after about 10 minutes of just looking out, I silently returned back to the van for my onward trip to Catbalogan. When I told him “tara, let’s go” the driver casually asked “first time mo dinhi sir?” and I said no while busy clicking my camera even from inside the semi-tinted van. At the other end of the bridge (Samar side) the military guards are also still there. As far back as I can remember, this bridge had already been guarded by military personnel at both ends. I think that’s a good thing. Oh, I may have seen that last year or other years… but this is first time that welcome arc to the town of Sta. Rita came to my full attention. Honestly, that thing never came to my awareness as I always just pass here most of the time even already sleeping. And it’s just a few meters after the bridge. So, to correct my long time misplaced assumption, the Samar end of the San Juanico Bridge is at the town of Sta. Rita and not Basey. Whew!

Oh how clever! Just before the welcome arc there was a big truck parked by the highway shoulder and underneath it was a hammock where one of the crews was having a morning snooze! Or was that an overnight sleep? Whatever, but I knew that it was just 6:56 AM!

The Samar-side of the trip. Okay now, past the nostalgia and the realizations I was on a road trip that many times I have trodden but never bothered to be conscious about – if only to relay them to others. So, I took note that this road trip from Tacloban takes me to part of Babatngon, Leyte – specifically Barangay Guintigui-an where the Leyte side foot of the bridge is. I realize now that yes, it is not Tacloban anymore! Then after the bridge the trip takes me to Sta. Rita (not the poblacion though), then the town of Pinabacdao (also not the town proper as those would usually be by the sea). Oh, at Pinabacdao there is an intersecting road that leads to the town of Villareal (hello Villahanons… you know who you all are!). Then the Maharlika highway takes me on to and right smack into the central area of the town of Calbiga by a big river; then it traverses across three non-central barangays of the town of San Sebastian (hello Mayora!); followed by a winding mountainous part of the town of Hinabangan; next it’s a bumpy onwards to the town of Paranas (Wright) – hey at Barangay Buray there is a crossroad that is your way to Eatern Samar; then the road goes northwards to the town of Motiong; followed by the town of Jiabong – and in these two towns there are a lot of mussel (tahong) farms; and finally after climbing a seemingly mutilated part of the Maharlika highway… the scenic road descends to the city of Catbalogan where as you wind down to sea level the vistas of the Maqueda Bay and some little islands are great!

So, let me go back to my trip and I last commented about Sta. Rita. Oh well, in this part of the Maharlika Highway, it was uneventful. I did see again the cross-roads that leads to the town of Basey… and that the national highway’s asphalt was fine… and the morning rural sceneries were as has always been… really great. Passing by Pinabacdao and approaching Calbiga, I saw again that interesting “roofed habal-habal”. Yep, it is only here that I see these habal-habals (motorbikes where passengers ride in front and at the back of the driver) with roofs! Yep yep… they don’t have “side-cars” but just the same they have roofs! They’ve already caught my curiosity sometime ago as I couldn’t quite understand the practicality of those roofing structures. Does it have any “value-add”? Well, if they’re making it, then there probably is! Protection from the sun? Definitely a yes! Protection from rain? Only for the head, I am sure hehe! Just the same, those roofed habal-habal bikes are a sight to see! My heart always jumps when I see one! From Itbayat down to Tagum and further to Sarangani or even Sitangkai, it is only here so far that I have seen these habal-habal bikes roofed! I really believe the roofing does not offer much of a protection from anything. But since they have it here in the Calbiga area, then so be it! They’re interesting to look at anyway hehe! For those who can’t picture what I am saying, do this… get a motorbike in whatever kind of make or model then put a roof on it – that it!

Onwards from Calbiga… and I already expected this due to my experience last year… the bumps and the swerves start as if you are on your way to hell! For every jump of the van I was in my head saying… “Oh my Mana Mila(Tan)… will there ever be an end to this? What have you and Mano Kata done? Will you or your daughter ever be able to finish these? When?” THAT was my initial reaction upon trudging the roads after Calbiga. Needless to say, this stretch of the national highway is in utter disrepair that all vehicles have to either move at 10kph negotiating a debilitated part of the road or keep swerving left and right to evade those hell holy holes! Gosh! My concern is not really just for the traveling public but also for the residents of those places where the bad roads are. Its mud and dust all over the place I even saw dogs hopping and skipping to avoid them. And this is the same condition all the way to Jiabong with a few sighs of relief when passing via a better part of the road.

Here is the appeasing part… at least on all those parts of the Maharlika Highway that were either mangled or in utter disrepair (between Calbiga and Jiabong)… I could see proof that someone was trying to do something. Be it was for a show or anything, there was proof that someone was attending to them. Unlike last year, when I passed by this same route (with a former classmate who is a civil engineer) all we could mutter was a litany of objections. Well, last year, almost the entire road was a stretch of little holes obviously done by a big jack hammer but there was never an activity. It was like they ruined the whole highway and left it to oblivion. There was no evidence of anyone trying to re-do the roads except that there was evidence that an equipment was ruining it by making a lot of holes on the otherwise lively passable surface. Whatever!

Anyway, my heart really sunk to the bottom of the earth when we (and all other vehicles) had to stop at a muddy part of the “being-constructed” road to give way to a hearse that was passing by. Some of the people that were walking on the road for that funeral were wearing boots to avoid the dirt and mud but many of them were in their slippers or shoes seemingly without a care for the mud their feet would trod on as they went to bury their dead. Four men/boys were carrying the coffin in their shoulders. The two in front had weather boots while the two at the back wore a regular “islander” tongs and an “all-weather” strap sandal. Others wore various kinds of footwear all trudging the muddy road under construction. I was screaming deep inside to say… “God let me do something” but in reality… there was nothing I could do except watch and pray. Have I encountered this kind of scene before? Probably so, but only this time, I was paying more attention at the place, people and circumstances. And it did not make me anywhere from happy. Oh lord! And this was just about 8:00AM where I have had not much of a respectable sleep or snooze since yesterday. The scene really broke my heart. My mind even shifted to cursing who it was amongst you my readers that ever suggested I take note of every little bit of detail on my way to Catbalogan. Those people were trying to bury their dead and they had to walk on a muddy road. Vehicles big or small naturally stopped to let the hearse through and it was not an easy walk for all in attendance. So it was slow and I was unfortunate to have to witness what they were going through. Ah Mana Mila, I hope not to see this drama anymore ever in my life. That scene saddened me too much it made me feel dizzy, really!

Check out this video clip for more.

Oh well, let us better finish this as that feeling seems to be creeping back my spine… my trip would have really been normal (for those who go to Samar often) but since some of you asked me to take particular note on the details… this trip to Catbalogan made me summon all kinds of feelings and emotions my heart and spirit can muster!

At least I arrived at Catbalogan as one piece with an enthusiastic group of friends waiting for me and my luggage… and that the van (being “pakyaw”) brought me to the very door of my destination… and shortly before 10AM I was already having brunch c/o 2 packs of tapsilog delivered free after a phone call to Ernie’s!

Oh my trips, when I have to jot details… they’re truly an experience like no other!


  1. I've been to Philippines, loved it :D

  2. hey, is it really tapsilog or pizza that you had? I heard about this ernie's place and how good it is, wonder why nobody is bringing this to Manila?

  3. tapsilog! while the pizza is a hit, they have all sorts of eatables and all the silogs are as good!

  4. Would love to go to Catbalugan! I missed visiting this place.

  5. Awesome road video from San juanico to calbayog. Like I was aboard your van. You might try talking. Next time. Sounds you may have another calling.

  6. many would agree pizza factory's pizza in catbalogan is better, try it next time :)