Thursday, July 24, 2008

Roaming Ilocos: Going there!

Long weekend, three days off, nothing to do. And I said to myself… “why not re-visit Ilocos?”… so off I went!

The place
Well, almost every Filipino knows that there is an Ilocos Norte and an Ilocos Sur and that both provinces belong to Region 1 located on the northern-most part of
Luzon Island. I know too from my various travels that this is home to the most industrious Filipinos and that many of them were the first to roam the country and the world seeking out businesses or employment… and many of them have prospered. But I remember the Ilocos countryside, its cities and its people to have been great experiences in the few times I’ve been there. So, I told myself… go back and go forth to re-live the experience!

On a Wednesday night prior to the long weekend, I made up my mind to go roam Ilocos. Firm decision! Grabbed a few brochures from the many travel trade encounters/expos I have attended plus some quick and even f
rantic rush-surfing through the web. As usual, VT, Google, and Wow Philippines gave good insights on how I would attack this next sojourn. Then again, my weathered and good old Lonely Planet helped a lot too!

On my mental debate whether to base myself at Laoag or Vigan, the former prevailed. The reason: proximity to most of what I wanted to see. Oh okay, the nightlife too, whatever! Thus, Thursday night I picked my weekend backpack and stuffed it with some weekend wearables.

It was very clear from the start that I would take a Maria De Leon Bus on this Ilocos trip. Not that I did not consider Cebu Pacific hehe – but alas their schedules did not match my preferences of time and resources i.e., departure from Manila is at 6:10PM - that would have meant for me to leave my QC office early like 2 or 3PM. On return to Manila, I would have been taking a cab from the airport all the way home at about 10PM. Not good! Arrival at Laoag is usually at past 7PM and that would have meant I’d be paying for a whole day’s hotel accommodation just for the few hours until morning. Not good! So I opted for the buses – and from experience Maria De Leon was it! This way, I thought I’d sleep the Friday night over and arrive at Laoag City early Saturday morning then start roaming.

Hotel choice: Hotel Tiffany for its centrality and price – that of course was after reading some comments on VT, other materials like ilocosnorte-online and more local sites about/of the region.

Going there…
Let’s do this with my lessons learned as I went on this trip. Yep, I hie off to just about anywhere in this country almost every weekend I can, and still there are a lot of lessons I learn on every such sojourn.

Lesson 1: Never underestimate the Manila City traffic on a Friday evening - ever!

It took me more than an hour from Quezon City to the back of UST – and most of that was spent sitting idle in a cab amidst heavy traffic along AH Lacson Ave., (yep, that’s a,k,a. Forbes). Imagine this… I took the LRT from Katipunan to Pureza Station and that was a breeze… then I hopped unto a taxi with fortunately a daredevil of a driver who had great zigzag skills (if you know what I mean)… still, it took me more than an hour! Whew!

Lesson 2: With Maria De Leon, you do not reserve for a seat on the day of departure!

It’s usually already full. No wonder when I called up at about 2PM, I was told to just “come over” and no reservation was required. Actually all seats were already reserved – I learned about this when I arrived at the bus station. The person I talked-to during that call was just being kind enough to advise me that standby passengers are usually accommodated when those who reserved seats do not come on time. Hmm, I was not listening very well during that conversation. So, here was a dilemma if I should wait it out as standby passenger or rush to another bus station (like Partas). I stayed on for a while trying to observe how the buses fill with the waitlist. Not bad at all – but at the back of my mind I was all ready to run unto one of the waiting cabs and zoom to another bus station. Something was telling me though that it must have been the same situation wherever else.

My handphone said 2133H and the schedule-board told me, practically 3 buses more to go. An air-conditioned bus was getting out of the station already full – that was the 9:30PM bus. Another spanking new bus with spacious seats had its door already closed and about to go – that was the 9:45PM “Super De Luxe” trip. People were milling around and asking what bus number was the 10PM “ordinary bus” (non-air-conditioned) and the crews were telling them that will be announced in a while. I said to myself that was out of the question for I did not dream of taking this long trip in an ordinary bus during this hot night – just this time anyway hehehe! Bus No. 18, another one of those “sosyal” buses with wide reclining seats was slowly filling as the reserved folks came trickling in – this was the 10:15PM “Super De Luxe”. Yet another bus (No. 20) was also starting to fill – it had two seats on each side and a comfort room at the rear – this was the last “De Luxe” trip for the day. I settled my target on these last two buses. Bus No. 21 was nowhere in sight yet – the schedule-board said it was the 11PM air-conditioned bus and last trip ever for the day. I thought I shouldn’t wait for that.

Ha! My usually boisterous, arrogant and pompous self (that’s according to an equally boisterous, arrogant and pompous friend) quickly closed his eyes and internalized to become a coy, shy and worried passenger begging for a seat hehehe! It must have worked! Part of my lowly mind was almost in a panic, but another part of the same pea-brain was telling me to calm down and just wait it out as there "will be" a chance. I tried conversing with the conductors and drivers of buses 18 and 20 with just about any topic that would come to my mind. My objective was to be remembered since I noticed they didn’t list the standby passengers. Ahh hehehe, the actor in me really went to work this time. “Boss, pwede po ba mag-yosi dito?”, Boss, makakasakay kaya ako?”, “Kuya, mag-isa lang po ako… kung meron bakante, isakay nyo po ako, ha?”, “Kuya Ilocano ka ba? Ano po ba mas maganda, Vigan o Laoag? Sana makapunta ako ngayon kasi tagal ko nang balak makita ang Ilocos!” and so on and on!

Ten o’clock and bus number 18 (the super de luxe thingy) closed its doors where only one middle aged dad was taken from those on standby. I knew he earned it so I cannot complain. I observed on the side that this man was ahead of everyone who was still on standby. I even murmured “God Bless You” when the super de luxe bus moved out.

AND I WAS LEFT WITH JUST ONE BUS! Ahhhhhhhh, I could already hear the blood pumping through my temples! But part of me was saying “when all else fails, go home and have a red horse” hehehe!

Just as the “Super D” departed, a little commotion seemed to have suddenly transpired at the door of dear bus number 20. So I went near and there were some twenty or so passengers crowding. I at first thought it might have been some little trouble so I quickly readied my camera. Gosh! It was the conductor of the bus already about to start calling for standby passengers. And this time my mind was drifting between being able to take a ride myself or just observing how this “exciting ceremony” unfolded hehe!

With the clipboard (bearing reserved passenger names) in his left hand, I noticed that the conductor’s first order of business was to announce something (in Ilocano) to all the people who were already inside the bus. Whatever was said, I saw a vendor come down and out! Then after some more bla bla bla, I saw about 5 folks come out of the bus to join the crowd who all seemed ready to run and grab a seat. Part of my curious mind was saying “OMG how exciting”! Then the man courteously talked to all four people in the very front row. Turned out they were family – a grandma, a middle-aged woman (probably her daughter) and two teenage girls (probably children of the woman). After a few more words, those four ladies (looking really disappointed) stood up and went down to join the waiting crowd. Then Mr. Conductor started calling out for the standby people.

How did he call out to these folks? Well, he just looked around scanned the many faces in front of him and said “sir” or “ma’am” or “manong” or “manang” to address them. There was no wait list of names in the first place!

First two souls he called up was a husband-and-wife that he asked to occupy the two front seats just behind the driver. Next he called the mother in a family of three that he asked to sit on the other two front seats plus a vacant seat at second row. Then he craned his neck seeming to be looking for a face. He saw me at the back of the crowd and said, “sir, dito kayo, akyat kayo”! I thought "whoa and omegosh I AM BLOODY IN" hehehe! I slowly inched my way forward and up the bus as the conductor (in Ilocano) seemed to be asking everyone to give way. When I was up in his bus, he told me loudly (in English): “Sir, fourth row, window side” and pointing to the right side of the bus. With that tone and volume, I thought he wanted the folks already seated on fourth row to hear what he was commanding. So I obliged! Yey!

The calling and assigning of seats to standby people continued. At this point, I was already busy trying to settle unto my assigned seat that I do not anymore have a clear recollection on what else transpired with the conductor and the rest of the standby folks. I was transitioning to another “lesson learned” and that is...

Lesson 3: Not all strangers seated beside you on an evening bus are indifferent assholes who just want sleep their way to their destinations. We can re-word this lesson to make it more positive like… Lesson 3: Be prepared to live an interesting experience even during a long bus ride at very unholy hours of day!

Here is that "life-changing" story hehe!

(and the Maria De Leon bus experience continues…)

I naturally went for the seat that the conductor told me to take – "fourth row window side on the right". By the way, that right side means “to your right if you were seated and facing the front of the bus” - exactly my favourite spot on any bus ride.

On reaching “fourth row”, I was ready to courteously excuse myself to some drowsy slob who could be sitting or already snoring by the aisle seat. But lo and behold, the guy on the aisle seat was already standing, even smiling and blurted out with “here sir, this is your seat”. He even assisted me with my backpack as I struggled looking for a space to cram it in. We agreed to lay my lowly speedo-weekender-pack on the aisle. And mind you, since he was by the aisle, every time the conductor passed by, he would ensure that my bag was safely not being trodden upon!

Let’s call this dude some name cuz I’ll have to refer to him many times over since he “accidentally” made this trip quite memorable. Really! Okay, let’s settle with Mack! So Mack, my man, you know who on earth you are, okay?!

Settled on my seat by the right-side-window of the bus on fourth row (dya have anything better than that?), with Mack to my left and guarding my bag on the aisle, I would have been ready to take a confident snooze! This was my plan anyway, right? To sleep my way all the way to Laoag in a bus instead of taking Cebu Pacific, remember? That’s the 5th paragraph above hehe! It did not happen… but am infinitely thankful it did not!

Let me recall some of the conversations (as the bus went ambling along)…

Mack: (In English)… You're also going to Laoag, sir?
Me: Yup! Are you from there?
Mack: No
Me: So you are just going there to tour, just like me? Cool! Are you with anyone? Do you know somebody there? Do you have a tour guide? We can actually go together so it will be cheaper and… (Mack cuts the monologue)
Mack: Actually sir, taga-dun ang girl friend ko. I’m visiting her.
Me(nahimasmasan): Whoa! So… a long-distance love affair eh?!
Mack: Something like that, since even if it’s just Ilocos, she IS still far from me…
Me(eyes almost flickering): I can sense “true love”
Mack: You can call it that, but there’s more… she’s my life!
Me(ecstatic and jabbing the air): YES! That’s the man! Ang galing mo, man! Very ideal! She should be VEERY proud of you!
Mack: Ikaw sir, do you have a family? Do you have children?
(a slight pause but felt like a century of silence)
Me(after an enormous effort to swallow saliva): "No, none".
Mack(spontaneously): Bakit naman?
Me(whispering): I… am… not… straight…
Mack(as if nothing “outrageous” was just said): Oh, so that gives you the edge to roam around, that’s good!!

Until we talked about work

Until we talked about what we do outside of work

Until we discovered our work locations are in the same area

Until we thought we were talking too loud while people in the bus slept

Until we thought we’d catch some sleep (but it never happened)

Until I saw myself clicking my cam since it was already dawn and I could see great views!

When we checked… it was something like 5AM and I had to endure this kind of remark… “alam mo, in all the times I traveled this way to Ilocos, I was already fast asleep immediately pagka-alis ng bus”! I initially thought it was some kind of a snide remark but realized this was a real good man beside me talking. He was actually telling me, this was one enjoyable trip he had to Ilocos – okay, I AM ASSUMING and I want to wallow in that hehehe! For me (my own interpretation), that meant that in his other trips going to Ilocos, wala syang makausap, so he had to sleep through it hehe! Again, am assuming he liked the “daldalan”! But I couldn’t care less (anyway) whether I was a nuisance or not, because as of now, he is one great friend reading this blog hehehe! Peace my dude, peace! Just holler, if I can be of any assistance on all those you two are preparing for!

My bad, but I think I said sorry for a couple of times. Mack was going to Laoag to once-again be with his love-of-his-life as they were planning things towards their marriage. And I kept him awake with a lot of daldalan during the bus ride. That would have meant, he’d meet girlfriend and family fresh from the bus and dive into their planning session without much sleep. My bad really, but I already said my apologies on the bus!

So the bus arrived in Ilocos! That’s another story… catch those at Part 02!


  1. hey dude, your transcript of the conversation we had on the bus was right on the dot! I enjoy listening to stories especially when they are told by people who live doing what they enjoy the most (eg. working a bit, helping friends, taking care of family, travelling miles alone or with friends, blogging).. you have a full life already my friend... B-L-E-S-S-E-D... Anyway, my fiancee and I were able to do a lot of planning even if I didn't get much sleep (I knew that my time in Laoag is like a diamond - it is much too precious and valuable to waste or throw away).... so NO APOLOGIES!!!!! take care man, see you around :D

  2. nice blog! your very lucky to have opportunities to travel our country. if i had the same luck i'd probably do the same and blog about these trips too. looking forward to more entries!

  3. Hi Cielo :)
    I think its not luck being able to roam around. It probably is more of "will". Like sometimes I think about doing or buying something versus going somewhere - and the "going" wins! Like I said no to a "movie and dinner" with friends and instead went to Cavite. Movie + Dinner + Beer = probably 2T or so. Cavite = 1/4 of that hehe! Minsan let's go together.

    But yes, I also wish I could blog all about them trips immediately... too many things to write, too little time :(

    Thanks for dropping by!