Monday, June 15, 2009

Suroy Suroy Sugbo 2009: Explore the Midwest – The Departure

As promised to many of you, here I go with an almost blow-by-blow account of my fantastic tour with the Suroy Suroy Sugbo 2009. There were little kinks and there were things that I thought can be improved. However, the wonderful things definitely outweigh the sour ones!

After asking my cab to pass via McDo drive-thru at Escario, there I was at the assigned meeting place at the back of the Cebu Provincial Capitol.

At the meeting place
It’s an open parking space with non-concrete grounds so the place retains much of the previous night’s coolness! People in charge of the tour were all over the guarded place so it was easy for me spotting them or should I say, easy for them to spot me. Oh hey, my registration officer at SM was there, he was the one who readily welcomed me and ushered me to my assigned bus.

That parking area has no nearby trash bins though. After finishing my Sausage McMuffin and Hot Chocolate, I asked one of the drivers where I could throw my trash. Sensing there was none, he told me to just drop it by the side of the fence since cleaners would take it soon anyway. Though I disagreed, I did not say anything but instead walked towards a nearby building (justice?) for I knew there must have been a trash bin there. True enough, just a few meters from the parking area entrance I walked to the side of the building and there was a big green bin.

At 7:35AM staff started distributing meal packs. I asked if it was lunch. The lady just smiled. The look in her eyes told me she thought I was joking – I was not. Opened the styropack and saw that there was a big fat sandwich, an empanada and 2 pieces of macaroons. Interesting I thought… but they should have told me about this yesterday so I did not have to do the McDo drive-thru! In a short while, I saw her doing the length of the bus again, this time distributing a choice of mango or orange juice (Zesto Big). She gave me two! I also asked… “tagdadalawa?” (two each?), she again just smiled. So I mused that either she thought I had company beside me or she thought I was too big to be satisfied with a single pack of orange juice!

Soon after, the assigned tour guide also started doing the length of the bus asking for our names and shirt sizes. I just thought hmm, now I have a new shirt… now I have a new shirt hehe! I asked if I should be a Large or Extra Large size… he suggested I should be just Large and wrote it down on his checklist. As more passengers boarded he came back distributing the welcome or tour kits. Wow ha?! I was impressed! The cloth bag with Suroy Suroy Sugbo Logo had my T-Shirt inside, a bottle of water, a white sun-visor cap with Suroy logo, a CD, a DVD, a map of Cebu Province, the provincial government’s magazine and some other pamphlets. While I saw that almost everyone started wearing their visors, I did not get a cue from anyone if we should change into the nicely printed T-Shirts.

Saw that many of the female tour mates came and went looking for a comfort room. And the nearest was that building even still behind the building behind the Capitol. I thought that was a bit of a walk for the older folks. Maybe the buses should have waited for us in front of that building instead of this parking lot. Good for the males, I saw that most of them just walked behind the buses and unto the shrubbery at the edge of the parking lot which is a hill!

The Bus
Some of my tour mates started saying hi to each other; started introducing to each other (including me) and a lot of getting-to-know you stuff buzzed inside the bus. I got off to take a puff for I knew the travel would be about 2 hours to first stop. While smoking, I noticed that my bus (no. 3) had a red-white-and-blue livery and had no other markings except the big and beautiful provincial seal near the door. My thoughts... "Uh-oh… I am going to ride a government bus… when was this last maintained?" I looked from the front and realized that bus numbers 1 and 2 were yellow Ceres Tours buses while bus numbers 3 and 4 were that of the provincial government. Curious, I walked to behind them buses… just as I thought… buses 3 and 4 were belching more smoke than 1 and 2. Oh well… I just prayed they’d do something if anything happened to these two vehicles. Forgive the stereotypical attitude but like many Filipinos, I too start doubting if anything is owned by the government hehe!

Ah so this was the reason why at such an early time of day, when I boarded my bus and chose a seat, I saw candy and biscuit wrappers on the floor and in the seat pocket. It’s a government-owned bus! I asked the driver where the bus came from that it was not cleaned prior to our use. His reply was “he did not know” and that he was just called at 2AM to drive this bus for us. Whoa! It got me a little bit worried… just a little bit hehe! Soon after, I saw driver fitting white head-rests starting from the aftmost seat going towards front. I even helped him do it for the row behind me and my row. But he stopped there since all rows in front of me were already bustling with humanity. Hmm, I thought that was clumsy of them to have forgotten. Anyway, I thought I was not going to like everything about this trip… but just a little bit hehe!

Let's go!
All things ready, tour guide asked if all our expected companions were aboard. No one said otherwise so we started off at exactly 8:03AM – my watch. Just three minutes behind schedule… I was impressed! Where in this country do you see a public or government sponsored program/activity/meeting/event that starts just 3 minutes late? At the very least, it is 30 minutes to an hour late, right? Well, probably not in Cebu and not now! Good for all of us!

Oh it was a convoy! I did see the four buses pile out one after the other. I think my eyelids started blinking faster in excitement when the tour guide started describing the convoy. We were told that a police car was up front followed by bus no. 1, 2, 3 (our bus), 4, other vehicles (officials, governor's car, crews, etc), media (yes, they were part of the convoy), army, an ambulance, four extra vans for emergency. Hmm, I thought this was not a simple tour. Okay… now I was feeling a little comfortable if not confident this was going to be a good trip!

As we exited the capitol, we saw a truckload of honor guards from the navy in their crisp white uniforms. A passenger asked and the tour guide readily explained that the Independence Day flag raising ceremony was about to commence at the capitol’s flagpole. He was ready to add too that in the interest of time, we could not wait for it anymore and that the governor will just be rushed to join us immediately after she’s done with the ceremonies. I thought that was fine with me… my excitement was seeing the destinations anyway and not watching another ceremony that occurs yearly everywhere.

The route
From the capitol we head south to Carcar and cross to the western part of the Island to Aloguinsan. Then to Pinamungahan, Toledo and overnight at Balamban. Next day, a running tour of Tsuneishi, then to Asturias, Tuburan and Tabuelan before heading home at night via Catmon, Danao, etc and down to Mandaue then the Capitol. Thus explained the tour guide.

My Tour mates and guide
They were a merry mix of people from all walks of life but generally in the 40’s to 50’s. The few teenies to thirtyish folks and children were more of the ‘just dragged along by their parents” type! Many were business people. There were some doctors, teachers, professors, nurses, a judge, a town councilor and the happily unemployed like me! Many were in groups or families but quite a spattering were just alone like me! Oh, most of them were Suroy Suroy repeaters (i.e., have joined the Southern Heritage and the Camotes tours or even more). Now I say, THAT is proof that the Suroy Suroy Sugbo was good since most of them kept joining!

Ah our tour guide, Tony Flores, was in his best all throughout the tour. He kept everyone alive with jokes mostly all about his gayness! It was not uncommon to hear everyone of us in a loud roar of laughter! Examples? Well, one that started the day really bright was when he was describing the various universities and schools of Cebu City. He would make mention of the landmarks in or at those institutions plus the businesses that thrive in the vicinity. For San Carlos he said, Mangga (Mangoes) were a brisk business during the evening… while many like me were already about to believe that, others who were more familiar with the area asked why. Then he said “haven’t you heard them asking… MANGGAmit ka sir?”. Okay am laughing again but I don’t want to translate that! Another joke was a time we were cruising the SRP and a woman pointed to and asked what were those houses by the hills north of Cebu. His reply was “wala ka gadali ma’am, kay mangutana ‘ta” (are you not in a hurry ma’am cuz we shall ask)… then of course, after all the laughter, he proceeded to describe that those were of the wealthy folks in the city. He adds that these times, home locations in Cebu have been reversed… the wealthier you are, the farther and up the mountains your house will be!

First event of the day
As we negotiated a left-turn on a busy street, somewhere south of the city heading towards the SRP, our driver honked and the damned thing won’t anymore stop. The sound roused everyone in the area. All vehicles in the convoy stopped, another man from bus number 4 came running to our bus, opened something at the nose of the bus, flicked something and the noisy horn finally stopped! I just thought again... “I think I am not going to like this bus”, but the fun and information that came out of Tony’s stories made me forget we were on a sickly bus!

Facts and figures learned
We were not even out of the city yet and I thought I was having an information overload. Some were already known to me while others were new information and I was not able to catch all of them as I also busied myself looking at the outside world that looked beautiful in the morning as we passed by.

Zubu is the original name of Cebu! Hmm, I did not encounter that yet!

Most Cebuanos are devotees of Sr. Sto. Nino and that is why them (Cebuanos) as children were brought by their parents to the Cathedral every Friday, to line up and visit the statue, wipe a hanky on any part of the statue then re-wipe the hanky on body parts of the children to save them from illnesses. Then Tony adds that most parents never even care or bother that the dust or bacteria from poeple who touched the statue or its casing can be transferred to the children that may even cause them to get sick instead. Laughter!

Seven days after Magellan arrived in Cebu, he went to Mactan… that was also new to me! I thought Magellan arrived directly to Mactan! Whoa! Lapu-lapu was not from Cebu but was traced by historians to have come from somewhere in Mindanao and he died in Borneo. That is why, to this date there are no identified descendants of Lapu-lapu in Cebu or Mactan! People (including Lapu-lapu) actually lived in mainland Cebu (Mandaue area) and just crossed to Mactan from time to time because the island was not fertile and generally composed of limestones or rocks.

Then we passed via the SRP and the jackstones. No, am not telling you what those are!

There is a walled city being built there and we saw it as the bus passed. Plans are, that walled city will contain miniaturized replicas of all the attractions of Cebu plus commercial spaces for restaurants and park rides. Hmm it will be another attraction of the city soon! Kawit Island, where the new walled city is, was an area where the Cebuanos usually keep suspected thieves and other criminals during Sinulog Festivals of the past! My goodness I already learned too many things from Tony and we were not even out of the city yet!

SK – a modern colloquial in the city referring to the wealthy (Sobra sa Kwarta)

Lapu-lapu the fish was originally named “pogapo”

Cebuanos, like many Filipinos have proof that they are the most courteous people on earth… they excuse themselves (ask permission) even to unseen entities {when urinating near trees or forests they say “tabi” or “tabi-tabi po”}

Finally… “if you worship like the Spaniards, you eat like the Chinese, read and write like the Americans do… then you are a Filipino”!

While passing Naga City, Tony pointed to and described the APO Cement factory. Trivia: the said company was erected during the American occupation and it supplied cement for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco! O Ha?!

Really fun learning with Tony Flores!

For a chronology of the stories in this trip, click the following numbers:
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12


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