Thursday, September 3, 2009

Going to Malapascua

Where is it? Well, many of you would know that the place is an island off the northern-most tip of the big island of Cebu, right? But many too, including me, do/did not know that the little island is just a barrio of the town of Daanbantayan. Hmm, nice to have learned that place is one of the best tax earners for the town. I learned all about these yesterday when my curiosity was tickled by seeing that one of the Haladaya 2009 contingents was a group of good dancers from Malapascua. Yey!

The ‘Land Trip’
From the town proper of Daanbantayan, there were options as to how to get to Malapascua: 1) take a trike to the town’s integrated bus/jeep terminal for a ride to Maya; 2) go out into the highway and flag the first bus or jeep on the way to Maya; 3) look for and commission a habal-habal ride all the way to Maya. At Maya, there is a boat station where folks cross to the island of Malapascua and elsewhere. I took option 2 as it was easiest by walking to the main road (highway) from Vince Anthony. Oh hey, that is where the parade passed yesterday. Yey!

Ceres only. At that main road, I asked folks as to where is the exact point where buses would stop to take passengers. The common reply was anywhere here. Hmm, that was convenient hehe. I did watch out where most waiting passengers congregated so I was at least sure my intended ride will stop to pick me. This main road was noticeably busier than yesterday. A lot of stores, ukay-ukay, bakeries, hardwares, a pharmacy, offices, ukay-ukay again, turo-turo, etc., Most of them were closed yesterday! Jeeps going to Maya passed by. At least two buses going that way also passed. Some “enterprising” habal-habal drivers invited me to ride with them. I did not accede. My mind insisted on only hopping unto a Ceres bus – as of now my time-tested reliable mode of transport in the province. One bystander told me that all buses go the Maya anyway, so I should just ride any of them. Another told me I should just ride his habal-habal as it was quicker, adding that the Ceres buses come every hour and the latest just zoomed by. That was a lie and I knew it!

Ceres buses going to Maya could pass by Daanbantayan every 15mins or even less. All would usually come from Cebu City, some passing via Bagay and some via Kawit but all would check with their “station” over at the bus terminal where they are dispatched in succession. So when they pass by the main road at the town center, it is fairly on a regular basis at about 15 to 10 minutes apart all going to Maya. I learned all about this from the Ceres bus conductor as he had more time talking to me along the way since there were not so many passengers.

This ride from Daanbantayan town proper to Maya is just about 9 or 10 kilometers and does not even take 20 minutes on Ceres. Whoa! Some of the jeeps and a buses that I did not take earlier were chugging down the road quite slowly. We overtook them! Good that I opted to wait for my Ceres hehe!

And then the ‘Sea Trip’
Ceres buses going to Maya (and all other public transport vehicles for that matter) terminate at a little wharf and that is where the boats to Malapascua are. It’s a not a big place. It’s more of a rural gas station where everything grew from, but there are little stores where you can buy snacks and there are turo-turo places too where you can grab cheap meals if need be. I actually planned to catch brunch here and the “tinowa” at one turo-turo looked inviting, but my excitement to be at the island overtook everything!

Bus conductor pointed us to a little “outpost” where tickets to Malapascua are bought at P50 per passenger. The youngish foreigner who was following me off the bus asked me if there was any ATM or cash machine anywhere in the place. Good that I have researched about this and I told him there was none – the nearest of which would be back in Bogo City. I did tell him that I learned from the web there are at least three establishments (resorts) on the island that accept credit cards.

Hey the “outpost” is a little housing about 1.5 meter square (or less) that looks like a guard house. It is perched amidst rocks and stones on the unfinished and soon-to-be pavement of the wharf. That is where everyone buys tickets to the island. There is a little nipa-roofed hut that serves as waiting shed before passengers are called to go and ride the next departing boat. The boat…

Oh the boat!
When I and other passengers boarded, it was already filled with a lot of cargoes… and more were being loaded. I immediately noticed that we were “heavily loaded” than what I would consider normal considering the size of the boat. In fact, a few of us were seated on that part of the boat’s front area where there is no more roofing as inside was packed with passengers and cargoes. Not a few of my co-passengers did mention, even complain, that the boat was already too heavy for a normal trip. The boatmen ignored it.

Then a brave gentle gay who looked to me like he is from the city stood and exclaimed to the boatmen that by rule, any boat should have a maximum of 25 passengers and that there were too many heavy cargoes. None of the crews responded nor even looked at him. They just pretended busy tending to the loading of the sheets of plywood, cases of coke and other drinks, sacks of whatever, jugs of gasoline, etc etc., When so many of them passengers were agitatedly talking about the load of the boat, an old woman motioned for her 3 grandchildren to get off. She said they’ll transfer to the next boat which was still empty. So that was 4 passengers less, tough I did not feel happy yet as people were still complaining. Most of them were pointing to the “katig” (outrigger) on both sides of the boat which they all agreed should be afloat (above the water surface) than how it was (already perennially submerged), even if we were not moving yet.

Hmm, while I consider myself average at swimming and floating, I did get alarmed at the situation thinking if I should follow the old lady and her grandchildren. The foreigner seated across me asked if I thought we should also transfer to the next boat. While I was trying to muster a reply, our boat pushed back from the wharf, so all I could do was give him a desperately alarmed shrug. We smiled and said good luck to each other. Hindsight, I think most of the men (incuding me) on that boat were proof of that dangerous massochism amongst Filipinos - already alarmed but won't voice it out for the bigger fear of being tagged as sisi or gay!

It was not a choppy kind of sea that we were forging but we all could see how heavy the boat was. Any small wave rapping on the boat would send splashes inside and to the cargoes loaded up front. The man who owned those sheets of plywood exclaimed that his cargo was getting wet. Well, the brave gentle gay (who was seated to my right) looked him in the eye and said in a stern voice “merese”! He continued that the man should have voiced-out his agreement that the boat was too loaded as he earlier talked to the boatmen. ‘Merese’ by the way is a Filipino term (understood and used by all dialects) to mean “you deserved it”. I think that word has Hispanic roots. Now I can’t decide if this was good or bad for the man who owned the plywood… after the brave gentle gay said “merese” he went into relating (or was that explaining?) that the old woman who transferred boats was his mother and the children were all his. Now I wanted to also tell him “MERESE”!

The expected but unwanted came… a big ship marked “GOTHONG” loomed on our left and it seemed forging a path perpendicular to ours. I came to know about this when some passengers started talking about it in a bit of an alarmed tone. I readily understood that the wake of that big ship could impinge on our overloaded little boat. I counted, there was a total of 38 passengers excluding the 4 folks who seemed to me like the boat’s crews. OMG, I braced for the worst. The foreigner also alarmed just silently looked as the big ship approached to pass in front of us. It happened… our boat was battered by waves. Those were actually small if ours was not heavily overloaded. I could hear the engine’s speed being adjusted by the skipper at some point. And the splashes from the waves got many of us wet. The floor flowed with water where every foot and footwear was naturally soaked. Human silence was maddeningly deafening. All were probably ready for the worst.

Minutes after, another but bigger cargo ship was about to pass perpendicularly in front of us. This time, the skipper probably knew what to expect. I noticed, our boat went slower and bobbing up and down smaller waves as it waited for the big ship to pass and move away from us. Haaay!

We managed to get thru the “ordeal”. As we landed, the first thing that our brave gentle gay did was look for some barangay officials or something – obviously to complain about the overloading. I overheard him saying that even if we got to cross safely, there was violation of laws and that the boatmen gave all of us undue stress. Silently, I said “I agree… go sister go”! They should be put on a blotter or something. Earlier during the boat ride btw, this brave gentle gay told everyone within hearing distance that these boatmen would usually do what they just did on Sundays or Holidays where the coast guard officers go on holiday and there is no such officer to police or censure the activities at either of the boat stations. Bad, now my ire went for the very efficient Philippine Coast Guard. Shame on them!

Oh well, at least I arrived at the island still whole though a bit drenching!

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