Saturday, May 28, 2005

Going to Pandan Island, The RORO Ride

Boarding time
Boarding call came at exactly 2:42AM! Upon the boarding announcement via a low-grade P.A. System – which was even hard to understand, people in various levels of sleepiness rushed to the gate like bees to a hive – or even like dogs in a mad scramble for a piece of meat! We wondered why, but just as well, we joined in that mad scramble, shoving and pushing our way to be able to present our tickets to the gate steward like everyone else! Here was an orderly boarding sequence where there were probably nine lines that approached the gate-keeper! Oh gracious!

Emerging from the gate – which actually means being out of the building and on to the pier’s pavement, we excitedly took pictures here and there, took video shoots in the dark and just enjoyed the leisurely walk towards the boat. It was about a hundred meter or so walk. Probably even more!

As we approached the boat (and another steward of Montenegro Shipping Lines who checked our tickets) an old lady came up to me to ask if this was the boat bound for Calapan. Before I could switch the video off and mutter a response, the steward already gave a reply to the dear lady and pointed her to her boat. Oh my, her sleeping brain could have been confused! I got her on video though!

Oh so this is a RORO!
A RORO (or Roll-On-Roll-Off), we found out, is actually a ferry boat that loads not only people but even vehicles and their cargoes! Its “bow” (front) or “stern” (back) – or both are usually gaping wide openings serving as entrance/exit for both passengers and vehicles like trucks, buses or cars! Whew! We got excited here! We were riding on a RORO! I think this thing was named Maria Gloria. The thick and heavy steel that forms part of the front or back of a RORO is actually the boarding plank that is lowered to the pier’s pavement for loading and/or unloading of passengers, cars, trucks and cargoes.

Quite an experience here… and you have to be careful!

Taking cue from one of the boat’s crews, you step unto the steel plank (or platform, whatever). This plank thingy is comparable to the LSTs (landing ship tanks) used by General McArthur on landing his troops in Leyte during the Japanese-American War! If you want, this thing is also like the massive gates of many a fairy-tale castle – which – when opened or lowered down, serves to become the bridge (or pathway) to or out of the castle! It’s like extending your lower lip down to the table to let many ants enter your mouth hehehe! Got the analogy?! Ok, fine!

The plank, wide to about the width of the ship, is actually constantly moving and brushing its heavy steel sheet on the pier’s pavement – depending on how rough the waters are or how constantly the boat is moving.

Thus, there is a boat crew manning this tricky entrance. You will hear him shout (in English) “watch your step, watch your step”, “careful, careful”, “oops.. wait sir… aaaand.. now”! Then you hop unto the platform and steady yourself and quickly walk towards the inside of the boat! Golly what an early morning exercise! Hint: if you are lugging along tons of baggage, ask the crew members to bring them aboard for you! This hopping-skipping-jumping thing is a bit tricky. If your feet got caught in between the plank and the pavement; or if you tripped because of the plank’s movement, oh my golly jolly bee, there’s no imagining what could happen to you!

On board this RORO thingy!
On board the boat was also another new experience for us! As you walk on the massive steel plate towards the insides of the boat, you start to smell Metro Manila. Well yes, that means the smell of vehicle smoke emanating from the cars, trucks and all other kinds of land vehicles that are already inside the “ground level” of the boat. For some reason, even if already inside the RORO, some of those vehicles’ engines are kept running by the drivers – at least while the boat is not yet departing. You could easily spot some truck crews tending to many parts of their vehicles as if the RORO ride was the only time for them to rectify anything wrong. So you would probably cover your nose and mouth, as I did with my hanky, to avoid inhaling too much CO2.

Passengers are supposed to go up to the 2nd or 3rd level decks of the RORO since this 1st level is only for cars, trucks and buses. Your way to the stairs will again be something to watch out for. Because all of them cars, vans, trucks and buses are already loaded into position (they’re boarded ahead of people by the way), your path towards the stairs will usually be too narrow. How narrow? Well, I had to remove my backpack and carry it in front of me positioned side-ways so I could walk towards the stairs. To illustrate how narrow the passage is, imagine this: I did purposely bang the side of a Pajero with my elbow and as hard as I could that I know it must have made a little dent he he he! Sorry, I was feeling naughty that time!

Upon entering the stairs, you will most certainly see a crew member blocking the stairwell that goes down to the lower level. And heed him as that is the way to the engine area of the boat. You don’t want to go down there! That crew member directing us to go up the stairs was actually a young boy probably just about 13 or 14 years old.

So up we went to the 2nd level. And here we discovered why people were in a mad scramble earlier at the boarding gate. The deck was already full of passengers. We circled the deck trying to get a place to sit on… nothing! Actually some of those seats (or are they called benches?) were not fully occupied but people who got ahead of us placed their belongings on them or even lie stretching their bodies the whole length of the seat. So okay, we silently proceeded to the 3rd level of the boat and voila, we were the first to be there!

Imitating what we just saw at the 2nd level, we each took a row of seats for our selves! Greed oh greed! A row of those seats would be 4 individual seats that clung together to a steel pole as base – much like the seats at the Batangas pier or the old Manila domestic airport. I placed my backpack at one end of a row and sat at the other end – informally declaring the row of seats as mine! So did my friends on their own rows!

As other passengers trickled in, the three of us discussed why the 2nd level seemed to be prime area that passengers wanted to grab first. We realized tickets on this boat had no seat numbers so anyone can sit anywhere. When all passengers were about settled in their respective “chosen places” I strolled back to the 2nd level for another look. And I reported my discoveries back to my companions. The seats at the 2nd level are like benches but upholstered including the backrests. They are not individual seats like in the 3rd level. They are like church pews with upholstery. So it was more comfortable to lie or sleep on during the trip. Plus, there was a wall on both sides so that outside air would not readily enter the “cabin”. At our deck, there were no walls but just railings so sea air was breezing through us. But we liked it, plus, I could go to the rear portion of the deck and smoke while watching the dark outside with a sporadic view of clustered lights from the towns in Batangas.

When the boat started to roll at full speed and we found nothing to do, I strolled to the Captain’s Bridge to have a go-see. When I peeped at the slightly opened door, a crew member approached me and stopped me there while I saw behind him another crew member getting up from his slumber to probably check-out who was by the door. I was told the bridge was off limits to passengers for security reasons. When I said I just wanted to take a picture of myself inside the bridge for souvenir, I was readily told it was not allowed. I heeded.

Well, the three hour RORO ride went fine, even if we could not actually get some sleep on those seats. We did attempt to take naps but it was not comfortable. So we again engaged in our newly found pastime – talking about the people around us! No sooner, we found our boat already manoeuvring to dock at the Abra De Ilog port!

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