Sunday, November 4, 2012

Riding 2Go (formerly The Supercat)

Let’s take this from #cebu #philippines as a point of reference. If you noticed, this is a rejoinder to my earlier take on this mode of transport. For the benefit of those who asked and wanting to ask me hehe. Its one of the most comfortable and fastest means to cross the islands you’d wish there is a Supercat everywhere! I have been on this thing a number of times, mainly to/from Tagbilaran and Cebu. But I never really paid much attention since in those occasions, either everything was handled by a tour agency guide and/or I had too many companions to care about the various proceedings on getting unto a Supercat. Hah, on going Ormoc however, all times I was alone. So I was able to pay attention to more details!

The ticket
Ah, this was one of the easiest to do. There are a number of ways to purchase a Supercat ticket even way ahead of your intended departure. You can buy them online via their website or from their many offices all over the country or from their many authorized vendors such as travel agencies and SM Traveller’s Lounge. That latter one was my chosen option this time, One because it is easier to find and two, so I would have a reason to enter and transact business and see for myself what really is this SM Traveller’s Lounge. And I bought my ticket a day before departure while window-shopping around SM Cebu! Convenient!

Hmm, the service charge for buying a ticket at SM Traveller’s Lounge is P25 per ticket. There is none if you buy at a Supercat ticket office like that one at the pier mismo. But fine enough. I think that P25 is fair. I asked what time I should be at the Traveller’s Lounge ‘tomorrow’ since departure for Ormoc was 11AM. The reply was “go straight to the Supercat Terminal at Pier 4”. Awrr! So I asked “isn’t there supposed to be a free shuttle from here to the pier?”. And I was “educated” by the sweetly smiling SM girl saying “ser, only for Superferry”! Gosh, but okay!

Departure
On D-DAy, I took a cab to the Supercat Terminal and at 9:49AM, I was a bit panicky and in a hurry to enter. Only to discover that I was one of the first handful to arrive. Gosh, hindi excited ano?! Sorry na, am used to traveling via airports okay?! And I went to the glass-encased booths right across entrance. Ay hehe! Clerk there jokingly asked how many more tickets I wanted to buy when I showed them my ticket. He explained to me that their booth is only for those buying ticekts. (I thought that was already check-in, since over at OceanJet tickets and check-in are at a booth about half the size of this one!) But together with the other clerk, they happily pointed me where to proceed. This is a sample why I love mornings. Every human being is still happy jolly witty crazy like I am! So I obliged…

Guard, X-ray, K-9 plus Scan & Shoot
Wow! what a bevy of security controls! First, as I entered the door that had a NO TICKET / NO ENTRY sign, a guard stopped me and demanded to see my ticket. So I said okay okay, and showed him what he was looking for. And he really took time reading it huh! As if! But I know us Filipinos, we always wish, want, even demand to send our families and friends all the way to their seats, if and when we can. So the guard was probably just doing what he is told to do - ensure all who enter are real passengers. Ok, Fine! (with sarcasm there hehe)

A few steps from the guard was an x-ray machine where all passengers must pass their belongings thru, just like at airports. So I did! Got in via the side of the machine, got frisked and patted by another security person, again just like at airports, and retrieved my backpack at the other end of the machine. Done! But when I turned to proceed, hesumalusep! Another security thing! A military man in his black overalls motioned for me to place my backpack on the floor so his doggie-dog can sniff it. So okay, I enjoyed watching the animal wiggle his nose at certain parts of my backpack anyway. This is not done at airports! I'm curious now, aren't those x-ray machines supposed to be better?

I wondered, as I always do, could Chihuahuas, Shih-Tzus, Pugs or Poodles be trained to become sniffers like that German Shepherd does?! How about Askals, Labs or Pomeranians? How about cats, pigs, goats, sheep, carabaos or horses? Don’t they sniff well? How about snakes, hamsters, rats, rabbits, bees, ants, butterflies, ducks, geese or parrots? Or mynah birds and cockatoos? It would be nice hearing them talking-birds shriek something like “drugs, drugs, drugs” or “chicharon, lechon, danggit, ginamos, pusit, Tanduay, Armani, Bulgari, Avon, Likas Papaya, Gatorade, Zesto, brief, bra, hapslip, supporter, tiger balm, white flower! Di ba?!So animal trainers, do something to grant my wish. Para masaya!

Ah anyway… three steps from the sniffing K-9 was another security thing called “scan & shoot”! Gosh what is that, you get scanned and shot dead on the spot if suspected of anything?! Hehe, not at all! This security procedure I found rather interesting (due to the gadgets they use). You give your ticket to the clerk, he scans the barcode then asks you look at the camera for a few seconds as he shoots to capture your face. Ano ito, immigration desk?! Well, I know they could use that image in case the damn craft sinks or disintegrates into oblivion. They’ll probably show our faces to the public saying, these are the unfortunate bastards who perished or are still missing. Then they’ll probably post copies of those faces down in the deep lest some of them dolphins, sapsaps or tanguigues may have seen you floating lifeless somewhere. Very useful technology, ‘noh?!

Anyway again, after that scan & shoot thing you go walking through and this is already the pre-departure area, a spacious one – but not yet where you should be unless you want to buy food, coffee or sodas. Why? Because the real pre-dep and check-in is still upstairs. CHECK-IN? Why the hell did we already get scanned when we were not yet check-in anyway? Calm down… but upstairs, you present your ticket and asked to choose a seat from a chart which the clerk will write on your ticket! Ganun lang. Absurd, right? They issue computerized tickets, scan your face via a camera and attaches the image to information captured from your ticket's barcode... but the damn simple seat assignment is manual! Golly gee!

Then you proceed to any of the hundreds of seats to wait. There are only two gates but the area is so wide many airports in this country would be put to shame in terms of space and comfort. This can probably easily fit 2 basketball courts. Yet it’s air-conditioned and with a view of the sea! There is massage, done by blind masseurs. There are wide-screen TVs, more shops and the toilets are clean (that one I did not expect ha?)! You could of course go back down to the food shops at ground level or exit at the door in between the two ramps to puff a cigarette while you await for the boarding call. This one is definitely better than how it is at Pier 1 prior to riding the OceanJet.

Boarding
No frills. a staff opens the door (gate) and off you walk down the ramp to the covered pontoon and eventually fastcraft! They don’t even check for tickets. And I think that is just practical since no one is supposed to be in this place if they were not passengers, right? So okay, once inside the craft you go find your seat. How?

If your seat is somewhere from the middle of the boat to front, use the first door. If your seat is at the back, then use the rear entrance. That simple. If the letter in your seat number is either A, B, C, D, or E, immediately turn on the aisle once you enter and start looking for your row. If that seat number has a letter F, G, H, or I, proceed to the next aisle before turning to look for your row. For letters J, K, L, M and N, go to the farthest aisle first. Business class folks are sometimes asked to use that rear entrance to speed up the boarding process.

Oi hey taga-barrio, be reminded that seats in the Supercat are not “grab-what-you-can” like in an ordinary bus or jeep. You got a seat number at check-in so follow that. Mahiya ka sa napakadaming respetadong businessman, turista at royal highness katulad ko na sumusunod sa kung ano ang dapat! Oh ha? hehe!

Luggage
Upon boarding, you go to the center of the boat where racks are available for all to stow their luggage. Oh alright, if you can’t reach the racks or if they are already full, you just place your suitcase or box on the floor beside the racks. And if you don’t arrange them well (which is common), crews would even come to stack or stow them neatly so as not to hamper mobility inside the craft. If you may have noticed, there is no mention here about checked baggage. That is because, you are supposed to lug your own thing wherever you go in the whole process of getting on and off the boat – though there are a lot of porters who can do that for you (for a fee of course).

If you care about reading the fine print at the back of the ticket, per their rules, passengers are actually only allowed 2 pieces of “hand carried baggage not exceeding a total of .10 cubic meters”, though no one really seems to care since I often see people carrying baggage as big as the world hehe. It further states that baggage weighing more than 15 kilograms shall be charged the prevailing excess baggage rate. Then again, they’re not that strict – since many passengers would surely go elsewhere if those were imposed!

The trip
On normal weather days, it’s a smooth ride you would not even feel much that you are traveling by sea. On rainy, windy, stormy days, the most that you feel is a nice and smooth sway up and down or side to side. It never really feels violent at all – even if at one time I experienced the craft returning to the pier after encountering what the crews called rough seas. To me it was not hehe, Well, there were times the engine would suddenly go very slow then back to normal speed again, then slow, then off and so on. It got me a little worried since all passenger faces I saw were something like alarmed. Yet, it did not cause me to swear I would avoid the same situation again. Probably because I do compare my sea trips to THIS!

Oh, I discovered some things! You want to know? Here are some…

If you like the views, choose the middle to rear seats. The design of Supercat fastcrafts is such that the clear glass up front is way too high for you to clearly see the outside world when seated. If you want it even clearer. then choose business class since it is upstairs! Now if you want to see crashing waves unto the boat, the front sides are it – and you’ll have to stand for a clearer view! That is if you can stomach the “action” which commonly horrifies many passengers. But that would only be on a really terrible weather, which is not very often in the visayas.

Seasick? In order of intensity to get you dizzy and puke, from most intense that would be 1) upstairs is 'shakiest', that is the more expensive business class, 2) front of the boat and 3) aft or rear portion of the craft is 'steadiest'. I know some seafarer friends told me about the scientific explanation on why this is so, but my aging brain can’t recall! Oh, in case you did not know, the Supercat also has “discomfort bags” a.k.a. “vomit bags” a.k.a. “puke bags” a.k.a. “suka bags”! Just ask the crews if you need one and can’t see it anywhere around your seats! Mind you, I once saw a woman who hoarded those black plastic bags. She even asked from the crews for more and placed them inside her handbag. The foreigner beside me said "she must be really really sick", and I answered that with "in the head"! Jusko si Nanay, gagawin yatang loot bags sa birthday party ng anak nya yun mga plastic bag na yun!

Comfort rooms? They’re all at the back of the craft. Ever wonder why? I think it considers two primary things… 1) there is less movement at the back (as said above) and 2) so that the stench, if any, would just fly off and away from the boat since it is aft-most. When the boat sways, you would still feel the movement of course. So, if you can help it, avoid going to the comfort rooms during the trip.

Food? Well, bringing your own would be the best. But please stay away from the smelly meat or fish sauces. Most of them let out an offensive smell when you open the pack or when you are already eating. Believe me, even the K1 or K2 (that’s burger steak) from that ever smiling bee does sometimes smell offensive – especially if a person is not hungry. Besides, sauces can spill, hopefully just on your clothes and not your seatmates’. Sandwiches are I think a more “socially acceptable” option. Don’t bring dried-fish please. It’s smell sticks to clothing and you are not the only one on board!

The Supercat does have a lot of food choices on sale once the craft departs. Of course it is more expensive. Now here’s the deal if you wanna avail of that food from the cart… at business class, no problem since they are immediately served to the few of you. But on economy, there is only one such cart being pushed around by the stewardesses. It may take too long before they reach you! But there is a way around this issue that I found by observing during my trips.

The “canteen” or that counter where their food for sale emanates from is at the back left side (just a wall separates it from the comfort rooms). So when they start selling, the route is: they start from passengers seated at back-left (seats ABCDEFG) going towards front, doing a clockwise turn there, and making their way to back-right! Thus, if you were seated 21 or 22 JKLMN, most everyone will have finished burping an hour ago before the cart reaches you haha. Therefore, if you want that coffee, drink and munchies ASAP, choose a seat with letters A to G. But the wisest way is, stand up and go to that counter instead of waiting for the “commissary” cart to come around hehehe!

Music on board? It only happens while boarding and disembarking. The rest of the time, they would be showing old movies though you would already be standing up and making your way out to disembark by the time the story reaches climax and about to end. Bitin! My wish? I am hoping and praying they’d instead play tourism related clips, even paid ads, instead of usually violent or sexually explicit movies since there usually are children on board anyway. Plus, tourists will be given more opportunity to learn about the beauty of this country. Did you know that every time a Supercat sails there is always a foreign tourist on board? That’s a thousand percent fact!

Announcements? They’re always in English, sometimes translated to Tagalog. But note that there are some terms that you might not understand even if you are like them a Filipino. It is the same case with listening to Domestic Flight Stewardesses. I do like the safety demo video on the fast craft compared to those of the airlines. Easier to understand! Oh well, there is always a Catholic prayer everytime the craft departs. So if you are not one, bear with it. Or, just take the gist and pray on your own.

Views? Get busy looking outside the window if you are traveling in the morning. It is mostly the sea that you’ll see syempre, but going to Ormoc, the view of Camotes Islands are wonderful. And again, especially during mornings, watch out for the Dolphins. On one trip I once was surprised to see some big thing come out of the water up into the air and splash right back down. I first thought that would have been some big fish. But a crew told me, that was a Dolphin. Already? OMG and why did them Dolphins not tell me ahead of time that they were showing up hehe. My camera was not ready! Argh!

Arrived? I summarize this ‘travel ceremony’ with a question… Why is it that even when you are not really in a hurry, you always hustle it out to disembark ahead of all other passengers? Aminin yan, okay?!

Enjoy your trip!



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