Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Getting Out Of Yolanda’s Ruins

This was the final leg of my sojourn to Yolanda-stricken places in Samar and Leyte. The return trip from Catbalogan to Cebu, via Tacloban and Ormoc. Am not sure I am ready to call this fun. But full of realizations how people all over this planet get mobilized to rise up to calamities like Yolanda just brought upon the Visayas. Let’s go kwento!

Oh yes, this was already the first day of December. But nowhere I have been in the past two days seem to tell me ‘be happy Christmas is here’!

Anyway, I must remember “uso-os”. It’s a whitish kind of fish that the driving friend cooked for breakfast – in three different kinds of dishes – paksiw, tinola and prito! All delectable to pep anybody’s morning! I roamed (on foot) Catbalogan City a bit, unsuccessfully looking for MarlLights hahaha! Thankfully another friend offered to drive around and promised to return with at least a pack! Hay ang maging adik! It was followed by a perspiringly sumptuous nilagang baboy for lunch over at another friend's.

And, at a few minutes before 2PM, I was at the Grand Tours Terminal waiting for a seat No. 2 to Tacloban. Got it, and no less than the 2PM trip! Yeah! Off I went, and an hour into the uneventful ride, I remembered I forgot something – to ask the Catbalogan Terminal to inform their Tacloban Terminal that I needed a seat No. 2 on the first immediate connection to the Tacloban-Ormoc trip. But I have my ways. Done!

The 2:15PM trip also from Catbalogan to Tacloban caught up with us somewhere after Calbiga, and the two drivers seemed to have been playing drag-race along the way. That other van’s driver is crazy hehe, we could see he didn’t that much press on the brakes while negotiating curves! Ah, my driver said “it’s one of their newer vans, that’s why”! Okay fine, and I think this got our driver speeding up a little bit more hehe. And I knew that 2:15PM van would pause and give way somewhere before reaching their Tacloban Terminal, as otherwise, he could be in for a suspension or something worse than that!

Hey I did not take any more interest snapping any pictures from Catbalogan all the way to San Juanico bridge as I saw yesterday, there was not much of a damage. But turning left towards Tacloban City proper from the bridge, I instinctively took aim, concentrating on the right side of the road (since I did the other side yesterday, on the way to Marabut, remember?), but sometimes could not help but also pan to the left side. Destruction everywhere. Here are some of those pictures, and it was like I was back in war-country once more…

Turning left on that Tacloban-Babatngon Road just after the San Juanico Bridge, I see that NAPOCOR Tower down on the ground like a crumpled piece of origami.

Even them orange men must take some rest! Tao lang...

4PM, I was back at the Grand Tours (Tacloban) Terminal. Ticket booths are to the right, not in picture. Those red upholstered benches were seats inside that (previously) air-conditioned waiting lounge. Notice the door and one glass panel have no glass! Staff here told me those were rammed to shreds by floating debris during the deluge
You see the maroon ledge? Inside that middle cross portion was a big flat screen TV, yes, water reached it! And I still saw stains and scratches up there to indicate where the water level was! There were people here that early morning Yolanda came (drivers, etc), they ran up that stairs and prayed the water level won't go any higher. Thankfully it did not, or else... simba ko!

Ok, I got seat number 2 on the 5PM Tacloban-Ormoc run. Below were my views until darkness deprived my camera of any more good shots as we sped through for the 2hour++ ride to Ormoc...

Andok's again! As when I passed yesterday, this place never runs out of a crowd. Quite a different sight the many times I passed this way long before Yolanda! Call it 'opportunity knocking after a disaster'! There is just no choice yet.

Hey Joe! Hehe, is this, was this a bar or something? Ah, all I know is, that old dude is Caucasian and beside him is a local lass.

Entering Palo from Tacloban

This time and place was eeriest for me. Not sure if this was Sta. Fe or Alang-alang. But the time of day, dusk, with no electricity anywhere, with all houses flattened, trees without leaves, people making bonfires (probably to keep warm and/or drive mosquitoes away), was like being in a wartime movie. Horrific, horrifying, horrible!

Then we meet a busload of Koreans! Not sure if they were just curious tourists (probably from Cebu) or relief volunteers. I did see someone speaking via a microphone up front, that looks just like the many tour buses going around Cebu. Come to think of it, this scene made me smile! Why not, right? Even if they're just curious tourists, the fact they're seeing the extent of damage would probably make them tell all they know how bad it really is. Then it would be easier for everyone else to offer more help.

After this shot above, every attempt I did with the camera was futile. It was already too dark and we were moving faster.

Faster? Well kind of! Why? Because moving on, the debris and destruction on the road were lesser, plus the girl beside me (seat number 1) asked the driver if we could still make it to Ormoc by 7PM. Hmm, this trip takes normally a little more than 2 hours, so if we left 5PM, we'd have to go a little bit (just a little bit) faster to catch 7PM. She said they were trying to catch the Supercat that leaves for Cebu at 730PM, though they already had tickets chimed her two other lady companions at seats behind us. Henceforth I noticed our driver was like making a daredevil go at some parts of the highway!

But this got me thinking. A Sunday, a last trip, a photo-finish arrival at the port. Would I ever make it? I of course thought of the options. Tough luck if ever I can still grab any ticket on Weesam leaving about the same time, since that one gets full ahead of Supercat as their tickets are a bit cheaper. There's also the RORO leaving at 10PM, which I know would also be full as it was a Sunday. Crossed fingers. Thinking, thinking... options, options... If worse gets to worst, I would try the ROROs from either Baybay or Hilongos where I came from yesterday. But they're still trips away... a bahala si batman!

We arrived at the Ormoc City port exactly 7PM! Whoa! And my fellow passengers all ran towards the terminal. Ako? Pretended I was not in panic mode but my paces were like probably 5 to 6 feet each hehe. Almost all of them already had tickets, so what was their rush? And we all were greeted by signs that said "delayed", boat arriving from Cebu only at 8:25PM! To their dismay hehe.

So I got to the lone ticket clerk still serving the counters. Her greeting was "usa na lang gyud nabilin sir, business class"! Ack! But I didn't have any better choice, right? Being already up face-to-face with the clerk (other passengers were frantically queued up behind me), I paused a bit to quickly think things out. P900++ for business class, P700++ economy not available, Weesam definitely full and about to depart, the RORO was fully booked (I saw signs at their booth by the entrance, behind the tourism office). So, Supercat was it and on business class.

After I was given my ticket, the passenger behind me was told she can go on waitlist. And she was given a number. I glanced at it, #27. Oh my!

Ticket in hand I checked the time, 7:16PM. What was I to do in this non-air-conditioned terminal (Ormoc still has no electricity, remember?) for more than an hour? Ah, estummy was grumbling hehehe, I needed food! Walked to my usual haunt in this place when waiting for the crafts to board - the Lorenzo's Cafe & Grill at the Twin Terraces Bldg sandwiched by Hotel Don Felipe and the Plaza.

Whoa, the whole building had electricity and teemed with diners. Even the other restaurants in the square were full! Not just your usual Ormocanon Sunday crowd btw, many of them were foreigners of too many nationalities for me to remember. Needless to say, relief folks taking that needed break! That made me really overwhelmed I wanted to shout THANK YOU to all of them! Oh, even Ormoc's cable company does have something to alleviate the people's suffering! How? They have put up a lone TV at the Plaza's stage (fully visible from Lorenzo's), hooked it up to some big speakers and voila, the city can watch the evening news! Yeah yeah, even professionals and volunteers went near to get the latest scoop!

Let me describe some of those wonderful souls I saw.

To my right at the 'al fresco' tables was a huddle of 3 Koreans wearing the same kind of shirt that had red markings and the English letters KMA. Am not sure if they were doctors, but the logos in their shirts and their vehicle (yes they had their own) indicated signs relating to medical practice. So I think am almost sure to assume they are Korean Medical Association. And they were very well-mannered, with conversations toned down to 'learned' volumes. Very much unlike the many tourists or students you see around Cebu!

The two tables to my right were full of Tagalog banter at times I even laughed with them (secretly of course)! All I heard was 'shop-talk', like one time a dude asked their senior companion how soon after can he take a 'birthday leave', his birthday was sometime last July! After a while, I could not anymore hold the urge, so I asked "I know it was all about Yolanda, but what were you guys specifically here for?" mga mukhang nerdy tech guys kasi and kinda youngish.

The girl nearest me said they are from Balfour, they helped EDC. I said 'ahhh okay', though I really didn't understand those names. Now that am writing these, I checked google. Balfour or First Balfour is a Lopez Group entity related to infrastructure business; and EDC is 'Energy Development Corporation'. Okay, so they probably had to do something with putting the power back ASAP!

About 8:20PM many diners started going out of the restaurants. And almost all had bags or backpacks; or rode on vehicles full of them. Ah, obviously just like me, going to ride the fastcraft to Cebu. So, I also went walking to the port.

It has arrived, and passengers were streaming out, while inside the waiting lounge, there were even more passengers ready to board - most of them in uniformed groups that obviously came for relief operations. But even those arriving were also mostly of the same intention; and many still were from lands afar! Doesn't it touch the Filipino heart knowing most of the planet is here to help?

There were passengers with shirts printed with COSE and HelpAge. Nice. They're that group helping the elderly (yep, senior citizens as is commonly called in this country). There was also a group with shirts that said "Action Medeor" - am familiar with this logo having seen many of them in Africa years before. I know they're Europeans but can't remember which part there (Germans?). I think there was also "Caritas" from down under. Ah, there were others more, including a group of college students, but I failed to note those names/logos down.

There were these Cebuano-speaking youngsters wearing black shirts printed at the back with "Feeding the children is our No. 1 goal". As we boarded, I asked the more senior in the group and he told me they are from 'Feed The Children Philippines, Inc.' based in Cebu City. Nice of them to also come and help.

These jolly guys in front of me as we piled to board the Supercat all wore that bright and attractive-looking vest. No need to describe, right? I got this one pic good and clear. Oh, I have friends who don't know Red Crescent yet. They are the equivalent (in fact the very same) Red Cross that we are familiar with - only they come from the non-christian parts of the world. But they are one and the same - with a noble purpose!

These folks just got in and still waiting for their other cargoes from the boat even as we already boarded. That fatigue-colored vest they're wearing, and the many boxes and crates they brought all have a logo of "Mercy". I know they are a medical aid group too. And I really thought they just serve Americans :) Okay, shame on me.

I was last up at business class and it was easy to find my seat (the only one vacant at middle front just across the stair!. Oh my my my, I thought for a second there I was on a river cruise along the Chao Phrya! Filipinos were a minority here, and no less than all seats were taken! Most were jolly and bantering. Many had their cameras in their hands or neck straps. The only difference is that almost all of them were wearing their respective group's Yolanda-aid shirts, vests, caps, etc., When the boat departed, I made a quick cursory at how it was downstairs. Yep, full to the brim too and the same kind of crowd...

No wonder I got a 'last seat'. Along with the usual Sunday commuters from Ormoc to Cebu, these folks that made the Supercat full were people who went to help Yolanda-stricken communities. And, others are still even coming!


No wonder I still call this a wonderful planet we live in!

For a chronology of this trip's stories, click these numbers:
01   02   03   04   05   06   07   08   09   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18

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