The Observatory: A Bus Ride So Colorful, the Storm outside Pales in Comparison

While a million of us were cramped in an ordinary bus in Masbate City bound for the nearby municipalities, I was playing the role of Jean Baptiste Grenouille. And my now highly sensitive olfactory sense is telling me that there is nothing more confusing than the combined stench of sweaty armpits and cured tobacco leaves. Yes, in the right corner is a bag of tobacco   and to my left is a middle-aged man (or aromatic, or spice, more like cumin, more like curried armpits). There are sacks and sacks of rice at the back of the bus, some extending functionality as seats. An ex-military octogenarian is bragging about his fierce and bloody combats of the past. The next minute though, he’s weeping bucketloads because his son is finally returning home from the States and apparently he’s gay.

A myriad of sights, sounds, and scents (some more like stench) fill the atmosphere and I cannot simply grasp every element. I feel disappointed as I want to document every detail of this thrilling bus ride. While I was busy adjusting the phone settings so I could capture my seatmate’s balisong, I failed to notice the storm brewing outside. Raining cats and dogs that day, the streets were pools and the rice fields were reduced to murky chocolate rivers.

And so after I safely returned to the comforts of my own sheets and pillows, only then have I realized (and heard from the news, of course) that storm signal #1 was raised in Masbate City. I did not regret being out on the road. Two and a half hours of throwing caution to the wind was totally worth it.

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Reflections on the Road: The Journey and not the Destination

Simply desperate to seek new sights apart from the cold, desolate, barren and bleak landscape I see everyday when I go to work, I filed a 3-day annual leave. It was sudden. I found myself printing the leave form and having it signed within an hour from 2 of my superiors, saying I have to depart the next day bound for Roxas City. The reason for which is partly influenced by the untimely death of Amy Winehouse.

Yesterday, 5:40am I was on a public bus to Malinta, Masbate. I should have been on a single motorcycle on a non-stop trip to the Kalasuche port in Milagros, Masbate but my driver failed to meet me at 5:00am. Yes, I got stood up. So I got on the bus instead, advised the driver to drop me in Malinta, and found a window seat. I should have known better. The wind was biting cold and it was drizzling so the drops hit my face hard.

 

Shivering and yet unmindful for I found amusement counting the number of passengers getting into the bus. It was stuffed to the core, mind you, with students getting on and off at every stop. I was grateful I had the chance to study at the city center when I was in high school and public commute was in the form of a 3-minute tricycle ride from my home. I pity the students and their disheveled hair, with their crisp white polo shirts and blue skirts now stained with mud and wet with rain. My first seat mate was a shy lass about my age, she was covering her face with a towel. She transferred to a seat in front, probably because she wanted a window seat too. haha, wrong move! My second seatmate was a man in his late 20s; I didn’t have enough time to “observe” him because he gave up his seat  soon after he sat next to me, to a lady and her newborn. Imagine boarding an overstuffed old public bus with your baby. Shielding the baby from being hit by rushing passengers and protecting it from being squished in your seat by the one next to you is such an enormous effort! Kudos to moms and babies in public transport!

 

An old lady in the front row informed me that it was my stop already. I thanked her and got off. A man shouting off “Milagros!” caught my attention. He took my bag and secured it  in the sidecar of his tricycle while I took the “backride” (next to the driver, more like a sideride if you ask me). Now the tricycle stuffing commences! Students picked up along the way, old ladies with freshly harvested bananas, men and their luggage. Front, side, back, interior, the tricycle was brimming with passengers!

 

Speaking a mixture of tagalog and Ilonggo (with the perfectly sweet-sounding accent ha!), I didn’t pass off as a non-local because the Masbateno dialect is a hodgepodge of ilonggo, bisaya, bicol, and even tagalog as the island is situated with certain portions facing the Bicol region, Panay island, and Cebu, among others. I understood perfectly from the boatmen that there were no trips that Monday, not even for Estancia, Iloilo where I could just travel overland to Roxas. Now another man started talking. Picking up certain context clues from what the man was saying in Masbateno, I thought he was about to lead me to another outrigger that could possibly sail for Roxas that day. But no! He was actually leading me to a supposed lodging place where I could spend the nights till the next earliest trip which is on Wednesday. I could not describe in detail what the place looked like because I don’t want to recall it. Suffice to say that at that time, at the back of my head, I figured “What the fuck is this? A drug den?” I hurriedly bid him goodbye and flagged the first tricycle that came to sight with no definite destination in mind. (Oh well, maybe he was just being uhhhhmmm, thoughtful?)

 

I told the driver to drop me at the terminal to Masbate City. It was yet another tricycle ride to the city, about an hour I was told. I found it quite interesting that long distance routes are accommodated by tricyles and motorcycles (habal-habal) and that there seems to be only a small number of jeepneys plying the town-to-town routes. And in the rare occasions that there are indeed buses, these are the Jurassic ones. Large and ancient, the makeshift window covers are wooden planks and rust is everywhere.

You know the first thing I did when I reached Masbate City? I ate pancakes at Jollibee. haha. Everything tastes better with butter and maple syrup cures all ills. Okay I made the second one up. And it was not even real maple syrup with my pancakes, it was sugar syrup. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my breakfast because I missed eating fastfood junk. It’s only recently that I’ve appreciated the modern conveniences of living in the metro. Working miles from the big city and seeing pollution only after every 6 weeks, I embrace EDSA’s traffic and MRT rush hour as if there were my long lost sisters. I buy the big fastfood breakfast meal because I want to get the morning paper (I have this thing with freebies). And I read it cover to cover like I’ve lost contact with civilization for a long time and i want to reestablish my being human. I also want to know the present date. haha

 

After breakfast, I looked for a hotel where I could spend the night without busting the budget. I found one for 550 per night with a matrimonial bed, aircon, and cable tv. I could have opted for a single bed with half the price, but there was no available room, the receptionist told me. Oh well, I thought, it was cheap anyway. So I took the room after they changed the sheets and gave me a blanket so thin and tiny it could as well double as a sheer scarf. What should I expect from 550, right? I was lucky enough to have been provided with soap. I should not complain about the TV where the channel browse function is nonexistent because some sick customer must have popped out the control keys when he got bored with playing hide and seek with the remote control. Yes, the remote control was missing too.

 

The hours went by smoothly afterwards as I fumble for the thin banket to wipe off my tears after watching some tagalog films by Star Cinema. I love you, Goodbye was as funny and witty as it was heartfelt and tearjerking. Now fastforward to the beach scene from Derek Ramsay and Angelica Panganiban. Nothing beats macro shots of the sand with holding hands, rubbing legs, and wet hair! I give the film  5 stars. My verdict in one word: ABS.

 

After some silly soulsearching and mindmapping which often led to thoughts on Europe and how unattractive John Lapus would be if he were straight (yes, I watched Here Comes the Bride too!), I succumbed to slumber.

 

Now, as of writing, I sit here by a windowside table in a fastfood restaurant in Masbate city, looking through glass and seeing nothing but pouring rain. With a cup of coffee keeping me company, and Jack Johnson in the background, I reckon this has been one of the most intimate personal experiences I’ve had in a long time. I thought it’d be nice to prop one knee up, with one hand wrapping it nicely, but I’m not in my pyjamas and this is not my home. I realize that I needed this escape not because I wanted to see a particular place or be with certain people close to me; I just wanted to be in transit and maybe, just maybe, find myself in the process.

Travel OCD-ADHD a.k.a Wanderlust

             I don’t understand. I’m getting mad about travel. Or maybe it’s just plain impulse. Booking promo fares manila-davao, davao-zambo sure emptied my pockets but certainly left me with an afterglow knowing that months from now I will be seeing beautiful cities and beautiful people.

              I have self-diagnosed this affliction (nooo! disregard the negative connotation, i’d rather call it a mania) to be Travel OCD-ADHD (quite a mouthful!). It is this inability to focus at work because of the distraction brought about by online promo fares. It is the everyday short attention span manifested by the injection of seemingly urgent travel plans into every possible conversation (as if it’s a matter of life and death). It is the inexplicable giddiness even after a 3-hr night of sleep due to travelblog-reading (or blogger-stalking). It is the obsession for all things travel and the compulsion to plot out the perfect route, the perfect itinerary, the perfect weekend getaway.

             I have this strange logic that although I’m very impulsive, I’m still being frugal. Promo fare or not, the opportunity to travel is always a good investment.

Puerto Galera. 2009

             Years shall pass and it will be something to look back on and be thankful and proud of. It’ll be be an intangible heirloom to be passed on to future children and grandchildren. It’ll be a great big earthy storybook filled with tales of smiles, sunsets, sand, surf, moutains, caves and rapids. I’ll be an awesome documentary of adventures and mishaps, of unfortunate deals and of genuine hospitality.

              It’ll be an epic with chapters yet to be written. 🙂