Return To Samar – Living in the Pacific

Return to Samar

My alarm was set for 3:00am but I woke up 15 minutes earlier than I had to, only because Teri was already up and moving, making noise. I could swear she was banging pots and pans together. We really didn’t have to be at the airport until around 4:50am or so to check in for our 6:35am Philippine Airlines flight, but she was insistent on not being late because of the (supposed) long lines at the airport. We were completely packed the afternoon before because we were committed to our final night of league bowling before leaving early the next morning. All we had to do was bowl, go home, sleep and wake up. I drug my feet as long as I could without ruffling Big Bird’s feathers – I just can’t see getting to the airport so early that we just have to sit around and wait. We were finally out the door at around 4:10am and would drive over and pick up her cousin who would accompany us to the terminal, now only some 5 minutes away. She will also be babysitting our Nissan Rogue until we return. We will be back in the Philippines for the first time in a year for an extended stay before we return back to Guam.

We arrived at the airport at about 4:35am only to discover there was nobody in line at the PAL check-in counter. For my wife’s sake, I will re-emphasize… Nobody! As we got to the counter, the agent informed us the flight was already delayed one hour! I could have slept that extra 15 minutes PLUS another hour, but rather than be vocal and all “I told you so” about it, I just sucked it up (picture a baby tasting a dill pickle for the first time!). Somehow my Mrs. got her overweight baggage through check-in and we were quickly on our way to the gate with our overweight hand carry bags which were not even weighed. But I had to stop for more coffee! As it turned out, the flight was only delayed about 30 minutes, but all the same, I got less sleep than I needed. From here, it was only 3.5 hours to Manila. This was going to be relatively easy, I thought.

We landed in Manila on time and while waiting to get off the plane, there was the announcement that our luggage would be located on Carousel no. 7. So far so good! We walked the nearly 1 kilometer (it seemed) until we reached Immigration, where there was only two officers working the entire flight. Somehow, things in Immigration progressed more smoothly than I ever remembered as there was not even a line when we got there. Upon checking in, I handed over my passport and requested a Balikbayan Visa. After looking over his computer for a while, he asked me for my ACR (Alien Certificate of Registration) card was. I then handed him my expired Permanent Resident card and he informed me that I needed to renew my card. I explained I had no time to stay in Manila to do so, but that I intended to return to renew. He then said if I did not renew, I would need to surrender my card. He then took pause to confer with his supervisor. I overheard a bit about penalties, or something or another, in reference to re-applying after surrendering my card. They concluded their discussion and he returned to say “Okay, we will just give you Balikbayan.” I asked him if he needed our marriage certificate and he replied “No, it’s okay” while stamping my passport and writing in the visa expiration date for one year. He never glanced back up at me again. I’m guessing my 13A Visa (permanent Visa) in my passport was sufficient evidence of my marriage, not to mention my wife’s passport with my surname. Anyway, I received my Balikbayan Visa hassle free. After giving this matter further thought, and at this juncture, I’ve decided not to renew my ACR card, at least not in the near future. The Balikbayan is simply the easiest and cheapest way to enter and exit the county without paying all the fees. Besides, I feel a surge of penalties and fees coming on if I should choose to renew my Permanent Residency. I’ll just stick around at no-cost-to-me for as long as I can.  Once we cleared Immigration it was off to the baggage claim.

My Balikbayan Visa – Living in the Pacific

 

Upon arriving downstairs in Terminal Two, the closest carousel was number 7. We stood there for a short while until the crowd thinned and I moved closer to the luggage carrier. I must have stood there for 15 minutes until I began recognizing the same pieces of luggage pass me by 5 or 6 times. I knew something wasn’t right. I told Teri to stay put and I walked over to another portion of the beltway. There I overheard someone in a conversation about leaving Dubai, at about the same time I noticed some luggage boxes with the return address of Dubai on them. It was then I noticed the sign above the carousel that indicated the two arrivals from Malaysia and Dubai. I have never paid attention to these signs in Manila airports and I don’t feel the need to explain why. Anyway, I instructed the Mrs. to wait there and I proceeded over to carousel number 6 where I discovered all four pieces of our lonely luggage, just going round and round, all by their lonesome. Most all of the other passenger’s luggage was already gone. I suppose I should feel lucky that all ours was still there. Needless to say, neither my wife or I heard the carousel change announcement. Oh, and for what it’s worth… the sign above the carousel number 6 indicated “Arriving Flight – Guam.”

Once we collected our baggage, we headed out to the lobby where Globe offers free phone SIM cards for arriving passengers. I’m not sure if this was unique to PAL passengers or for all arriving passengers. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good deal and both of us availed of the freebie. She loaded the minimum load available for P350 which was for talking and texting. It was however NOT an UNLI plan because each text cost P1.00 while phone calls were charged at the rate of P20 per minute. It was just a regular load and was the ONLY option available, so I guess it was not really a “freebie.” I would just wait and get my load once I arrived back in the province.

Armed with new cell phone numbers, we headed out to the GRAB curbside station to order us a ride. Teri has the GRAB app on her phone but it was just easier to have the curbside attendant do it for us. The destination instructions I gave the attendant was for the DLTB Bus Terminal Pasay. He quickly punched in the order and our ride was there within 2 minutes. It took only 18 minutes to get to the DLTB Bus Terminal, however it was the wrong terminal. I had no idea there were two locations in Pasay. The one we wanted was located closest to the airport and not the one farther north on Taft Avenue that we wound up driving to. Because the driver realized that he took us to the wrong terminal, and because it was the GRAB attendants error, he drove us back south to the terminal where our tickets awaited. The total amount due for the first trip was P283 but I gave him P500 for his trouble and sincerity.  We got to the station with about 4 hours to wait for our bus to depart. And wouldn’t you just know it… the bus was late arriving!

Our scheduled departure was 2:30pm. When the clock reached 2:25, I got up and walked over to the dispatcher’s office and asked for some clarification on the printed time on our ticket. I asked the dispatcher whether 2:30 was the bus arrival time or departure time? I guess I was just being sarcastically ornery at this point, as that is what waiting on a hard bench in the heat and humidity with a steady diet of diesel fumes does to me. The dispatcher only response to my presence was  “It’s coming!”

The bus finally arrived and we staged our luggage next to the bus for the porter to load it. Shortly thereafter, a porter arrived with a “baggage manifest” of sorts, one I have never seen before (this is probably the 6th trip we have made with this bus line). After logging our luggage on his manifest, he turned to me and says “P200 for each.”  I hadn’t been in country for 7 hours and was about to have my first meltdown. I remained calm and explained to this wet-eared boy that we have never paid for personal luggage before and that I wasn’t about to begin today.  I suggested maybe he was confused with charging for commercial transport of goods. After he conferred with another wet-eared porter, he came back and nodded in agreement, that there would be no charge for our bags. This is precisely why we choose to travel by bus because of the ability to carry extra weight. Domestic airlines have reduced weight limits (as compared to international aircraft) and extra baggage and overweight fees are getting expensive. In any case, we were loaded and back in air-conditioned comfort for the first time this day. I was already in need of a shower yet we still had some 20+ hours of travel left. The bus left some 45 minutes behind schedule, but we were finally on the road to home.

Once we took to the road, I took the opportunity to read the back of our ticket (for the first time ever), and it clearly states that passengers are entitled to carry-on luggage that fits in the overhead bin. Any additional luggage may be loaded in the underneath holds on a space available basis and may be assessed charges. Okay, so now I find out… After all these years! If I ever needed a cold beer, it was now. From this point forward, I was going to re-assess the viability of taking the bus in the future. And as fate would have it, we drew the slowest bus driver in the Philippines. It seemed like the only other vehicles he passed were tricycles and jeepneys.  He sure didn’t pass anything else. On one hand this is a good thing, right? On the other hand, we probably missed two ferry boats crossing the San Bernardino Straits.

DLTB Greyhound 11K

If having the slowest driver in Philippines bus-driving history wasn’t bad enough, we drew seats on one of the the older buses in the DLTB Greyhound inventory, 11K. No music or TV or WiFi was made available, and the only entertainment was watching other unknowing passengers get stuck in the onboard CR because the inside door-handle was broken. I was prepared to take wagers on how long it would take occupants to finally knock for someone to open the door and let them out. One lady passenger was likely too embarrassed to knock (I’m surmising) that she stayed confined inside for nearly 15 minutes until someone actually came to check on her!  I remember discussing with Teri that I was looking forward to that first bus resto-stop just outside Batangas, where we could get a good bowl of fresh Chicken Tinola soup. How could I have known everything had changed and our first meal stop would be McDonald’s! I don’t think many passengers were happy about the idea of eating Happy Meals for supper as they remained on the bus. Our next morning stop was in Sorsogon at “Baloy’s Kabayan” where coffee (3-in-1) and pastries were the primary menu items. I’ve always said that if Filipinos would learn to drink brewed black coffee, the country would be much better off (as well as most expats). We were now only a couple of hours from the Port of Matnog in the south of Bicol where we would be loaded onto the ferry for the voyage to Samar. THEN… the bus died! It just quit running. The driver made several attempts to restart the motor but was quickly draining the battery. Then he realized that we were on a downhill so he began to roll the bus then pop the clutch hoping to get restarted. He did this several times… over and over. One of my worst travel nightmares was coming to fruition… being stranded in the middle of nowhere on a closed up bus with no air. It would take at least 6 hours for another bus to reach us. I was having all kinds of nasty uncomfortable thoughts until… the bus began to sputter and jerk, then sputter some more. The motor sprang to life and we were off once again. If the driver would not have got it working where he did, we would have wound up on the detour bridge to a river bridge under construction. That would not have been good. It really sounded like some dirty fuel or a clogged fuel filter that was preventing fuel flow, but nonetheless, we were back running and on our way to the Port of Matnog. We learned once we got there, we would again be delayed because of the amount of traffic waiting to be loaded. After waiting about 1.5 hours, we were loaded onto the boat and departed for Samar. Once we landed, the driver loaded up, left the port and pulled into the first restaurant he could find in Allen. He decided to take a lunch break all the while we had a big welcome lunch ready for us at home… just an hour away! To make a short story longer – what should have been an 18-20 bus trip (with a more normal, crazy driver) turned into this slow boat from China scenario taking just over 22 hours.

By the time we arrived at our drop off point in Samar, I had made my mind up. I would never take the bus again. Although it was only a 3.5 hour flight from Guam to Manila, it took over 36 hours of total travel time to get door-to-door, and it gets more exhausting each time we do it. I guess if there is anything good to say about living in Manila, it’s that once you land in Manila, you’re home! So next time, it will be Cebu Pacific from Guam to Cebu with a connecting flight into Calbayog City. And now that they have “Fast Cat” boat service from Cebu City to Calbayog City daily, we have that option also. Now I will just have to re-instruct my Mrs. with the how-to of packing a little more lightly, which can be another challenge all its own. And when it was all said and done… we were home!

Home in Samar Province!

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2 thoughts on “Return To Samar – Living in the Pacific

  1. Sounds to me like you just had a normal bus trip Randy in the Country. The last trip the wife and I had made she swore off of ever taking bus from Manila to Calbayog. The trip we took turned into 3 day National Geographic trip stuck in bus terminal in Iriga City due to Typhoon washed out what in the Philippines they call a bridge but in US we call a Culvert under the road. Traffic on the road I think was backed up from Manila to Calbayog on both sides with only one Lane open and everyone had to take their turn to cross. The bus driver decided to leave Iriga City because people got tired of waiting and finding other way to travel and he was afraid if he stayed longer there would not be enough people to make the trip worth while. We ended up being stuck in traffic for 8 hrs along side of rice field and after slowing making are way to the next Barangay. They closed the road again because it was getting dark and they did not want traffic crossing their temporary fix at night. So we spent the night along side of road with no CRs or place to buy food and water. The bus next morning at day light started inching its way to where the road was washed out and everyone had to get out and walk across foot bridge while the driver took bus over the temporary one lane fix. After we loaded back up serval hours later we finally make it to Matnog which was another 8 hour wait while waiting are turn to cross. Finally made it home late in the evening and had to rest up for the next couple of days because was worn out from are National Geographic Trip. Ever sense wife will only take Plane no matter if over priced and usually delayed and they will charge you price of another 2 tickets to carry your Luggage.

  2. Dang George, I should have had you write my article… much more interesting! lol Yup, it’s plane rides for me – because as you know we are getting older and I can’t afford to simply waste days anymore! lol Will miss you guys this trip it looks like.

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