Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Sibuyan Island!

From Bulabog Puti-an, I caught the afternoon bus north to Roxas City. It was November 1st, which was All Souls' Day. November 2nd is All Saints' Day and during both of these days, Filipinos flood to the cemeteries near their hometowns visit their relatives that have passed on. The bus was full to begin with, with people standing in the aisles, their groins and butts oozing into the faces of those sitting in aisle seats. As we travelled, I saw my first monkey walking comfortably balancing on a small bamboo rail used for hanging items for sale. We passed so fast I hardly saw what kind of monkey it was. As the sun was setting, I saw a trio of monkeys in the distance near some rice paddies, this time to far to see their size or faces, but they were definitely monkeys. As the bus traveled, the bus would lose passengers at major towns only to be filled up even fuller before it was able to take off again. The ticket-counter, usually a young man with a grumpy demeanor, was one of the most capable, calm, warm, and patient boys I've ever met. He was 20 years old, and he had a spark in his eye that was the quintessence of goodness. It's hard to describe him, but in our short exchanges of words and meeting of eyes, he made a lasting impression on me. We were all lucky he was there to spread the calm during such chaos, discomfort and stress.

As the sun went down, the bus somehow got fuller and fuller. It has maybe 30 seats on the bus, but it was filled with easily more than 60 people all of them seeming to be going to or returning from their hometown visits. As I looked out the window, the cemeteries terraced along hills and tucked into valleys were stunning, each gravestone glowing from a dozen or more candles placed lovingly around it. The discomfort of the bus couldn't overwhelm the dazzling serenity of it all. Most people couldn't help but laugh at the impossibility of the chaos that surrounded the bus as crowds chased after whenever the bus stopped, some of the men using burly arms to block old ladies from climbing the steps or shoving children out of the way. The ticket boy could only watch with wonder and patience for people to sort things out on their own, sometimes barely squeezing on himself as the driver peeled away from the clamouring crowd. We passed children scaring each other with masks, laughter from one house giving way to somber tears in the next. It was quite the ride. 

I arrived in Roxas City on the northern coast of Panay around 8pm. Jeepneys are illegal in this town, so there was no choice but to pay P100 (more expensive than my fare on the bus) to travel 10km east to the port. My tricycle driver already had a passenger, a nice woman with superb English who helped me figure out where I needed to go. We passed children trying to scare us with masks, and when we arrived at her destination (after some searching for the right street) I left her with one of the two pomelos left over from Bulabog. I arrived at the port, paid my fare, and walked over to the bangka (outrigger boat) that would be leaving in the morning for Sibuyan Island. I convinced the somewhat bewildered captain to let me sleep with his crew on the boat overnight, laid out my thin foam pad, and slept long and well until sunrise.

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