Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let's play refugees!

The main attraction we were looking forward to in Leyte (there wasn't much else to do) was the prospect of taking a bus and ferry back to Davao, rather than another bloody domestic flight connection via Cebu or Manilagainagain. With Philippines exhausts the carbon saving would be negligible or possibly even more damaging than flying there, but we were both eager for the more 'authentic' travel experience and - most importantly - the ability to point to these islands on a map in the future and brag, 'did it.'

We didn't let the bus company's (misleading) claims of 14 hours' travel time deter us, despite having endured a similar length journey a few days earlier, though I was a little uncomfortable about how little information we had about what the trip actually entailed, with nothing to be found online and only minimal details from the one guy at the bus terminal who wasn't trying to scam us.

How much time would we spend on the bus as opposed to the ferry? Would we sleep on the bus or arrange a cabin on the boat? Would we be squashed into tiny seats with cardboard boxes filling the gangway, no knee room and the teetering Leviathan luggage of 30 cross-country migrants threatening to concuss us at any time? This epic 26-hour journey makes The Lord of the Rings look like a walk to the corner shop in your dressing gown.

Book I:
Bus from Tacloban to Port of San Ricardo

Sunday, 17 March 2013


We arrived at the terminal early for our 2 o'clock bus like good children, despite knowing in our hearts that Philippine time works on its own schedule, especially out here.


After resisting the pressure and outright lies of a tricycle driver to take us to another station for three hours ('that was your bus, you missed it!' etc) the bus finally arrived. It wasn't what we were expecting.

The difference in price between this 'ordinary' bus and the air conditioned, apparently Wi-Fi-ready bus was only about 400 pesos (about £6.50), which had seemed like a reasonable saving at the time. For the next 26 hours, every time those luxurious yellow Bachelor buses zoomed past us with their wide windows and aisles visibly free from clutter, I learned my lesson anew. I'm glad I'm still learning, it's like 2010 all over again.

I'd optimistically saved up some work to keep me occupied on this journey, but after a couple of hours of having to delete and retype every word several times due to constant jolting of the laptop I surrendered and spent the remaining battery life desperately immersing myself in The X-Files.


We arrived at the Port of San Ricardo ferry terminal a couple of hours after the last boat of the day had departed, the one we'd presumably intended to catch if the bus had been on time. The next ferry was at 8am, over nine hours distant. I was surprised that no one seemed to have a problem with this, as the majority of passengers had presumably already been through this for a full day before us on their journey from Manila, even having mats ready to lay out on the floor for their poor children to sleep on. My despair reached its peak.

We took refuge in the quieter bus and spread out on the aisle of boxes, foolishly not having thought to bring a hammock like one resourceful guy. Unable to sleep on cardboard because I'm a princess, I listened to audiobooks while Jackie got some sleep for a few hours...

Monday, 18 March 2013


...Until they inhumanely started blaring out some contemporary song or other on repeat at 5am. It turns out my despair still had some distance to go, with another peak of stress appearing from behind the clouds. We got off the bus to take some photos, drink some coffee and generally not be asleep.

Book II:
Ferry from Leyte to Mindanao


The ferry departed with unprecedented punctuality of only 30 minutes behind schedule. As the boring passengers rushed to baggsie chairs in the lounge and vegetate in front of whatever shouty kids TV show passed for entertainment, we went up top and enjoyed the scenery. This was what we'd wanted all along - this part was actually good! It's a shame it only lasted an hour.

Book III:
Bus from Surigao to Davao


Back on the bus, we started the final stretch of the tediously slow journey from Surigao to Davao, which a road sign informed me was some 300 kilometres away. Seventeen hours in, we were basically starting out on another long distance bus journey from scratch, with no interval for showering, a good meal or even the opportunity to charge my laptop for a while so I could see how Mulder got out of that burning train car. I was outraged.

At least, that would have been my normal reaction if I'd had any sleep or was travelling alone. As it happens, I spent the next nine hours in a contented haze talking to Jackie and generally feeling calm after going a bit mad when the shocks of the bus and the overnight vigil had first hit me. I can't believe it was really that long, it felt much shorter and without resorting to a computer screen, audiobook or visualbook I didn't get bored once.


There was mild excitement as Jackie found her Dunkin Donuts, presumed lost the previous evening and only slightly battered, and I witnessed police corruption firsthand when we were pulled over and the driver hastily extracted some bills from a folder right outside my window. I wanted to take a photo but I didn't. I'm not an idiot.


As we got tantalisingly close to the end, the pressure on my knees was relieved as people departed the bus one by one and took their boxes with them, revealing an entire back row I hadn't even known existed before. Now it was actually like riding a normal bus. Remember those?

Maybe this trip was important for our relationship or maybe our relationship was just important for this trip. Either way, we came out of it laughing and stinking and the next morning I sorted through the photos taken in anger and sadness with a smile on my face, because I knew in my heart this experience was going to make for a reasonably decent blog.


At least change out of those stinking clothes before you take a staged victory photo! A sensational shower ensued.

1 comment:

  1. You should take more unpleasant trips like this for my amusement! I'll even allow you a hammock for your next one.