I have long dreamed of driving all the way from Manila to Dolores (Eastern Samar) and back with nobody interfering with the machine and wheels but me. Like an avid mountain climber, I wanted to challenge myself and reap the reward of having to conquer and stretch further my physical limits. But the convenience of air travel has prolonged my inner debate and allowed myself to forego the futility of a personal challenge. The seemingly uncontrollable urge to reawaken my obsession came lately with the series air mishaps that provoked a growing dread of riding aged planes. And so I mounted a regiment of preparation consisting mostly of weekend bikes around Luneta and a couple of drives up to Baguio which, I thought, would tune up a physique that has been crouching for years in a stagnant office.
After a six-hour delay caused by thief who stole my spare tire in the guarded perimeters of Clark in Angeles City the night before, I left Intramuros at midday of the 23rd of December. By about four in the afternoon I found myself driving back from Lipa City to the main highway after pursuing a wrong route for about an hour due to absence of road signs. After inching through the thick traffic along Santo Tomas, Batangas, I nearly uttered curses at the DPWH or to whoever is in charge of putting road markers for failing to consider the travails of tourists and neophytes like me. Other countries are very particular about road directions. Not my own country that is presently experiencing a downturn count of both local and foreign tourists. Having lost a considerable one-hour, I decided to take the short “Bitukang Manok”, the zig-zag road that is part of the Quezon National Park. (On my way back, I rested for some minutes at this Park. It must have been very beautiful before. Now the place looks abandoned and stinks of urine—which is characteristically Filipino!). But this I missed, too, failing to see any signage in the darkness of an early evening.
The roads were relatively good, except the first twenty or so kilometer stretch of the Quirino highway in Quezon, where the cracks to the cemented highway have grown big and intermittent. By four in the morning, I was in Matnog—that’s about 16 hours of straight driving. Four fixers ganged up on me promising that I will be accommodated in the first trip of the Ferry Boat that will start loading at 4:30 AM. They made good their promise, but I had Two Thousand Five Hundred less to my thin wallet. Good enough, but I had this stinging feeling that I was robbed all right. Well, it was Christmas and during this season there are no robbers—only carolers. Come to think of it, both Matnog and Allen Terminals are so underdeveloped. They looked exactly the same as they were during my student days—and that was ages ago. I wonder what happens to the Sixty Peso Terminal Fee per passenger, not to mention the fees of buses, trucks and cars. With a conservative average of about a thousand passengers per day, terminal fees will sum up to about sixty thousand pesos a day. In one year it’s close to about Twenty One Million Pesos. I imagine there must be millionaires out there with big bellies.
I thought I would get a nap after I crossed to Allen. But the race with my obsession would not give me slumber. And so I took breakfast in Calbayog at shortly past seven. Then my “motocross” begun. The roads between Calbayog and Catbalogan are so devastated that the stretch of my “physical limits” nearly snapped. While both the Northern and the Eastern Samars have better roads today, Western Samar, the mother province, has probably gone so old to take care of itself. And so probably are its leaders.
By lunchtime of December 24, I was at our doorstep. I was tired, yes. But victory was mine—more meaningful than all the gifts I received this Christmas. I assured myself to do it again. But during the day, when I can better observe clearly more places and faces.