It’s 12:25 a.m. on Sunday, the eve before Korea’s Lunar New Year, temperature for tomorrow predicted at -1. I’ve been typing away on a couple marketing projects all day, while Joe fried beans for seven-layer dip, trucked to Home Plus for a bottle of wine, some Johnnie Walker Red, a pineapple, other colourful things. Now he is chopping mushrooms for pasta salad, preparing for our overnight trip tomorrow with friends to a pension in Yangsan. The train will leave from Bujeon Station at 10:30 a.m. I haven’t packed but the Philippines is fading and between preparing to leave Korea (38 days!), selling my bookcase, my couch, my mirrors, teaching, writing text for websites and reading up on Rajasthan (11 hours, the guide book says, from Delhi to Ajmer, then 30 minutes to Pushkar…) the blog has been on an unwanted pause.
But I want to tell you about the jeepney ride to Barangay Valladolid, and the Cathedral square lit up with white lights, and show you the Loboc River, and our jungle hut…
The air in Tagbilaran was warm and dark when the boat to Bohol docked. Men rushed toward us as we walked from the long port exit into a parking lot, calling out, “Where are you going? Where are you going? Where are you . . .” We’d been instructed by the staff of Nipa Hut Village to catch a tricycle from the port to a jeepney pick-up point called Island City Mall, then ride a jeepney for an hour to a town called Loboc, getting off at a village called Barangay Valladolid. A man would be waiting with a motorbike to drive us to the huts.
A tricycle–one of the most common forms of transport in the Philippines–is a motorcycle with a ceilinged sidecar and a third wheel. The bench accommodates two, but another seat is attached to the back and one or two people can share the driver’s seat, and with laps put to use the whole contraption can carry five or six, the motor chugging up hills, crosses and little plastic Jesus’ or Mary’s hanging off the mirror along for the ride.
The jeepney pick-up was chaotic and crowded. Our destination, it turned out, wasn’t one a jeepney was headed to, at least not this night, which was Christmas night and appeared to have altered routes and times. A light rain began to fall as we piled into the back of another jeepney going to the Plaza Cathedral, told by a man we could transfer there to one heading our direction. Hands tapped on my back as we waited to pull out calling ma’am, ma’am, Merry Christmas, palms ready to open.
The jeepney took us elsewhere, Plaza Central, where none of the tricycle or jeepney drivers we asked seemed to recognize the words Barangay Valladolid. We asked one and suddenly ten would crowd around, shaking their heads, pointing, talking to each other, then eventually wandering off. At last a tricycle driver told us we needed to be at Plaza Cathedral, drove us there, convinced a jeepney driver with a full load of passengers to extend his route and take us to the outskirts of Loboc, where Barangay Valladolid would be. Across from the cathedral white lights lit up a square, dangling from trees, people jostling through the pathways, jeepneys honking up and down the street. We sat with the driver up front, waiting. Would someone with a motorbike really be waiting at Valladolid? The journey was taking twice as long as we’d predicted, the time we’d said we’d arrive creeping closer.
We took off, the stick shift swiping my thigh, the driver, a short, round man with wavy hair, dropping his cigarette out the window. The engine rattled as we drove, climbing out of the city, stopping once for gas, a boy, maybe ten years old, hopping down from the jeepney’s bumper to the station and back, then swinging the bottle of gas to the driver, who set it down by his feet. “Your son?” Joe asked him. “Yes,” he said, nodding. “My son.”
The jeepney wound out of the city and onto the main road; there would be no further turns. One long road and the night, maybe fifteen passengers in back, two young girls on their mom’s lap directly behind our heads. I rearranged my legs to avoid the stick shift, my bag somewhere on the roof, Joe’s pack between his legs, the engine chugging loudly. People hopped off at unmarked stops, one or two at a time, until only us and one other man remained, close to an hour gone. At last we pulled over, one of the signs to our left reading “Nipa Hut Village” with an arrow pointing down a wide gravel path. No one was there. “This is your stop,” the driver said, as we tried to explain there should be someone waiting. He shrugged, already on the road late on Christmas night, driving foreigners to a destination off his regular route. We sat like that a couple minutes, not wanting to get out with no one around, unsure how far the huts would be to walk.
And then two men, only one visible at first, then the other, pulled up alongside the path; the driver called out, they nodded. They were there to pick us up. Sitting on the back of the bike I wedged my duffel bag between my chest and the driver’s back and gripped the metal handle behind me, saying “Slow, please,” cursing myself for not bringing the backpack my friend Amanda had offered to lend me for the trip. We rode, Joe and his driver behind, passing through Barangay after Barangay, which, we would learn, was the Filippino term for village. The Loboc River was beside us but I couldn’t see it in the dark, my mind focused on the speed of the bike and the grip of my fingers, a small gasp emerging every time we hit a bump. Ten minutes later, we arrived.
Pics of Loboc coming soon… xo