Take your vehicle for a long drive and enjoy the view from the ground level if you have at least three days for yourself before the year ends.
Our Strong Republic Nautical Highway is still there and the roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ferry is now a reliable system. RORO ferry schedules are now online, you can map out your road travel to catch the next ferry out of a port. Those who would like to be sure of their time schedule can even book for their vehicle slots online.
Booking online with only one ferry company for a trip that will cross several islands may be convenient because it assures you – especially during the peak of travel season – that your vehicle can board specific ferries and not wait in line for space.
During the All Souls and All Saints Days weekend, the big ferry companies were all fully booked in many ports that the vehicles without reservations had to take a number and wait in line for other RORO ferries.
My son and drove from Manila to Bacolod City during that weekend and we enjoyed the drive with a four-year-old Toyota Vios. It was a welcome drive for us who both have a strong affection for the long road.
We were bringing the Vios to my 18-year-old niece, who would be its new owner in Bacolod, and somewhere along the way I sort of regretted that we were saying goodbye to it. That Vios, which was my coding-day car, still responded as expected from a tap or a heavy foot. Still agile; still reliable; still extraordinary.
But let me tell you more about our farewell drive for that Vios, one that took 18 hours to complete, and took us from the islands of Luzon, Mindoro, Panay and Negros.
We took off from Manila Bulletin at 6:30 p.m. of Oct. 30, crawled through horrible traffic up to SLEX, relaxed at the STAR highway, fueled up at a Petron station, and were in line at the Port of Batangas at 10:45 p.m. The purser had stopped the line of vehicles loading for the 11p.m. Starlite ferry to Calapan, but asked us if we would like to try out luck to board – in case there was still space.
We declined and said we would wait for the next ferry at 12 midnight, which was by the dock and was being prepared for boarding anyway.
The next trip was on a Montenegro ferry where seats were of the bench-type facing dining tables Despite my being prepared for rough travel arrangements it was made uncomfortable by three children who were up all throughout the trip – shouting, laughing, running around, oftentimes bumping a part of my body. Nothing could stop the brats, not their parents’ constant loud reminders to keep quiet, not my dagger looks, not even my loud “sssh!”
When we docked at 2:30 a.m. we followed our game plan not to stop for a meal and drove straight to Roxas town. The 126-km Nautical Highway offered us an express lane to the port especially from 2:30 a.m., and the luminous road signs, especially at the zig-zags, were much helpful to the driver.
We reached the Roxas port at 5:45 a.m., just as the 6 a.m. ferry to Caticlan in Aklan, Panay Island, was loading vehicles. Because we had taken that route many times in the past – when I was still editor of Cruising magazine – I had a ready backpack of things that I would need in the four-hour trip – food, water, blanket, neck pillow, headphones for my playlist.
We chose to upgrade ourselves to business class (about P600 per passenger) and we had a more comfortable seat that reclined about 45-degrees and clean and well airconditioned passenger room, and later, I was pleased to find clean toilets.
For first-time RORO riders, the fare for a vehicle comes with a free seat for the driver, but you have to pay a minimum fee to upgrade to business or first class, or whatever name they call it now.
We were in Caticlan by a little over 10 a.m., immediately drove out of the port, and enjoyed the view of the sea and the mountains while taking the zig-zags in that part of Aklan province.
It was now Oct. 31 and we knew that the exodus out of the cities would start that morning, when hundreds of thousands of Pinoys would go to their hometowns to follow the tradition of remembering our dearly departed.
I only stopped to buy coffee from a roadside restaurant somewhere in a town after Caticlan but they were not selling coffee. They offered to fill my thermos flask with hot water so I could put my 3-in-1 coffee in it. Good old provincial hospitality!
We were now in the longest part of the drive – about 250 kilometers to Dumangas Port – and we knew that is usually the part where drivers get sleepy and hungry. Carlos and I still kept with our plan not to stop at a restaurant and we ate the homemade meals we had packed – rice, hotdog, meatballs, and apple slices – all while in transit.
Our longest wait was at the Dumangas Port where a large crowd and long lines of vehicles had gathered waiting for any ferry to land and take on passengers and cars. Several of the RORO ferries of the big companies were fully booked and passengers had to haggle with pursers just to be allowed to be at a special line like a chance passenger.
The rest were asked to have their plate numbers listed by a marshal who would announce it as spaces became available in a loading ferry.
Carlos – a believer in the system – opted to have our plate number listed and then wait in line to be called. I – the believer of magic – insisted that Carlos talk lengthily to the marshal of the fully booked ferries, to offer anything just to board.
Suddenly, our number was called and I had a panic attack when I realized that Carlos was not in the car, but still talking to the marshal of the fully booked ferries! I drove the Vios to the mouth of the ramp and stopped there to ask that we wait for my son. An impatient driver loudly announced that one who is not ready to board will forfeit her space!
Suddenly, Carlos appeared!
The ferry was fully loaded, there were no more seats in the passengers’ room, and we had to share a bench outside, about three feet away from the ledge. When the rains came and the seawater splashed in, my blanket that was in my backpack kept us dry.
I surprised myself because I did not complain. Why should I; that kind of trip is what my heart looks for!
By Pinky Concha Colmenares