Crossing 3 islands to visit family amid the pandemic

Published December 14, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Pinky Concha-Colmenares


Pinky Concha Colmenares

It’s not the ideal time to do a long road trip but if you have to visit the family patriarch, it is the ideal way with today’s limited travel restrictions that require minimal travel documents.

We opted to drive to Bacolod City from Quezon City weeks ago, crossing Batangas Port to Calapan, Mindoro, then from Roxas Port in Mindoro to Caticlan Port in Aklan, and finally from Dumangas Port in Iloilo to Bacolod Port in Negros Island.

The total distance on land to my destination was about 550 kilometers one way, which was a very comfortable drive and ride in a Toyota Hilux 4×2 powered by Petron Turbo diesel.

One important thing to remember:  Put all your travel documents in one envelope or pouch, and give to the designated person who will answer the questions of border control personnel.

Consult the website of S-Pass for the documents required by the local government unit of your destination.  That’s where you will be informed of the specific documents needed.  If the destination is marked “restricted,” you will be advised to call the LGU for the specific requirements. 

Since Bacolod City does not require an RT-PCR test now, you will be advised to upload the image of your vaccination card on that space earlier set for the COVID test result.

We’ve done that trip many times during the pre-pandemic years and it took no more than 24 hours with the efficient schedules of the Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO) ferries.  This time, it took us about 30 hours with a lot of waiting time between the ROROs.  Ferry schedules are not as efficient, understandably because of the pandemic. 

We reached Roxas Port at about 9:30 p.m., enough time to catch the 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or 12 midnight ferries but all were fully booked.

What time is the next ferry, we asked.  Maybe 2 a.m., maybe 6 a.m., was the reply. 

Finally, the “maybe 2 a.m.” RORO arrived and we sailed out at 3 a.m. bound for the Visayas Region, entering the port of Caticlan in Aklan province. Because we did not want to be in enclosed rooms, we sat in the tourist class where the seats are connected like long bench pews.

Border control at Caticlan was quite meticulous.  Passengers were not allowed to disembark until after health personnel fully clad in PPEs checked their documents.  Many had no Aklan Pass which the health personnel asked for, so each had to log in to the website and apply for that through one’s mobile phone.

Road travel is definitely not for someone whose schedule is dictated by the clock.  In each port, the reply to the question “What time is the next RORO?” was always “When the ferry gets here.”
On our way back to Manila, we waited outside the gate of Caticlan Port for the 4 p.m. ferry but were told that we can’t enter yet because the 12 noon ferry was loading.  The time on my watch was 4:05 p.m.   

The RORO ferry crawled through high waves on the way to Roxas Port, the ferry shuddering loudly each time a huge wave slapped it, which was frequently for the first two hours.  Since we opted for tourist class all the way, the strong wind followed us while we looked for a space to settle for the rough night.  We found that space –which we would otherwise never opt for under normal times – under a staircase, beside a huge vat of dirty water with a floor mop resting on its rim, facing three trash bins.  But it was cold! I wore everything except a hand towel that was in my emergency bag – fleece jacket, rain jacket, fleece blanket, socks.

I drove the Hilux off the ferry at almost 3 a.m., eight hours after we left Caticlan Port in the Visayas. Luck had placed us as the last vehicle to board, so we were in first line to roll off.  The marshal waved me to drive off first, a small courtesy they seem to always give to an old woman at the wheel.

I felt anxious because I had not driven at night in such a long time – and in a strange place with many tight turns, with heavy trucks traversing the Republic of the Philippines Nautical Highway (RPNH).  But the Toyota Hilux gave me confidence.  I’ve been driving it through many stretches and I now felt a connection with the machine.

From 4 a.m., through the last darkness of the night, I remembered old driving habits – lift, gas, lift, gas, lift –seldom braking and clearing the tight turns uphill and downhill. Just like the old days.

Driving into the third RORO, this time for Batangas Port, was a breeze.  Montenegro Lines’ new ferry allows you to drive in (not in reverse maneuver) and then drive out because the ramps open both ways. I slept through the two hour trip.  There would be the STAR, SLEx and the Skyway ahead.