I’m already halfway on my trip to Leyte. Sixteen hours ago, I left Laguna and spent my lunch in Albay. It’s 5PM and Dhona and I just “rolled off” a RORO in Allen, Samar (part of Visayas) from Matnog , Sorsogon (part of Luzon). I should be looking for a place where to spend the night but a fellow motorcycle rider on his way to Leyte has agreed to take me to Tacloban City.
I am concerned for
my our safety as it’s going to be dark soon but when I learned that my spearhead is a taxi driver by profession and is a native of this province, I felt somewhat assured. Besides, I want to cross the longest bridge in the Philippines on my birthday. Yes, it is my birthday and this is how I’m celebrating it.
Samar, formerly and also known as Western Samar, is a province in the Philippines located in the Eastern Visayas region. Its capital is Catbalogan City and covers the western portion of Samar Island as well as several islands in the Samar Sea located west of the mainland.
Gasoline stations here are few and far apart so we made sure we have a full tank of gas and a little extra on a separate container. Ramil, my spearhead for this leg of my trip told me he has taken a motorcycle ride a few times to his hometown in Leyte and even more often on a car. That to me was surprising because he didn’t look like a hardcore rider in motorcycle gear (ATGATT). He has sandals on, a denim jacket, no gloves, and a cheap half-face helmet with tinted visor. He also told me it’s been over 2 years since any maintenance has been done on his Honda XRM 125. I was shaking my head and encouraged him to be a little more safety conscious. He just smiled.
The drive from Allen to Calbayog City was rough as the road was riddled with potholes and some portion under construction. It took us 1.5 hours to cover the first 73 kms. At this point, darkness has completely engulfed the island. There were barely any street lights even on the more urbanized areas. We took a quick break and ate our snacks. We were back on the road by 7 PM.
By 08:30 PM we reached Catbalogan City, Samar’s capital. We topped up and also rested for a while at a gas station. I have known a few urban legends about some aswangs and mangkukulams (practitioners of dark magic or voodoo). It has been on the back of my mind all along the trip. I kept my eyes fixed on the road trying my best induce a tunnel vision doing no more than 80kph. lol! As courtesy, I never brought up the subject with Ramil knowing he is a native of the province. But he was the one who approached me and cautioned, “DO NOT TO STARE”. That’s it? Staring is rude on any continent! Well, I guess the consequences here might just be a way more unpleasant and different.
I barely recall anything from the next 2.5 hours or 90kms equivalent of the trip. Everything was dark once more. There were the occasional houses along the way but their lights were out. Even the more urbanized towns has very few lights turned on at this hour. The only consolation perhaps was that the asphalted road was in good condition. The only surprises on the road were dogs or cats strolling or even taking a nap on the dark road There were rarely any other vehicle on the road.
And then, it happened. I dozed off. I don’t know for how long but it scared the hell out of me opening my eyes and seeing that I’m almost on the shoulder of the road…. the other freaking side!! I guess 21 hours on the road has finally taken it’s toll. Normally, I would’ve stopped for a bottle of energy drink and washed my face with cold water but I don’t see any sari-sari store being open at that hour. It thought we will probably come across a 24-hr convenience store so I tried to endure. The leaning side to side motion as we negotiated the twists and turns was like rocking a baby to sleep and the muffler sound Ramil’s motorcycle is making is like a lullaby. It was dark and the moon was shining brightly overhead. Every single time that I am about to blink, I remind myself to open them right away. I am shouting to myself inside my helmet. I sang Linkin Park songs. Hell, even sang a birthday song to myself! I stood up, I stretched my legs as I let it hang on the sides. I sat on my left butt check. Then the right. I bit my lip. I swayed my arms and shook my hands. I was fighting off sleep any way I could.
I was about to pull ahead of Ramil to request a pit stop when the trees on either side disappeared. The creepy tree branches overhead turned into steel beams! I’m crossing SAN JUANICO BRIDGE!!! Whatta birthday present! This is the Philippines Longest Bridge!
When we got to Tacloban City, Ramil didn’t just let me wander off, he got a cheap hotel for me. I invited him to dinner at an ihawan (street foods like isaw, barbecue, etc). This is the only way I can repay him. I couldn’t thank him enough. He escorted me back to the hotel and I shook his hand. He rode off and when I took a second look down the street where he’s headed he wasn’t there anymore. Could he be an angel sent to guide me so I can reach Tacloban on my birthday? … or maybe he is just simply another gentleman on a bike that made turn just a few blocks down the street.. Haha! Thank you Kuya Ramil. I hope to meet you again someday! It was a happy 22-hour birthday ride indeed! And they say that you are more accident prone on your birthday.. Proved them wrong huh?