Homebound for Christmas

Listen closely, dear reader. I am about to share my holiday (Pre-Christmas) experience. It’s a tough ride, literally and metaphorically, so buckle up.

On the third week of November, I received a text message from Tita B.

“Do you wanna go home this Christmas? I’ll book you your tickets. Let me know the dates. It’ll be our little secret.”

As I read that, I somehow imagined Tita B pressing her index finger on her lips and chuckling a little. Tita (Aunt) was always so caring, her hanker for helping others never wavered.

I took action and requested for a one-week leave – December 20-26. I figured the dates were just right. What transpired next was a series of ups and downs that would give a rollercoaster a run for its money.

Around two to three days before my scheduled flight, Tita B contacted me. Immediately, the thought I BEAR BAD NEWS registered in my mind before Tita even spoke.

“Your flight has been moved to the 24th.”

I felt like Bulbasaur just used leech seed on me; I was drained of my energy.

As I sat on my bed, countless thoughts rushed to my head. I would have to stay at home for four days. While that sounded like the start of a Christmas break, it also meant that I had only around two days to be with my family. Furthermore, one day would be completely for traveling purposes only. I set these thoughts aside for one day.

On the 19th of December, my relatives (Astilla Clan) here in Luzon thought it would be a great idea to gather and have dinner at SM Mall of Asia. Tito (Uncle) Pep would take care of the entire bill under one condition – we decide where to eat. The decision was tougher than prepping a decent poached egg. Eventually, we found our dinner venue. But, considering how it’s an event worthy of an entire blog post, I’ll stop here.

Two days after our wonderful dinner, I took action and went to the Cebu Pacific Office at NAIA Terminal 4. What took me so long? I had my ticket rebooked to the 22nd of December. The catch: I was bound for Cebu. Turns out, I either had to have my ticket rerouted or go home on the 26th, which would have defeated the purpose to begin with.

This is only the beginning.
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I arrived safely at Cebu’s only airport on the 22nd. I went to the different piers in search for a vessel that would transport me to Ormoc City. I was positively sure I would get a ticket back home. I researched the different lines, time of departures, the four piers, and even the price of the various tickets.

“What if there were no more tickets available?” I neglected to prepare for that outcome.

I made my way to Pier 4 just as the sun was setting. In the taxi, I couldn’t help but check my valuables from time to time. Never hurts to double check.

I hopped off in front of a ticketing office. Adjacent to it was a makeshift bus terminal with tons of people. I entered the bright empty office devoid of bustling people and probably life itself.

One of the people had the initiative to look at me. I locked my gaze as I approached the guy. Without breaking eye contact, I asked about the tickets I needed. He redirected me to Pier 3. I felt uneasy that I wasn’t able to buy a ticket, but I treaded on.

Pier 3 was the busiest of all four piers. Buses, cars, freight or freight forwarders (whatever it’s called), people occupied what little space there was left. I found a couple of security guards taking a break. The lot redirected me to Pier 1. I immediately made my way there.

No public transport pass by Pier 1 from where I was, so I rode a jeepney to Pier 2 and walked the rest of the distance. En route, I saw this little ticketing outlet of Roble that was still open. 

Dark streets giving off an eerie vibe stretched forever. A sense of danger loomed in every corner. I was in unfamiliar territory. I marched with my head held high and showed off my I-can-brush-off-any-trouble-that-comes-my-way face, feeling brave and determined.

Pier 1 was quiet in the sense that the only people present were the ones falling in line. No porters, no boats, no fuss. Only one ticket office was open. I believe it was Lite Shipping or something. The two lines stretched until the entrance of the pier; everyone in line was eager to go home.

I frowned as I saw the notices outside the other ticketing offices. All trips to Ormoc was fully booked until the 25th, as unprofessionally exemplified by the signs on plain bond papers written with neon green markers. The guard on duty told me to try coming back the next day for Lite Shipping’s issuance of tickets bound for Ormoc on the 23rd. No advanced booking of tickets anywhere except the main office which was somewhere in Cebu. I tried going to that little Roble ticketing outlet I passed by earlier – my last hope, sorta.

I got the same response: come back tomorrow. No advanced booking. The kind lady behind the window informed me to drop by the next day as early as possible. I did.

I checked my watch as I made my way to the outlet – 5:43 A.M. I was early, alright. The busy streets of the pier was now the complete opposite. Desserted as it was, the nearby shop owners hustled to open up their own stores and start doing business.

At around 8:30 A.M., after taking my chances in a very long line, I got a ticket for Roble but as a chance passenger. I already gambled by going home via Cebu. I wasn’t gonna stop here. I searched for other outlets, other alternatives.

I found one around twenty meters from the Roble outlet. Only a handful of people lined up. Weird. When it was finally my turn, I got the very last ticket for SuperCat bound for Ormoc. The others behind me were not so lucky. At that moment, I was tempted to jump for joy.

As I gazed on my ticket, I recalled my Cebu adventure. From my taxi ride when I arrived, to the pier hopping I apparently did, it was all worth it. I acquired two tickets that ensured me a ride to Ormoc. I couldn’t help but smile. Then it dawned on me:

This was only half of it.

I rode the SuperCat which left at around 2PM. My seat choice was 7G. Seven has always been my [self-proclaimed] lucky number. When all the safety precautions were made, they showed the movie I, Frankenstein. I was in a heated battle between watching and trying to stay awake. In the end, the movie didn’t make sense as I was only able to watch bits of it. Realizing that it was a futile battle, I gave in and slept soundly in my seat. Snug as a bug, I was, falling asleep slowly, then all at once.

I woke up to the busy people making a fuss and getting ready to disembark. I went with the flow and brushed off the people pushing me. I noticed another vessel east of us, with people rushing out. It probably docked not long before we did. Competition.

I was drowned in the sea of confusion as many people came and went outside of the pier. Vans were completely full and lines started forming. Tricycles passed by in all directions. Buses honked as they made their way past the ever busy city of Ormoc. The number of people just kept increasing. I had to act now.

Behind me, I saw this old couple that reminded me of my parents. The gentleman was Tagalog just like dad. The lady was a Waraynon just like mom. I swear, I saw glimpses of my folks in them. This was probably the reason why I tagged along with them. Aside from the couple, there was also a lady with her mom. The mom was probably in her late fifties or early sixties. The group planned on making a deal with a local – a private ride to Tacloban for a huge price. Of course, with all of us (I assumed I was part of their group) chipping in, it would be bearable and negotiable.

As the group was thinking about it, a Velmar Bus passed by, jam-packed with people. A sign in front read: Tacloban. The group (or, We) left the dude with the deal and proceeded to the bus terminal. The dude was expressionless. As we made our way there, two buses parked parallel to each other. Both had Tacloban signs in front. I hopped on the first one. Now or never. Or the second one, I guess.

The ride home dragged on longer than I anticipated. Mr. Sun had just set, gracing the sky with an orange hue. The light gray clouds formed various shapes. A mountain that formed a cone-like shape stood proudly in the distance. I half-wished it was the Mayon Volcano, pretending to grip the top as if it was an upsidedown ice cream. As the strong wind blew my hair upwards, I looked back at my crazy adventure from Manila all the way to Tacloban. Uncertainties, gambles, restlessness, faith. Like I said, it was one heck of a ride. But it’s an experience I don’t regret, in fact, I’ll treasure it. I just learned another life lesson:

DON’T GIVE UP!

Here I am now, safe and sound in my own abode. I have never been so happy to see Mom and my little sister Trixia. I can spend Christmas eve with my family – the people I care the most. I thanked the heavens again and again.

So, without further ado, let me say:

I’m home.
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Merry Christmas!

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