Saturday, January 26, 2008

Van trip

I woke up on Christmas Eve with absolutely no idea what time it was. My room in the finest hotel in town lacked windows, so it was pitch black. I fumbled around for my watch. My watch is a fake rolex that I bought in Hong Kong last year, and for being fake has held up surprisingly well. It doesn’t keep the best time, but I set it off my phone each day in Korea. In the Philippines, my phone didn’t work, so my watch never really had the right time, it was just within half an hour or so of being right. That’s pretty much all I needed there. According to my watch, it was 9-ish. Perfect.

I went downstairs to the finest restaurant in town, and was excited to see French toast on the menu. I haven’t had French toast in a million years. It doesn’t exist in Korea. The restaurant had no syrup, but the French toast was brilliant. Good thing, because it would be some time before my next meal.

I had debated staying in Roxas the night before, to go to Crispin’s Christmas party. Well, if I did that, I’d have to stay in Roxas another two nights and leave on the 26th. Leaving on Christmas Day would just be uncouth. Seeing Roxas, by daylight for the first time, was enough to convince me to move on. If I had a month in the Phils, I would have absolutely stayed, but with 10 days and 5 of them burned, I wanted to be back on the beach. Lonely Planet had indicated the city of Calipan was where I needed to go next in order to reach Puerto Gallera.

I asked the hotel desk clerk where to go to catch a bus to Calipan. She told me that there was a van going there, and that I could catch it in front of the hotel. She actually made it sound too hard. I walked out of the hotel’s front door, and a man approached me. “Calipan? Puerto Gallera?”

“Yeah.”

“This van right here.” The van was parked next to the video games that the kids had been playing last night. I asked the man if I had to wait for the van to fill up, as he opened the front door for me to get in. Filipino public transit, in general, does not operate on a schedule, but leaves whenever it is full. The man opened the back door of the van, showing that it was already full. Kick ass. I hopped in the front seat of the van (the most air conditioned seat, at that) and the van left immediately.

As we left Roxas, I saw a sign indicating Calipan was 110 kilometers away. I assumed we would be there in no time, an hour, tops. Then again, my only experience in extended road travel in the kilometer-using world was in Europe, home of the Autobahn and Italian Autostrada on which I’ve cruised along at 180 km/hour. Hell, even Seoul taxi drivers take city streets at 120 km/hr or so on late night trips. Well, this road was no Autobahn, and really not even close to the quality of a Seoul city street. It was the major highway of the Philippines, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (Goes from Manila to Davao - yeah, like it’s any surprise I know that) and thus easily the best highway on this particular island (Mindoro) by virtue of the fact that it was paved. Anyway, the trip was over 3 hours.

The ride was not boring. We passed through lots of small towns and plenty of countryside. I saw a ton of water buffalo - on farms, on the side of the road, and occasionally pulling a cart of people on the highway. The van would drop people off anywhere on the route they asked, there were no scheduled stops before Calipan. The van would also stop for anybody along the way that wanted to get on as well. The back got pretty crowded from time to time. I was happy to be sitting shotgun.

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