SITTING ON the bus traveling for more than eight hours has always been insightful for me. Ever since I was a wee toddler and even when I had no choice but puke because of motion sickness, I was always awake the whole trip. Motion sickness ceased to cripple me when I was in high school at the Ateneo, when during weekends I would go home to Lupi and back to Naga on Sunday afternoons. A few years later, Naga-Manila route had already become ‘peanuts’ for me. What remaines was my curiosity about the places and people we pass by along the road. I take extra sensitivity for bumps and sudden dives of the bus along Andaya Highway. How these bumps and dives manage to produce butterflies in my stomach is just as wonderful a feeling as shameful testaments to a poorly and hastily engineered road. But I tend to ignore the latter condition, leaving the wonderful feeling treasured as an essential part of the road trip. Just the same, I like the sensation of the bus negotiating a noteworthy dangerous curve between barangays Malaguicó and Manángle in Sipocot.
Last week, I traveled back to Manila for the last year of my graduate studies. I took the air-conditioned Raymond Bus not because all the other bus companies were fully booked and that Raymond offers the cheapest trips to Manila, but I just simply trust this company. Contrary to what others would say of it as a third-rate, accident-prone, cockroach-filled, Raymond aircon buses for me are one of the cleanest fleets we have in the Manila-Naga route. They also have polite personnel who are always ready to attend to your needs. Their drivers are even more careful than those drivers of the more expensive bus companies in Naga. My father once left his N73 mobile phone on a counter of Raymond terminal in Legarda, Manila, and managed to get it back—something which is not very common nowadays.
We left Naga at around 7:30 in the evening, a few minutes later I texted Mother and told her we were around Pamukid area, just to let them know I was already safely traveling. Quite amusing to think about was that I never get tired of seeing these places over and over again—the two bridges of Duwang Niog, Libmanan; the scenic view of Manángle, Sipocot; the idle junction of Lupi; the twin bridges of Maucà in Lupi and many other places. Kilbay bridge in Del Gallego is noteworthy itself as on this part the railroad joins the highway.
I don’t usually eat while on a bus trip for fear of bad stomach but since the first time I took the Raymond bus, I have been a suki of one of the tahô vendors in Calauag, Quezon. For ten pesos per plastic cup, tahô in Calauag is served hot and is unusually more curdy and a bit sticky than any other tahô I have ever tasted. It is moderately sweet and a slight feeling of creaminess makes it more delightful to consume as a midnight snack. When the bus leaves Calauag, that’s the time to anticipate for the midnight view of the Lamon Bay—the lighted bancas, lantsas anchored in the distance, then the port of Atimonan deserted and yet still bright with all the security lights on. When the bus reaches Atimonan junction, that’s the time I would force myself to sleep. I hate being awake when the bus starts climbing Quezon National Forest Park with all the intolerable curves and slow cargo trucks that demand patience.
Lucena is a point of no return. Here poet-passengers may compose a poem of being in between hope and hopelessness. One can never choose to return back to Bikol, and yet, he or she is still far from Manila. Here is the start of counting towns… Sariaya, Candelaria, Tiaong, San Pablo City… and Alaminos is still Alaminos with all the old houses there even after how many light-years of the bus trip. Sto. Tomas, Batangas, is a relief. One can be moved to pray to Saint Cabrini (note Saint Cabrini Hospital in Sto. Tomas junction) to intercede for a faster speed to Manila. Turbina in Calamba is a wake up call. It is when the conductor calls the attention of everybody to take note of his or her own drop off point.
And the winding road down to the South Expressway is accompanied with fanfare, followed by another exit-counting—Mayapa, Canlubang, Cabuyao, Sta. Rosa, Biñan, Carmona, San Pedro. Alas, it’s Metro Manila. From this point passengers vanish by trickles. Then by bulk starting in Mantrade, Ayala, Guadalupe, Shaw. Everyone may seem to get off in Cubao. In the case of Raymond, the final destination is Sampaloc.
After a few years, I believe I came to perfect this road trip; know its contours, places, familiar people, and more so, the feelings, emotions, and memories each of them evoke in me as my bus passes them by. And no matter how things were just the same as they were the last time I saw them, there are differences, surely, and these I keep on looking for.
Photograph courtesy of Andres' Blog.