Due to jetlag we had been awake since 1:30am and the sky was just starting to get light. It was finally time to begin our journey from Manila to Puerto Galera. We checked out of the hotel with our two backpacks and headed towards the Pedro Gil Light Rail Transit station (LRT). Jeepnies were starting their morning routes but were much emptier than the night before and we walked past many people sleeping on the sidewalk. I’m pretty sure that at least some of them had been playing chess, selling street food or offering a tricycle ride at some point during our few days in the Manila metropolis.
We made a right at the corner with my favorite tree, one that had pushed its way up through the sidewalk, forcing the cement to break apart around it. After a short walk we found ourselves climbing the steps to the LRT, where we were met by security officers who asked us to open our bags. I’m sorry to say that we held up the line a bit as we had to reach for the keys to our locks on the bags, but no one complained as we moved as quickly as we could. On the other side of security we bought two single-ride tickets from the lady behind the window. We walked through the turn-styles and headed towards the very front of the train.
Riding the LRT at rush hour
A friend of ours had told us about the “ladies only car”, something we had encountered in several other Southeast Asian countries as well, including Malaysia and Indonesia. When the train arrived, it was packed and I mean packed like we had never seen before. We took off our backpacks and smushed in with everyone else. I was grateful for two things: a) that weren’t pushed up against sweaty men and b) that I was at least a foot taller than the other passengers making it easier for me to breathe. Mindy held on to me and we swayed en masse to the movements of the train car.
We were amazed at how the local women could stand with their eyes closed without even holding on, leaving me to wonder how great they might be at surfing. We detrained at the third stop, filed out of the station and walked down to the street.
How do we get across the street?
Although we could see the bus station across the street next to the McDonalds (as per the directions we were given), it seemed that our next challenge would be simply crossing the street. The intersection was completely blocked off with barriers, there were huge “no jay-walking” signs and even an armed guard there to make sure this did not happen.
So we looked to the locals who seemed to be walking up the street a bit and darting through the 6 lanes of morning traffic. We attempted the same taking one lane at a time until we reached the median and then again on the other side when we could finally exhale the breath we had been holding.
We searched for the JAC Liner like we saw online or the JAM Liner that the hotel staff had recommended but didn’t find either. There were plenty of other carriers however with signs in their windows saying “Derecho Calabrazon and Batangas Pier”, and any lesbian reading this will know why we decided on the company called Gold Star. After confirming the price was 177 pisos and the duration was 2 hours, we climbed aboard and took the seat in the very front to prevent Mindy from getting motion sick. The first hour of the bus ride was spent just trying to get through the Manila traffic to the Calabrazon Expressway.
Yes, but where’s the nearest comfort room?
The bus was freezing cold but having had this experience on our last visit to the Philippines, we came prepared and pulled out the red Air China blanket we had nabbed from our flight to Manila. (Don’t worry, we returned the blanket on our flight home.)
Two hours later, almost on the dot, we arrived at Batangas Pier and I had needed to pee for at least an hour, a condition that got progressively worse with each speed bump the bus drove over getting into the pier parking lot. Not surprisingly, the bus was met with endless touts offering all kinds of services. We pushed through and made it to the ticket sales offices. We approached the first one and before we could say anything, the woman behind the counter asked where we were going and then proceeded to sell us on the various options. I patiently waited and said, “Thank you for the information but please where is the comfort room?” She laughed and pointed around the corner.
With an empty bladder we returned and considered our ferry options. It turned out that no ferries were going to Talipanan Beach due to the time of year (September). Ferries were only going to Muelle and Puerto Galera and we would have to take a shuttle from there. Since a ferry was leaving in just 5 minutes we decided to hop on and figure out transportation on the other side. So we quickly paid for our tickets (with the promise of a free shuttle on the other side) and the 30 piso terminal fee and we rushed to find Gate 3.
Many hands were offered to us as we negotiated the slippery long bow of the blue boat and into the belly of the vessel, where several other passengers (a mix of Filipinos and Westerners) were already waiting and all wearing bright orange life vests. We grabbed two vests and settled in for the 1.5 hour boat ride wondering if there would indeed be a free shuttle on the other end.
Umm, excuse me, but the boat is one fire!
The seats were very hard but I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery and I made sure to enjoy the refreshing sea breezes. About an hour into the trip, I noticed that the captain had become concerned noticing that the engine didn’t seem to be working as it should. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t seen an engine – there was nothing on the back of the boat, nor the front or anything on the sides. Based on the activity of the crew, I realized it must have been underneath.
The next thing I knew, the cabin crew was lifting up a large floorboard and flames came shooting out. The men quickly shut the floor board again. I saw a Filipino woman, who had boarded with her white husband and two kids, put her life jacket back on after having taken it off to use as a seat cushion. We shared a laugh together as I zipped my orange vest to the top. People began moving all their luggage to the front of the boat as a crew member ran to the back to grab the fire extinguisher.
Once again, the floorboard was lifted and the man put out the fire filling the boat with smoke. A Swiss guy filmed it and some passengers clapped at the success. But the trouble wasn’t over as the engine still wasn’t working and had been turned off. Apparently the hydraulic fluid had caught on fire. As the crew tried to cool the engine, I observed my fellow passengers.
I watched in bewilderment as a young Chinese woman carefully selected a child life jacket, and wrapped it around and fastened it to one of her duffle bags. I also watched a fellow white American, the same guy who had initially refused to put on a life jacket claiming he was a scuba diver and didn’t need it. As soon as the fire was visible, his air of self-proclaimed macho went right out the window and was replaced with utter panic. He quickly put on his life vest and put on his heavy backpack over that. He looked like he was ready to jump ship. Had he not been so nasty to the crew earlier, I might have felt sorry for him.
The crew were speaking Tagalog back and forth to each other and over the radio and there was quite a lot of commotion on board. Most of us sat and simply watched. The captain eventually veered right with a clear plan in mind and our macho, forget the women and children guy started up again, “Why is he moving away from land?” with a terrified look on his face.
There was one Filipino woman and her child who were sitting closest to the fire and not only did they remain in their original seats, but they also didn’t seem the least bit fazed throughout the entire experience, leading me to believe that perhaps this was not that unusual of a situation after all.
The road is washed out!
The boat docked and the captain let out a sigh of relief. As it turned out, we arrived at the port in Sabang, which was actually quite a bit closer to Talipanan Beach than the original port. We paid our 50 piso environmental fee and then hopped into a white shuttle, that the crew had arranged. I for one was very ready to just get to our hotel.
Everyone got off our shuttle in White Beach; it appeared that Mindy and I were the only ones continuing on to Talipanan Beach. The driver warned us that the road might still be washed out due to all the rain they had been having and sure enough, the road was such that we couldn’t get through. So we grabbed our things and started to walk along the beach towards the Bamboo Beach House Lodge and Restaurant, which of course was all the way at the end.
We were shown to our room, met some adorable puppies and went right for the hammocks on the beach before finally exhaling all the stress from the day. We had arrived.