Friday, May 25


     In Iligan, an empty bus terminal at 9 in the evening. There is rain, but indecisive. It is pitch dark. I consider knocking on random doors nearby, to mutter a half-hearted Visayan phrase asking for directions to MSU (or maybe a spare room for the night). I consider sighing and walking in the rain. I consider sitting on the wet pavement and waiting (this fortnight's grandest lesson). My bags are heavy with clothes and books, all useless to ward off the croaking of frogs, or to rally the night, its sluggish completeness.

     In Allen, a playlist featuring songs from The Carpenters commences in the bus. Top of the World. We've Only Just Begun. A Song For You. Rainy Days and Mondays. The view, lit amber by 8 o'clock sun, alternates between mountains and the sea. The road sometimes zigzags. The trip nearing the one-day mark, some body parts are grumbling for respite; my stomach, my butt, my back. Uprooted from Luzon, I sit back and take a lungful of air. I had needed this distance. Wide awake, I think of opening a book to read.

     In Ormoc, we think of these plains being covered in water and mud once. We joke about the word "landslide" being taboo here. We sit by the seawall, buy too many packets of peanuts from kids idling away the last rays of sunlight. In the distance, possibly Cebu, possibly some uninhabited island. The port is gray under the clouds. From the plaza, from speakers as big as a credenza, a tune from a life that now seems so distant. "I heard / that you're settled down, and you've / found a man and you're married now --"

     In Bacolod, I sit on the foot of the bed and watch him sleep. I consider planting a kiss on his right cheek as my way of saying good morning and welcome to this day, to this beginning. Welcome, and I hope you will enjoy your stay. In Silay, we walk the empty streets an hour after finding out we had missed our flight. He calms me down, and we sip coffee and watch the late night news. Protests against an upcoming concert, an oil price rollback, a truckload of bananas abandoned on the side of a road.

     Somewhere in the Sibuyan Sea, he jokes about this trajectory - of so many joys, so many little joys - having rom-com potential. At the end of the ship's duty, when Manila's leaden panorama - derricks, clouds - slowly sweeps into view, we hold hands and watch the scenery unfold from one of the ship's rectangular windows. Under our feet, the floor continues to grumble, almost imperceptibly. There is talk of books to read, movies to see, places to go, eventually; can I wish instead for a moment's infinity?

     In Dumaguete, "We asked so little of the world. We understood / the offense of advice, of holding forth. We checked ourselves: / we were correct, we were silent. / But we could not cure ourselves of desire, not completely. / Our hands, folded, reeked of it." (Louise Glück, Arboretum)

Thursday, May 10


The all-encompassing lesson in this trip so far has been delayed gratification. Not completely inadvertent, I suppose, because Om, who did the itinerary, agreed that it had been a rollercoaster ride between harshness and comfort (an ongoing harsh!-bet!-harsh!-bet! cycle). Why else would we endure grueling transportation options then search out the town's most luxurious accommodation? Arriving in Ormoc, for instance, after a religion-testing 30-hour bus ride through several provinces and a thankfully peaceful strait, we checked in at the Hotel Don Felipe, a seven-story anomaly in the modest city, whose Spanish-style facade juts out of the tin roofs of the marketplace. And two days ago, after another half a day in transit - this time, six hours in a ferry from Ormoc to Cebu, then three hours in a bus from Cebu City to Toledo, then another two hours in a ferry from Toledo to San Carlos - we chose the town's most expensive restaurant which, incidentally, has six or seven double rooms for rent. During our first lunch, we ate until our bellies (mine without contest prouder) swelled from under the table (although, really, this sort of unbelievable gluttony, of ordering a feast for a small community when there's just two of you eating, is just as normal in Manila; I'm looking at you, Alan). Alas, the Days of Uncomfortable Travel ends this afternoon. Three to four hours in a bus to Dumaguete now seems like heaven-sent commute. In Dumaguete, will spend another two nights (originally booked for five; have completely forgotten about Iligan!) before taking another ferry to Cagayan de Oro en route to MSU. After the workshop, will take a ferry either back to Dumaguete or straight to Bacolod, for flight back to Manila on Monday. Who was it who said that suffering purifies? Not sure about the doctrinal accuracy of the pronouncement, but between that and the bliss of watching Poetry on Om's laptop while munching on chocolate-covered polvoron, I will be hard-pressed to choose the former.

Monday, May 7


Om and I had been eating home-made chorizo for breakfast in a Bacolod pension house last year when Angelo Reyes shot himself in front of his mother's grave one sunny Wednesday. As pathetic Manileños are wont to do, we learned of the news because we next brought our laptops to the dining area so we could go online and check things. We were probably on the 20th to the 25th hour of the bus ride to Ormoc yesterday when, in his window seat and verdant mountainside alternating with wide blue seas in the background, he started giggling. "What does 'offloaded' mean?" he asked, and I told him, "Ha?" after which he giggled some more. Funny that there was giggling at all in the trip, when half the time, I was imagining the hotel bedsheets and longing to sleep, for a change, in a horizontal position. Thirty hours, count 'em, and, of course we questioned the soundness of the plan. When I woke up somewhere in Catbalogan, he said I just missed the San Juanico Bridge. "Tulog ka kasi ng tulog e." I looked at him long enough and fervently enough, then I grabbed his phone and saw the tiny blinking dot on the map that was still a centimeter or two away from the country's longest bridge. Longest, which is to say this route. We half-joked about the silly ways we could turn this into a story. The Longest Route to Ormoc, I said, and I imagined the scenes inside the ferry, with all the (assertive) commerce, including but not limited to the many magtatahos and manicurists onboard. The characters presented themselves in the motley crew of our fellow passengers, such as Ate Assertive, Ate Assertive 2, Ate Mag-Isa, Bibong Konduktor, and La Familia, who, the bus hardly gaining speed in SLEX, took out a bucket of fried chicken and started eating, turning the bus air greasy and our erstwhile suspicions of this being a long trip from literal to also quite figurative. What was the real news in the trip so far? That I can withstand grueling 30-hour bus rides with fewer complaints than my tummy. That Filipinos are a beautiful people. These, and that Om can always have the window seat.