Kids, This is How You Travel in The Late 90’s
Imagine waking up at dawn, around 5:00 AM and the only thing you could hear is the rhythmic clanks of steel electric fan next to your bed laden with questionable fluid marks. Most budget inns even in major provincial cities would not have aircondition and the luxury of having a fan is a form of premium perk that you will get from a makeshift hotel at 140 pesos a night. These fans are usually relics from the 70’s and its gaping grills are clear safety hazard waiting for the right moment to trap that tacky curtain or worse, your fingers.
You set to wake up at 5:00, with the help of your alarm enabled Casio DB 55w wrist watch, of course. You need to go to the port to catch the only boat scheduled to ferry the day’s passengers to the nearby island. It is rumored to leave at an hour past sunrise. RUMORED! As no one could verify and no one would commit of the correct ETD so you get there and pray to have enough time to write your name on a half lengthwise yellow paper they proudly call a “manifesto.”
The most reliable sources would be the tricycle drivers, the local tourism desk officer, or if you are lucky, another hotel guest who happened to have taken the boat days ahead of you. Yes, you talk to people.
Tricycle drivers usually want to befriend you genuinely, they won’t take advantage and suck every single cents in your disposable budget. Trust me, I’ve been sucked countless of times and ended up paying beyond my budget. Your transportation budget per day should not exceed a predetermined economic benchmark, anything beyond the price of Jollibee Yum Burger meal is unacceptable. So that’s 30 pesos.
Unlike the arbitrary computer office in most government buildings (computers are worthless in a time of rotational power blackouts), the tourism desk office is a mandatory stop for most independent travelers. This is where you will gather photocopied flyers and pamphlets of restaurants, maps, and cue cards of helpful phrases—Maayong aga! Ambot. Namit ka.
Heat of summer is welcomed like an old friend. You will brave the humid coastal sun and salt breeze with no hair products other than the 2-peso sachet gel, and no SPF 80++ smothered all over your body. You bask under the sun until you turn golden, you would only seek refuge under the shades when you start to smell something burning, like a barbecued pork skin, because chances are it is you.
The lenten season is exceptionally toasty and eerily quiet, specially in most provinces. I must admit, this is my favorite time to travel. It is like Christmas in the Philippines sans empty wallet and unnecessary post-pubescent broken-hearted blues.
The hypnotic sound of recited Pasion blasting through a mounted megaphone echoes across the villages and this will be the only sound you would hear. If you are the new meat in town, youngsters will taunt you to give some stanzas a shot. I once managed to recite couple of pages in surreptitious tune of Closing Time by Semisonic–It was a big hit, until the old ladies started giving me some repulsed condescending looks and the repeated chorus tune got really annoying.
The inviting aroma of brewing arroz caldo in a barangay-sized talyase signals an afternoon rendezvous around the church, something locals share with both parishioners and tourist. For me that’s already a meal saved.
You bring books not as a flatlay prop, you really need a form of entertainment. The boxy television in the hotel lobby would only have one travel channel, and the show hosted by some amboy named Rovilson Fernandez has been on rerun every so often. Reading was a thing, some would look for a spot near the shore after lunch to read a book until the sound of crashing waves knocks them off. No one is hurrying, try it, it is fun.
Photos are usually seen only after the end of your trip or at least after every roll of film is used and you are lucky to have an AGFA 1-hour developing store in the nearby city. After developing, that’s when you buy an extra roll upon realizing that more than half of your shots are either overexposed or too dark, or you look so unflattering and there is no such thing as retake. Just grin and bear it.
As plane tickets are extremely expensive and ferry rides take days, trip duration are mostly long. If you are missing people back home, you can’t just lift the rotary phone at the hotel because it is very likely that they don’t have NDD (That stands for National Direct Dialing, ask your mom). You need to pray and hope that you still have some credit in your PLDT phone card, or you will dread carrying a bag of 25 centavo coins to make the call home and tell your parents that you are still alive, and how much you are truly enjoying your trip.
Being away from home will give you an immense feeling that the world is huge, it was huge. Missing friends and family is more intense and experiencing travel is even more profound. You tend to talk longer on the payphone with your dad even if there’s nothing much more to say, but you press your ears ever so tightly. You will even ask him to pass it to your sister so as you could terrorize her even from afar. You insert the last coin, watch the time counts down on the tiny screen obscured by the glare of the setting sun behind you, and wait for the dial tone to cut the line.
You go back to the hotel, write a day in your journal while the rhythmic clanks of the electric fan lulls you to the still of the night.