Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
C How they made me chapter 42:
Masbate or bust.
As with any woman when her man comes home late in the evening Rosie was suspicious but as it turned out even though she was suspicious she didn’t seem to be to angry. At the time I felt immensely relieved but in hindsight I probably should have questioned her lack of emotion which was to become somewhat of a trademark of mine and Rosie’s relationship. I was thinking what a cool woman she is and how lucky I was to have escaped the wrath of a Filipina spurned but in fact the opposite was true. Rosies lack of reaction was not because I was lucky and not because she was a super cool woman but simply because she didn’t really have any emotional attachment for me. I was just a temporary ride which she would utilize until it no longer suited her. At the time I did not realize this so I just thanked my lucky stars and started making preparations for her and myself to visit Masbate.
It took me all of 25 minutes to pack for Masbate because all it really involved was throwing a few pairs of jeans, shorts shirts and shoes into my rucksack plus I reasoned I really wouldn’t need much because we were going to a rural island where life was pretty simple and no doubt moved at a snails pace. After packing Rosie and I made our way downstairs where Koripot Bob was waiting for us with his usual San Miguel beer in hand and a large sports bag by his side. “Ready to go when you are mate” he said, “just gotta finish me beer then youze guys call the taxi and we’ll get on the way to Masbate”.
Rosie and I ventured outside where the friendly guard hailed us a taxi and loaded ours and Bobs bags into the boot and we headed of to the harbor for our ferry ride to Masbate. Harbors in any country seem to attract the seedier elements of life and Manila harbor is no exception. As the taxi pulled over we paid the driver unloaded the baggage and almost immediately we were surrounded by a horde of sweat ridden Filipinos dressed in ragged shorts and dirty singlet’s. Most of them had facial hair and were wearing bandana’s with flip flops for their shoes. Under other circumstances this might have felt like being a movie star but this lot was far from the paparazzi and it was more like being surrounded by a swarthy mob of hungry Filipinos.
At first I was a little worried by the mobs attention but then another car pulled up and dropped some people off so while the mobs attention was distracted I seized the opportunity to gently push my way through the remaining throng and started walking towards the nearest big building that I could see assuming that this was the ticket office. As it turned out I was correct and a short but hot stroll later we were inside the office standing in line to buy tickets for the ferry to Masbate. In normal countries you can expect to see the various sections of a ticket selling station clearly labeled but this was not the case here. There were three separate lines here and I had no idea which one was the line for Masbate. I looked at the lines but still having no clue which one to choose I asked Rosie to ask the people and next thing I knew myself and Bob were pushed towards the middle line where Rosie told us to wait because she had to visit the CR.
Of course we were in the Philippines so I knew it would be hot and whilst I realized that it was probably to much to ask for an air conditioner a wall fan or something just to circulate the air would have been much appreciated. Of course there was only one small fan in some far recess and within minutes Bob and myself were standing in line sweating like weightlifters before a dope test. Rosie seemed to take for ever but just before it was our turn to reach the counter she reappeared and took control of the ticket purchasing. In a rapid torrent of Tagalog Rosie did the communication duties and next thing I knew I was handing over 3000 pisos for Bobs myself and Rosie’s tickets. Rosie handed over the money and was given the tickets in return. Another burst of Tagalog happened and next thing I knew I was being pulled by the shirt by Rosie and told, “this way to ferry”.
Rosie seemed in a hurry but when I asked her why all she could say was, “we go boat now much better we make hurry get good room”. After a brisk walk we were soon at the pier were the ferry was loading and Rosie was literally pulling me up a large ramp and onto the boat. As we entered the boat I felt like we were on some kind of floating scrap heap. Inside it was dimly lit and it took a moment for our eyes to adjust. As we entered into the main section an odor of sweat and animals feces wafted towards our noses. The main area was a large space with people and animals scattered all over the wooden floor and next to them was an assortment of animals ranging from chickens and roosters through to dogs cats and goats. For a moment there I thought I was on Noah’s Ark but that illusion was shattered when a nearby rooster let out a piercing crow just to remind me I was in the Philippines. I don’t know about you guys but I have always found the Philippine rooster extremely annoying. As far as I knew roosters were supposed to crow at the rising of the sun but Philippine roosters will crow most of the day and constantly throughout the night. Up to this point I hadn’t really suffered from the roosters exercising their vocal chords but if there was one thing from this trip that made an indelible impression on my memory it was the crowing of roosters throughout the day and at all hours of night. To this day 20 years later I have an aversion to roosters and I am sure it is a result of this trip.
Rosie entered the main area and started wading her way through the sea of humanity and wildlife towards a small little guy in the far corner. This guy was dressed in what looked like some sort tattered uniform so I assumed he was some sort of boat official. Deciding that it was better to follow Rosie rather than just stand there gaping so we both hoisted our baggage and waded into the crowd pretending to be oblivious of the stares the locals were giving us. The walk through the main cabin was uneventful and we managed to make it across the room without stepping on anyone or injuring anyone’s precious animal.
By the time we got there Rosie was in animated discussion with the boat guy until finally he looked at Rosie, looked at myself and Bob and then said follow me sir. Not knowing what was going on but having decided, ‘go with the flow’ was the best approach, Bob and myself followed Rosie and the guy without a word until we reached a cabin with 2 bunk beds. Our guide stepped aside and then waved us through indicating that we should enter the cabin then as we entered he remained standing at the doorway with an expectant look on his face. I asked Rosie what is up with this guy and she told me he is waiting for his tip. Waiting for a tip I asked, why should I give him a tip”? Rosie looked at me as if I was some dumb foreigner and said “because he is the one to get room”.
I have always been a firm believer in spontaneity but sometimes I recognize the need for planning and as such I had made a few enquiries about the trip to Masbate. Consequently I knew they had private cabins on the ferry and I also knew the trip would take up to approximately 20 hours of traveling, but no matter how much planning I did nothing could prepare me for the reality of this trip. The cabin was not exactly what I would call first class being composed of two bunk beds and a passage so narrow two persons could not fit in when standing side by side. As far as I can remember there was a small air conditioning vent in the far right hand corner through which semi cold air filtered into the cabin and in the other corner was an overhead wall fan. Rosie and myself grabbed the top bunk while Bob was relegated to the bottom bunk and rather than mingle with people and animals outside we settled down for a little rest waiting for the boat to get under way. I knew this trip was going to be a long ordeal and I knew by the end of it I would probably hate the inside of this cabin but given a choice between mingling with the horde of people and animals in the main area or being tucked away safely in the cabin with Rosie and Bob, the cabin all of a sudden began to look quite attractive.
We had been traveling for about five hours when all of a sudden I was feeling a pressing urge to visit the toilet and Rosie of course was feeling hungry so together we decided to brave outside the cabin while Bob was slumbering peacefully. Once outside Rosie and myself had to navigate a mass of slumbering bodies all lying on the floor as we slowly made our way towards the toilet area. Everywhere I looked there were people either lying prone or just sitting and the only place people were standing was the line in front of the toilets. I stood in line for about three minutes and after doing my business at the over crowded urinal I walked outside to find an impatient Rosie waiting for me. When she saw me coming out she gave me one of those it’s about time looks, grabbed my hand and started leading me through the mass of bodies towards what looked like a small canteen in the far corner.
Eventually we made it over to the canteen where Rosie surveyed what was available and was soon ordering some instant noodles together with sky flake crackers. The lady behind the counter was staring at me as if she had seen some kind of ghost until Rosie said something in Tagalog which seemed to snap her out of her reverie and she proceeded over to a thermos from which she poured hot water onto the noodles and then delivered it to Rosie whilst still giving me furtive glances. Rosie paid the girl 20 piso then with a deliberate show of female power planted a great big kiss on my lips and said, “come cabin honey, Rosie has special for you”.