We are often asked: How do you get supplies such as food to Corregidor? We have four choices. We can find certain foods on Corregidor, since MacArthur’s Café and Baywalk have small stores, and a few of the women who work on the island also stock common items such as eggs and canned meats in their household “sari-sari” stores. More often we order items from Maynard or Mang-Emilio, banceros who each make one or two daily round trips from Cabcaben, Bataan to Corregidor. We can wait until we are in Manila, which is typically once every four to six weeks. Or we can make our own shopping trip to Balanga, Bataan’s largest city.
Having recently returned from the United States, it was time to once again get stocked up, which we did earlier this week. Going to Balanga ourselves entails 45-minute banca rides, the hour-long bus rides, and however many tricycle trips it takes to buy what we need. The banca rides vary between smooth to quite bumpy, depending upon the seas at the time. Sometimes the waves are barely noticeable, while at other times they are two to three feet and we have to protect our backpacks and anything metal from the rain or saltwater. (This time the banca ride across was very smooth, but the return trip later in the day was bumpier with thunderstorms in the area.) The tricycle rides are just plain funny, as the sidecars in which we must ride are almost too small for 5’6” Marcia, and downright ridiculous for 6’5” Steve.
Today we will talk a little bit about the bus ride. The particular bus we take runs from Mariveles on the south to the Balanga bus depot on the north. It’s the same bus we took when we did the Mariveles to Cabcaben walk in March. Buses run at quite regular intervals, and we have never had to wait for one for more than a few minutes. Other buses along the same highway travel to other cities such as Manila and Baguio, so you have to be careful to get on the proper bus.
Many students take this bus during the school year, so we often are crowded into it for the first part of the trip. Asians accept this much more readily than Americans, but we are adjusting. They are used to filling the bus to capacity, then “finding room” for another 10 or 20 riders. Soon the students get off and then there is plenty of room. However the seats are placed so close together that Steve finds it impossible to sit straight in any seat, and must sit with his knees in the aisle. There is one exception: the last seat goes across the whole back of the bus, so he can sit in the middle of that seat. The rear seat is usually elevated, however, and the top halves of the windows are often covered to keep the sun out, so sitting in the back row does not offer any real view out the windows.
We have yet to ride on a bus that would seem to have springs or shock absorbers. Thus the ride along a fairly smooth highway is still painful, as your spine feels every single bump. Even the somewhat padded seats don’t help very much. Sitting in the back magnifies the intensity of the motion. The driver seems in a mad rush to get from point to point, which also doesn’t help. Along the way there are points where he must wait until a certain time to leave that particular stop, so we’re not quite sure why the mad rush between stops.
The fare depends upon how far you are going. The most you pay is 40 pesos, or less than 85 cents per person. There is a man who collects the fares. Interestingly he does not collect the money right when you board, so he must remember where people get on and their destinations. The first few times we rode we were much more anxious to pay than he was to collect. But he always collects before you get off. He keeps the paper money in his hands, with each type of bill separated and folded in half lengthwise. That way he can easily make change. He also has a pocket full of coins. Since there are no tickets, he must be a trusted employee of the bus company; otherwise it seems it would be very easy for him to pocket some of the profits.
At a few of the longer stops a man will board the bus selling single cigarettes, boiled peanuts in the shell (very odd taste) or corn on the cob. One man gets on announcing his wares by saying something in Tagalog at 100 miles an hour, always ending his spiel with something that sounds like “DEE-kuh-DEE-kuh-DEE-kuh-DEE.” He sells, among other things, one peso mints and pieces of gum and two peso cigarettes, smokes often being sold “by the stick” here. We see him ever time, now being greeted with a big smile and a wave, and assume that his survival depends on selling deeka deeka deeka dee — actually he is saying “candy, candy, candy” — at this bus stop and the one across the road day in and day out.
Most of the route is lined with the Death March markers erected by F.A.M.E. every kilometer, though at points the march skewed off into the local towns and so the markers are off the main route in those places. As we pass we think of the men who died along the way, but also wonder how many (or few) others who drive by here day after day are unaware or ignorant of the event, and if they ever ask themselves why these markers are present.
But apart from that, you see the same structures, houses that consist solely of concrete blocks and rusted, corrugated roofs. You see the same sari-sari stores, names like “Kristine Store,” “Tammy Store,” or “Queen Bee’s,” and wonder what kind of a living you could possibly make competing against every other similar store—it seems that every family along the route must own one. You see the women and children walking along the road, the old men on their tricycles, the same as the motorcycle kind except with tiny bicycles instead, and wonder if some have been pedaling these very same contraptions for the last 40 or 50 years.
There are small rice fields at various stages of maturity, men working with carabao or alone, banana farms, coconut farms, and cattle pastures. The bus route travels near mountains, including Mt. Samat where we go with our April tour guests to attend the annual “Day of Valor” ceremony. In one area the roadside is lined with bamboo furniture for sale, another area with mounds of coconuts at stand after stand, and yet another with beautiful cabañas. Another common sight, “Junk Shops,” somehow remaining in business selling what appears to be exactly what they say they are selling: junk. Maybe items are purchased from them for repair parts.
Steve first traveled this particular route, a national highway and the only true north/south road of any distance in Bataan, seven years ago, Marcia six. Apart from a few new houses and housing developments the sights appear to be unchanged. We realize that seven years is not a long time to evaluate, but it seems this provincial area is not evolving very much, and that seven years from now it and the people here will essentially be the same.