Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Filipino talks about travel

We received an outstanding letter and thought that we would share a part of it with you. Eli’s insights show how at least one native Filipino perceives traveling. We shortened it to his comments on this topic, but left it otherwise unedited. Eli’s English is very good for a non-native writer. We may incorporate his other comments later. S&M

Hi Marcia & Steve,

I can’t help but smile while reading your interesting and colorful experiences during your trips to buy provisions since I am also familiar to such things in the course of my regular visits to the farm. Of the two routes to the province, the one I usually take when I commute entails no transfer rides but on the other hand, it also involves a lot of stops in waiting for passengers. Despite the fact that only two bus companies monopolize the line there, passengers barely fill a third of the bus’ capacity most of the time so the driver has to wait for the riders even while they are still ‘taking a bath in their respective homes’ as I always joke about it, thus resulting to longer travel time. Luckily, the conductors issue tickets but what amazes me no end is their ability to recall the destination of each passenger (because they are few?) so that when one pays his fare, the exact change is also given. So unlike me who at times would go upstairs to get something only to ask myself later what I was there for in the first place?

But yes Marcia, name it and the ambulant vendors sell it-- from bottled water to duck embryos inside its shells, junk foods, and others. Interestingly, I noticed too that before getting off the bus, each one will leave a piece of their wares (a pack of peanuts or fish crackers, etc.) to the driver as a ‘fee’ for being allowed to board and sell which made me wonder how many of such items the driver would have accumulated at the end of the day considering the number of vendors that hawk daily.

I consider myself lucky if during my provincial trips, the bus would not encounter some funeral processions along the way. Since the bereaved families bring their dead to the cemeteries (which are located at the sides of the main roads) together with the bands ON FOOT, the smooth flow of traffic is always greatly hampered. This is also aggravated by the fact that those coming from the opposite direction would like to pass thru the entourage ahead of the rest and the traffic enforcers seem to be at a loss on how to handle the situation each time.

Such last gesture of respect for the departed started in the olden times when there were still very few vehicles plying the streets but has since become an impractical practice especially at present times. In fact, a local official of a nearby city was able to put a stop to it when same started to adversely affect the conduct of business in the place. But still, others have yet to follow suit.

I was also reminded of the time when I used to travel to the remote areas of Visayas and Mindanao during my audits of the company’s copra (dried coconut meat) buying stations near the different plantations. Ours by the way, was a group of coconut oil mills which exported coconut oil and copra meal/pellets for animals feeds to USA and Europe, respectively. There were times when I had to take the only available means of transport in the area (‘jeepneys’ as we call them) which were always loaded to over-capacity, even including fowls and hogs, sacks of corn and rice up to the top of the vehicle at that, where the passengers also enjoyed the trip in ‘al fresco’ ambience. (Please see attached relevant clipped picture).

We had an American station managermarried to a local), who likewise experienced Steve’s ordeals and more. Every time he took the motorized banca in going to the rural bank to get the money transferred by our Makati office for the copra buying operations, a good part of his long legs extending beyond the far end of the banca were also ‘making waves’. In the staff house when I took a bath one night after the day’s audit, I shouted in surprise when I realized that the water was ice-cold. He laughingly told me that the water came directly from the spring at the nearby mountain and that he himself used to get ‘frozen’ by it. Being tall, the jeepney rides must have been too inconvenient for him as well, like Steve. Would you believe that Arnold, the station manager, even asked a carpenter to make a sort of a divan so he could put it at the end of his bed to accommodate his feet? And talking about height, I am sure that when I finally get to meet Steve in person later, and standing beside him, I would be tempted to ask “how is the weather up there like?” since there is exactly a foot height difference between the two of us.

It was in Cebu, being my jumping port then to our various copra buying stations, where I also experienced taking an air-conditioned cabin only to find out later that the ACU was not working at all and since the only ventilation was thru a small port hole, I ended up sleeping on a cot outside and thereby enjoyed the refreshing sea breeze. I found out that it has been out of order since before but the same was still being booked out as air-conditioned!

On the other hand, going to the company’s cocoa plantation (a sister company) also to audit, a four-sitter plane (pilot included) had to be taken to reach the place. But what was strange though was that if it was communicated that there were no waiting passengers at my destination for its return flight, I had to pay for the seats’ corresponding fares otherwise, I won’t be flown to my destination. This operating procedure often resulted to my going to the rough and narrow airstrip between the stands of coconut trees several times at the end of the audit, only to return to the staff house again later since there were still some vacant seats at the plane’s point of origin, the equivalent fares of which I was not willing or prepared to shoulder. A better arrangement would have been the less onerous and equitable sharing of the differential fare among the prospective passengers but I didn’t know if such proposal was ever initiated.

Those were my days of field work and looking back, I am sure that the company would no longer send nor allow me to go to those remote places if I am still employed, because of the unfavorable conditions now prevailing in some of the areas involved.

My warm regards,


Eli’s description of funeral processions reminded us of the first time we toured the provinces together. It was around noon, and we were in a small town less than a mile from the expressway, but traffic was not moving. After two hours literally parked on the street traffic finally began to flow. After seeing dozens of water buffalo, some with their giant sides ornately painted, we realized that we just happened to pass through the town during its annual Carabao Festival.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

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