12 September 2015

The Long Ride to Baler

Coming from a troublesome ride to reach Cabanatuan, the troubled me continued travelling north-eastward because, well, I wanted and needed to go to Baler. 

And while I’m usually fond of long drives, that day was clearly an exception thinking that the entire half day and night of being on the road was already beyond enough, so I solemnly wish that the last stretch of bus ride would be threstral-fast. Immediately, I looked for that destined bus to Baler and wasted no time.Then I finally found that hell of a bus I have been longing for during the hours that passed.

“Casiguran” reads the bus sign. I certainly couldn’t afford another heartbreak so I approached the nearest person I could ask and confirm that this badass Casiguran-bound bus branded as D’Line is indeed d' line.

And I received the best news I had for the last sixteen hours. Excited as I could be, I looked for that golden seat destined for me. But from the looks of it, it made me think twice if I would gamble my life and trust the poor thing.

“This would be your seat, brother”, the barker affirmed, pointing at a tiny seat nearest the bus door, which coincidentally was the last available seat up for grab. I sluggishly nodded while letting my gaze wander around the environs. 

Piles of luggage as huge as China and whatever crap those were on the aisle strategically placed on top of another left a very tiny space for passengers to pass on. The bus was a clear picture of overloading. And I wouldn't risk my life riding it given another option. But heck there was no other choice.

The iron-throne-for-me I envisioned was a piece of shit, too cramped that I obviously won’t fit in. There’s even a huge hole at the floor area right down my seat. The bus was more of a trash in the most irritating way to say the least. I believe the dread the whole state felt was the same dread the Starks feel towards the winter comin.

But then I had to decide: “To ride or not to ride?”, was the the million peso question. And my drained mind was failing me during those wee hours. Because yes, horrible things happen when one decides with an unreasonable mind. And a "yes" was final answer.

I finally claimed that last seat of its kind. While waiting, I grabbed my phone to check for the time, which caused me a little miffled as my cell alerted me with another low-batt advisory. Exhaustion ruled over me during those times maybe because of the pints of alcohol I feasted on earlier that night. The odds were clearly so bent on shitting on my face. 

For a moment, I was suffocating so I get myself out of that bus to have a stick and gasp for a fresher air outside. “Here”, gestured that same guy I asked a while ago to offer me some stokes. I politely declined because I don't usually receive things from strangers, even if it was what I exactly need before going down that bus. 

It was nearly one o’clock when the engine started to pull over, signaling the realization of yet a merry way. I went up back to my bawdy throne and prepared myself to spend the rest of the night wide awake. I noticed that the man followed suit as he casted a final blow of smokes then settled for his seat somewhere along those heaps of baggage, in front just beside the driver’s seat.

The night was cold and silent, with the roads starting to become darker and darker. For a moment, I first-hand-edly experience the byaheng langit myself, fast and furious style, with the cold starting to permeate my skin, partida, without the ac. The bus proceeded with the twists and turns of the route and later were roads that were impossible for a two-way traffic to pass. 

Moments passed, I paid minimal attention to my savaged situation, just hoping I would get a few minutes rest, but couldn’t. A number of people boarded while a few dropped off at some points of the road. Yes, people come and go, until I lost my consciousness, and fell asleep for a while.

Then we got somewhere mid-way through the ride. I took the mandatory bus stop hop-out just because I was sitting and/or blocking the bus door for the other passengers to pass. I was too lazy to eat at the stop, so I entertained myself by catching some breath of smoky air to fight the growing cold. Popping out from nowhere was the same strange man who approached me earlier. We had a quick lengthy conversation, iykwim.

“You’re heading to Baler.” He stated matter-of-factly while staring like he’s reading beneath my head.

I nodded in agreement and threw the same question.

“Me too”, he muttered. It turned out that it was the only question I asked in which I got a decent answer.

The boring conversation went on with this outlandish man asking more details as personal as my name, my course, and school, and me throwing the same questions back but not getting any answers back. 

He even asked what on earth brought me there traveling alone, where will I stay when I get there, and all other creepy questions you could expect coming from a stranger. 

He warned me though with hints as to how unsafe it was by just simply being there. Eventually, I gave in with all those strangeness that’s happening so I respectfully excused myself and returned to my bus seat. But before I could leave, he offered me a menthol candy, which I awkwardly accepted just so I could end that uncanny encounter. I believe it delighted him in some sadistic way to ensnare me with my own qualms; with me sharing a part of me without realizing it and him terrorizing me with stories closely enclaved with my real fears. Before I turned my back, he outright-ly flashed that hellish grin that totally crept me out.

Minutes later, the bus started to hit the road again then I started to wander my eyes on the road and try to appreciate the forest-ness of the area despite the blinding darkness. A few more push and we passed by a hopeful road sign..

“Welcome to Maria Aurora” the mark greets with so much love. Or so I thought.

..which was subject to a big disappointment as I learned that I’m nothing somewhere near Baler yet. I started to feel a little more of that internal freak out in my chest again. But I also felt the need to find the beauty out of the entire mess, the uncertainty at the moment should be enjoyed as it happens. So I stopped counting down the clock’s ticks and forced myself to sleep again instead, but to no avail.

I silently watched the people around me swimming on their deepest of slumbers. For some moments I envied them, appreciated their dedication of travelling and endure such long rides just to transport goods. I felt sorry for their worn out dresses and their stressed faces, but genuinely relieved about their joyful snores and their simple living. I was there for leisure and those people were paving the night for earning. I was on the depths of those kinds of realizations when I finally saw that “25 km to Baler” sign which left my heart dribbled.

Soon I began to appreciate that huge hole under my seat just beside my feet, the company of every passenger on that bus who were still the influence of dreamland’s greatness, and of course that old and grumpy bus for bringing me that far. 

And I did reach baler safely, minutes later. I merrily jumped out of the bus and cherished the Baler ground for the first time. I expected that man who shook my silent night to drop off the bus too but found no one, except me. Then I threw a gaze at the bus for the last time as it left, particularly on that space beside the driver’s seat, and found what? Nothing. Not even a driver seat was there, just plain pile of bags.

I was left puzzled, clueless, and scared to death with the fuck that just happened. Then I walked a couple of meters, chartered a trike, and instructed the driver to drop me at a site nearby my intended haven for the remainder of the night. It was a few minutes past five o’clock and the sun will soon to splinter across the Pacific Ocean and pour its first light, when my body had the chance to feel that much-coveted love courtesy of the soft bed, oh god. And it was heaven right then and there, and for the next two hours.

P.S. Later, when I got home back in Los Banos, I was puzzled because the menthol candy was missing in my backpack, along with the bus ticket that I set aside. Then just today while searching for some details online, THIS I found.
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