Passenger Sh*t: 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 chartered bus to Baler and wasted no time. A convenient transport was not a priority already as I deemed it more important to finally in a cozy bed soon enough, beyond anything else. That explains why I was overjoyed the moment 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 which will be the answer to my prayrs.

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 one another left a very tiny space for passengers to pass on. The iron throne I envisioned was a piece of shit that’s too cramped that I obviously won’t fit in. There’s even a huge hole at the floor area right down my seat which I presumed would be a problem once the bus took off, not to mention the awful stench and the extra cold weather. The bus was more of a trash in the most irritating way, to say the least. The dread the whole state felt was the same dread the Starks feel towards the winter.

I then had to decide as fast as I could. “To ride or not to ride?”, and my drained mind is failing me during those wee hours. Because yes, horrible things happen when you decide while you are stressed. 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. The odds were clearly so bent on shitting on my face. Exhaustion ruled over me during those sabaw times, maybe because of the pints of alcohol I feasted on earlier that night. 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 (who alighted from nowhere) to offer me some stokes. But I politely declined. I don't usually receive things from strangers, thus I refused, even if a stick was the last thing playing on my mind before going down that bus. Going back to my problem, I then realized that I haven’t really had a choice so 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.

It was nearly one o’clock when the engine started to pull over, signaling the realization of yet a merry way. 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, a la fast and furious, 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. There were a lot of rough roads too, goddamit.

Then the ticket-man started to collect a little over a hundred bucks for the fare. Deducing the length of time it would take and given the pace the bus was running, I assumed the trip would be a little over two hours or shorter, since the fare was something like "Elbi to Cubao" and considering the lack of heavy traffic. As I paid the fare, I, on the  contrary 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 mid-way (I think) 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 in a corner, trying to fight the cold. Popping out from nowhere like a pro, the strange man approached me once again and weirdly asked some sort of things.

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

I nodded in agreement and threw the same question.

“Me too”, he answered. 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, 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 things a stranger could ask another stranger. He even told stories which I think were swollen to the level of hyperbole such as how unsafe in there with all those paranormal activities and stuff, and even gave me aberrant warnings. 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 genuine grin that totally left me crept 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 another tear-jerking sign..

“Welcome to Maria Aurora” the mark greets with so much love

..which was subject to a big disappointment as I learned that I’m nothing somewhere near Baler yet. I started to feel a little 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 on the deepest of their slumbers. For some moments I envied them, appreciated their dedication of travelling and endure such long rides just to transport their goods. I felt sorry for their worn out dresses and their stressed faces, but genuinely relieved about their joyful snores and their apparent 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 “2n km to Baler” sign which left my heart dribbled.

It was hard to keep my feet off the bus’ floor, anticipating for the much awaited drop-off to yet another foreign land. I began to appreciate that huge hole under my seat just beside my shoes, the company of every passenger on that bus who were still in the 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. Then just today while searching for some details online, THIS I found.

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