A few years later, I was having a meal with my yoga teacher and endless inspiration, Wenche, in Sri Lanka, and we talked about how ‘travelling’ really teaches us everything we need to know about ourselves and getting through life (in a nutshell) and she mentioned that she met an HR boss who would make a point of asking people how much they’d travelled versus what academics they have to present.
Yes, it is all part of the learning, and the situations we find ourselves in on our journeys never fail to impress and teach me, about myself, about the differences in cultures, about people.
Originally published January 23, 2012 –
‘This is the one! Take it, quick!‘
And so, in a somewhat frantic moment following Ramke’s urging tone, I grabbed the outside handle of the yellow bus and leapt onto the already moving step.
Off I went.
This was the moment, the moment I had previously mentioned, the scary moment of taking the public transport by myself for the first time.
What I have learned so far is that the busses have designated stops, as opposed to Jeepneys who stop when there are customers to get off or on. But they don’t have timetables; you just go to the road and wait for yours to drive by. Which is why it all happened so fast; I had asked Ramke to just get me on the right bus in the right direction – and it just happened to roll by as we turned the corner.
I was headed for Gaston, via Manapla.
And once again, the ‘directions‘ and ‘address’ I had been given hardly made sense – until I got there.
I sat down by an open window, paid the conductor/steward/boy 35 pesos for my journey, and asked him to let me know when we get to ‘Gaston’… ‘yeah yeah yeah’, he said with a smirk.
He was with some other lads and they were downright laughing at my request – or me! I notice that a lot, then again, I have hardly noticed any other foreigners in the Talisay area, apart from Simone and me, so maybe it’s funny to see me.
you are never alone when you travel alone – watching others and engaging in conversation with strangers is great company
Exhaust polluted wind blew into my face, mussing up my hair, drying out my eyes… I loved it. I was on my own. I was enjoying being with Simone and Ramke, but this little weekend ‘getaway’ was ALL MINE!
What a great feeling! This is me, on my way, on my own adventure in a foreign country.
The bus filled up as we made our way north. Where I was headed was one hour up the road, the ‘ring road’ of Negros Island.
At one point, a little boy got onto the bus and sat down. The conductor came to him and spoke to him in a friendly but firm tone; I don’t understand Ilongo, but it was clear he was asking him where he was headed, where his parents were, and if he could pay the fare. As soon as he left him, the boy began to beg and sure enough, e few moments later, I felt a strong tweak at my shoulder. I had a few cookies left and asked the lady next to me if she thought he’d like them, and she said that she thought he would. I gave them to him. They were scoffed in no time at all, and the bag was thrown out of the window – where else? But then again, it was pretty clear this little boy was receiving no education except the rules of the road and copying others.
…and I missed my stop
When we drove into Manapla I started asking about my stop.
The lady next to me looked a bit worried and called the conductor.
Here, as my cousin Marianne had also pointed out to me when we were travelling in Latin America, when you wave people to you, your hand moves in a downward shovelling way.
The conductor didn’t look happy, and the lady explained that we had passed my stop. I was asked to hand him my ticket and he started scribbling onto it.
At the next stop he told me to get out, and gestured something at me, trying to explain but I didn’t get it. I’m sure it was about which bus to take next.
There I was, stranded at a wrong stop and a bit puzzled, truth be said.
Damsel in distress, bus-chasing-bus and travelling strangers helping me get to where I wanted to get
I asked a tricycle driver to take me to ‘Gaston’ and he looked blank, then I said ‘Hacienda Rosalia’ in the hopes he may know it and that it might be closer than ‘Gaston’ itself. Blank.
Then MY bus, the one I had just gotten off of, stopped next to me again, no idea where it came from – I was waved to come back in and immediately we started racing down the rickety streets of Manapla – OMG, I thought, he’s taking me back to my initial stop!
Actually, he was chasing the bus going south that we had just crossed. As it stopped, we stopped, my guy leapt out and instructed me to follow, I was pushed onto the other bus and off I was again, going back. Quite a fast adventure, very heroic, really.
Self-conscious, I now got up every time the bus halted, not going to miss it this time, but all the people on the bus, like a chorus, were waving at me to sit down until they, eventually, all waved at me to get up.
Everybody was on my cause now, quite humbling – I can’t help but wonder what I must have looked like to them, the Western Damsel in Distress, especially considering where it was I was going. They knew, but I didn’t.
I stepped out.
‘Gaston’ was a tree
It seems that ‘Gaston’ was a tree and a dirt road lined with palm trees leading off the main road in a right angle.
If I didn’t already before, now I felt a tad nervous, to be honest.
I was an unmistakable tourist, a young blonde woman at that, and I was somewhat stranded… on a relatively quiet roadside… on an island… in the Philippines. Far away from anyone I knew.
Yes, things could happen. Things DO happen. One reads about ‘things‘. And when one reads about these ‘things’, one comments on them, from the smug safety of one’s own home, say, ‘how irresponsible it was for a young woman to set off on her own like that, she didn’t even know the people she was going to!‘
However, these kinds of thoughts never help, I learned that ages ago.
Again, in Chile in 2000, my cousin Marianne and I had decided that it was absolutely unnecessary to sew money bags into one’s bra for safety (as some fellow travellers were doing until late into the night before setting off on a trip). We had decided and agreed that safety was mainly a question of mindset, trust and the way face situations – and also, admittedly, comfort (what a waste of time to sew ones money into ones underwear).
And so I checked in with another perspective:
This is it, this is life! This is where experiences are made.
These unknown, unpredictable situations when we find ourselves way beyond our comfort zone are the situations that spice up our life and our stories!
And situations always clear up, they always do.
And so, as I made one step toward the tree, two tricycles and two men appeared into my vision field, lounging in the shade and jumping up eagerly when they saw me.
I hopped on one and we wobbled down the straight dirt road. Five hundred meters down it, the road made a right turn and just before it made a left, we stopped at the gate of what appeared to be the farm.
I went in, asked for Neneng and a friendly man brought me back out again, put me in yet another tricycle and so the journey down the dirt road continued. The road was now in the shade, little village huts were nestled into them, colourful washing hanging out to dry; it only took about 3 minutes and we stopped outside a stone built cottage with a big porch.
The driver yelled out and soon enough, my host appeared at the door with a big smile.
Later on, over a meal, the kitchen help mumbled something with a smile, and everyone laughed. Neneng told me that my little escapade in Manapla had already made the rounds in the community – everyone was talking about how I got off at the wrong place.
As Auntie Pam would say, ‘Fame at last’.