Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Down the gangplank to Sabang Beach...

I considered saving some bucks by taking the bus to the Batangas Pier, the pier being where ferries and Bangka boats ply back and forth to and from Mindoro, primarily to the Puerto Galera landings, such as White Beach, Sabang and PG itself. Eventually, I may try using public transport but not this time. Taking the bus would mean catching two different buses: the first from Angeles to Manila, and then a second one on to Batangas. The good thing is that the buses leave continually from both locations, at least every hour if not more often, but in the interest of safety and convenience, ehhhh, never mind.

My replacement credit card arrived on Friday and that was the last thing holding us up. We contacted our driver and told him to get a van and be at the house so we could be on the road at 5am. Turns out we should have left at 4am. That’s because by the time we got to where the highway goes through the Makati area of Metro Manila the traffic was bumper to bumper and mostly unmoving. We learned later that if we’d left an hour earlier we would have completely missed the traffic congestion in that part of Manila. Live and learn.

It didn’t help also that we’d stopped at McDonald’s for drive thru breakfast meals and coffee which took most of 20 minutes. On top of that, the driver mistakenly got off the South Luzon Expressway one exit too soon, and then took almost 45 minutes to figure out his mistake. Ehhhh!

One development that SAVED us some time on the road is that the Batangas Pier Expressway is now complete. It had been more than 4 years since my last trip to PG. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the Expressway goes all the way to the pier now. The last time I’d made the trip the hi-way had ended at Lipa City, which meant almost another hour of driving on a winding dangerous two-lane road through berg and barangay. The finished freeway between Batangas and Lipa City now only takes a few minutes to undertake. Now THAT’S the kind of progress that I can believe in.

By 9:45am our driver found a spot in the large parking lot in front of the pier terminal that acts as both long and short term parking. A portion of it is also set aside as the bus terminal. I believe the short term parking is prorated by the hour; I’m not sure of the rate but it’s not that expensive. I asked the attendant what overnight parking costs by the day in case I can talk my buddy into driving one of these days for another expedition. The attendant said the rate is 155 pesos a day. That’s not so bad either; depending on the peso rate that’s just under $3.50.

We made our way on foot to the terminal and were met by three or four “helpers.” These guys are okay. I didn’t select one; I always let my gal deal with that stuff, but she picked a pleasant fellow that helped us with our bags and took us to the best ticket booth; in other words, the one that would get us a ticket on the very next boat going to the exact beach that we wanted to go to. In our case we wanted to land at Sabang Beach, just around the corner from our hotel at Laguna Beach. I think we ended up giving him a couple bucks for his assistance—well worth it.

We waited inside the air-conditioned terminal for less than an hour when it was announced that our Bangka was ready to board. We paid another porter to take our bags and place them on the boat ahead of us. He also made sure we had three nice seats together saved and ready for us. We were amid ship on the starboard side for all you seafaring types.

These large diesel powered flat-bottomed wooden boats, each with a pair of bamboo outriggers to keep them from capsizing in rough seas, can probably carry 45 passengers, maybe more if they really cram folks in, but on this ride there were only maybe under 30 of us. And lucky passengers that we were, sitting right in front of us were three young ladies who decided to listen to some “urban music” at full volume on a tinny sounding little cell phone. After five minutes of that torture another foreigner sitting across from us on the other side of the inconsiderate trio soon had enough of the blaring crap. He got up and awkwardly clambered across a host of already seated passengers and stowed luggage moving to a seat all the way aft, as far as he could get away from them. He preferred diesel fumes over having to listen to the garbage those girls considered music.

I remarked to my fiance, “I don’t blame that guy one bit. Boy, it’s too bad how rude SOME people can be right? I mean it’s too bad they never learned any manners, you know?” They heard me, but now it was a matter of stubborn wounded pride to leave the music on and at full volume. They took turns glancing with hurt eyes over at me; each time I shook my head slightly and raised my eyebrows questioningly at them. Strategically, I already had my mp3 headset on anyway so that my REAL music completely drowned out any of the racket they were playing. I don’t go ANYWHERE these days without my mp3 and earplugs. It’s how I cope in this aurally foul world.

While all that guff was playing out one of the myriad boatmen continually called out as we settled in and waited to cast off, “Beer! Who wants Beer! Get you beer here!” He would call it out, wait a minute and then call it out again. It got irritating. I felt like I was back in Philly watching a baseball game—"Beer here! BEER!" I told my gal sarcastically, “You know, if he says it ten more times, I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist it. I’ll HAVE to buy a beer. He’s wearing me down Sweetie!”

Holding my hands out I began counting down with my fingers each time he yelled, “BEER!” One, two, three, four… “It’s happening Sweetie. I’m caving. Six more times and I WILL have a BEER!” Seven, eight, nine… I counted off his persistent sales attempts. She cracked up before I could get pinky number ten in the air grabbing both my hands. “You bolang! Stop that!” She ordered me to knock it off while giggling nervously at my antics. She’s always afraid I’m going to offend someone, and she’s right to worry. I listened to her and stopped. By that time I had already put on my mp3 to escape the acoustic rudeness of the three “pok pok girls.”

The word is that the seas in these parts have been extra choppy lately, especially for this time of the year, and that Sunday morning they definitely were. The skipper sat perched up high ten feet forward of us behind the steering wheel. I watched him maneuver as he craned his head to see outside. He was trying to maintain as much speed as he could without slamming us hard into the bottom of any extra roguish swells. Occasionally his timing would be bad and we’d bang roughly into the bottom of a trough, at which point he’d pull back on the throttle before gradually getting our speed back up again. Next thing I knew he was standing turned completely around in his seat with the throttles completely back and yelling and pointing furiously at a foreigner sitting on the other side of my fiancĂ©.

I took my earphones off just in time to hear him speak irately at the white-haired brush-cut old guy in faded jeans, “You want to do this!”

“Sure, you want me to steer?” the cantankerous old American replied.

I asked my companion, “What’s that all about?”

“Oh, the old man was complaining to the captain that he was going too fast.”

I shook my head. “Well, I wish the old bastard would mind his own business; and I wish the captain would ignore the crazy old coot. The captain shouldn’t be paying him any mind at all. He’s being unprofessional to say the least. So you know what? I think they both suck!” I didn’t say it loud enough for either of them to hear, but my girl nodded in agreement.

Forty minutes after leaving Batangas off the left front of the bow I was able to make out Sabang far across the whitecaps a couple miles off in the distance. Pointing at our destination I tapped Divine on the shoulder and told her we were almost there. I was surprised at how quickly the trip went. Fifteen minutes later, with boatmen at every step to guide and occasionally catch us, we landlubbers struggled to make our way across the slightly rolling deck to the bow end of the boat where we cheerfully and slowly made our way down the wooden gangplank to the sandy beach of Sabang. Our vacation had officially begun!

More to come…

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