My “Maria Lolita” and “Rosalia 3” Ship Spotting
written by: Mike Baylon
When I go on travel, I usually integrate ship spotting with free viewing while on board a bus as I really love trips combining the bus and the ship. A little tiring especially for one no longer young but I dislike airline travel not because I am afraid of flying but because I find airline travel boring and aseptic as there is almost nothing to absorb in airports and in one-hour plane rides.
If my health permits me, I try routes that I have not done before. This is one way of knowing the country, our people and culture. This also brings not only excitement and surprises but also failures and disappointment but one learns in both cases. Mastery of different routes and schedules is one result and capability for travel advice is a future benefit.
Having not sailed yet with a Baybay-Cebu ship I made a plan for a trip that will pass by a Philippine Ship Spotter Society in Baybay City, Leyte. My plan from Davao Ecoland terminal was to the first bus to Manila then, a Philtranco ordinary bus (their aircon bus is too late for my purpose). [Anyway now, there are buses for Manila that leaves earlier if they are full enough.]
Having ridden a lot of buses going to Manila from Davao, I was already familiar with their running schedules. The 9 pm bus loads into the 6am Montenegro Lines ferry in Lipata port for Benit port. This will be my first trip through the length of Panaon Island and will be my first pass through the renowned “The Saddle” mountain pass between San Ricardo and Pintuyan towns in the island.
With such a schedule, I know I will be in mountainous Mahaplag junction in Leyte before lunch the next day. I already know that area in the past because I disembark there when my bus from Naga is bound for Baybay. Travelers say there are “poisoners” in the area but I am not a believer in urban legends and I buy and eat their “puto”. Well, I am still alive with no stomach ache ever after leaving that area. By the way, the name of the barrio is Cuatro de Agosto and it is just over 30 minutes by van (called “V-hire” there) from Baybay.
Our Philtranco Daewoo bus was new but being non-reclining was not comfortable for me and so I slept little. Our trip was uneventful and being a night trip the passengers were mostly asleep. Just before daybreak we were already on queue on the weighing scale of Lipata port. The port authority PPA measures the weight of the rolling cargo because after 30 years of experience they found out they do not know how to estimate weights because they don’t know where to look at and they are too shy to ask the ship cargo masters how they estimate the weight and how to balance the cargo and they don’t have an idea what is ship deadweight tonnage. Seriously, that weighing is just a money-making project of theirs that is charged to the vehicle owners.
Feeling low blood sugar, I decided not to fall in line into the ticket and terminal fee queue and be caged like cattle before departure and go through the X-ray machine where they try to see if some dumb passenger is carrying Abu Sayyaf bombs. So like in boarding processes in the past, I went straight to the “Maria Lolita” of Montenegro Lines. Nobody was really noticing as it was just beginning to get light. I took a seat on a bench in the car deck beside a crewman eating his breakfast and true to custom he offered me to eat. It was not yet boarding time for passengers.
It turned out the crewman was the 2nd Engineer of the ship and we hit off immediately. We talked about the ship, his experience, the working conditions, from where he is, his family and aspirations. Sometimes, a ship spotter will feel the next logical question is, “Can I see the engine room?” And so I went down the stairs and into a clean and orderly engine room with young oilers and apprentices who were all friendly.
While touring the engine room, I noticed the engine rev up. I looked at the gauges and saw the RPM was at running speed. I took my time because anyway it is not a usual occurrence a passenger is in the engine room while the ship is sailing. Later on, I still talked to the second engineer but on the cargo deck already in the same bench. It was hard to carry a conversation in the engine room as it doesn’t have a sound-proofed engine control room.
Knowing the crossing to Benit is short, I bade goodbye to the 2nd Engineer because I still want to tour the ship which was a rare one because it is a double-ended ferry. I hastened to the double bridge not being used as the ferry is already nearing Benit port. I know the other double bridge will look exactly like the bridge not being used. Before going down I spent some time in the airconditioned Tourist section as I want to cool down a bit.
In Benit port, I disembarked early so I can get port photos including the Illegal Exaction Point of San Ricardo LGU. These Illegal Exaction Points are rampant throughout the country like the illegal checkpoints of the military, police and the Local Government Units. Those are nothing more than tools for shakedowns and extortion and no amount of Supreme Court decisions and DILG memorandums declaring them illegal can ever do away with them. Greed after all is not a sin and nobody goes to jail for defying Supreme Court decisions. Anyway, in this country that is how they define “rule of law” (pronounced “woool of low” like how a toothless person would pronounce that).
Soon after leaving Benit, our bus began climbing “The Saddle”. It reminded me somehow of “Tatlong Eme” in Quezon National Park between Pagbilao and Atimonan except that the drivers don’t know the right-of-way rule of steep mountain passes. The climb and the top affords glimpses of the serene-looking Sogod Bay and Limasawa Island. We passed by the small towns of Panaon island. Passing the junction in Sogod, I knew we were already headed to the mountain range separating Southern Leyte and Leyte provinces.
At the top, we made a stop in the DPWH rest area in Agas-agas made famous first by the rushing waters during the rainy season that always destroyed the road. This was the reason why the Japanese designed and funded a bypass bridge (which is now being threatened again by the “agas-agas” of water). Pretty soon, I was in Mahaplag junction and I got off. I find the vendors of this place always nice and helpful and with them knowing there is a passenger waiting they will always flag down the needed ride – it is after all a chance also to sell their foodstuff.
Rolling down into Baybay, I contacted the resident ship spotter of Baybay, “fatbudhha” Mervin. I arrived in the common terminal at 12:30 at by 1pm Mervin picked me up and we proceeded to the barbecue restaurant by the bay where he treated me for lunch. We had a rewarding exchange and I was amazed by his knowledge of the Cebu shipping families especially Gothong. It was also a surprise to me he knows my home region of Bicol as I didn’t suspect he was once an abaca buyer there.
We parted at mid-afternoon and Baybay town center being small I was able to roam the place. I had plenty of time since the earliest ferry for Cebu leaves at 8pm. I visited the adjoining ship ticketing offices and I chose the “Rosalia 3” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping over the “Filipinas Surigao” of Cokaliong Shipping for the simple reason I have already sailed with the latter. As much as possible I take the ship I have not sailed with before so I can have more ship experiences.
I have already experienced the side-by-side bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping before (and it was true canvass material) and I was not excited. So I took the cheap aircon Tourist of “Rosalia 3” to get a good sleep as I will still be ship spotting when I arrive in Cebu port. In this trip, I found out that the Economy bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping has already been upgraded in that it already has steel frame and mattress but still side-by-side and perpendicular to the side.
My trip aboard the “Rosalia 3” was uneventful except it was raining and I found out that the passenger terminal building of Baybay leaks and there is no covered walk to the ship nor is there a covered walk too from the road to the passenger terminal building and it is not near. We left ahead of the “Filipinas Surigao” (Note: the ship and franchise is now sold to Roble Shipping).
We arrived in Cebu at dawn and I didn’t disembark immediately because I still have to ship spot (there are no decent shots before light and arriving ships come by about breakfast time). Before leaving I toured the ship including the bridge and the engine room. Ship spotting is always better when there is light. I was also able to interview the Chief Cook who was also the Chief Cook of the ill-fated “Rosalia 2” which was hit by fire in Cataingan Bay in Masbate.
For a ship spotter coming from Davao and Bislig (or even not), I can recommend the via Baybay route. Aside from ship spotting opportunities in at least two ports (with enough time allowance side trips to Surigao and Liloan ports are possible). If maximization is the aim then one can even go to Hilongos or Ormoc. The expense in going via Baybay, amazingly, is even lower than taking a ferry in Nasipit. They keys to going there is Mahaplag junction (or Mahaplag crossing in bus parlance) and taking a bus going to Manila and not the slow Bachelor bus.
To those who asked me for travel advice before in Agribusiness Week, if going to western Leyte, I always recommended this mode and route too as one arrived much earlier that the slow and round about to Maasin Bachelor bus to Ormoc. Funny, many in Leyte itself don’t realize the Manila buses and Mahaplag junction are the keys to faster travel within their island.
Over-all, though tiring, it was a successful and satisfying trip for me.
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