After San Isidro town we ran at some fast clip to make up for time as we were still very far from Baybay and it was already nearing noon. Along the way, I just pointed to Jun the port in Victoria town of Northern Samar which has motor bancas to Dalupiri island but once that port had a ship to Manila. Running, I was also taking pictures of the buses we encountered along the way. The rain has already become a light drizzle and so my shots had become better. I pointed to Jun there was not really much agriculture in Samar and I told him what was Samar’s diet during the late Spanish times (and now Secretary of Agriculture Pinol wants to make Samar the country’s “vegetable bowl”; supplanting Benguet, Isabela, Nueva Ecija and Bukidnon where people really know how to plant vegetables and where the soil is better?).
After an hour-and-a half of rolling we reached the port of Manguino-o in Calbayog, the port with a RORO connection to Cebu which was just recently developed (one of the parallel ports of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – two ports serving just one locality). Fortunately, this did not turn into a “port to nowhere” (a port with no ships) because Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. served it (but along the way in the other Calbayog port Palacio Lines sunk). We slowly descended into Manguino-o port and the scene was picturesque. We were lucky a Cokaliong ship, the Filipinas Dinagat was there along with a slew of big fishing bancas or basnigs (some with Masbate registries) and local motor bancas that are ferries. The big fishing bancas were busy loading their catch into styropor boxes with ice. The iced fish will be loaded in the Filipinas Dinagat and will be disposed of in Cebu where the demand is greater and price is higher. With the ferry connection there was no more need for the fishing boats to still go to Maya port in the northern tip of Cebu.
There was an easy atmosphere in the port although the walls and the passenger terminal building were not yet finished. I noticed no hustler hanger-ons nor toughies asking for free fish. The port has a different atmosphere than Calbayog port before which is more tense. The old Samar ports have a long reputation for bullies and thievery. I was glad Manguino-o is starting from a clean slate and Cokaliong Shipping Lines is known for tight control. In my voyage before from Manguino-o port I was able to talk to their port captain who exercised tight grip on the crew at wharf and on the porters. That should be the case everywhere. It also seems the fishing vessels now patronize Manguino-o because this is now the port with connection to Cebu. Departure of the ferry to Cebu from here is in the evening when buses and jeeps contracted by Cokaliong Shipping Lines as shuttles will begin arriving from late afternoon.
From Manguino-o port the private wharf of Samar Coco Products, an oil mill, is visible from a distance across the cove. We didn’t have time to visit it nor we were sure of a welcome and so we just took long-distance shots. There were two ships there then, a Granex steel-hulled freighter and a wooden motor boat that were probably delivering copra. In Manguino-o port the view of the rock formations and the offshore rocks (islets) is really beautiful and it is complemented by the islands offshore. However, we didn’t tarry in the port because of the time pressure. The view of the fish being loaded and the views were already enough enjoyment for the eyes.
After a short drive, we next visited the Calbayog River boat landing area which is accessible after crossing the old bridge spanning Calbayog River. I always liked looking at or visiting this wharf which is adjacent to the market of Calbayog. If one is visiting the old Calbayog port this wharf comes before. What I like here is the jumble of bancas from big to small and from fishing bancas to motor bancas ferries to islands of Samar Sea which is under the jurisdiction of Western Samar. On any given morning their number would be in the dozens. We arrived there before lunch and so there were still many motor banca ferries that were leaving and we were able to take photos of them along with the docked fishing bancas. To save on time and to protect against the heat we just used our vehicle to survey the whole scene. I also pointed out to Jun the passenger terminal for the motor banca ferries.
We then entered the old Calbayog port. They were kind enough to let us in although we have no business except ship spotting. It was already redeveloped but it no longer has a RORO to Cebu because Palacio Lines which has Calbayog origins has already quit (ironically). It had actually no more ferries left. What is has now are a few small cargo ships (two when we visited) and the big fishing bancas that cannot be accommodated in the boat landing area by Calbayog River. I noticed no fish being unloaded (it was nearing noon already) and there was also no cargo being unloaded by the freighters. Except for the presence of the big fishing bancas, Calbayog port was a little desolate.
I also pointed to Jun the locally-built breakwater built by piling stones, the native way. It was good to look at although it is just low. It extends from the boat landing area to the Calbayog port. Me and Jun were comparing it to the gilded breakwater of Enrile and Gigi in Cagayan that cost P4.5 billion and that amount is already enough to build 10 good-sized ports. Yes, if only there is less thievery in government we would have better infrastructure.
We did not stay too long in Calbayog port because of the we were short of time and soon we were on the way to Catbalogan. We passed by Sta. Margarita town, the town with an L-shaped curve along the highway. I don’t know but I find Sta. Margarita beautiful including its coconut groves and its mix of rice field. The road there is good now. Soon we were watching the sea (Samar Sea) and its blend of wonderful seascape which is observable from high from the highway. Soon we were descending to Catbalogan. Jun suggested we bypass Catbalogan port to make up for time. I acceded; it is already a “this one or that one” situation. We had to decide between Catbalogan and Tacloban became it was nearing mid-afternoon and we are not even halfway to Baybay. We thought Tacloban has more importance and we will still have the chance to view the damage of Typhoon “Yolanda”. Catbalogan will be the only major port we will miss on our drive and probably it doesn’t have a good share of ships anyway since it is less active than Calbayog port (but once upon a time this was the most active port in the entire Samar island). It does have a Roble ship though once or twice a week.
We ate at Jollibee again because we already needed food and I needed to recharge the batteries of my camera so I will still have some charge available in Tacloban. It was near 2pm when we left Catbalogan. I had some chance to point out to Jun the important landmarks inside the capital city including the city hall and provincial capitol and soon we were climbing the narrow road out of Catbalogan. The view from the hills of the bay was again magnificent. This time the Samar estuaries and fishponds were more visible and we passed by Jiabong and Buray junction again. In Hinabangan we passed through the diversion road and told Jun of my near-mishap when driving at night at 11pm my engine quit right there (the road was still muddy then). Since it was mostly straights in that part of the Samar highway, we were going at a fast clip. Soon the eatery before San Juanico bridge came into view followed by the junction to Basey, the clear landmark we are already very near San Juanico bridge.
It was already near 4pm when we reached the famous San Juanico bridge. We saw the wrecked DPWH dredger and the damage to the government maritime school (National Maritime Polytechnic) by the bridge. Soon we were in Barangay Anibong, the place of the wrecked ships. It had a playground atmosphere especially it was a Sunday afternoon. There were other visitors including foreigners helping the victims of the typhoon. Me and Jun were talking if the ships can still be saved. I told him it depends. I said all that might be needed are bulldozers to dig a canal so the ships can be towed to open water. But that will mean also bulldozing houses and it might be unacceptable. We moved further on to a point where Tacloban port was visible across the bay but all that can be taken were long-distance shots in the glistening sun.
Soon we were hightailing it to Baybay. The sister of Jun has already followed him up. “What time will you arrive?” was the question. On the way I still took as much pictures as I can while discussing the disaster. Jun pointed out the first-class emergency tents donated by Australia. We saw similar donations from other countries all part of the “1/7th rule” where advanced countries are obliged to send 1/7th of their emergency stockpile when a disaster occurs somewhere in the globe to immediately alleviate suffering and save lives. That was the reason why ships from the USA, Japan, France, etc. immediately arrived in Tacloban and Guiuan, Samar along with cargo planes full of relief goods. The locals and its countrymen cannot understand such kind of response which was the resolution gathered from the Aceh tsunami disaster.
Jun and me was further discussing how long will the crops be productive again. I said for those heavily damaged coconuts it will be two years. I was also discussing the failure of “Project NOAH” of the government along with PAGASA and NDRRMC which looked amateurish (the latter should have gotten typhoon veterans from Bicol). The problem with the government agencies is they were too bilib in PAGASA and so they discounted the shrill warnings of NOAA and Weather Underground of the US which predicted 6 meters waves whereas PAGASA and Project NOAH predicted 6 feet of storm surge (and no need to say who was right). It was the record storm surge that made most of the damage. It was not the 200kph sustained winds at the center of the typhoon.
Dusk was already gathering when we turned past Abuyog. It will be lucky if we will arrive by the 7pm dinner as we still have a mountain to cross. Soon we were in the hills of Mahaplag. It was already dark and there was no chance to savor the mountain views. Then on the descents to Baybay there was a gridlock. A truck laden with a container van hit the electrical wires crossing the street and pulled it down to the road. At first none of the vehicles dared to cross. But with the help of the locals we were able to get through the maze. We were lucky our vehicle was small and crossed to the other side of the highway as the truck was stuck in the middle of the road. But we lost a good 30 minutes. It was already 8pm when we reached the house of Jun’s parents which was located north of Baybay.
Jun’s father was a retired professor of VISCA, the former Visayas State College of Agriculture, a nationally-ranked college of agriculture (it was ranked 4th then, said my brother). Now it is called the Visayas State University (VSU). A ship spotter who is good in ships teaches there and we were scheduled to visit him. Jun’s father speaks good English. As Jun described before, his mother is a Chinese-Filipino. The youngest sister of Jun (who was there and entertained us) and her husband is leaving the next day for a company-sponsored foreign tour. The discussions became more important than the dinner and it covered a wide range of topics.
I was free the next morning since Jun has to send off his sister and brother-in-law. I spent it roaming the city center of Baybay including the market (this portion of the city is not visible from the bus), the bus terminal and the port which were all just adjacent to one another. Like in Ormoc, the bus terminal is right outside the gate of Baybay port but the difference is the wharf of Baybay port is some distance from the gate. The docked ships were Lapu-lapu Ferry 8 and the Sacred Stars.There was not much port activity. That was not the first time I made tambay in that bus terminal. It fascinates me. I am able to gather info and see the public utility vehicle movement and of course also take shots. I like their locally-built jeeps too. Those go to Abuyog and some are the double-tire type. Of course, I also try to taste the local flavors even at the risk of having stomach trouble (but that rarely happens to me).
Before mid-afternoon, me and Jun were ready to visit the Visayas State University instructor and Baybay ship spotter, Mervin Soon who is not that well health-wise. I nearly did not recognize him (I visited him before). But he was still in high fighting spirit. Mervin knows a lot about ships on the eastern seaboard including Bicol since he worked there before. He knows the ships including the defunct ones from the 1990’s and that included Cebu ships since he studied in Cebu (like Jun). I still wanted to interview him about ships but we did not stay too long as our presence is a danger to Mervin and our schedule was already getting tighter as will be revealed later.
I thought Jun will spend the night in Baybay and I will already take the Lapu-lapu Ferry ship that night to Cebu which was not too exciting as I already rode their Sacred Stars before. If that was the case then I would still have plenty of time since the scheduled departure time was still 8pm. If it was the case I was going alone I was even thinking of going to Hilongos to take the ferry there so that might ride will be different and anyway I have not passed through Hilongos before. But Jun had change of plans and he intended to sail that late afternoon via Oceanjet in Ormoc, the last trip for the afternoon. That day was actually the birthday of my son in Cebu and so makakahabol pa somehow if I go with Jun. And so when I called him he was surprised because he was expecting me three days later (on the assumption I will go via Masbate from Allen).
We just had enough time to catch Oceanjet 5 in Ormoc. The line was long, we were nearly full in the vessel. The aircon of Oceanjet 5 was cold and we were at the stern, our choice. But even there near the engine it was comfortable as the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) was low. The trip was uneventful and there was nothing much to see because we departed Ormoc when it was beginning to get dark. We arrived in Cebu at 8pm on a night with moderate rain. Jun and me shared the same taxi and we soon parted ways.
I covered more than 1,200 kilometers in 3 days plus a ship ride on the 4th day. It was tiring but I had plenty of photos and memories. It would also turn out to be my last long-distance land trip.