A Trip to Cebu by a Fast Van and MV St. Pope John Paul II

Once, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) had a ship spotting meet in Cebu City, the usual venue (since Cebu has the greatest number of ships anyway in the country). I will be undertaking the trip from Davao with a fellow member of the group from Samal. As ship spotters we will be taking the ship and not the plane. We had the choices of Cagayan de Oro, Nasipit or Surigao as embarkation ports but we settled on Cagayan de Oro because our target was the ship MV St. Pope John Paul II and its luxurious Stateroom. We know we will be able to get that room cheap if we book early enough. And we were not mistaken. We were able to get that room at just above the Tourist rate.

The MV St. Pope John Paul II leaves Cagayan de Oro at 10am and if we were lucky that it is on schedule (and during that time 2GO ships were late more often than not) we might still have enough light approaching Cebu port since its ETA was 6pm and so she should be approaching Mactan island when there might still be enough light. We were hoping for some good encounters approaching Mactan.

To be able to board the ship at two hours before departure I estimated we should be able to board a bus at just past midnight in Davao Ecoland terminal. We know we won’t get to sleep much aboard a bus but we planned to make it up aboard the ship since there will still be time to sleep after making a round of the ship taking photos.

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A commuter van similar to what we rode from  Davao to CDO (Photo by Custom Cab)

We went to the bus terminal at 10pm. The bus was our first choice because my companion is afraid of the cheaper and faster commuter van (it is supposedly less safe in case of a collision). We checked the Rural Transit bus inside the terminal. They were using their high-deckers in that stretch of the night and so the fare is P640 instead of P570 (this is aircon fare). My old resistance and animosity against Rural Transit was reawakened. This bus charges high as there is no competition. I came from a deregulated region and I am used to a P500 aircon bus fare for a 380-km Naga-Manila route. The P640 was just for a distance of 320 kilometers.

I told my companion-friend that we check the commuter vans just outside the terminal (it is no longer there now, driven out as having no permit). I asked the rate. It was just P400. I told my companion that with the difference we can buy a lot of food and drinks. And so we decided to take the van but like my old style I told the dispatcher we will take the next van and please reserve the front seats for us.

Our van left at 12 midnight sharp and I was in the front seat. The van was a new Toyota Grandia and the driver is still at his peak years. We made small talk. I always do that and I also mind the quality of his driving. He was competent. There was no over-speeding or reckless driving. He was usually running just in the 100-110kph range but he was serious. No laxing off in the pace. We arrived in Valencia City after exactly two hours. We stopped because a passenger alighted and it was time for some to relieve themselves. The driver waited five minutes in case a chance passenger shows up.

I thought we will be arriving very early. At first thought we will be in Agora of Cagayan de Oro at 6am which is just time enough for breakfast and lounging (as we plan to go to the Macabalan port at 8am). Valencia is already more than halfway of our route. I observed the driver. He is not showing signs of tiredness. The pace was still the same. Our pace slowed a little in Mangima because of the road works but at 3:57am the driver pulled his parking brake lever in Agora terminal and market and we disembarked. I complimented the driver on his driving and gave my thanks and and well wishes. I always do that.

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Agora Market and Terminal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our trip just took 3 hours and 57 minutes for the 320-kilometer stretch! That was over 80kph average speed! Now suddenly my companion realized that the buses of Mindanao are real laggards for even aircon buses take 7 hours in that stretch (to think half of the Davao-Cagayan de Oro stretch still lacks habitation and vehicles). Well, the drivers of Rural Transit are too fond of meal and coffee stops and once they see 100kph on the speedometer they back off.

We were lucky the Jollibee store in Agora was already opening. I thought swerte, me tambayan. We really need a friendly place to while away a long time. I told my companion we won’t leave the store unless they kick us out because there is no sense in going to the pier early because one can’t enter anyway and the passenger lounge which has only bucket fiberglass seats might still not be open. And I am not even sure if there is air-conditioning. I said our place is way better than the pier and at least there is activity outside.

At 6am, we called a PSSS member in Cagayan de Oro. He joined us at 7am and so it became livelier. We finally left the store before 9am after 5 hours there (and we extended profuse thanks for the hospitality). We thought our time allowance is perfect.

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Well, things does not turn out that way. We have to have our tickets xeroxed and there is no xerox nearby. It seems the ticket printed by one’s own computer is only for 2GO’s convenience. And we have to line up. These checking of persons in the terminal is just for the benefit of the Americans. It is not for our safety. If someone will bomb they will bomb anyway. And there are much easier targets like the city halls, markets, plazas and other places of gathering including the church. If I am the bomber the port and its terminal will not be my priority.

We were finally able to board and we knew the departure of the ship will be late as it was already announced before we boarded. There goes our chance of a free ship spotting approaching Mactan and Cebu. We made a tour of the ship taking pictures along the way. Our first respite was our free lunch at the separate restaurant for First Class passengers called “Horizon Cafe”. Not that very inviting. So many trainees (and they chatter). And I commented to Aris that 2GO food is just like hospital food. Just enough for one to remove his hungriness but no feeling of being full as it is not Sulpicio Lines. If we were aboard a Sulpicio ship it would have been smorgasbord since we were in First Class.

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Horizon Cafe

MV St. Pope John Paul II is also tiring to tour. The ship is longer and it has more than two passenger decks. Part of the navigation deck structure is also for the passengers and so it is also open unlike in MV St. Gregory The Great and MV St. Leo The Great where it is fenced off. And part of the upper wagon deck is also for passengers. So practically three-and-a-half decks has to be toured. One thing noticeable though for MV St. Pope John The Paul are the big rooms and other facilities not in use and it is obvious that many cabins are unoccupied.

After lunch and a few more shots we took our rest. Time for some sleep. Our Stateroom has two beds, one big and one smaller and near the door there is a divan fronting the bath. There is a cabinet for clothes and smaller cabinets for stowing away things. And a big mirror. The appointments are really for multi-day voyages. The air-conditioning’s cold was just okay although I wanted it a little cooler. What’s the use of a good blanket anyway?

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Stateroom (on the right is the bigger bed)

We woke up at about 4pm (but I really did not sleep much) and again made a round of the ship. It was cooler already and we know we will be up and about until the ship reaches Cebu. And that is one that fags me out a little since it means two hours of so of milling around and taking shots. As we expected approaching Mactan the light was no longer enough for good shots. The price of being late.

Although there were some disappointments, over-all we enjoyed our ride aboard MV St. Pope John Paul II. The Stateroom for the price we paid was treat enough. The ship was still a good ship, not rundown and it was clean and inviting, the main restaurant had plenty of offerings and the service crew tries a lot. Even the restaurant crew are hard-trying. 

We then disembarked in Cebu International Port. Being dark already the shots are also limited. We made our way outside the port and soon hailed a taxi. We will be staying at Mariners’ Court which we expect will be a good vantage point. It did not disappoint. And nor did the ship spotting tours with the group that happened in the next few days.

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