On My Way Home

I had trouble with my passage back home to Davao. It was the Sinulog Festival and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines’ problems that caused it.

At first I was planning a way back home through Zamboanga which I normally do. I take the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines to Zamboanga. With that I am able to cover the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga. Additionally, I am able to cover the various local ports of Zamboanga City plus its two shipyards. I then go home with thousands more of additional photos.

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But I was in for a shock when I went to the G&P ticketing office. I never thought that their ferry to Zamboanga will ever be full. Usually, it is only ¼ full or even less that there are no more assignments of bunks and one can choose whatever pleases him. They would even upgrade some of the Economy tickets to Tourist.

I did not know that a significant number of people from Zamboanga del Norte go to the Sinulog Festival. And to think there are a lot of ferries going to Dapitan aside from the Ceres buses. Well, the Monday schedule of Zamboanga Ferry is what made her full. It was the first day after the Sinulog Festival week.

My next plan was to take the Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Asia Philippines. I made an early inquiry days before with their main office. They said the schedule is MWF. And so I thought I can take their ship days after Sinulog. I did not think Sinulog will impact the Tagbilaran-Cagayan route. I will have the chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports plus take Bohol bus photos and maybe have some sightseeing too in Tagbilaran.

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When I tried to purchase a ticket for Asia Philippines, Trans-Asia said the ship only only Monday voyages. How come shipping company employees themselves doesn’t know how to give accurate information? And at the head office at that? It seems with their lack of ferries, the unreliability of some of their ferries and the wish to also play the Iligan route even though they lack ferries plays havoc on the schedules of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines that even their ticketing employees are in the dark.

I then asked for their nearest available Cebu-Cagayan de Oro trip (as Cokaliong does not serve that route). A Thursday ticket was available for Trans-Asia 9 and I purchased one. But the day before the trip, there was a text message to me from the company saying our trip was cancelled for “technical reasons”. And so it seems the old engine bugaboo of the Trans-Asia 9 wouldn’t go away really. Maybe she is better off now as a Cargo RORO ship like the Trans-Asia 5 when the new Trans-Asia 1 becomes available.

I immediately went to the ticketing office of Cokaliong Shipping Lines even without a refund yet for I want to be ahead of the others. With no ship running to Cagayan de Oro I thought there might be a crush soon in the Cokaliong office. The other Cagayan ship, the Lite Ferry 8 of Lite Shipping didn’t appeal to me much.

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Had a hard time deciding at the Cokaliong Tower ticketing office. I didn’t really want a Nasipit ticket as that port is not really appealing to me from the ship spotting point of view and also from the bus spotting point of view (all yellow buses from there). They have no Cagayan de Oro trips (yet). And their Ozamis-Iligan ship was the same ferry I rode from Masbate to Cebu, the Filipinas Ozamis. It was what was indicated in their schedule board. I didn’t like their Surigao ships too and I have just been there. As much as possible I don’t want to ride a ship I have already ridden before or go via port I have just been to.

I asked the ticket seller. No, it was the Filipinas Nasipit that will be doing the Ozamis/Iligan route on a particular day (as they do the Ozamis/Iligan route four times a week now). That clinched it. A new ship and one I have not been aboard before. That will also give me the chance to visit Ozamis again after a long time and also Iligan too with the possibility of a Mukas shipspot too. I have not been to Mukas port for a long time too.

There was something new in the Cokaliong House. They now have an interactive computer by the door manned by cadets that will show what accommodations are still available. That sure takes a lot of load from the ticket sellers and crowding at their stations.

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Our trip was at 8pm and I tried to be early but was not able too. Minsan mas mahirap pa talaga ang may hatid. It was nearing dusk when I arrived in Pier 1. By then I had already missed a lot in shipspotting inside Pier 1 and also inside the Cokaliong wharf. Darkness was getting hold already when our shuttle bus parked near the stern of the Filipinas Nasipit. Sayang. I know my shots are already blurry and no use using zoom for the ships passing by.

The Tourist of Filipinas Nasipit was nice. It looks like the Tourist de Luxe of Sulpicio Lines and the Tourist of Trans-Asia 5 but it does not have the individual charging sockets of the latter. While not yet sailing I stayed in the open-air section where there were tables and seats. It was a good viewpoint when the ship will be leaving Cebu port.

I noticed the Filipinas Nasipit has a lot of cabins. I wonder if they ever get full anyway. The Economy was the same Economy of Cokaliong which are clean and functional. There was also a lounge at the side of the Tourist which is nice plus one near the canteen. Actually those can double as additional accommodation if the ship is completely full (but the Coast Guard won’t allow that even though life jackets have an allowance of 10%).

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Filipinas Nasipit lounge

I did not roam very long for the next day I will have the chance between Ozamis and Iligan. There will be better light by then with less passengers. I retired early as there will be an early arrival in Ozamis but I found out the aircon was too cold when it was midnight already. We were only eight in the semi-private cubicle and we had a packaged-type airconditioner plus doors that seal us from the lounge and the passageway on the other side.

We were in final docking maneuver in Ozamis port by 4:30 am and suddenly I had a problem since I forgot my cheap but trusty umbrella in Cebu which I used in all my days of shipspotting there. It was nearly a whiteout but soon the rain abated a little and passengers can disembark. I disembarked too but where to was settled by the rain. No joy touring a city in continuous rain but in a ferry it wouldn’t be much of a problem as long as I can board it.

I asked and I was given a bad reply regarding the ticketing office to Mukas. It was outside the gate (so a passenger from Manila or Cebu with baggage will then have to get out first? that is what one gets from ISPS ports). So I then just headed straight to the ferry past the guards (a purposeful walk will sometimes do the trick). I asked the Chief Mate for direct passage and I will just pay him. Turns out it can be done contrary to what the guards said. I had a ticket but I was unmanifested and I did not pay the terminal fee. Government functionaries sometimes makes rules na abala lang sa pasahero especially in the rain. There are other ways of making a manifest. It can be done aboard the ship. And so that there will be no more counting then let Coast Guard list the names of the embarking passengers. They are not sailing anyway and they can even do their patrol by boarding the ferry as they don’t have patrol ships anyway.

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Swallow-I of Daima Shipping

It was still dark when I boarded the Swallow-I of Daima Shipping, the sole shipping company sailing the Panguil Bay crossing. She is a double-ended ferry and a decent one but the problem was the rain got stronger and there were puddles of water in the passageways. When we sailed it was daybreak already and I noticed the St. Francis Xavier of 2GO has just anchored offshore. I thought she was waiting for the Manila Bay 1 of CAGLI to depart. Manila Bay 1 has started raising steam already by then. The other ship, the Fortune freighter was still docked in port. In the distance the outline of Trans-Asia 2 of TASLI was already visible (and so we were faster than her).

Crossing Panguil Bay, aside from the fishing bancas, I noticed that there were four double-ended ferries of Daima which were sailing and there were four more moored in Mukas port. We then docked in Mukas port and I was able to take close shots of the four and I disembarked. I saw a long line.

Again I paid direct to the Chief Mate because I said I cannot tackle a queue that long where I can miss the ship which is obviously leaving after discharging and loading and I am a passenger of Filipinas Nasipit. Again I was unmanifested and I did not the terminal fee (but then I did not use the terminal). Sometimes ang habol lang naman talaga ng mga paghihigpit ay magawa ang manifest para masiyahan ang Coast Guard at mabayaran ang terminal fee.

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Swallow-II and 4 other double-ended ROROs of Daima Shipping

The Swallow-II was docking into the port the moment we pulled. Nice to see her and I have a special respect for her. She was the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was burned by the white phosporus explosion that hit two Super Five buses aboard her in 2000. She survived and it is a credit to Daima that they have the patience to bring her back. Good to see her again 16 years after her mishap. I did not see her personally again after the burned-out wreck I saw the day after the explosion.

I thought the St. Francis Xavier will change places with Manila Bay 1 but when we returned she was still anchored. Nearing Ozamis, I was surprised by all the kwitis being fired and by the crowd waiting inside the port. There were priests and altar boys plus the religious type of crowd howling “Viva Pit Senor!”. It turned out the Trans-Asia 2 was carrying their image that went to Sinulog. So I thought that was the reason why the St. Francis Xavier was not docking.

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After taking shots of the revelry, I had only 30 minutes plus left to departure as we were leaving at 7:30am instead of 8am. With the intermittent rain and all the ek-ek in getting back inside an ISPS port I was no longer interested in getting out of the port and see Ozamis the city again. I may have just 15 minutes net and where can you go in 15 minutes in the rain? The crew of Filipinas Nasipit also doesn’t want me to go far. I remember that is also the worry of the crew of Zamboanga
Ferry when we are in Dumaguete and Dapitan.

We pulled anchor even before 7:30am and soon was on our way to Iligan. I noticed even at a distance that the St. Francis Xavier was still anchored when to think that even when Manila Bay 1 was still docked there was still one dock free. I dunno but I can only hazard the guess Ozamis port is penalizing St. Francis Xavier for delayed arrival. It was good I did not bet on her. She was supposed to arrive 8pm the previous night but she arrived 10 hours late. I did not take her altho I have not yet ridden her because her arrivals and departures in Ozamis and Iligan are both at night. No good shipspotting with that and even my bus spotting will be ruined.

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I made rounds of the ship after we left Ozamis. It was easier now for there was light already. I noticed we were less than 1/5th of the passengers that left Cebu. So it seems most Iliganons and Marawinons take the Cagayan de Oro ferry. It was easy roaming except that they do not want us passengers in that free area behind the bridge. And they do not shoo kindly too. Did the Cokaliong crew attend the shooing seminar of 2GO? But they were a poor copy as the 2GO crew have more politeness left. I don’t like it when a shipping company treats its passengers with distrust. We passengers do not shower them with such distrust. They should be fair.

We docked in Iligan port at 9:30am. I was happy for the earlier arrival because I was hoping to make Maramag, Bukidnon before dark (I don’t care after that since all the buses will then be red; I just wonder if the Philippine Competition Commission realizes that Mindanao, at least in the bus sector is governed by a monopoly).

There were no other ferries in Iligan. There were two cargo ships, one a foreign bulker, the Spring Canary, the other a Roble freighter, the Star Ormoc. There were tugs and harbor pilot boats. But then except for us there was almost no other activity in the port. Would have been merrier if the St. Francis Xavier was a little ahead of us. But it was good as I saw the former National Steel port and the Shell tanker jetty but the distance was great. Kiwalan is too distant, too.

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I no longer tried to make a round of Iligan. Davao is still too far away and I might get too tired. I just took the jeep which I know will still make a round of the city and it did. In the eastern bus terminal, I was able to take a lot of bus photos. My first choice was an ordinary Rural minibus because it has a front seat free. I changed to an aircon bus which also had a front seat free but not the one by the windshield. The aircon fare was P115 and the ordinary fare was P120. My seatmate told me before Christmas the aircon fare was just P95 for the 87km distance. Simple predatory pricing by Rural Transit to increase the pressure against Super Five bus. If we had only antitrust laws like in the US then Rural Transit would have to pay a hefty fine and/or the owners would have to spend some time in jail.

Transferred to a Pabama aircon bus in Cagayan (which has no gold anyway) because in the afternoon it is hard to look for an aircon commuter van. They have an all-new fleet now and of course they are cheaper. If I have a choice I will choose a Rural Transit competitor that has a front seat free (the front seat is the primordial consideration to me). My ticket was for Maramag only and not Kibawe, the destination of the bus.

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Mangima, Bukidnon

It was a rainy drive from Cagayan nada Oro to Maramag and I spoiled a lot of shots. It was getting dark already even before we wheeled into Maramag. I then changed into a lousy red bus which has no competition and our drive was very slow. Imagine a 5-hour drive at night for less than 160 kilometers. And again I had an incident in the Task Force Davao permanent checkpoint (the Supreme Court has already declared that permanent checkpoints are illegal; so much for the ballyhooed “rule of law”) and I held up the bus for more than 20 minutes with the passengers in the rain below.

It’s no longer martial law, I know my rights and so and they can’t just tell me any “balaod-balaod” thing (“balaod” is law in English). It the end I was able to force the Task Force Davao sergeant to admit they have no right to force down the passengers like cattle (and with threat at that) or inspect the baggage without search warrant (yes, that is what the law says but people don’t know that because we have a very poor legal education system). When they boarded back the passengers were furious at them and not at me. Now if only our lawyers and judges have more guts.

Anyway, I survived that long land trip of nearly 400 kilometers, my longest land leg in my December-January travel. The next day Aris was surprised I insisted on our previously agreed upon meet and tour to Samal. Seems I am back in form.

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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.