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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My Northern Cebu Tour

When I was in Cebu I had the ambitious trip to cover Maya, Hagnaya and Tabuelan ports in one day. However, even though I started early I failed to cover all three ports. There was some glitch in my plan and simply put if a trip to Maya already takes five hours or so then with detours covering all three seems really iffy, if the plan had a glitch, which I only realized later.

I had no exact day for the trip and I only planned to do it when it is not raining heavily (in my eleven days in Cebu last January it was raining almost everyday) and I was able to wake up early. So one morning I got up at 4:40am and before 6am I was already in Cebu North Bus Terminal in Mandaue.

The first segment of my trip was to Bogo City bus terminal. Along the way, we passed the junction that leads to Tabuelan. Since I was early I was already tempted to go down but I held (but it turned out later that going first to Tabuelan was the correct move but I should have been earlier).

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When I reached the Bogo bus terminal I was disappointed. Not much bus spotting there as the red buses were no longer around (they said there’s still a few left). I walked to the beach to get whatever shipping shots I can get. Just small fishing boats but Polambato port was visible in the distance including two vessels, one of which was the Super Shuttle Ferry 10 of the Asian Marine Transport System or AMTC which holds the Bogo-Palompon route.

I then left the terminal and I decided I will no longer go to Polambato port to save on time. The Super Shuttle Ferry 10 is already familiar to PSSS members (since it stays a lot on the AMTC wharf being repaired) and most that will be added in case are just fishing vessels and viewers don’t have much taste for that anyway (ah, only for their catch, seriously).

In Daanbantayan it was a long drive among its many big, separated barrios. The scars of the legendary Typhoon “Yolanda” were still visible. We then reached Maya but the Ceres bus does not go into it anymore so I still have to take a motorcycle (it is not really a habal-habal). It is the Island Autobus that still goes direct to it and one bus was waiting there for the big motor bancas from Masbate and Leyte to arrive. Ceres goes direct to the new port now.

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The old port was still the same as in it basically serves the many motor bancas and motor boats of Maya. The port in general was unimproved. Most of the motor bancas there were for Malapascua, the resort island. The motor bancas for tourists was way more expensive than the flat-bottomed motor launches for the locals of the island.

It was windy and there were white caps and the news was the big motor banca from Esperanza, Masbate will be late. It is the only daily craft from Masbate as all other big Masbate motor bancas dock in Polambato port. Also expected but not yet there was the big motor banca from San Isidro, Leyte. Actually, banca pilots don’t need the Coast Guard when to exercise caution as they have much more experience at sea than they Coast Guard. They won’t sail if they think it is dangerous.

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I was amazed by the number of motor bancas to Malapascua. I did not expect to see well over a dozen crafts altho travel that day was slow maybe due to the weather (and so they are all there). In port, they were also rolling plastic drums of diesel into the RORO ramp for loading to a motor banca. I was surprised the drums do not burst. It is supposed to be the fuel for the generator of Malapascua. It was from a big truck.

From the old port the new port being constructed was visible. The access road to it was cut from a hill and a RORO port with back-up area is being constructed. It seems it is still a year from completion. But rumor is once completed the Masbate ROROs in Polambato will transfer there. Makes sense as Maya is nearer to Masbate being the northernmost point in Cebu. But I also bet Cawayan will then be the stronger connection to Masbate rather Cataingan because of the shorter distance.

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Maya new port

There were other ports in Daanbantayan which I saw from the bus along with a cove near Maya which seemed to have been a marina of motor boats before as there were carcasses there aside from live motor boats. It is just near and south of Daanbantayan town. The other ports I saw seems to be fishing ports. Fishing as an industry is very evident in Daanbantayan. Well, being just by the Visayan Sea will dictate that.

I took a local jeep from Maya and sat beside the driver. That gives me the chance of asking some questions. Mainly I was concerned with the rides (in Maya I had an oldtimer from Masbate as resource person). I changed ride in the Daanbantayan bus terminal where I also took bus photos. I did not go back to Bogo and instead I just waited for a ride in the junction to San Remigio town. It was already lunchtime, I noted. My fear of the day being eaten by the long ride from Cebu is beginning to materialize.

At times if my sugar is okay I decide to forego lunch to save on time and this is what I did again. I just take knick-knacks as I go to have some fuel to burn. I arrived in Hagnaya port at about 12:30pm and I immediately went to the port terminal to see what’s new, what changed. But it was full as the passengers of my bus were almost all headed to Bantayan island, I found out.

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I decided to just enter the port proper and reserve my terminal roaming at the end of my Hagnaya tour. I was glad I was in a non-ISPS port. No questions, easy access. It is good that in non-ISPS ports there are no imaginary terrorists (will a terrorist be taking shots of ships openly? but then ganyan kagunggong ang mga opisyal at guards sa ISPS ports).

The new bruited-about LCT of AMTC was there and her name is Super Shuttle Ferry 26. She was big and wide and built in South Korea. The only problem is she was not sailing because of a transmission problem. There were so many passengers in the port and I found out the reason was of the three AMTC ships in port were not sailing. The Coast Guard again declared a “gale” warning (now why do they declared a “gale” warning when there is no gale? why don’t they check the dictionary for the definition of a gale?).

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The suspension was for crafts below 250 gross tons and unfortunately the Super Shuttle Ferry 3 and the Super Shuttle Ferry 11 were both under that limit. And so all the passengers and car owners were waiting for the arrival of the Island Shipping LCT from Bantayan island. There was a cruiser ship of Island there, the Super Island Express II, their former Cebu-Tubigon ship (they have withdrawn from that route) but she was not sailing too. She is rumored to be for sale.

From inside the port I first went to the fishing vessels just north of Hagnaya port near where the buses park and wait. I was interested in the four steel-hulled fishing vessels that seemed to be derelict (but it seems they are still repairable). They were and it seems they did not survive well Typhoon “Yolanda”. From that location there was another view of Hagnaya port.

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I passed by but i decided to forego the Hagnaya meal place and burger stand as I did not want to lose time and I started walking the small road south of Hagnaya port. The first one I entered was what looked like a private port just near the Hagnaya boat. It had basnigs docked there plus a big motor banca, the Froilan B to an island near Negros already. It was the only boat to that island to Hagnaya and practically all the passengers were local. They said they are leaving anytime now. They were friendly.

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Froilan B on the right

From that private port there is a view of the ferries of AMTC especially Super Shuttle Ferry 11 which view was blocked by Super Shuttle Ferry 26. There was also a preview there of the fishing vessels docked south of Hagnaya port.

I walked south. I know I will find there the various private fishports and dockyards of Hagnaya. The first one I espied was just near and the one they were building looked familiar and so I went inside to ask. There was a “No Entry” sign but since I have something to ask that trumps that sign because it is impolite to howl from the outside.

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Yes, they build the Leonida fishing vessels that one will normally see in Polambato and Danao. They have that distinctive curving bridge in their vessels and actually their vessels are beautiful that I thought they were Japan surplus. Now I know why none of their vessels have IMO Numbers. Four vessels were being built there, two steel-hulled and two wooden-hulled. I thought they were not small if they can build four at the same time.

If the Leonida facility is small and all for vessel construction the next one I entered was big and it serves mainly as a fishport. This was where the Debbie Joy fishing vessels were docked (and there were a few there then). Got into an engaging talk there with someone of rank. They build their own vessels too. He said there were many shipwrights in Hagnaya and practically all are freelancers (that means not tied to a shipbuilding company). They are on call when needed and free. I understood it was a craft inherited from the generation past. Maybe that I why I saw welders only about 20 in age who already seemed to know their craft. Their gear does not indicate they are TESDA grads.

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Fish was being handled in that facility when I was there plus there were refitting works. What I noticed is the Navy patrol boat was also docked there. It seems the fishport waters was calmer and that is why they were there (is there free fish too?). Their crew kept looking into my gear. It was practically a staredown. I took a lot of shots past them for I can see in the distance a lot more of fishing vessels docked and what looked like fish landing areas too. I will not be surprised if there are refitting places there also or dockyards. It was then that I realized that the Hagnaya fishing industry is bigger than I initially supposed. What they have there I did not see in Daanbantayan or Bogo. Not even in Carmen, Cebu. Or in a lot of other ports, too.

Even in my 20’s I have already heard of Hagnaya in Bicol. Now I am beginning to understand. Hagnaya is not just a port. It is also a shipbuilding area. I won’t wonder now why the past database of MARINA showed a lot of routes from Hagnaya including to Masbate. It seems the yards were a show or a remnant of a great Hagnaya past. It just wonder why it is not the town.

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Fishing vessels south of Debbie Joy

The road got smaller and I decided I didn’t have the strength and the time to visit all those fish landing areas and dockyards. I thought that in the future there should be a shipspotting tour to discover that. I then walked back to the port and along the way I entered some lots which had an access to views of the fishing boats of Hagnaya.

From Hagnaya I intended to take a jeep or bus to Tabuelan port direct through the coastal road. I asked around. They said there’s none and I was puzzled. They offered a taxi for P400. I said that is too big for me although it looked like a fair price (later, James said there is a jeep but it emanates from San Remigio town). I calculated that if I go by the main road junction to Tabuelan it might already be 3pm or so when I reach Tabuelan port. I then decided to forego Tabuelan reasoning other members were capable of covering Tabuelan. Besides when I go shipspotting I am always mindful of my chances to take bus pictures to. All chances of that are ruined when darkness starts to set in.

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While mulling all these, the LCT Island II of Island Shipping arrived. I rushed back inside the port to take shots. Since I already decided to forego Tabuelan I tried to max my Hagnaya shipspot. It turned out to be a minor mistake. I did not know that at a certain hour all the bus departures in Hagnaya for Cebu are already tied to ship arrivals from Bantayan unlike when it was early afternoon. And since AMTC has no trips then the buses were all just waiting for Island Shipping arrivals.

I made a last roam of the inside of Hagnaya terminal. I concentrated on the Island Shipping ticketing office. I was attracted to their Hagnaya to Cawayan LCT (the LCT Island Venture) which I did not know before. Its fares were very cheap compared to the Bogo to Cataingan ship of Montenegro Lines when their distance difference is not great. Besides all fare are promo. If I use my senior citizen card I will just be paying P176. Now the comparative MSLI fare and discount would be about double or more of that.

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It seems passengers to Masbate have not yet discovered this cheap alternative. If it has a negative it is the 6am departure time. That means one has to leave Cebu North Bus Terminal no later than 2am.

When I got out of the terminal there was no more bus leaving and the next will be an hour later at 3pm. I then decided on an Island Express bus as I haven’t ridden that bus yet (it is a new bus service). I arrived in Cebu about 6:30pm in a light rain. I disembarked near Robinson’s Galleria and walked towards the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines office to get my ticket.

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I was in for a disappointment. Their Tagbilaran to Cagayan de Oro ships are no longer three times a week at MWF. It just leaves now on Mondays. There went my chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports and get shots of Bohol buses. I then just asked for a Cebu to Cagayan de Oro passage aboard the Trans-Asia 9 (I was not able to board it because it was cancelled due to a “technical problem”).

In the ticketing office me and an imam tried to help a family going to Bukidnon to attend a burial. Passage was nil then because it was the day after the Sinulog Festival. Our advice fell into zero but I learned how the company handles situations such as this. They have a way and I was able to learn it. They guaranteed the family will be able to board the ship although it is supposedly completely full.

I then went home feeling tired from a trip that lasted nearly 15 hours. I realized tackling Maya from Cebu isn’t easy with its distance.

My Trip From Bicol to Cebu Via Masbate (Part 1)

When I go from Bicol to Cebu I usually pass through Masbate. Going via Eastern Visayas is farther, longer and costs more. The route via Masbate also affords me the chance to cover a southern port of Bicol and the nascent port of Masbate. However, whatever route I take I usually end up tired and lacking sleep. The reason is I start my trip on a midnight and this is dictated by the the hours that the bus pass by Naga on the way to Pio Duran or Pilar, the jump-off points to Masbate. Well, even if I take the Eastern Visayas route still the buses pass Naga at night and at midnight I will be there awake in Matnog port. I don’t sleep well on buses and that is more so when there are frequent stops and shuffling of people and baggages.

On this particular trip, I had no firm decision whether to take the Pio Duran or Pilar route to Masbate. It was peak season, the buses were full, the weather was not very cooperative and so I decided I will just ride the first bus that will stop for me. Luckily,I was rewarded with a 4-day old bus, a brand-new unit recently fielded. It was SRO but I didn’t mind because as just a Pilar bus I know there will be passengers that will be going down in the next town or two and I was not mistaken. My bet to stay at the front paid off again and I was rewarded with a front seat (thanks again to the lady who pulled my arm so I can have her seat). I had opportunities to use my cam for bus pics although it was limited because it was night and dark. Besides the rain started again when the bus started rolling.

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Pilar Bus Terminal and my ride

This was the trip that fully exposed me to the damage of Typhoon “Nina” to the electrical lines (I had been exposed before to the physical damage when I made my shipspotting trip to Legazpi and Tabaco). All the towns we passed had no lights and the first one I noticed that had widespread lights was already the known junction in Kimantong, Daraga, Albay. But after passing that part of the poblacion of Daraga it was all dark again (and there was not even a moonlight) until we were already on the descent nearing the port town of Pilar (and Pilar is already some 130 kilometers from where I came from). After such a long drive the lights of Pilar felt welcome as we were no longer peering in the dark. And being just past the Yuletide season, the Christmas lights and decors were still on the streets and homes and those added to the welcoming feeling.

We stopped at the bus terminal of Pilar and I made small talk to the bus crew. This small talk enables me to update on some things I should need to know with regards to trips. The terminal is walking distance from the port of Pilar and we entered through a portion of the market that was converted as a port terminal. The ticket sellers (and the painitans) were there as well as their agents and runners. They were selling us the competing advantages of Denica Lines and Montenegro Lines (the RORO because just past midnight there were no fastcrafts yet). Showing my veteran side I passed by the terminal without deciding yet. I just asked what their fares and skeds were. The ferries are not yet leaving so I have time to get more info, assess the options and make the better decision. And who knows if a motor banca makes a very good offer?

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Motor banca to Mandaon

The row of motor bancas that were leaving comes before the ROROs. Uhm, there were more offerings now. Aside from the usual motor bancas to Masbate and Aroroy there was now a motor banca to Mandaon which on the southwest of Masbate island facing Romblon (and is a gateway to Sibuyan island by motor banca). And those were pre-dawn departures as in 3am to 4am. That was new to me. So they allow it now. In amihan? The waters of Ticao Pass, the Burias Gap and the Masbate Pass are not exactly known for gentleness. Cross-swells that need to be read well, you bet.

Made small talk with the motor banca people. Well, not only they know more of their trade but also to cross-check the info about the ROROs. They are better sources of info, not that partial and without the rah-rah. I noticed something that was not there before. They are quieter now. The quietness of the beaten? It seem i can’t see anymore the elan I used to see in them before. Was it all just a mirage before or they were simply sleepy? There seems to be attitude of “Thanks, there are still passengers”. Maybe they are not used to the likes of me. Maybe they are just used to the passengers they know that are “theirs”. Or probably they thought I will not ride their craft anyway? Well, I was not inclined to ride them on that situation because their engines are simply too noisy for sleeping.

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Motor banca to Aroroy

I was mulling on an Aroroy motor banca. But thinking ahead, I realized I might not reach Masbate port before the first ROROs leave (and the fastcraft and the motor bancas leave even earlier) so I decided in favor of Denica Lines. It was supposed to leave earlier at 3am compared to the 4am of the Montenegro RORO and an earlier arrival in Masbate is better. But the decisive thing was while I already knew the Maria Angela of Montenegro Lines, I have not yet ridden the Marina Empress of Denica Lines. A 3am departure is perfect as the arrival in Masbate is before breakfast, a good time to catch the early birds. I did not know yet then that the Marina Empress had other advantages compared to the Montenegro RORO.

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Marina Empress

To relieve myself of my baggage which was a burden to me, I boarded the Marina Empress after buying my ticket. I then made a tour of the small ship (I thought that in Masbate I might not have the chance anymore if I am pulled by other immediate attractions like ship departures and arrivals there). I noticed that the crew were still all asleep and no one was really minding the ship. I thought that was a show of small port behavior. They know their clientele and there is really no threat to the ship (contrary to the over-active imagination of the believers in ISPS or International System of Port Security).

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Pilar port

I went down and made my first round of the port and the vessels docked there. It was a little difficult to survey the port as it was dark from end to end. Pilar is a substandard port as there is really no overhead port lighting like what is usual in other ports. I thought Pilar still has the characteristic of a municipal port. I realized it was actually a little dangerous to shipspot. One to watch his steps.

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Hammity and Denica fastcraft

With the dark enveloping the port, it was hard to gauge the lay-out of the port and the vessels docked there. But aside from the two ROROs which are prominent because of the height and size and the many motor bancas (which is difficult to count in the dark), there were two fastcrafts on an unlit portion of the port beyond and ahead of the cargo motor boat Hammity of Denica Lines (that was the first time I saw this boat which I first became familiar with in the MARINA database). Hammity was being used as an “LPG carrier”.

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I rounded the Hammity to get a better gauge of where the fastcrafts were tied up and where is the possible vantage point. It was difficult as it was unlighted and Pilar port had changes since the last time as was there (it was finally refurbished by the government but I was not impressed; it deserved something better given its traffic – now why does ‘ports to nowhere’ deserve more funds here in our country?). It seems the main change was only the addition of RORO ramps.

I realized that the best vantage point for the fastcrafts is the motor banca leaving for Aroroy. I made my way to its outboard gangplank. They did not mind. It is really the humble local crafts that are the most hospitable. But the problem was there was some distance. My flash can’t cover the whole lengths of the fastcrafts which are now perpendicular to me. Their lengths are probably over 20 meters.

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The two fastcrafts are already old and probably was bought as junk given the state I saw it. But of course Japan junk when refurbished here looks good again. I asked around. They have no names yet and no work has been done yet. The loan from the bank is taking time? Well, our commercial banking system is known for not being appreciative of the shipping sector. They would rather fund chattel mortgages of new cars. Well maybe because that has greater “value” (is “value” like beauty that it depends on the eye of the beholder?).

It was also difficult to photograph the motor bancas. They are tied perpendicular to the wharf and so my flash can’t reach the sterns of the bancas. I thought had this been daytime I would have had a field day. Well, I can’t even have a good shot of the motor banca and small fastcraft docked parallel to and near the Marina Empress. Worse, I can’t even make out their names. That will show how dark it was (I realized what I actually needed was a good flashlight).

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Maria Angela

I boarded Maria Angela. Since she was filling up with passengers and rolling cargo, it was easy to get onboard. I look like one their passengers. The ferry was well lit unlike the Marina Empress. I thought maybe Dynamic Power of Mandaue made a sale of an auxiliary engine to them, seriously. I then went next to the fastcraft jetty of Montenegro Lines which I tried to use as a vantage point. It was still deficient – it was really too dark. I did not go anymore to the bigger fastcraft tied up in the jetty. I reasoned I will catch her in Masbate anyway in better light too.

Made more roamings of the port and port terminal to catch stories, size up things. When I noticed it was just less than an hour to departure time and there was no activity yet in the ferry I then went inside. The crew was still fast asleep including the Chief Mate. The Chief Mate is usually the one in charge of loading in the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. And horrors! The Maria Angela is undocking already and leaving before its ETD. Its vehicle deck was not even full.

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The small Montenegro fastcraft

I went down to their ticketing office to register a note. I was worried about a late departure especially if they try to take advantage of the absence of a Montenegro RORO. They said not to worry as loading is easy and fast as only three trucks are to be loaded and no bus. They said the Marina Empress normally doesn’t load a bus. They note it is an advantage to us because the accommodations do not get full. I understood it also that if true it will mean less noise, less people moving around.

In this talk with them, I also learned that their other RORO, the Odyssey left before 9pm and it was its usual schedule. That was new. Pilar has no night RORO to Masbate before. Maybe the competition with Pio Duran port which is on a parallel route to the Pilar-Masbate route is working wonders for options. The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) knows parallel routes compete but a PhD holder in La Salle that did a thesis in shipping does not know that.

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Loading operation

About 20 minutes from departure time, the crew awakened and began loading the three trucks nonchalantly and right after that our vessel undocked. We were almost on time. And the ticketing office was right. There were just a few passengers since we have no bus on board. The former Tourist section where I was in was still half-lit. With the good seats that was more fit for sleeping than the usual Economy seat, we few passengers all had good benches for sleeping and in semi-darkness too. I opened the door near my head and there was freeze breeze and soon I was fast asleep.

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Nice to sleep in

It was the first ever that I had a good sleep on a ferry to Masbate that I woke a little late. I usually wake up when I feel a little commotion and when I opened my eyes it was already light. My thought that we were already in Masbate was correct. We already passed by the Masbate lighthouse and we were already inside Masbate Bay and the ship was already entering final docking maneuvers. It was not too late really but it was better had I woken up 15 minutes earlier. Now everything is already rush.

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Nearing Masbate Port

I tried to take as many photos of the ships and the port of Masbate before we docked. But as I said I was a little late and soon I have to disembark too. I cannot stay long because I have no ticket yet for Cebu and I have a worry because the entering week was Sinulog Festival week in Cebu and I fear a delegation or two might already have tickets aside from the Masbate tourists going to the festival.

(To be continued…)