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.

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Can Grief And Distress Be Read?

At the turn of the millennium, my parents were already getting old and with it came the inevitable sicknesses. I began visiting Bicol through the intermodal route from Davao. The reasons were varied. One, I found out that it cost only half compared to a trip via Manila. Second, I don’t have mall eyes and it is the countryside view that I enjoy. I even hate more the always-present clouds in a plane trip. Third, I don’t enjoy battling the hassles of Manila. Fourth, I want to learn new places and I am also a fan of buses. Lastly but not least, I am a ship spotter and I wanted to learn more about the ferries of the eastern seaboard.

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San Bernardino Strait from BALWHARTECO

The trips were exacting but I was younger and more eager then. I was not daunted that I don’t know the route well. By that time, I have began to give up on the Philtranco direct bus that I didn’t like. Honestly, as a Bicolano I was not a fan of the bus company as it has failed and abused Bicol for so long. Second, I do not want the long lost hours in the hot ports waiting for the ferries of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, their sister company when one is already tired (Philtranco is tied to the ferries of Archipelago). Sometimes, the bus waits for up to 5 hours for them. Third, in peak season it can be a battle for seats in Naga and then one had to wait for hours for the bus.

Since I was a lifelong traveler, I decided to experiment by using Manila buses to and from Leyte plus the Surigao ride I already knew. At times I ride some local buses, commuter vans and jeeps like those in Bicol, Samar and Leyte. What a fun it is to ride the ugly-looking Samar Bus Lines buses in the bumpy roads of Samar! Or the kamikaze buses to Sogod that freewheel the descents from Agas-agas. And riding the faster Tacloban van to Allen to catch the last St. Christopher bus in Allen, a rotten bus most of the time but they were the ones that specialized then on the “stragglers”, the passengers left by the last Manila bus from Tacloban.

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Those early trips that rely on connections were trials and errors. Early, I didn’t know the windows of the trips in each places (what hour is the first trip and what hour is the last trip). That was when I am forced to stay overnight in dark bus terminals like in Tacloban or even the plaza in Maasin or even wait alone in a waiting shed near midnight in Sogod junction with only mosquitoes for companions. Sometimes, having eateries open at night in a junction was already heaven like in Buray. If I know the schedules well now and the window hours of the trips is because I have learned from the mistakes of my trials and errors in the past.

In the process of all these, I grasped how lousy and how few were the ferry connections then across Surigao Strait. And I learned that in one mistake or one unfavorable bus or jeep connection might mean an 11-hour wait in Liloan port (once what made us miss the ship was a near-fistfight between our driver and another driver!). Or suffer long waits in Lipata port because the ferry was not running. And after all the hours of waiting then not being able to get a seat because the ferry was over its capacity. Lucky then if one will have an air vent for a seat as the stairs were just too dirty. Sometimes I vowed I will bring a carton or a newspaper so I can sit on the deck at the top of the ship.

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Lipata port

It was much better in San Bernardino Strait as there were more ferries there and not once I encounter a ferry that there that was overloaded. Even if it was, it will not be a problem since usually I don’t sit in a Matnog-Allen ferry at day. I just roam around the ship and see the outside view if there is light since the ferry there normally took only 1 hour and 10 minutes to cross. Just milling around is difficult in the Liloan-Lipata route because the ferries there took at least three-and-a-half hours to cross.

The trip going north for me was much better and less tiring because I know when the bus will be leaving the terminal and so I don’t waste time and effort needlessly. In Naga, it was much difficult since one can’t predict the exact arrival of the bus from Manila (and sometime they were delayed if it is rainy or there was some kind of road obstruction or traffic). When it rains it was much more difficult especially since flagging a Manila bus to Visayas was very hard since one can’t immediately read the signboard (it is not lighted). Moreover, Visayas buses were hesitant to stop for one or two solitary passengers which they think might just be destined a few towns away (and this has consequences).

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Well, Visayas buses are not so kind to passengers in Bicol because Bicol bus operators tell them not to take passengers bound for Bicol (when they legally can and anyway Bicol buses ply routes to the Visayas) and if they do they are stoned. There were stretches in Bicol where the driver/conductor will tell the passengers to deploy the shades (these are curtains actually) to avert injury should a stone hit the bus. That is the reason why riding a Visayan bus I don’t speak Bicol nor do I introduce myself as a Bicolano (I say I am a Tagalog which is also true and I will speak Tagalog with the accent of my parents).

One of the trips I remember well was a southbound trip where I started it too tired and very much lacking in sleep plus I was out of sorts. My brother gave me extra money for a plane trip but on the last minute I decided against it and I took the bus from Naga. My trip started at night as usual (because there are no buses from Manila passing Naga to the Visayas during the day). I can’t remember my bus now but we reached Matnog uneventfully sometime midnight and we reached Tacloban about midmorning.

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Matnog port

Usually, if I had a direct Naga-Tacloban bus I will get off in Tacloban and look for a connecting ride to Liloan. I usually do that since it is very hard to time a Liloan or Davao bus from Manila in Naga. I know that in Tacloban there will always be vans for Liloan but these were not many then. So, if there is a Sogod bus leaving immediately I might take a chance on it since van waiting times to fill can take two hours or more then. Or else take the more frequent Hinundayan van and get off at Himayangan junction and take a habal-habal to Liloan.

I reached Liloan in time for the new-fielded Super Shuttle Ferry 10 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which was then the best ship in the Liloan-Lipata route. Before boarding and in the bus trip maybe I was not looking too much at myself and I was just preoccupied in gazing the views and in trying to find sleep and peace.

2008 Super Shuttle Ferry 10 @ Lipata 1

Photo by: Gorio Belen

The crew of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 was welcoming unlike the crews of their competitors which nary had time for passengers and treats them like cattle. If one needs anything from them one still has to look for a crewman. Maybe since they are too used to then with overcrowded ferries they would just rather disappear and also to avoid complaints about the congestion and the dirtiness (one can’t see anyone of them take the mop to clean the muddy deck when it is rainy). Or to try to find a seat for passengers unable to find one. Or assist the elderly and pregnant.

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I was looking for a seat among the lounge seats of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 in the Tourist section where I can have the chance of a semi-lying position to sleep when a crewman approached me. “Sir, would you like to take a bath?” I was dumbfounded and astounded. Never in my hundreds of trips aboard ferries have I ever heard such a question. He offered a lounge seat and placed my knapsack there and said to the passengers around, “Let Sir have this seat so he can lie and sleep.” I was doubly astounded. And he nodded to the crewman in charge of checking the Tourist tickets at the door as if to say “reserve this seat for him, don’t let others take it”. And that angel of a crewman led me to a bath in the middle of the Tourist section and guarded it so there will be no intrusion. The bathroom was clean and so was the water. It was one of the most refreshing baths I ever had.

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Bath is in the middle of that structure in the middle of the passenger deck

The crewman led me back to the seat after my bath (I was actually a little numb and so I welcomed the assistance) and said to the effect that “please no one disturb him”. In an instant I was deeply asleep and only a gentle nudge woke me as we were docking in Lipata. I softly thanked the two crewmen and it was thanks from the bottom of my heart. Soon I was looking for a connecting bus to Davao.

Can grief and distress be read in a person? Maybe I was not aware of this before because growing up in a region where we have no relatives, we don’t attend burials. Actually, once when my wife was confined in a hospital I was froze when an employee burst into tears wailing, “Wala na si Sir”. I grew up not witnessing such things or taking care of patients in hospitals when they were already terminally sick.

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The TB of SSF10 on the right

Until now I can only thank from the bottom of my heart that crewman of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 who assisted me and showed me all kindness and assistance I needed then. The trip I was making then happened after the death of my mother.

Was he really able read me? Was there some angel whispering in his ears? Did a senior officer noticed me and gave instructions? I don’t know, I don’t have the answers.

Super Shuttle Ferry 10 was soon replaced in the Liloan-Lipata route and I never rode her again. But in one ship spotting session of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), we were able to board her in Mandaue Pier 8, the AMTC wharf. Yes, the lounge seat where I lain was still there. The only change was it was already re-upholstered.

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I had goose bumps looking at that seat and at the same time my heart was pounding. I tried to look at the faces of the crew. My angel was no longer there. But whatever, this article is my way of saying thanks to you again. From my heart, I wish you reach far in your career.