I was catching up on my favorite bloggers when I came upon Casey Alexander’s post entitled, “Favorite Meal, Part 2 of 2” (Look at the date of her post and you will see how far behind I am). I suggest you read it in full, it’s a lovely story about her childhood. What particularly struck me the most was this:
He asks about our week, apologizes again for working so late all the time. We don’t mind, not tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll play quietly inside or go to a friend’s house, so he can sleep.
It reminded me of an assignment I did for my feature writing class in university, circa 2011. While it is primarily a travel article, you will see how it is connected to Casey’s blog post in the end.
I believe that travelling isn’t all about the destination; it is also about the journey, and the people we journey with. Cliché, I know, but it’s true, and every time I travel I appreciate it more and more.
Because my parents are both Bicolanos and most of our relatives still live in that province, we always take time to visit them on an average of three times a year. My parents think it’s impractical for 5 people plus 1 dog to take a 50-minute flight and spending at least Php 10,000 (~200 USD). Instead, we travel by land, specifically on a trusty SUV suitable for driving off-road, going to high terrains. Even though this means my parents have to bear with three pseudo ADHD-afflicted “children” (I was 17 years old when this happened) from raising hell. Here are some sample scenarios:
- “Mom, the leather seats are too hot!”;
- “Mom, I can’t feel the cold coming from the air conditioner!”; or,
- “Oh my god, Kuya (“big brother” in Filipino) is going to puke, somebody pass him a plastic bag before he throws up on me!
Also, because we usually travel on days when all the other Filipinos are also going home to their respective provinces, my parents always plan to leave as early as midnight. In reality, though, we leave at four or five o’ clock in the morning.
However, last Christmas, though we left at the usual time, we had to go back simply because Mom forgot her false teeth (as embarrassed I am to actually share this with anyone, I’m honestly including this for the grade–and now, for page views). No, it wasn’t my mom who persuaded my dad to turn back and return home for her false teeth, it was actually my dad who insisted. “You don’t spend Php 50, 000 on false teeth that you’ll only forget to bring. Of course you have to show them off to your family,” my dad argued. Since he was behind the wheel, and the rest of us were too sleepy to object, we drove 30 minutes back home before driving one-and-a-half hours back to the South Luzon Expressway along with other Filipino families going south of the country. It was obvious we were already late: for several years we had had our breakfast in what I think is the only Jollibee branch in Gumaca, Quezon. This time, though, we had breakfast in one of the Jollibee stores along the expressway. Amidst the teasing that our relatives, who we consider veterans in road trips, will award our current travel as the one with the latest departure yet, I couldn’t help but think how long we are going to be on the road.
I believe that there are three clocks in this world:
- The biological clock, which tells our body if it’s time to sleep, wake up, or eat;
- The physical clock, which is the actual time we set in our watches, mobile phones, computers, etc.; and,
- The emotional clock, which doesn’t tell the actual time, only for how long whatever we’re going through is currently happening.
The third clock is usually dictated by how we feel, like, “The movie is finish already? It felt like we only sat down to the trailers showing a few minutes ago!” or, “This is only a one-and-a-half hour class, right? Why do I feel like I’ve been sitting here listening to the teacher for almost the entire day?” or, “Are we there yet? We’ve been inside this stupid SUV for hours. My butt hurts, I’m smelly, and my dog hasn’t taken a leak yet!” which is exactly what I said once I woke up from my post-breakfast sleep. I dozed off wishing that when I come to, we’ll be halfway to Camarines Sur already, but alas, when I looked out the window five hours later I saw a sign that says, “Pagbilao, Quezon.” We haven’t even gone past the town of Gumaca. Dad was already looking for a place to eat lunch at.
We came upon this restaurant/mini-zoo/resort called Palay Isdaan, which was still in Pagbilao. The place was very Filipino, with cottages (some floating on a huge pond, some placed beside caged animals) seating customers. There were also caged animals–two tigers, one wildcat, some snakes of different kinds, and monkeys–scattered all over the place. My youngest brother who walked around said there were crocodiles on the other side of the area, but I was too hungry to explore. We took a cottage right in front of a huge cage that was divided into three containers with one tiger each in the first two, and the wildcat in the other. Because the restaurant is an open space, I brought my dog, Vera, along with us to the cottage. But when she saw the large cats, her canine instincts kicked in and barked furiously at them.
It was quite horrifying to see a tiny 7-lb. ball of fluff that’s known for being cute and cuddly bark at animals that could probably sees her as a bite-size treat, but I can’t help but be amused at my dog’s ignorance. However, the amusement turned to annoyance when our food came and I realized I couldn’t eat properly without keeping her from barking and disturbing the other customers. In the end I ate half of my share and gave the other half to Vera just to keep her quiet. We immediately paid the bill after eating and left for the road again, but I slept long enough in the morning that I was much too awake by then. This was when I realized how long the rest of the trip will last since there will be no more long stopovers for us, except for restroom breaks and water and snack refills.
Sensing the doom and gloom of this remaining part of the trip, I tried to look outside the window to try appreciating the scenery, but there was nothing to appreciate. For several hours we either drove by untamed jungles in Bitukang Manok (trans. “Chicken intestine,” because of the curves along the road), which is also known as Quezon National Highway. We also passed by shacks that all look the same you would think you got cursed and have driven in circles. We also saw people walking under the sun, people fighting under the sun, children recklessly running across the road. There were also vehicles that got into accidents (which were usually close to “Accident Prone Area” road signs, very ironic), and poorly maintained buildings in their town centrals. I started to doubt my life-long belief that the Philippines is a beautiful country upon seeing these things, and came to an early conclusion that most Filipinos go on road trips across the country not because there are many things to see, but because it’s a cheaper way to travel. (Author’s note: I have forgotten about this “conclusion,” and I still think that the Philippines, my Philippines, is a beautiful country. Its gems are hidden, though, but they are worth finding.)
My dad’s voice snapped me out of my reverie. “So, what have you kids been up to?” he asked. At first, I found the question ridiculous. He’s our dad; he should be updated about whatever’s been keeping me and my brothers busy. Then I remembered that my dad’s job requires him to be often away from us, only letting him see us on some weekends and special occasions. I also remembered that the last time we had our family road trip was…I actually couldn’t remember.
As we started telling stories about our own adventures, I dismissed my earlier thought about road trips. The reason my parents insist on this mundane-looking activity is for us to catch up on each other’s lives. Even though we still live in one roof, we always stay in our own rooms and do our own stuff. Even though we all have mobile phones, we only text when we need something from our parents or when we want to be picked up somewhere. Being stuck together in one car for one whole day allows us to be a family again.
I’m looking forward to our next road trip. And when that happens, I’ll ask Dad to not hurry. There is so much I have to tell.