Frantic Ferry – The Trip to Samar
I had checked out the ferry terminal when I first arrived in Matnog, and I learned that there were at least three different ferry companies operating. They all charged the same for the trip – 120 pesos – and a ferry left every 35 minutes. On that day, the ferry terminal was practically empty, and there were no line-ups at the ticket windows. I hoped for the same situation that morning, but it was not to be. I arrived at the terminal to find large crowds of people at every window. And, not surprisingly, there was practically zero room in front of each window. There was just a narrow sidewalk with a fence on the other side. As such, there was no place for the lineups to go, and the people there had descended into an impenatrable and crazy crowd. I had no choice but to park my bicycle near the front doors and then leave it there to attempt to get near the ticket windows.
There were no departure schedules on display anywhere, so I had no choice but to ask the busy women selling tickets when their ferries left. I didn’t want to buy a ticket for a ferry that was leaving in ten or even twenty minutes. That would not have left me enough time to store my bicycle safely on the ferry. In fact, I doubted that I would have even been able to get my bicycle on. The buses and trucks would have been loaded up by that time, leaving no room for my bicycle. Nor did I want a ticket for a ferry that was leaving in five hours or six hours. So, I had no choice but to ask about departure times. This surprised the women greatly, though I couldn’t see why it should have. It surprised the people around me as well and they all surged forward and crowded around me to clamor at the woman to buy their tickets. I was holding up the line with my stupid Western concerns about what time something was scheduled to happen.
The woman at the first ticket window told me that her ferry – a Penafranca – was going to depart in two or three hours. I asked if there was a ferry leaving earlier than that, and she indicated the next ticket window over. This window was for Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. The woman there said that their ferry would be leaving in about an hour to an hour and half. That seemed about right to me, and I bought a ticket.
I wasn’t finished, though, and I now had to pay my terminal fee. There was only one window for this and just one poor woman there collecting the fee from all the passengers for all the ferries. This window was in the same narrow area and any attempt at forming a lineup there had long been given up. It was a free-for-all. I had to admire the composure of the woman at the ticket window. She was fast and efficient and seemed to do the complicated math in her head. I say “complicated”, because the terminal fee was not a round number in pesos. It was eleven pesos and twenty centavos. It’s rare that you saw any prices in centavos. They simply weren’t used very much outside of items in large supermarkets. And even in those supermarkets, the centavos were always given in denominations of 25 centavos since one only ever saw 25-centavo coins. It would have been impossible for anyone to come up with 20 centavos exactly to pay the terminal fee. I wasn’t sure how the woman dealt with that. She must have simply ignored it and charged 11 pesos or rounded up. Plus, many people were paying the terminal fee for large groups of people and the woman had to do the math in her head for the number of people in each group. I would have been sweating and jittery and ready to lose it, but she just worked her way through the forest of hands waving money at her and ignoring faces altogether. Her world consisted of hands holding money and voices shouting numbers of people and nothing more.
My hand was eventually noticed and my voice heard, and I paid my terminal fee and got my receipt. By that point, I was drenched in sweat, and it was running down my arms in rivulets and soaking the paper tickets I held in my hands. I fought my way through the crowd and found my bicycle still at the entrance and unmolested. Only one of the double doors into the ferry was open, and I asked the women there if they could open both of them. Otherwise, my bicycle wouldn’t be able to fit through them. I anticipated a lot of trouble with this as well as a great deal of trouble with going through security and then the waiting area. Through the glass, I could see that it was very crowded and it was going to be a nightmare to get my bicycle through it. Lady luck smiled on me at this point, and rather than open the double doors for me (no one knew how to open them), I was told to take my bicycle somewhere else. The woman flicked her finger in a direction and said I had to go there. I told her that I didn’t know what this – and I flicked my finger in the same way – meant. I needed a bit more information than that. She flicked her finger a few more times in the same direction. I looked that way and saw a whole bunch of different doors. I had no idea which set of doors she meant. All I could do was smile apologetically at her and tell her that I still had no idea what it was that she wanted me to do. Then another woman was tasked with showing me. This was a very lucky thing, because rather than take me through a different set of doors, she brought me all the way to the end of the ferry terminal buidling and then around it along the outside. She brought me to the back of the ferry building and then indicated that I could just ride my bike to the ferry. I didn’t have to go into the crowded building at all, and I didn’t have to wait. I doubted that this could be true, but I took her at her word and simply rode my bike down the dock to the set of waiting ferries.
The Penafranca boat was a very large one and waiting on the right. The Montenegro boat was much smaller and was waiting on the left. Just to be sure, I stopped a man who looked vaguely official and I showed him my ticket. He pointed at the boat on the left. I’ll kill the suspense right now and say that the Montenegro boat did not leave before the Penafranca boat as I had been told. The Penafrance boat pulled smoothly away from the dock and disappeared long before the Montenegro boat had even begun loading the buses. My information had, again, been completely wrong. I wondered, as I often did, why I even bothered to ask questions about anything.
I rolled my bike up the ramp into the ferry, carefully navigating over the coils of large rope placed there to make it easier for trucks and buses. Passengers were already boarding and some men in uniform were collecting tickets at the bottom of a set of metal stairs leading to the upper decks. I went up to them to ask about stowing my bicycle. It had been a big production on the Penafranco boat, and I assumed it would be the same here. These men dismisssd me with a vague wave of their arms to the back of the ferry. I tried to ask for more specifics but they paid no attention to me and continued to take tickets. With no choice, I rolled my bike along the ferry cargo hold looking for a good place to park. I encountered a couple more ship employees and they, too, told me to just park my bike somewhere at the back against the wall. One man pointed directly at the wall on the lefthand side near the front. I went there and found a convenient metal ring welded to the metal wall. I leaned my bike there and went through the laborious process of securing it to the ring with rope and bungee cords and my lock. I also got out the raincovers and put them over the pannier bags. I wasn’t getting a good feeling about this ferry and I figured the more precautions I took, the better. While I worked, two young boys suddenly appeared beside me and started asking for money. “Twenty pesos” they said over and over again while holding out their hands.
At the time, I was busy opening zippered compartments and checking the contents and looking for ropes and locks and various things. I wasn’t comfortable with these two boys standing there watching me and getting a look at all the goodies inside my pannier bags. My instinct is to be a “nice guy” all the time. I’m always trying to be polite and follow the rules and do what I’m told, but that can get you in trouble I was learning. Sometimes you have to fight for your rights and stand up for yourself even at the risk of being a bit brusque. These boys crowded closer to me and started looking inside the bags and they kept asking for money and holding out their hands. I finally turned to them and told them quite aggressively to “Go away!” They looked at me with a puzzled expression on their faces and I waved my hands at them and roughly told them again to “Go away!” They got the message this time and left. I felt bad that I had been harsh with them. I didn’t want to be the guy to give them a bad impression of foreigners, but I felt the need to protect my space and my belongings.
I finished locking up my bike and securing it in place as best I could. Then I walked over to where the men were taking tickets. I didn’t feel that comfortable about my bike just sitting there out in the open. On the other ferry, my bike had at least been inside a side cargo area, hidden behind stacks of rice and other items, and the entire area was sealed with a thick canvas held in place by ropes. On this ferry, my bike was just sitting there right out in the open. And it seemed that young street boys had the run of the ship and could come and go as they pleased. (I saw later that they climbed aboard the ship on the big ropes that held the ship in place. No one worried about them and they were allowed to go anywhere they wanted. They’d jump into the ocean when the ferry left the dock and they’d swim to shore.)
When I got to the ticket takers, I tried to get their attention and show them where my bike was. I wanted to make sure that it was okay there. I also tried to tell them that some young boys were hanging around and I was worried that they would try to steal things from my luggage. The men completely ignored me, and I just gave up. I gave them my ticket and then I walked up the stairs. At the top of the first flight of stairs, I turned and saw that I had a good view of my bicycle from there. I decided to just wait there and keep an eye on my bike while the ferry continued loading. That meant I had to stand right out in the blazing sun the entire time, but I had a bad feeling about the whole situation and I wanted to stay close.