Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On the Road to Bogo

Think back to "The 10 Commandments" with Charleton Heston. The Israelites have worked through bondage and plagues and they've finally been set free. They prepare to go, gather, and begin the departure. That departure—masses of people heading out is what getting out of Cebu feels like to us as we drive north to our Sunday assignment in Bogo.

There are lots of interesting people, vehicle-animals as well as animals driven for food or merchandising. It’s teaming movement, ruckus, a constant din, occasional accidents or near misses; dust and grime. (Actually, MGM makes it look pretty clean.) Some travelers are impatient and push their way through the throng. Some wait their turn—patiently or in quiet joy or resignation. Fast or slow, the movement continues on and on. Progress is made—hopefully. The promised land inches closer.

Whoa! Am I talking about the Israelites or Kevin & Ann on the Mandaue Road? Hmmm. There are striking similarities as we inch our way out of town. To a small-city dweller, the inner clock is set at 20 minutes; the time it takes to escape heavy traffic congestion. Our inner clocks will probably adjust in about 13 months when it’s time to come home…

We inch along a 4-lane almosthighway instead of out over the open plain. Of course it’s paved, and at the moment in quite good condition. The painted lines are new and easily seen if anyone is interested in observing the boundaries they are meant to create. It’s flexible here though; the two lanes going either way may become 3 or 4 lanes as the traffic ebbs and flows.

Flow is a good word for Philippine traffic. Think of fish in an aquarium. They just swim without running into each other. Ironically, the only time the traffic snarls is when there is a barangay (that’s like a big neighborhood—our address is technically Cebu City, but Lahug is more informative) traffic enforcer. They look very official in full uniform, and blow their whistle like a professional musicians, but—what happens to the swimming fish when there is someone standing in the middle of the street waving their arms? It's always a mess.

The din is deafening, but muffled by our Toyota’s quality insulation, a small blessing. To have a car at all here is a blessing.

Animals? A double decker truck load of pigs, street-smart dogs trotting along just outside the run over zone; purposefully. Where do dogs go that makes them trot along so importantly? Tethered goats that munch nonchalantly, oblivious to the swirl of humanity around them. Cats and cocks are present also, but either caged (cocks) or cagey (cats).

If modern vehicles represented biblical travel creatures, the buses would definitely be elephants. Now don’t get all technical on me! I KNOW that elephants resided in a different corner of the woods than the Holy Land, but they fit the bill for my mind’s visual exploration. They, like buses, are the largest beast on the road, lumbering along assertively. They’re bigger than anyone is willing to oppose or contend with, moving remarkably fast considering how full they are. They snort and roar, weaving and swaying in and out of traffic like a Porche. If you’re a passenger you’re required to leave all your confidence with the driver when you board, along with your pesos. If you’re a transplant to this life, you pull over, let them pass, and vow to NEVER ride one because you want to live to return to your family and loved ones.

Next in the travel hierarchy are the jeepneys. Sassy and temperamental like camels, they are the overwhelming utility travel for most folks, and own the road unless a bus happens to be in the vicinity. They seem safer unless they’re overloaded with supplies or produce, which is much of the time.

Trikes. Hmmm. Donkeys? There are LOTS of them, especially lining the sides of the road in the little towns we pass through. Were there donkeys for hire in Jesus’ time? Trikes are a remarkable little beast of burden. For being a small motorcycle or bike with a side car, there could be as many as six people riding them, plus the driver.

We left most of the plain motorcycles back in town. They are an economical travel choice, holding from one to five riders. Their drivers are expert at weaving in and out of traffic. Imagine stopping at a light, leaving a respectful amount of space between you and the next car, and having it filled in with motorcycles that ride slowly up on either side, never putting down a foot for balance, and never taking out a mirror (that we’ve seen). This is the nature of the road in the city.

Finally the caravan cacophony thins as travelers go their own way, and we move more easily. Kevin drives on patiently or in quiet resignation. Or maybe it’s exhaustion. I’m exhausted because I’ve watched it all. We nearly got crunched back a ways. Our prayers for safety are always heartfelt, even as we plead for the same watchful care each time we head out.

An hour later we are out of Lahug, through Mandaue, Consolacion, Lilo-an and Danao.

We’ve reached the point in our travel of jungle forest on the left and ocean on the right. There are resorts all along the way, but not what you’re thinking. There are no fancy hotels, just day-use beach properties. Ocean front property can be owned on Cebu, which makes long beach walks almost impossible. Who ever heard of a fence or wall into the ocean?

And now through a winding canyon that will break into rolling hills of sugar cane. We’ve driven blissfully for a couple of miles without anyone in front or behind us. It’s blissful but not restful because of the children playing along the edges of the road. We MUST not run over anyone while we’re here. Or their dog or goat.

It’s a great relief to leave the city behind. I don’t know if I stirred your mind enough in my description. Do you feel tired? Are you tense between the shoulder blades? Think of an hour of Fairview Avenue at its worst, then add trikes and motorcycles to the traffic mix, dogs along the edge, and pedestrians walking out among the cars. There. NOW do you feel tired?

The relaxed undertone out in the provinces is almost tangible. Dusk has settled over the world (it is 6:00ish) and we are happy to pull into Bogo where we have a room reservation at the Park View Lodge. This is a modern hotel with eight rooms. We are the only guests tonight. Although the mattress makes “firm” seem soft, we sleep deeply in the quiet. Next time we come we will bring garbage bags to tape over the windows for a little more darkness, and egg crate foam for a more padded sleep. Nevertheless, the quiet is like a mind and body feast. We arrived in sound condition, and our $18 room is a bargain. Count your blessings--name them one by one.