‘Bike to Bicol’ (The Sequel) by Ramil P. Martinez
The first four parts that featured the ride from San Jose, Antique on Dec.19, 2008 and ended at Virac, Catanduanes on Dec. 22, 2008, written in Kinaray-a and titled ‘Sikad pa-Bicol,’ won the grand prize in the 2012 PADYA KINARAY-A (Kinaray-a Literary Prize) sponsored by Balay Sugidanun.
Ramil P. Martinez, resident of Madrangca, San Jose, Antique earned his BA Political Science from St. Anthony’s College, San Jose, Antique, and works at the Regional Trial Court of Antique. He is an active member of The Antique Outdoors (TAO) and Antique Mountain Bikers Asso. (AMBA). He is married to Ruth, a Bicolana. Their son is named Araw, their daughter Tala Isla.
Jan. 4, 2009 – Tabaco, Albay to Calapan, Mindoro
Ever since I owned a bike in 1997, the world became my oyster. I once circled Panay Island together with four friends. There were times I went to parties or report to office and visited families and friends on bike. I had taken pride in this practice to the point that on one occasion, as a court sheriff, I served a summon to a respondent on bicycle. The respondent was wary of me as I was in my cycling jersey. The next day, he verified the summon at the office. I could had been administratively held liable for not observing dress code. Even so, I would have not regret it. Cycling had been one of life’s best freedoms, and I would always celebrate every chance I could have it.
My ride to Bicol to close the year 2008 carried a momentum that made me restless at the start of the year. On the map, the roads in Samar and Leyte beckoned. I had not biked on these places, much less set foot. I was consumed with anticipation.
The year however did not start right. Rain soaked fireworks during New Year’s celebration. While I waited for the weather in Virac to clear up, Tropical Depression Auring bid its sweet time off Samar until the 3rd day. I was only able to sail to Tabaco City on Jan. 4. News had it that heavy rains caused landslides in Sorsogon and Samar.
Erring on the side of caution, I decided to go northward instead via Camarines-Quezon-Batangas, and with a grudge, I rode on a bus. Batangas lay more than 400 kilometers away. I needed to report to office in three days and, delayed by storm, I no longer had the luxury of time.
Things happen for a reason, a cliché goes. I must be fated to go the other way. I consoled myself on this musing and hoped for good fortune on the road ahead.
I sat next to a guy who told me a friend went to bike all the way to Manila earlier that day. It would be two days to Manila. This added to my disappointment. More than that, I felt damn envious. A bout of whim urged me to alight the bus and go on biking in bad weather. For all I care!
As luck would have it, after a long climb in Quezon Province, our bus stopped. Engine trouble. If there was one soul who did not care about that, that was me. It must only be me: selfish, whose only concern during that time was to ride a bike. Well, they say that when you really want something bad, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true. And so there I was, a living testament to it. I took my mountain bike from the bus compartment. The bus driver told me that Batangas was right ahead of the road without specifying how far, perhaps only glad to get rid of one potential complainant. The conductor reimbursed me for the remaining distance. Then I signaled to the guy whom I talked with earlier. He signaled back. I took that as a sign of approval.
Hands on the handlebar, the road to Batangas harbored, or anywhere else for that matter, became mine for the taking. Life’s cycling, cycling is life! There went my mantra.
The afternoon sun shone in Quezon. I had around three hours of daylight on the road, but not much for more than one hundred kilometers to Batangas Port. When I arrived at Lucena City, a middle-aged cyclist rode along with me. When he knew my itinerary, he advised me to drop by Rosario Town where I could stay for the night with a cyclist’s place whose name I forgot. He chaperoned me for around 30 minutes until Sariaya Town where we bid farewells like familiar friends. Cyclists belonged to one big tribe.
The streetlights, not sunlight, lit up the roads when I reached San Juan, Batangas. To the west lay the seaport almost 40 kilometers away. After a quick meal in a carenderia, I took the bus.
A RORO (rool-on/roll off) hub, the Batangas pier stayed busy even beyond 8 pm. I boarded a ferryboat bound for Mindoro, which left at 9pm. Way past 11pm the boat arrived and docked at Calapan, Mindoro pier.
Unlike Batangas’s, Calapan pier appeared calm. Most activity came from passengers and buses lazily queuing toward exit. Some travelers sat or lay down on waiting benches. It was nearly midnight and I longed for rest and comfort. I hurried my way to look for an inn in the city proper 1 km away.
Despite being a city, Calapan’s center at midnight was shadowy and silent. Along mostly unlit street, I looked for signboards for inns but found none. Drizzle started to fall. I finally found one. I called on if someone was attending. The answer came as splatters on the roof; the drizzle turned heavier, the inn closed.
The next block was also quiet. No karaoke bars even. The only sound I heard was the splash of puddles as I cruised by. Houses were lifeless, from where weak lights passed through glass windows. They were like eyes.
As I moved along alleys, rainwater poured down. I got wet and my spirit, drop by drop, weakened. I was a little boy again, scared and alone in the dark. For a man supposedly at the peak of his vigor, this insight visited: an epiphany.
I finally found an open house at the corner. I asked an attendant for a room. He jested if I wanted a companion. It turned out to be a short-time motel. So this was my fate? My rides were sacred to me! Before I solicited the heavens for answer, I comforted myself that at least I found a shelter.
Jan. 5, 2009 – Calapan to Roxas Port, Mindoro
I woke up before my cellphone buzzed off at 5am. I switched on the light and my bike appeared, leaning on the opposite wall. Its presence was an attraction: the angles of the frame, the roundness of the wheels, the luster of components. A sexy form, with a functionality that exalted technological triumph. A confession: my bike inspired audacity. In this venture, spirit alone would fail to carry all faith.
The road from Calapan to Roxas Port stretched out for around 125 kms. After a breakfast in a carinderia around 6am, the man and his machine were ready to hit the road once again.
The Mindoro highway exemplified sluggishness. Less motorists meant less noise. The humming of bike tires, and not engine roars, raised the blissfulness of my ride. A countrified view sprang: cloud covered mountain peaks from afar, rice paddies here and there, a tiangge every after a few houses or so, and coconuts everywhere.
Around noontime, I caught up with two mountain bikers negotiating an uphill road. At a glance, one would mistake them as vendors. On one of the bikes, a large red air hand-pump was tied to top tube of steel frame. Their wheels wobbled a bit. The squeaking from each pedal stroke sounded like a begging for rest. The brakes of their bikes were made of sliced old tire attached to the frame near the wheels (resembling mudguards) so that the rider needed to press them on with his foot against the tire to stop the bike. Good heavens, I only saw those kind of brakes in trisikads!
We exchanged pleasantries. The older one was Iladio and the other was his kid(whose name I forgot). He said they came from Calapan that morning and bound for Roxas Port too. Upon hearing that, questions rushed in my head. So they were in a tour too? Where are they headed? How many days had they been traveling? Did they travel with the same boat with me last night? Where did they sleep last night? The air of superiority that was lording over me a few moments ago started to thin out.
I told them that I was going home to Panay and I came from Bicol to my family for a vacation. Iladio must had been impressed as he turned his head toward me. Really? He said. He disclosed that they came from Manila and they were going home to Romblon. With that bike? I wanted to interject but chose not. We also rode to Antipolo, he continued. He said that in a manner a child would tell his peer that he got more candies than him. (That was, at least, my impression as I also dreamed of riding in Antipolo). I asked him if it was only for a tour. No, we went to Manila to look for my wife who left us seven years ago from Romblon, he answered. I turned my head toward him and waited for him to tell me the result of his quest. He did not give me that satisfaction since he continued instead with a recount that their son was only three years of age then. The squeaking from his bike hid any regret that might be detected from his voice.
I was absorbed in Iladio’s story that I almost failed to notice two cyclists riding in bag-laden bikes coming from opposite direction. The duo in their late fifties, a male and a female, were Caucasians. We waived hands and flashed smiles.
You may go ahead Sir, you might not catch the boat, Iladio began addressing me ‘Sir’ when he knew I work with the court. He was apologetic that they were riding so slow. Of course I did not have the intention to go ahead, not without him finishing his story.
When we reached the town of Gloria, I offered them lunch at a carinderia. I took out my equipment from my back pocket and put them on the table – a handy airpump, a multi-tool set, a cyclo-computer, and patch kit. The boy wasted no time to get hold of airpump and ogled at it intently. We will buy one in the future, son, his father told him. He turned to me and declared that his son was a strong rider and won races at his age category in Romblon. It was the voice of a proud and hopeful father.
While we ate our lunch, he continued his story:
I am a fisher, sir, moonlighting as a trisikad driver when the sea is too rough for fishing. I met my wife when she visited her relatives in Romblon. We did not marry but lived as husband and wife. Life on the island was not easy, especially when she gave birth to our son. She wanted us to transfer to Batangas, to her family. I told her to endure with us here, life would become better. He nagged me about it. I promised that we would transfer in due time but it did not happen. I kept on postponing it. One day she left us saying that she would take a vacation to her family in Batangas. She promised to return, sir. Months turned to years but she did not make good of her promise. Our boy was too young to remember. He is 10 now. I sent letters to her for several times but they remained unanswered. I did not had a cellphone. I do not have one even now.
The boy seemed unmindful of his father’s story. At times he paused from eating to toy with my things – he worked on my airpump and a jet of air spurted out. He flashed a guilty smile.
I could not afford the boat ticket either. I saved money, but it was not enough. I needed to feed our son. I asked for help from our town Mayor. It’s good that he bought us boat tickets. Roundtrip for both of us.
Wrinkles lined Iladio’s face. His was a sun-burnt skin and his arms showed off veins. He stood around 5 feet tall, burly. He looked in his fifties but I would bet my airpump that he was only in his forties. Life in Romblon might really be harsh.
We took the boat that plied directly from Romblon to Batangas. If we happen to be here in Mindoro, it is because I wanted to bring my son here. He wanted to bike here. Me too. It is part of his training too. Someday I bet he would really be a strong biker and win races. Romblon is only a small island, with short roads, you know. We always wanted to ride on larger places, longer roads. That’s why we went on riding to Manila and Antipolo and visited our relatives. We slept in their houses. They gave us some money. Last night? We slept on the waiting benches in Calapan port, sir.
I was not sure if I had raised an eyebrow but I sure fluffed my rice with menudo sauce. It turned orange-yellow.
Once in Batangas, I asked for directions. Some folks in the neighborhood brought us where she lived. She was not there, only a man and a small child. He said that she was away for her work and not be home until late in the afternoon. I thought that she was hiding from me really. We left. We did not wait for her anymore. He was now living with another man, sir.
I thought he choked on his food when he said the last sentence. He took a mouthful of soft drink and squirmed. For a toast, I sipped my coffee for the first time, now almost cold.
Three hours later I was again sipping coffee, now alone at the 2nd floor of passenger lounge of Roxas seaport. Earlier, I bid farewell to Iladio and his son after lunch. On Iladio’s reiteration I went ahead of them. Their boat to Romblon would not leave until the next day, and father and son would like to take their time on the road. I gave them my cellphone number on a paper telling them I might visit their place someday.
I took my second cup and quizzed myself: what if there had been no weather disturbance two days ago, or persisted to go via Samar despite of it? Or spent a night over Rosario town as suggested by a fellow cyclist? Or Iladio and his son left Romblon or Manila on a different day? We couldn’t have crossed paths at all! Ah, fate, chance, will. Whatever it was, the next day I would conclude my tour having earned humility instead of bragging rights.
Tablas Straight glistened in the late afternoon sun. On the western horizon the island of Tablas stretched on, covering Romblon. On the southwest the hazy mountain peaks of Panay jutted out. As I put my things on the table I wondered if we ever meet again. I ogled on the air pump and a surge of regret ran over me for not leaving it to the boy.
At twilight the sky turned to the color of menudo sauce. The arching horizon slowly faded. Why it always evoked sentiments, I wondered. Then the ship coming from Caticlan slowly came out. Tomorrow I’d be home with tale of fortitude and high hopes, which were not mine but that of Iladio and his son on decrepit bikes, sitting high on my shrine of remembrance.