TAMBUCHO TALE #: 19
My friend Carol and I had just paid our de luxe bus tickets to Vigan in the Partas Bus Terminal in Cubao and we were in for that frustrating act of waiting. It was past 18:00 and, according to the woman in the Information booth, the passengers can hop in by 18:50 and the bus would leave by 19:00.
But my mind was somewhere else. If it were going to be a 10-hour trip, we would absolutely experience hunger along the way! The chips we brought would not be a sufficient replacement for good, hot dinner. I was aware there would be stopovers but I never achieved satisfactory eating experience out of those. I typically spend them for bladder breaks and, with the duration of the trip, I imagine to use it for serious stretching. I panicked at the thought.
Without saying a word to Carol, I stood up and craned my neck for any other food establishment aside from Burger Machine. I found something named ILOCANO'S CANTEEN. I nearly jumped in excitement, amazed at the timeliness of this discovery. What better way to prepare us for our trip but to try Manila-based Ilocano food? I came back, hesitated for a moment and asked her, "Gusto mong kumain? Mahaba ang byahe eh. Baka magutom tayo..." I was scared she would say she would starve herself to death or remind me of her plans to immortalize her curves in the photos with the Ilocos backdrop. To my relief, she agreed.
We exited the terminal through the entrance door. I can read, yes, but this was rather urgent. Carol might change her mind or something. Halfway crossing the street, I turned back and witnessed the inspection guy laughingly shake his head. Aren't we the same girls who entered the building from the exit door? I hate being dismissed as stupid. I'd prove him wrong when we come back!
Upon reaching the canteen, we exchanged the typical "Kaw,-kung-ano-gusto-mo-yun-na-rin-order-ko" dialogue. I surveyed the food and was disappointed not to see chicken pipian, pinakbet, poque poque and other Ilocano food. I went for sinigang na ulo; Carol asked for pusit. Being lovers of sinigang (pork sinigang in fact. But I've given up on pork. This was the first non-pork sinigang we shared ever), I deemed it appropriate to share mine. We were both impressed with the tasteful soup, moaning "Panalo!" in between sips. I tried her viand and was equally satisfied with its spiciness.
This brought us to recall our folks with Bicolano roots. My late grandfather was an excellent cook of laing. I used to wonder how he can endure making a candy out of sili. Carol's mother was also from Bicol. With the presence of the fish before us, we can imagine how would they consume it with bottomless eagerness until it becomes all bones.
Carol was done with her meal and caught sight of the de luxe bus. She wondered why the passengers were already seated inside. I dismissed it as exaggerated excitement, considering it would take us 10 hours to reach our destination. I would spend the last 15 minutes before boarding on my flat feet. I went on with my meal. But Carol displayed slight unease. I reminded her the bus leaves by 19:00. It was then only 18:20.
When we were finished, we had a predicament with the lady. We had nothing but P500 bills. Our meal was only around P100. She had no change. When we finally rummaged our pockets with P20 bills and coins, we retraced our steps to the terminal. The closer we got, the more the tension mounted and the more I realize the bus was indeed leaving!
I was still in denial the moment we reached the entrance. Carol took it upon herself to inform the inspector we are leaving for Vigan. His reaction was too surreal for me to take: we are the only passengers left! There was no time to even bitchslap the woman from the (Mis)Information booth with my puta red tabo let alone explain our side. Out of panic, we dashed to the exit (again!) to climb up the bus. We were greeted with "Sabi ko na nga ba, sila yun eh!" and "Gumala pa kasi eh!" from the driver and company.
I saw Carol beginning to react defensively with her teeth clenched. I told her to calm down. I found it pointless as we made it before they finally give up on us and the fellow passengers did not seem to harbor any resentment to us. Besides, the spacious legroom of our 23-seater bus was enough to make me ignore any negative thoughts. After all, it's a win-win situation: gastronomic nirvana and trip convenience. On to Vigan!
In spite of the looong road trip, I, the most sleep-deprived person on earth, did not get much snooze. Partly because I nearly drained Carol's phone battery from having porn marathon. It can not possibly be guilt as I told my parents where I was really headed (a first!). It was not the aircon either. It was tolerable, thanks to my puta red blanket.
The best way to describe it? A series of interrupted naps. I recall wishing the girl behind us would step down already so I can relocate there, stretch my legs and pretend I was sleeping on a real bed. I can not achieve that position from the one-seater.
Until that fateful moment I woke up and found most seats vacant. I hurriedly rose from my seat and aimed to lay down on the seat behind us. I nearly had a collision with a woman on an oncoming course. Next thing I knew, Carol was hissing, "Nasa Vigan na ata tayo! Di mo ba narinig ang sinabi ng babae?!" She motioned me to ask the driver. "Baka naman stopover lang ito?" she went on. (Or was it me who said so?)
My face reflected self-pride. After their accusations before we left Manila, there was NO WAY I would ask them for help! We scanned the place outside. We can read, yes, and it did read VIGAN PARTAS! Still armed with self-denial, we half-heartedly silently left the bus. It was only around 02:30! We were supposed to get there around 05:00!
At the same time, we were in disbelief that the driver and his partner did not bother to inform us. We were not expecting them to greet us with guitar playing and buko juice on hand, but a gentle nudge would had been fine. Weren't they happy to get rid of us? Have they forgotten the amount of stress we had caused them?
It was funny to be the last passengers to the truest sense of the word. In Cubao, we were the cause of delay. In Vigan, we were the last to know.