After a Saturday session in Zamboangita, a few trainees and I decided to go snorkeling and check out a local coral reef. Located in a tranquil bay with a fine gray sand beach, scenic vistas of mountains, palm trees, and Apo Island, the reef featured a healthy amount of coral and tropical aquatic life. As it approached 6:45 pm, I decided I’d better start the journey back to San Jose, one that would require catching a ride to Dumaguete, then transferring in order to get home. There is no method of transportation save for private vehicles that travels straight through Dumaguete, which always adds to the total travel time. Still, I figured I had more than enough time to take the 40 minute ride to Dumaguete and catch a jeepney before the last one left at some mysterious, non-set time between 8:00 and 8:30. I wanted to get home for a late dinner, and to get a good sleep, because I had my last scuba diving class early the next morning.
A fellow trainee and I walked up to the national highway to the center of town and began waiting for a ride to come by. After a few minutes, it became clear that the jeepneys were no longer running, instead we’d have to catch a Ceres bus, the private bus line that barrels down the highway at ridiculous speeds, honking and weaving through the already crazy traffic. I decided to try a trick – I’d go to the nearby bakery and buy a couple things, and while I was there, a bus would probably come. It almost worked, but the bus that came wasn’t going all the way to Dumaguete. After a few more minutes, a Ceres bus finally came. I jumped out into the road and began wildly waving my arms- I wanted to make sure to be seen in the dark. The bus swerved into the opposite lane to avoid the jeepney parked on the road behind me and continued to race towards the city, without me on it. I cursed my luck and wondered how I was going to get to Dumaguete when the only ride available wouldn’t even consider picking me up. Later I found out that that particular bus was a one-stop only express bus, which made me feel a little better. Finally, an out-of-place easy-ride – which is a small jeepney – pulled up and we got on. To my surprise, 3 of our other Peace Corps friends, who had taken a longer time snorkeling, were also on it. We happily rode on. I was the only one going to Dumaguete, so everybody else got off along the way.
As I approached the city, it was already 8:15 and I felt dubious about my chances of making the easy-ride, so I got off before, at the Ceres terminal. In the evening, there is only one bus per hour, the last one leaving at 10:00. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to wait until the 9:00 bus to get home. Arriving at the terminal, I saw with dismay that the 9:00 bus was already filled to capacity, which does not mean that every seat is full. It means that every seat is beyond full, every possible space for standing is filled, the stairways are crammed, and people have laid claim on the choice spots for hanging off the side already. If I was going to catch this bus, I would have to take a death-wish spot, either on top (there’s a ladder going up the side in case you want to do this), or precariously hanging off the side with no more than a hand gripping a window and half a foot on a stair. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to wait until the 10:00 bus to get home. I tend to get irritated with inefficient transportation mechanisms, so at this point frustrated, angry thoughts started going through my head. I wondered: why do the easy-rides stop before demand does? Doesn’t one driver out of the hundreds want to make a 9:00 run and make some extra money? Why would a 170% full bus wait for 45 minutes before leaving, just to maintain an unnecessary schedule? Why doesn’t Ceres run more buses on Saturday night, and why do Filipinos put up with this nonsense?
After a few announcements I didn’t understand because my Cebuano isn’t yet good enough to understand garbled intercom language, I went over to the waiting area and sat down. A few minutes before 9:00, the packed bus left, leaving the rest of us still trying to get north behind. At about 9:15, a new bus pulled up and flipped on the sign indicating it would be traveling north. Determined not to miss it, I ran with the crowd and started to get on. Unfortunately, we were informed that this bus would not be leaving despite all the purposeful indications that it would. Everybody ran to the ticket counter instead, so I grudgingly followed, thoroughly annoyed with the entire country by this time. Filipinos only sort of use lines. It’s more of a blob, and I haven’t yet figured out how to correctly work them. Despite always being the tallest in the line, and probably the most conspicuous, I often have a hard time getting waited on. Eventually, finally, I got near the front of the line, just as the bus was pulling up. I desperately thrust my money directly in front of the ticket-taker’s face, after patience proved to be fruitless, and still found no luck. I realized that if I didn’t leave then, I probably wouldn’t ever get home. I turned and ran toward the bus and forced my way up the stairway. I made it all the way to the top stair – not bad!
The next half hour was spent getting closer than I ever wanted to my host country nationals. Space was made where there was none, and I got slowly pushed into the aisle, eventually getting into a position with my weight awkwardly distributed to one leg, both hands gripping the bar above, a shoulder digging into my left butt cheek. “Very hot!” says an older man with a smile, who forced his way up the stairs and made me feel like I was back at leadership camp trying to fit 20 people on a five-by-five foot board. “Init kaayo”, I agreed, to his delight. I had a short conversation in Cebuano with them, but they quickly lose interest. Sweat began dripping down my arms. I also realized how strange it feels to have sweat dripping down your back, but not be able to do anything about it. We stayed this way for 20 minutes. I began dreaming of comfortable German trains, or at least the worst bus in the King County Metro system. Ten minutes before scheduled departure time, I realized with delight that I was not the only person on this bus who is impatient and extremely anxious to leave when a couple men behind me started banging on the roof. Finally, two minutes ahead of schedule, we mercifully pulled out of the station and begin the journey. Instead of forgetting that brakes or restraint exist, our driver went painfully slow. I couldn’t see out the windows very well, and spent the journey straining to see the lights in front of San Jose that I recognized. Much to my dismay, the conductor caught up with me and I was required to pay my fare – I’d thought in my head this whole time that at least I managed to not pay for this. When we finally arrived, I rapped a coin on the overhead bar, which stops the bus with remarkable efficiency (there aren’t any specified stops on most buses here – you get on and off as you please, provided you are able to persuade the driver to stop). I’m usually one of the first people off the bus – probably because everybody else living around me is smart enough to get home before they have to resort to the Ceres bus. Because of this, it was nearly impossible to get through the mass of people between where I was standing and the door, and getting off required the 8 daredevils in the stairway to hop off as I bullied my way through the crowd. I stood on the side of the road, wiped sweat off my forehead, and waited for the bus to pull away, swearing to myself that it would take an incredibly exciting event to ever keep me in Dumaguete past 8:00 again.