Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text:
In the Philippines, it is impossible to escape from the ferries, when you want to move from one island to another. For long trips, it is often a night ferry...
The port of Batangas
March 10, 2017. 20h. My Filipino driver drops me off at the port of Batangas south of Manila, on the island of Luzon. We have just crossed an area of docks a little deserted, not very engaging, bristling with gates and fences, between sheds and containers.
It stops in front of a building defended by a new gate, behind which I see people queuing with bags and suitcases. Several large ferries are moored at the surrounding docks.
"Do you have your ticket yet?", my driver asks me when he pulls my big bag out of the trunk. That's right, that's right. "So just stand in line there with the people, it's to buy the platform ticket. Then you can go straight to check-in."
I am about to embark on a night ferry, the St. Anthony of Padua the company 2Go Travelone of the biggest shipping companies in the Philippines. I left Anilao (where I spent a week diving and photographing nudibranchs) for the island of Romblon.
I booked my own ticket, via their websitefrom France, before leaving. I received my e-ticket by e-mail. As easy and convenient as a plane reservation! My trip: Batangas-Romblon. Departure at 10pm, arrival at 6am the next day.
For the queue, platform ticket and check-in, it's all as the driver said. No surprises and no worries. Filipinos are extremely disciplined when it comes to queuing in front of a counter and check-in is well organized. Despite the crowds, it goes fast and I can quickly get to the platform to board.
The drug sniffer dog
This is where the tourist diver that I am is reminded of another reality of the Philippines... Men in black are in front of the bridge, with a dog, specially trained to sniff the luggage and detect the presence of drugs.
Obviously, when you're there for a vacation and spend your time underwater, you hardly think about it. However, drug trafficking in the Philippines has been making headlines around the world since the summer of 2016, with President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug policy...…
The presence of this drug-sniffing dog on the wharf in Batangas reminds me of an identical scene, during my trip to Mexico in 2014I was on the dock in Playa del Carmen, when I boarded the ferry to Cozumel Island. I don't think I mentioned it in my posts of the time, but I found these two pictures that I had taken on the sly (I remember that one of the Mexican soldiers had made me put the camera away):
At Batangas, guys wearing reflective safety vests make us drop our bags, in line, then move back a few steps, with injunction to keep our distance and stay in line too, supervised by another one, who is wearing the mention "Vessel Escort" on his back. Once in the line, I discreetly film with my iPhone for 30 seconds... There is music on the platform. To relax people?
The lady next to me, a Filipina, makes little worried exclamations. I remember that I have a package of cookies in my little carry-on bag, placed among the others. I'm a bit afraid that the dog will stop right in front of it, by the smell of the Oreo... Then I think that I must not be the only one to carry food in anticipation of the crossing. That he has been trained not to be distracted by cookies, this dog...
What amazes me the most is that just before, I was allowed to entrust the 28kg of my big bag with wheels to one of the official port carriers, without any control. The carrier was able to go directly inside the ferry, to deposit my bag in front of my cabin, without going through the sniffer dog stage...
After a few minutes, which seemed endless, the guys in black waved us on. And the dog didn't stop in front of the Oreos at the bottom of my little bag. This time, it's good! I can finally discover the huge ferry that will be my home for the night.
On board, the welcome is much nicer. Stewardesses and stewards in pink and blue polo shirts, courteous and smiling, inform the passengers. A young woman leads me to my berth for the night. There are several categories: the dormitory without air-conditioning on the upper deck, the dormitory with air-conditioning below, the four-berth cabins with bathroom and the private cabins.
I am in a stateroom of four. And I'm a little scared as I enter: it's super cold with the air conditioning on fridge mode, the TV is on full blast and among my roommates, besides two potential snoring gentlemen, there's a middle-aged lady with a very small child, apparently not calm at all... 😱 I exchange polite smiles with one another, take possession of my bunk downstairs and get out to quickly explore the ship before departure.
I discover a restaurant near my cabin and, at the top of a staircase, the deck of the cheap dormitory, with, at the very end, the thundering, unbearable music of the inevitable karaoke bar. Two girls on the tiny stage prepare to do the animation. Around the tables, beers are being poured. The cruise has fun, Filipino version... 😁
I return to my cabin. The whiny little boy seems to be traveling with his father and grandmother. They take turns taking him outside when he gets a little too excited. The fourth occupant is a young man who gives me a contrite smile and silently disappears behind the curtain of his bunk.
The boat has left the dock. The roll is imperceptible. After a while, seeing that everyone seems to be trying to sleep, I turn off the TV still on full blast and the overhead light... The little boy ended up staying snuggled up with the lady I assume to be his grandmother in the bunk opposite mine. Everyone has drawn their curtains. I pull out the ultimate parade, the earplugs, put on my fleece, wrap myself in my sarong Indonesian multifunctional, pulls the blanket over and, well wedged in the pillow, I fall asleep immediately...
The Good Samaritan
I was afraid I wouldn't sleep a wink, but I slept like a baby. "Ma'am! Ma'am!" An unknown voice, far away. The curtain moves, there is light, a face leaning towards me...
What? What? I rip out my earplugs, resurface. "Madam! Madam! Romblon!" shouts a guy in a white shirt, an employee of the ferry or the port. He explains to me that we have to get off quickly. The boat is going to take on passengers and leave for the next island. The lady and the little boy are still there, and contemplate me with round eyes. It is 6:40 am. It's been almost three quarters of an hour since we arrived in Romblon.
Ouch. The man grabs my big bag. He's the one who's in charge of carrying the 28kg up the stairs of the almost deserted ship. I follow him, my eyes still glued, my hair a mess. How well we sleep on the Philippine ferries!
On the platform, I can't believe it. The tricycle driver (pronounced "traille-si-keule") who was supposed to pick me up at 6am, sent by the diving center The Three PHe is always there to welcome me. He is relieved. He was wondering if I was on the ferry. He introduces himself: Arnold.
I apologize, I explain. I was sleeping... He bursts out laughing. "When I didn't see you coming, I went to ask at the port office, he told me. I gave them your name. So they could check if you were on board. They had the corresponding bunk number, but I'm not allowed on, so they sent someone..."
I thank Arnold endlessly. Without him, I would have missed Romblon. I would have woken up somewhere else, at sea or on another island! 😱 The good samaritan fixes my big bag on the back of his magnificent all-yellow tricycle with a decoration inspired by New York cabs. I'll shoot him a week later, as I'll be using his services again to visit the island (I'll talk about that in a future post).
I am so happy with his welcome on this first day, as well as with the walk he will make me do on the last day, that I promised to advertise him. So here it is: his full name is Arnold MendezHe lives and works in Romblon, he is a great tricycle driver, reliable and careful, he speaks English, he is very nice, punctual, available at any time and reachable at 0928 416 2999 (local mobile number).
During the ten-minute drive, I continue to laugh about my morning misadventure. So does Arnold. At 7am sharp, I arrived. I have time to have breakfast, to let my air-conditioned and fogged camera and lens get back to room temperature, and to lock them up in the waterproof housingbefore jumping into the first dive boat of the day at 9:00 a.m.! With such a successful arrival, I already know I'm going to love Romblon... 😎