Lola’s Tears

My last night in Sara was somewhat reminiscent of the first. I watched the bats fly around as the sun set and, despite a year of familiarity, images passed into my eyes with a strange surreality. Papa killed two ducks (the best duck I’ve eaten to date) and most of the family were present. Unlike that first night though, this occasion was a little less festive. Goodbyes are not always easy.

Making things even less festive than that first day , the black dog died [not to be confused with the brown one that was eaten]. I had often wondered when he’d meet his demise. Life is hard on the average Filipino, it’s just as hard on the animals. I’m sure the weather, disease from insects and poor nutrition all contributed to his ending. He wasn’t exactly a ‘family pet’ in the American sense but it was still sad to see him pass on my last night there. Rest in peace Blackie.

Packing the Bags

Packing the Bags

It took a few hours but I managed to pack my bags and get everything fit back in. For some strange reason, my bags seemed lighter this time around. Perhaps it’s because I gave a handful of things away. Regardless of the cause, I didn’t find it necessary to sit on the bag so I could zip it all the way around.

The final morning came and we departed the nipa. Lola broke the first tears. Despite my fondness for sociopathic tendencies, I became a bit choked up and almost broke out a few tear drops because, given her age and frailties, I will probably never see her again. I will never forget the conditions in which she lived or the way she smiled when she ran her hands over Jennifer’s pink teddy bear.

Having said our goodbyes, we left for the Sara bus station on our hired motor-tryc to meet Pastor Panalino. I stared at the scenery one last time, hoping to soak into memory all that I could see (as if I could forget any of it). The rice fields, the nipas, the trashy hospital, the chengue stores and all the familiar faces are living memories.

The bus trip to Iloilo was uneventful. We took the ‘one-stop’ express bus to save time but, in keeping with Filipino interpretations, ‘one-stop’ really meant one stop every kilometer. Our bus driver had a fondness for picking up attractive women. None the less, we made it to the Tugbak bus station in a decent time frame. Side note for those travelers taking the same route: the current fare has risen to 110 pesos.

Pastor Panalino

Pastor Panalino In Iloilo Airport

At the Tugbak station, our haggles began. Pastor Panalino, Jen and I had all decided to take the 7 peso jeepney to SM City and the shuttle bus from there as we knew the taxi would run around 450 pesos. Pastor P gave it a shot but the taxi driver wanted 500 pesos. As I said no, we all turned around around to walk off and the price miraculously dropped to 300 pesos. Foreign travelers be advised: you hold the power of the negotiation. ‘No’ is a powerful word.

In the newly built Iloilo airport we discovered a misconception (or lie) that was told to us by immigration officials. Jen would need ID for domestic travel (of which she had none). As we stood at the entrance for security and discussing the situation with the guard, people began to line up to such an extent that the guard passed us through! We were equally fortunate at the ticket counter as I handed my passport and a tax certificate for Jen to the flight rep. The flight rep looked at neither document and processed our boarding passes! To be safe, we had Jennifer’s mom ship her postal ID to Manila. I didn’t want Jen to risk issues at the airport heading back (especially by herself).

The three of us had about 4 hours to kill at the airport. We ate a bit of breakfast and killed our time with conversation. We talked about anything and everything but it was mostly rambling. I can’t speak for the other two but I was tired from the lack of sleep and stressed from the fast pace at which circumstances had changed.

As we boarded the plane, I watched Jen & Pastor with great interest. Flying, for me, is just another form of travel. This particular flight held a bit more enthusiasm since it was a first for Pastor Panalino and Jennifer. I remember the enthusiasm and fears of my first time flying. I vicariously felt the same emotions again. Neither one of them had to use the vomit bags and they oooo’d and aaww’d looking out the window to the islands below.

By the time the plane landed, we were all hungry. We taxied to the Pearl Garden Hotel in the Malate district, checked-in and then went for lunch at the Korean restaurant next door. After this, we parted ways with Pastor Panalino and headed back to the hotel for some greatly needed rest.

As far as hotels go, the Pearl Garden was an excellent choice. They had all the fundamental amenities at a price that didn’t make you feel raped and robbed. It was the closest thing to ‘normal’ that I had slept in for a full year. Despite the comforts of threaded sheets, hot running water, and flushing toilets, part of me was missing the nipa.

The following day, we headed straight out to resolve my immigration issues in the Intramuros district. While the lines were moving rather efficiently, we would not receive my exit clearance until 4:30pm. If you’re getting your exit clearance from the Philippines, go to immigration early!! I was a bit annoyed at the 500 peso fine (read: bribe) I had to pay to process the clearance without my I-card but such things are oft a necessary evil in the Philippines. From the top of the government down to the jeepney drivers, it seems the robbery of tourists is common thing.

The New Nipa

The New Nipa

I’m going to omit the saga about my lost/stolen wallet. The event that occurred only 1 day before my departure is still too emotionally draining to relive (even in blog form). Suffice it to say that a dear friend helped Jen and I out tremendously by sharing some pesos for us to survive on. No matter where you are in the world, it’s good to have good friends. Thank you Shauna!!

Back in Texas now, I’m tired: seriously jet-lagged from the 25 hours of flying. My head aches a bit from the sleep confusion and, though I know the area intimately, it will be several days [at least] before I re-adjust to the surroundings. Going from the Filipino provinces to the wanton excess of American commercialism after a year of absence is more than a transition, it’s a mind-job.

Surrounded by laptops, a wide screen TV, a play station , a very healthy golden retriever, air conditioning, a 4G internet connection, etc.. is almost overwhelming. This morning I had gourmet coffee and a jalapeno sausage roll at the local donut shop; delicacies I haven’t had in a while. Of course such things are enjoyed but I can’t help but feel a bit of survivors guilt as I know Jennifer is still back at the nipa. Don’t worry babe, you’ll be here soon!

I still remember Lola’s tears. The only thing that prevents me from getting choked up is knowing that the best thing I had in the Philippines, Jennifer, will be here with me. Hang tight sweety 😉 We enjoyed a bit of conversation this morning and soon we’ll get a good schedule going so we can talk/chat regularly. It should make the days pass a little easier. Until that time, Lola’s tears stay with me.

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