Lesson learned: Don’t trust Google Maps’ estimated time of travel. Especially if you’re in a third world country like the Philippines where public transportation sucks. If the estimated time is 2 hours, double that and you have the actual time. I learned that fact the hard way when I went to Bataan a few months ago with Manang Tess, a last hurrah before classes start. Call time at Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) was 9 AM so we left Manila around 6 because the internet (and Google Maps) told me it was only three hours by bus. Alas, at 10 AM we were stuck in a bus terminal while the wind was howling like an angry beast. Heavy rains followed.
We arrived at BNPP after lunch. Obviously we missed the tour. Good thing the staff especially Mam Cora was kind. Instead of sending us back to Manila empty-handed and disappointed, she said we could join another group the next day. All was well except we didn’t have anywhere to spend the night. But that can wait until dark.
For the mean time, to make the most out of the trip, we rented a tricycle and went to Morong, Bataan to visit a Pawikan Sanctuary. I expected to see tiny pawikans crawling out of the sand into the sea with the beautiful sunset as background. Apparently, we visited too early so all we saw was a tiny pawikan in a dirty pond left behind from the previous hatching season because its shell has a defect. And the beach? The waves were too strong it’s scary and the shore was full of human trash. The guy in charge of the center said we went at a really bad time because there’s a typhoon approaching. Ah, that’s why everything was so gloomy.
It was already past 2PM and we haven’t had anything since the boiled corn in the bus stop where we were stranded so we asked our tricycle driver to bring us anywhere with decent food. That place is called Loleng’s Hu-tieu-An which serves Vietnamese food, the most famous of which is their Hu-tieu or rice noodles. The eatery is owned by a Filipina who used to work in the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) where people displaced due to the Vietnam war took refuge before being resettled to western countries.
Believe it or not, I only paid 130 pesos for this meal of Banh Mi, Hutieu special and another dish I forgot the name of. Good food washes the misfortunes, disappointments, tiredness and everything negative away. Honestly I was feeling down at that time because nothing was going according to plan but I felt renewed (and ready to continue our adventure) after finishing my bowl of noodles. Unlike the usual mami, this one’s fresh and light and it gives you the feeling that you are eating something healthy. I even finished the Banh Mi even if it had cucumbers and tomatoes which I hate. Thank God for good food!
Our next stop is the Philippine Refugee Processing Center. Just like what I mentioned earlier, this used to house thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees fleeing from the war during the 1970s and 80s. According to our tricycle driver (I’m not really sure about the authenticity of his stories but it’s nice to hear them anyway), the PRPC is like a city in itself. There were bunkhouses, schools, language centers where the refugees studied English, hospitals and markets, as well as places of worship for different religions. In addition, the refugees cannot go outside the borders of the center.
Nowadays, the place exudes the vibe of a ghost town since the last refugees left during the 90s. Pardon my ignorance but I am still amazed that there is a refugee center in this part of Luzon. While the tricycle driver was going around, I imagined how life was like here decades ago. I’m curious if the refugees who temporarily stayed here still remember Bataan wherever they are or is it just a pit stop in their arduous journey that they choose to forget.
After that, the driver brought us to a legit hanging bridge. Another village exists on the other side but due to time constraints, we weren’t able to visit it. Besides, the driver said we should leave before dark because a typhoon is coming and oh, we still didn’t have anywhere to sleep.
After a lot of walking in the rain, talking to strangers and haggling with owners, we ended up in a room fronting the beach in Bagac, Bataan (you will appreciate our effort more when you realize how far Morong from Bagac is). I brought swimwear but the owner told us a dozen times that swimming is prohibited which was uncalled for because no one in his right mind will challenge waves that high in the first place.
We spent the night watching the waves (which were getting stronger by the minute) and talking about things we don’t usually have the time to talk about. I am so thankful to God for bringing Manang Tess into our lives. More than an older sister, she’s like a second mother. I don’t know if I’ve shared this but when I was a bratty youngster, I once talked back to my mother about Manang Tess raising us instead of her. Up to now I still feel bad about that because I can only imagine how much that hurt my mom’s feelings but it also shows how much I appreciate Manang Tess.
We called it a night at around 8:30 and I was woken up past midnight because the winds were too strong I can literally hear them whistling. And the door of our room which didn’t have a decent lock apart from a makeshift one made of nails was being pounded by the force of nature. I just prayed, put my earphones on, increased the volume and went back to sleep.
The next morning, there was still a drizzle but I knew the weather will be better. The gloominess is just fitting to commemorate a sad chapter of our history, the Bataan Death March. The 00 km marker is pictured below. It’s very easy to miss because it’s just a slab of concrete placed on the roadside. I bet the residents of the area just pass by this everyday without giving it a second thought. I really don’t know what I want to happen. I’m not saying we must wallow in the misfortunes of the past. I just want wars to end (but that’s easier said than done).