Quarantine was to begin at midnight on Sunday, March 15. Which meant we had to leave Saturday. Grabbing what I could, we hurried in the expressway packing a couple bags of essential, three dogs and two bewildered families who didn’t wish to be stuck in Manila during the quarantine.
Knowing we had no experience in traveling overland from Manila to Davao, we only had our trusty Waze, Google Maps and our faith. We knew if God didn’t let the Israelites down, he wouldn’t let us. Suffice to say that our forty days into the desert turned out to a four and half-day travel into the tropics, mountain ranges and oversea. It was a lesson in geography we will never forget.
First, we turned to the South Luzon Express Way that connected to Star Toll in Batangas. It was a long drive and we decided we needed a short break so we took a wayside in Quezon Province. For those who don’t know, Quezon Province is named after President Manuel L. Quezon, whose contribution to our nation and the world is immeasurable. Six in the morning, we woke up to an early start and left for the next town. We passed the city of Naga where we had a takeout lunch. Naga is named after the Nara tree which used to grow in abundance in the area. From there, we reached Bicol then Albay. Legazpi Albay was named after conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. We took a short break to Cagsawa Ruins, a popular tourist destination if you wanted to see Mayon Volcano at its finest. Mayon Volcano is famous all over the world for having a perfect cone. When we reached Matnog in Sorsogon, it was a test of patience as there were many trucks, buses, and people trying to cross to Visayas. The name Sorsogon is a Bicolano term meaning “to continually flow a course.” Nine hours later, we boarded a RORO or Roll on Roll off boat that accepted our vehicle. We reached the port of Allen by dawn.
Allen, Northern Samar is a quiet farm community. It has a small city center with the basics. When I say basics, I mean Jollibee, pawnshops, bakery and gas stations. At least we had some takeout and gas as we move on to the next leg. Between farmlands were spot check by the military for COVID19 cases. Before Tacloban, we crossed the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines. Tacloban is a Hispanized way of saying the Waray term Tarakluban or “to catch a fish.”
We passed Leyte, where McArthur landed to get back to the Philippines at the end of World War II. The market still stands today. Late at night, we reached the port of San Ricardo in Southern Leyte. By the Grace of God, we were able to secure a RORO ride within the hour and departed at midnight to reach the other side. The RORO ride was only an hour but we were so tired. When we reached Surigao City we looked for a hotel that would accept us plus our dogs. We fell asleep almost immediately. In the morning, there was a simple breakfast buffet of Filipino favorites plus pancakes and toasts. We decided to take our time and leave at nine in the morning to give us time to stretch our legs and relax. By late afternoon, we reached Agusan and dropped off our driver’s family. He would drive us to Davao and take a bus back to Agusan.
Now, here is what you have to remember when you get lost: Our country has a main highway, a major vein that connects north and south. This is called the Maharlika Road or the Pan Philippine Highway. When you are on it, you’ll never get lost. That’s what we followed all the way down to Butuan. Now, this is the tricky part of our travel. During our sojourn, we are tuned into reports of who’s getting sick, where, what places have quarantine and curfews. We have received news that Tagum is on lockdown due to a case of COVID19. No in and no out. So from Butuan, we have to veer from the course and take a long cut that would add four hours into our journey. But we had no choice. I’ve visited places I could not pronounce but am very thankful for the peaceful sight that COVID has not touched. Mind you, every town had a checkpoint so that added to the hours we were on the road. Not to mention we had to slow down in places because it was a windy mountainous road. From Butuan, we passed Magsaysay, Gingoog, which were port cities then to Claveria, up in the mountains. The name Butuan comes from a Visayan sour fruit.
From Valencia, we were stuck for four hours before we decided to find an alternate road. It was longer and closer to Marawi (which kinda spooked the driver). After Valencia, we went to Pangantucan, Kitaotao, Maramag, Quezon, Arakan, Gumalang, Calinan and finally Davao. Each town has its own checkpoints and we have traversed more towns than mentioned.
The roads we visited were smooth and surprisingly well-kept. It would be nice to visit these places for a scenic drive but each checkpoint hurried us along as they were eventually going to put Davao on lockdown. So, we hurried as much as we can, slowing only for curves, fogs and the random cow that crossed the road.
Two in the morning, we arrived in Davao. Our road trip was at an end and quarantine had begun. I am grateful to have taken this trip and lost for words at the majesty of nature that was still untouched.