Memories of my Melancholic TravelsFriday, March 09, 2012Ryan Mach
"No, you stay here," my sister told me with conviction and annoyance as she and my other sibling were preparing to leave. They're going off somewhere - perhaps to a nearby town, they wouldn't tell me. It was summer, I was about 7 or 8 years old, small but perfectly healthy. No reason they shouldn't take me with them.
"Why can't I go with you?" I asked, a bit teary-eyed.
"We'll be back soon and you puke on the road anyway," she said, dropping off the subject with a truth that left me whipped, figuratively. Even if I wailed and cried and pleaded, I knew my sister wouldn't budge. I couldn't blame her - taking a liability on the road was no fun. Similarly, cleansing one's mess could make traveling a nightmare.
Throwing up on jeepneys was and still is a common trend among kids in the village. It's a curse that I wanted desperately to get rid of but to no avail. The ointments (Vicks Vapor Rub, mint leaves) that were supposed to cure motion sickness hardly helped. I didn't understand it - I could handle tricycle ride just fine, but how come my stomach did a wild somersault every time I rode on a jeepney? It was a mystery I couldn't resolve.
The fact that I threw up on the road pretty much solidified my belief that I had no business going to places that required riding on a mass transportation. But my folks understood my weakness and stubborn as a mule, I never let my 'little personal problem' get in the way as far as traveling was concerned.
It was summer of '91 when I first experienced embarking on an inter-island journey. The destination was Mindoro, a big island west of Romblon. We were to visit my estranged father whom I didn't see until that time. Getting to the land of my father required three rides - 25 km on a jeepney, three hours on a boat and about 5 km in a pedicab. When I think about the trip, I vaguely recall how many times I puked, instead it's the views of the sea and the mountains that I remember with so much clarity.
I distinctly remember the smell of the earth after a night's rain, the boisterous laughter of my half-brother and sisters as we played hide-and-seek in the thick bushes and overgrown grasses in the backyard, the soft brown mud in the small creek near the main road... There were no cameras to capture any of those memories but they were nevertheless imprinted with sweet and unfading glossiness in the deep recesses of my mind.
The next major journey had a much farther route. This time, my brother in-law took me to Manila to see my older sister who worked as a househelp of a middle-class family in Paco. I remember getting extremely excited about boarding on a big ferry (which was described by my cousins as a very big house that can fit a lot of people) and feeling very anxious about the long ride on the sea. Manila, at least in my young mind back then, was a city with lots of honking jeepneys, larger-than-life movie posters and streets so crowded anyone could get lost in a heartbeat. I had a taste of the good life even for a while, thanks to the kindness of my sister's amo (masters). We ate at a fine-dining restaurant, shopped at the then-vibrant Harrison Plaza and watched a Tagalog movie at a stand-alone cinema in Paco.
Going to those places required riding on a car, which meant fighting the sickness that tortured my whole being every time I was inside that cramped space. One time, I was invited by the male amo to go shopping with her daughter. As he was revving up the car's engine, I stealthily got out and dashed through the maze-like alleyways in the neighborhood back to the house. I was afraid that I'd puke inside the vehicle. He later told me off that what I did, running away, was bad. What if you got lost? The garage was located at the far end of the busy street, with lots of houses and alleyways in between. But I didn't get lost. Somehow I felt some sense of pride swelling inside of me.
I felt the same sense of pride a few years later after getting back at my cousin's boarding house in Pantranco, Quezon City safe and sound from Padre Faura in Manila. I barely knew the place - I was a fresh high school graduate, ready to live and study in a jungle that remained wild and unkind for a probinsyano like me.
"I'm flying to Dumaguete," I informed my sister through a text message while waiting for boarding at the NAIA Terminal 3 last January.
"Who's with you?" she asked.
"Ha.Ha.Ha. I no longer throw up on the road, remember?"