Now and then, a group of friends from the office and I get together and travel. We call ourselves the TPQ (Travel Per Quarter).
Incidentally, I am the group’s planner. I make the itineraries, do the research, book the hotels (the flights, thankfully, is someone else’s responsibility most of the time). Essentially, I put the trip together and attempt to make it as fun for everyone else as possible.
I’m not complaining; it’s one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I can do.
But I wasn’t always this way. A planner, I mean. Before 2015, I took pride in traveling solo without planning. Beyond knowing my destination, I only had a rough idea of what I was going to do once I got there. Locals know best, after all. One only has to ask.
The closest I came to planning trips was making quick searches online about which hotels were the best bets for my budget. I’d make my reservation only because I didn’t want to be caught sleeping out on the streets.
But even that came later. In my twenties, I never bothered. I used to end up in ratty hostels with broken mirrors and dusty beds but those also turned out to be my most epic adventures.
It all changed when TPQ got together. Traveling with a group somehow made me feel more responsible. Spontaneity was not an option. Too bad because I always thought of myself as an artist for whom spontaneity was supposed to be paramount. It was the spark that ignited any type of internal combustion. In my head, I was that spontaneous badass.
Or so I thought. Because I’ve also always had the suspicion that I am a planner at heart. Obsessively anal even. Or anally obsessive, you choose. It runs in my genes and comes out often enough which I squashed all those years because, hello, spontaneity was supposed to be cooler. Planning was boring.
That side of myself finally came out because a TPQ member was an inveterate planner himself who insisted on an itinerary that left nothing to chance. Surprise, surprise – or maybe not – I was a natural! I rose to the challenge and enjoyed the process so much that I’ve come to embrace it since.
Be that as it may, it would be naïve to claim that planning alone is at the heart of successful trips. You can plan your trips to death but travel is notoriously volatile. Anything can happen at any given moment. Then plans fly out the window. What are you gonna do?
That’s where spontaneity comes in. You have to be ready.
This reminds me of the most recent trip I had with TPQ to Guimaras Island, located in the center of the Philippine archipelago.
So from Manila, you hop on a plane to Iloilo International Airport. Then you ride the commuter van for thirty minutes to the city center. You get off and ride a taxi to Ortiz Wharf for another twenty minutes and then finally, board a ferry till you get to Jordan Wharf on the island of Guimaras.
The island is lovely. A place to escape to when the city – or life – becomes too much to handle. It is known for its coastline as much as for its mangoes that are exported all across the globe. It is also the kind of island that’s relatively huge and not that urbanized. Transportation can be tricky for the uninformed tourist on a budget.
From researching online, getting to our beach resort from Jordan Wharf would cost us PhP 1,500 to PhP 2,000 (roughly USD 28 to USD 38) depending on the mode of transportation. That wasn’t a problem; the total cost could easily be spread between all five of us.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t like the nagging feeling that it could still be cheaper. I visited Guimaras four years previously, and I knew locals go around for at most a dollar in Philippine currency. It also didn’t help that our resort declined to pick us up at the wharf on the excuse that they didn’t want to disappoint us in case they were late. It would help the local economy if we commuted, they said.
In the itinerary that I prepared for my friends, I specified the two thousand-peso cost but in all honesty, I had no intention of paying such an outrageous “touristy” price. I decided I was going to wing it. I didn’t know how but I dug deep into my “solo spontaneous traveling days.” I was going to let the Universe take care of things the way I used to. My gut worked for me back then; there was no reason it won’t now. Without a doubt, a solution was going to present itself as it always did. Cheaper, too.
That may sound strange to some but to those who have traveled extensively and have a whole host of experiences on the road, they’d know what that means.
Sure enough, while the ferry waited for more passengers before it left for the fifteen-minute ride across the strait, a man in his forties came on board. He wore red-tinted wraparound shades that matched his colorful Hawaiian shirt and juggled two paper bags full of fast food from Jollibee (McDonald’s competitor in the islands that’s a hit with Filipino kids). I felt that familiar nudge in the gut, and I knew right then he was my man.
I watched as he made his way to the bench right in front of me. I wasted no time. I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned. Introducing myself first in the local dialect, I explained my dilemma, asked whether there was a way we could get cheaper transportation to the other side of the island.
He removed his shades and with a twinkle in his eye proceeded to chat with me all throughout the trip. Turns out he was a family man and a minister for a local church. He could get someone who’d agree to drive us for one thousand pesos tops. He also agreed the prices on the island were exorbitant for tourists but there was no way we could pass off as locals. For one thing, the drivers at the wharf knew them all; it was a big island with a small population. For another, my TPQ friends did not speak the local dialect. Even if I gave them a crash course on Ilonggo and even if they learned certain words on the spot, their Tagalog accents would still have given them away.
In a very conspiratorial voice, the minister gave his instructions. I was to pretend he was my uncle, and I was his long lost niece from Manila who brought along her friends. We were to follow him the minute we got off the ferry and under no circumstances were we to go to the Tourists Registration Hall.
I laughed at that. Here was a minister undermining his own flock. For what reason, I don’t know but it could only really be a sense that the rates weren’t fair. Either that or he had a wacky sense of humor.
Not all of my TPQ friends were amused. One was particularly against the plan and doubted the minister was any good. Or safe even.
I wouldn’t be swayed. My gut has never been wrong even in the direst of circumstances on the road. And there have been several.
Finally making port, we followed the minister towards the exit where he told us to wait as he looked for his friend the driver.
Unfortunately, a horde of drivers also waited: tricycle drivers, jeepney drivers, commuter van drivers, even drivers of the provincial habal-habal (motorcycle with seats lengthened at the back to accommodate more passengers). Since we didn’t pass by Registration, we were first at the gate along with the locals.
Sure enough, the drivers ignored the rest but pounced on us. It was a cacophony, varying rates upwards of two thousand pesos were being thrown at us. It got so that I finally told them I was with my uncle.
“Who’s your uncle?”
“Beto?” They asked.
“Yes, Beto Corporal.”
At last, there was a momentary hush. Then they found their collective voice again.
“What will you be riding?”
“That’s up to my uncle.”
“How are you related to the minister?”
“He’s my uncle?” I couldn’t say from which side of the family. I didn’t know if the kindly minister had a brother or a sister! I desperately hoped “Uncle” showed up soon or he and I would be screwed.
“Where are you from?”
“Manila. Uncle Beto is originally from Batangas.” That one he did tell me about during the ferry ride. Batangas is a province right outside the Philippine capital of Manila.
“You’re all his relatives?”
“Nope. Just me. I’m his niece.”
Just then the minister plowed into the crowd. Thank God, I remember thinking.
The minister was true to his word. He got us his tricycle driver friend who charged us only one thousand pesos for the one way trip. I briefly thought of haggling but decided to shut up. After all, the minister had gone through all that trouble when he really didn’t have to.
Later, after we arrived safely, I realized one thousand pesos was more than a good deal. It was on the other side of the island nor was it easily accessible from the main highway and took all of forty minutes from wharf to resort. I felt a little guilty, but hey, the locals still spend less than that to get around.
From my previous phone calls with the resort, I knew they charged one thousand five hundred pesos to get guests from the resort and back to the wharf so I made sure to get our tricycle driver’s number for when it was time to go back.
In the end, it all came out just fine. My friends agreed we were lucky and were happy with the result.
I was even happier. For one thing, I proved once more to myself that my gut could still be trusted on the road. And for another, spontaneity still does pay.
Have you ever gotten yourself in sticky situations while traveling? So which one are you, a planner or a winger? Let me know in the comments below!