THERE'S no place like home. A Filipino home. Thus, no pandemic can stop one's desire to go home, to be back to a place where his heart lives, and to be in certain people's care in these times of uncertainty.
About 6,500 miles away from the Philippines, Second Mate Rian Claro of Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental had to travel at least 16 hours from The Netherlands.
But more than these long hours of traversing from one side of the world to another, a more painstaking journey awaited the 30-year old Negrense seafarer as he quested for a true home that he has been longing for quite some time.
Due to restrictions imposed in light of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) threat, his supposed travel back to the Philippines for vacation, or end of contract, in October 2020 was moved in January this year.
As the virus infections continue to rise across many parts of the globe, his eagerness to go home also became more persistent.
"Though chances of exposure to the virus is less in our workplace, I still feel agitated. Gusto ko na gid ya magpuli. Many might wonder why? There are times that you will really miss home -- its warmth, the people, food, places and atmosphere, among other things most overseas Filipino workers would long for," Claro shared, adding that despite working in the shipping industry for 10 years now, still, he would usually suffer from homesickness.
"It's not just about having work or earning. We also need to have balance to maintain our sanity. Perhaps, our mental health is valuable not only for ourselves but also to our fellow workers and our workplace itself," the Negrense bachelor also said.
January 18, the day he waited, finally came. He landed in the Philippines. The start of a "nightmare" he did not imagine.
He had to undergo "very stringent" measures upon arrival at the airport -- from rounds of inspection, checking and validation to his second and more painful swab test to another rounds of inspection, checking and validation, among other procedures.
"I felt like I went through a needle's hole. It's so different from my pre-Covid airport experience," Claro said.
He felt a little relief when they were already brought to a hotel in Quezon City. After yielding another negative result for his third swab test, his quarantine stay in Metro Manila only lasted for eight days. Though, uncertainty is not yet over as another round of quarantine has yet to begin.
On January 25 this year, Claro arrived in the province. From Bacolod-Silay Airport, he was directly brought to an elementary school in Pulupandan for a 14-day quarantine.
There, he once again felt alone. Loneliness and boredom started to seemingly eat his patience. "Kapoy na ko. Damo gasulod sa ulo ko. May times pa gani nga abi ko may aswang sa quarantine facility," he jokingly shared, adding that "ina balang galaot ko sang time kay lip-ot lang vacation ko pero kalawig sang quarantine."
Good thing, his fourth swab test result turned negative. On February 8, he was released from the school and was allowed to continue his quarantine at home in the next seven days.
From then on, Claro started to experience the things he was excited about. A sense of comfort and belongingness started to overpower the emptiness in him as he is now in the embrace of his family -- his true home.
A dinner with family, relatives and closest friends welcomed him at their house. There, he also had a reunion with his baby dogs namely Zyver, Bella and Roter.
While still on home quarantine, the young returning OFW started to satisfy his cravings for Filipino food like adobo, laswa and fried nipis, among others.
Moving forward to the days after his home quarantine period, Claro also made sure to do the things included in his adventure bucket list.
Since Negros Occidental is now under a more relaxed Modified General Community Quarantine status, he was able to visit some of the tourist spots in the province including those in Salvador Benedicto known as Summer Capital of Negros. Malatan-og Falls and Highway 16 were just among his stopovers.
His road trips have brought him to other destinations, especially natural spots in towns of La Castellana, Hinigaran, and Isabela, and cities of Cadiz and San Carlos.
"I have traveled to many places outside the Philippines but the experience of being here in our own province remains to be incomparable. It's always refreshing for the mind and soul to see local attractions," Claro said.
Among other things in his bucket list which he has yet to do include traveling with friends to Cauayan, Sipalay City and Hinoba-an and experience wide variety of offerings there like beaches, water falls, resorts, of course food and delicacies, activities like scuba diving, and people's hospitality.
But, after all these loud escapades, there’s one thing that Claro doesn’t want to miss every time he’s home.
He’s making sure to see his late mother, who passed away in 2016. He would always spend a moment of silence with her in the cemetery. There, he would fondly recall all the happy memories as a child embraced by her mom, something that would complete his true home experience.
Each one of us has our own story to tell especially during this unprecedented pandemic. For those working outside the comfort of their homes, some are miles away, during these trying times, like Second Mate Rian Claro, their narratives, for sure, would speak about the struggle of wanting to be with their family -- their true home.
Indeed, Filipinos, no matter how hard they will go through, would always go back to where their hearts live. Because, our country, the Philippines, has never run out of something to offer. It has never failed to be our truest home.