“Asa na mo dapit?”
That was from Jethro, a text message that hardly sounded urgent but was no less unnerving. He had flown ahead to Manila, where we’d agreed to meet the day after and head for Sagada, our room there sitting on the edge of a karst cliff, waiting for guests who probably won’t arrive on time, or might not even make it.
So where were we?
“Tacloban,” I texted back during a stop near a fork in the road. I wasn’t sure. One tortuous, poorly paved stretch in Ormoc city made the ride so jarring it made dirt roads seem first world. I shot uneasy glances at my passengers: my wife and youngest beside me, and the two girls in the backseat. They seemed docile, unperturbed. Despite the incredibly slow, wearisome Roro crossing from the Danao city to Isabel, the late lunch and loads of chips and candy kept their spirits at manageable levels.
I looked up the rear view mirror – Jong emerges from the driver’s side of his white Fortuner and approaches our pickup. I stepped out. He was all smiles. I supposed the rest of the Fernandezes were doing fine as well. I forced a grin.
I think we’re headed the wrong way, I said, pointing to a sign that read “To Maasin City.” Jong studied the sign, then the busy road to the right that led all the way to Southern Leyte, and nodded. That same road would have led to my grandmother-in-law’s hometown in scenic Panaon Island, which rests placidly right across Surigao city, Mindanao’s northernmost tip. The thought of changing courses on a whim sounded inviting.
Apparently, I had missed by a few meters the sign that pointed to Tacloban. But that delay was a mere hiccup, because no matter what we did, we already found ourselves three hours off schedule that Saturday morning, no thanks to the ancient vessel from Cebu that took forever to leave and even longer to find our port in Leyte.