Monday, March 11, 2013

We gave up - Puerto Princesa, Philippines

The escape
Only a limited number of people are allowed to access the underground river each day, six or nine hundred, we're not sure about it. Anyway all the slots are booked out for a few days ahead. At the service center they let us know that if we go to Sabang by ourselves and stay at the "right" hotel there might be some available permits not yet assigned. We buy two seats on a minivan for the following day. Judging by the price we paid and what the travel agent said it should be a decent transport service. 
The next morning they come to pick us up at the hotel with a rather run-down minibus. There only are two other tourists on board besides us. They take us to the bus station, where they intend to pick up more passengers: no problem about that, we were not really counting on travelling sprawled across three seats each. The incoming procession is interminable though. There only are nine proper places available, plus two folding extra seats, but these guys are letting ten, fifteen, twenty passengers in, and there are some more lined up in front of the van door. Six or seven people are sharing four seats in the back row, more people are seated on wooden planks resting on the edges of the seats, the armrests or the doors. The luggage space has been taken up as well: our bags are being piled up on the roof.
I sit down and try to relax, after all it's just a two-hour ride. I'm only a little upset for having paid twice or three times the correct price for this piece of wreck. My friend doesn't take it as easy as me though. Not easy at all actually. He's getting quite gloomy, he puffs and starts to vent out his frustration with comments in Italian. He's not used to travel like this. He's genuinely worried, maybe even a bit scared. He's obviously right on this, as I already know how they drive here. As far as I am concerned though, I never let my thoughts take that course: there are places in Asia where you either don't go at all or go and forget about that kind of attitude. However, his monologue is starting to awake my ancestral claustrophobia. I remember when I was trapped in a MRI sarcophagus at a hospital in Bangkok and I was thinking of what would happen in case the equipment went on fire. My heart started to beat faster and I knew that unless I managed to control myself I would get a panic attack and go nuts. I managed to calm down somehow. I would make it here as well, but I am not by myself and my friend doesn't intend to calm down at all. I have the impression that the only thing that is keeping him here is me: he doesn't want to let me down. This doesn't seem to be good. I ask him whether he wants to get down and give up: he reacts like a life-sentenced inmate who has just been granted an unexpected pardon. We get off then.
Had I been alone I wouldn't have probably done it. I say probably because actually I just did it, but in similar situations in the past I held on. In cases like this I tend to become a bit reckless and even though I realize that I am taking some risks I live everything as if it were a challenge, a sort of life test that I have to pass, a price to pay for the good moments of the past and the ones still to come. But this is a very personal point of view, and a totally irrational one at that. There are many other things that matter to me: loyalty and solidarity towards an adventure companion are among them. I would expect the same kind of attitude from him.
We gave up then, we are running away, under the incredulous gaze of the Filipinos. We actually did it, and it is a good thing after all.

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