Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Leyte Lakwatsa, a Lookback

The visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines especially to Leyte this January 2015 sparked nostalgic memories of a land trip my family took a few years ago. That was way before Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) made its own "visit" in November 2013. We went in December 2010. The following were some of my thoughts back then.

My husband has always dreamed of crossing San Juanico Bridge. We finally decided to embark on a road trip when we got the chance after Christmas. After studying maps and booking at the Leyte Park Hotel, we set off at around 1.45am of December 27. Since the kids and I didn't sleep anymore, we slept in the car while my husband drove.

We were surprised to wake up at 6.15a.m. at the Port of Lipata in Surigao City. Surprisingly, what usually takes 7 hours by bus from Tagum to Surigao City we only took for 4.5 hours. It was a good thing because instead of catching the 11.30a.m. ferry, we were able to ride the Super Shuttle Ferry which left at 7.00a.m. for the port of Liloan. We arrived there at 9.45a.m.

The ride was a comfortable one with an airconditioned hall with reclining seats for passengers for an additional fee of P100/person. Those who didn't want to pay an additional fee had to contend themselves with the benches on the outside decks. The fares we paid for the ferry were: P3,350.00 for the car, P250.00/person for the passengers excluding the driver or P1,000.00, P129.00 PPA fee, P80.00 terminal fee and P50.00 barangay fee. The same fees applied to the trip from Liloan to Lipata.

The crew members on the ferry were courteous and kind. There was one who went around to check on the passengers.

On our way to Tacloban, we passed through many coastal towns. We also passed through so many bridges. The best bridge was the world-class Agas-Agas Bridge at Sogod. 

Here's a trivia from Gerry Ruiz Photo Blog: "The bridge, touted to be the tallest in the country at a height of 75m, was constructed at a cost of PhP1.024B funded by the national government with funding assistance from the government of Japan thru the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The bridge serves as a vital link between Luzon and Mindanao through the Liloan ferry terminal in Southern Leyte providing a safe, stable link to the landslide-prone Agas-agas area traversing the Mahaplag, Leyte to Sogod, Southern Leyte section of the Maharlika Highway. Its completion along the mountainous terrain will make the road section passable to all vehicular traffic at all times even during bad weather. The opening of the bridge cuts down travel time by one and a half hours from Tacloban to Liloan and vice versa."

I remember the rest room near the office of the bridge was clean and well-maintained.

The sights along the way were typical of the Philippine countryside with the bahay-kubo,rice fields and coconut trees. Somehow at the back of my mind was the question whether those people were contented with the kind of life they live. The innocent smiles on the kids' faces along the way probably answered that question. After Yolanda, of course, we have learned so many things about the plight of the people of Leyte.

Our trip was comfortable enough for us. We were just grateful our kids weren't the complaining kind so that everything was just like a living lesson in geography.

We passed by Palo, Leyte and got off MacArthur Park. Little did we know that Yolanda would knock down one of the statues but it was restored in no time.

We stayed at the Leyte Park Resort Hotel. The facade reminded us of Davao's Waterfront Insular Hotel but aside from another similarity which was that it also faced the sea, the rest of the place looked like the hotel had seen better days. I could just imagine how it was devastated by Yolanda. One tv reporter reported from the hotel and we saw how the typhoon wreaked havoc on it.  

The following day, we trooped to San Juanico Bridge, our target for that land trip. I rode the car while my husband and kids walked on it! Yes, they WALKED...and savored the view around. The speed limit was 30kph and I guess I drove slower than that to breathe in the beauty of the place. It was prohibited to stop in the middle of the bridge. I waited for my family at the Samar end of the bridge, the town of Sta. Rita where they got after a 45-minute leisurely walk. 

I think among the structures the Marcoses made, the San Juanico Bridge is definitely one very useful structure which I could credit them. It brings people across Leyte and Samar and beyond. It is such a blessing that it also withstood the test of time and the test of Yolanda far better than the test of the integrity of the Marcoses.

The beauty of a certain place, however, cannot be captured by the camera. One needs to be in the place and embrace its beauty. 

Since we were already in Samar, we decided to try our luck and go to the town of Basey and cross the river to Sohoton Caves, or more appropriately, the Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park which is situated at Rawis, Brgy. Guirang in Basey, Samar. Fascinating geological features abound in the 840-hectare park such as caves, limestone boulders, rockholes, weathered formation rocks and underground rivers. (Gerry Ruiz Photo Blog.)

Basey was one of those towns badly devastated by Yolanda. Before that, it was known for its beautifully woven colorful mats. We took off from there on a boat which took us around 45 minutes to get to the Sohoton Caves. We definitely did not regret doing so despite the long trip. It was worth it.

Basey in brighter days.
Getting on the boat to take us to Sohoton Cave
It's a loooong boat ride along a winding river.
This can be seen along the river nearing Sohoton Cave.

Inside the huge cave.
What's that? The guide told us the secret to appreciating the cave is to look beyond the stalactites and stalagmites and use our imagination.
Statue of Liberty?
Looks like a huge ballroom.
The guide telling us what to find over there. 
That looks like a city, isn't it? Or statues of the three kings? Whatever!
Ahhhhh...Hon, don't touch! 
Off to the third of three chambers of the huge cave.
Whoa! Huge indeed!
Leyte is a province with beautiful places and potential for tourism. It may be on the typhoon path but if the natural sights are left on their own, they can be destinations for tourists and travelers.

Here's hoping God, through Pope Francis, would bless Leyte and its people!

Viva Il Papa! Viva Leyte!

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