It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since that summer of 1992. It was a most unforgettable year mainly because it was the year I finished my studies. After handing over my thesis, I thought I would reward myself for all the “hard work” I had done the past four years…

The only fitting reward I could think of then was to allow myself the unbridled pursuit of my passion for the outdoors.

And so that summer, my friends and I decided to join the federation climb of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. (MFPI). We were to fly to Iloilo in the Visayan Islands of the Philippines to meet up with all the mountaineers from all over the land.

This event coincided with Holy Week in the Philippines and that only meant one thing – travelling would be a challenge. Not only was school out, but it was also a time when everyone went back to their hometowns to spend the summer and to attend Holy Week activities.

There were four of us going to Iloilo – me, my good friend EB and our couple friends B and R. For some reason I can’t quite remember now, only EB and B got their air tickets to Iloilo confirmed. R and I had scheduling issues and could not depart Manila together with EB and B. Anyway, after EB and B landed in Iloilo, I recall R and I going to the PAL office in Makati and trying our best to secure our tickets. The ticket office looked more like a cockpit arena. It was chaotic. The people would not line up and there were just too many people inside. At one point, the short-haired, diminutive female ticket agent had to scream at the clients just to get them to line up. Of course, thinking back now, that problem-solving technique would be deemed inacceptable these days given the extreme competition in the local airline industry. Scream at us, you become tomorrow’s headline. But back then, hearing her scream left me petrified with fear that I nearly told my friend to abandon the fed climb. We were getting too exhausted already. And yet, we hadn’t even started climbing any mountain yet.

Our persistence paid off when after two days of trying, my friend R and I got our early morning tickets to Iloilo. She was desperate to be with her boyfriend that perhaps, if I had suggested forgetting about the fed climb, she would have ended our friendship right there and then.

I woke up early to pick up my friend R from her nearby village. She overslept, probably from thinking too much about her boyfriend who was already in Iloilo with relatives and our other friend EB. (I’m not suggesting that EB can’t be trusted with one’s boyfriend. She is in fact a very trustworthy person, mild-mannered and rather conservative, as educated by the nuns of St. Mary.) I doubted if my friend R was able to take a bath. She looked disheveled when she came out of the house.
When we finally got off at Iloilo airport, there was another problem. Nobody was there to pick us up. Our friends didn’t know what flight we were going to board. They only knew we were trying desperately to rejoin them. Note that this was before the advent of cellular phones. Landlines were the only way to go. And even a landline number, we didn’t have. My friend R and I decided to get a taxi and head for UP Iloilo. We knew B had a cousin in UP Iloilo named Sol. But we had never met her before. The cab driver got us there and we asked around for Sol. And by a stroke of luck, we found Sol! However, she could only tell us to go to their family home in Barotac Nuevo some thirty kilometers from the airport.

Not having any other choice, we asked the cab driver to take us to the town of Barotac Nuevo. It was a long ride and there were moments when our taxi cab was the only vehicle on the long stretch of road surrounded by farm land. Upon reaching the town, and with the help of our cab driver, we looked for the house of B’s family. We got the sense that their family was well-known in those parts and before long, R and I heaved a sigh of relief as we stood in front of their house smiling happily at B’s relatives.

“Hi! We are B’s friends from Manila. We’re here to join them.” (smiling from ear to ear)

“Oh, are you the ones who just arrived? They just left about half an hour ago to pick you up at the airport.”, one of the women said from her spot at the second floor balcony.

Ouch… (Our smiles started to fade.) R and I stared at each other. Then, we looked at the taxi driver. The taxi driver stared back at us, probably feeling sorry for us.

I knew R was on the verge of tears from utter frustration and lack of sleep. We decided to head back to the airport and travel another thirty kilometers.

All of us became quiet. What if they’re not at the airport when we get there? What do we do? Do we head back to the family home in Barotac Nuevo? But we weren’t sure B’s family would let us in without making sure that we were the friends B was expecting.

The trip back to the airport only wasted our time, money and energy. This realization left R and I feeling very exhausted.

Where do we go next?

It was nearing lunch time and we had been with our trusty cab driver since we arrived around 7 a.m. that morning. No, we weren’t flying back to Manila. Not after having fought for our air tickets.

We were starting to get hungry.  So, we asked him to bring us to the city.

We finally parted with our cab driver when he dropped us off in front of SM Iloilo, a one-storey structure and a far cry from our SM North Edsa in Metro Manila. We finished checking out this building in a matter of minutes then walked over to the mall next to it. This one had a second floor. We found a place to sit upstairs and plopped down our tired bodies on the bench.

As I started to lay my sleepy head on the table, I gazed at a group of three people walking on the ground floor downstairs. Hey, I know these people, I thought.

“Hey, it’s B!”

“And EB!”

“Guys, we’re here!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs while waving my fatigued arms.

They figured that that was the only place we could go, after having missed us at the airport.

Thank goodness they finally found us!

(to be continued)

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2 Comments to “The Summer of 1992: Part 1: Lost and Found in Iloilo”

  1. Taxi rates to and from the airport are a free-for-all at this time. Iloilo taxi drivers, generally good guys, resist using their meters for trips to the airport. We had friends visiting from the USA who were ripped-off by a taxi driver on their first visit to Iloilo. Also, the taxi drivers have turned the Iloilo-to-airport road into a racetrack in their rush to get to and from the airport in a minimum amount of time. We saw one taxi-on-taxi wreck on our last trip.

  2. Hi Murray,

    That is most unfortunate! Isn’t there a hotline so one can report dishonest taxi drivers? They should finally realize that they will get more business if they treat tourists right. Tsk tsk…

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