Travel Lows and Woes: The Closing Gangplank – Romblon, Philippines

Travel Lows and Woes: The Closing Gangplank
Romblon, Philippines

I was an intern for an environmental organization during one summer in law school, together with Aldwin, my internship partner. For this organization, we were required to go with our supervising lawyers whenever they would go to far-flung areas in the country to conduct training and seminars on environmental laws for the resident communities. Being a law student, and having very little opportunity to travel, it was always a pleasant experience for me to visit new places around the Philippines, even if it did require us to do some work.

One of the projects of the organization at that time, which Aldwin and I were asked to join, involved a training of community representatives for the protection of Mt. Guiting-Guiting, a proclaimed national park in Sibuyan Island, Romblon province. Romblon province is composed of three islands: Romblon, Tablas and Sibuyan. It is on Sibuyan Island that the mountain is found. We have learned that this is where some rare orchids are found, and is home to many endemic species of flora.

There were five of us in our party: Asis and Jun, both lawyers, Lui, an eco-tourism expert, and Aldwin and I, the two interns. To get to Romblon province, we had to take a roll-on-roll-off ferry, more commonly referred to here as the “RORO,” from the Batangas Pier in Batangas City. The ferry would take us to Sibuyan Island only after stopping over at the two islands of Romblon and Tablas. Aside from passengers, the RORO also transports goods and vehicles to the point of destination.

The first stopover was in Romblon. Since this island is famous for being the island of marble, we thought of going around the stalls that sell souvenirs made of marble, such as paper weights, ash trays, and other decorative items. The stalls were just a few meters away from the pier, so Aldwin and I thought that we could take our time in going around to look for souvenirs for our family and friends back home.

“How long before the boat leaves for Tablas?” We asked one of the boat’s crew before disembarking the boat.

“Oh, it will take about an hour or so,” he had assured us. “Some goods are still being transported out and vehicles are still getting off the boat, so it will take some time.”

With that assurance, the five of us went down from the boat to go “window shopping” for marble souvenirs. Lui, Aldwin and I went together while Asis and Jun went around separately. We decided that we could just meet up again on the boat in an hour, before the boat would leave for the next island.

The stalls were stationed around the plaza, just like a typical market place, but with only marble souvenirs and a few other native crafts as the only goods for sale. The three of us leisurely walked around, comparing designs and prices. We did not buy the souvenirs yet, since we knew we would be passing Romblon island again on our way back to Manila after a few days. We just decided on which design we would be buying and from which seller we would be getting them. Some sellers offered the service of personalizing paper weights and other marble items, so we kept that in mind, and just wrote down the names of those to whom we will be giving them as tokens.

While still inside the maze of stalls, after only about 30 minutes from the time we disembarked, I suddenly heard a horn blowing not so far away. Toot-Toot-Toot!

“Aldwin,” I called, wondering what that sound was. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” He asked, as he put down the item he was just inspecting.

“Sounds like the boat,” Lui gasped.

The sound continued. Toot-toot-toot!

It dawned on us at that moment that the boat must be about to leave! Without saying anything else, we started to run down the alley to the main plaza. And there, to our utter horror was our boat getting ready to leave. The sound we heard came from the boat to signify its departure. The three of us ran as fast as we could to the pier, which was about 100 meters or so from the plaza. We were the only ones running there, so we knew no other passenger was strolling the alleyways of the marble market stalls.

As we approached the gates of the pier, they were already closed. But we shouted at the guards to open the gates, explaining frantically that we were passengers of the boat. The guard immediately opened the gates. But he also told us that the gangplank of the boat was already raised.

We insisted nevertheless, and kept on running towards the boat. We could hear the porters at the pier and some of the crew on the ship shouting at us to hurry up. At that point, we could see that the gangplank was already raised about a foot high from the edge of the pier’s platform. Everyone was shouting, including us.

“Wait for us! Wait for us!”

We kept on running, until we reached the edge of the platform of the pier, and with all our might, the three of us jumped to the half-raised gangplank, about a couple of feet away from the edge of the platform. I could see the water already below us as we held on to our dear lives at the grooves of the bridge while it was still raised halfway to closing. I wasn’t thinking of anything else at that time except to hold on as long as I could. The bridge smelled of oil and grime from the vehicles that passed over it, and I could even see and feel the filth on the groove that I was holding on to. But despite that, I made sure my body was pasted on the inclined bridge. People already saw us, I thought, so they would have to make sure the boat would not start moving away with the three of us hanging for like that on the bridge of the ferry. Ever done wall climbing? Well, that was how I think we looked like from the pier, only we did not have any harness on. Our fingers and feet were perched on the grooves of the bridge while it was being raised to close the boat. If one of us slipped, he (or I) would go straight into the grimy waters, and risk getting injured under the platform of the pier or getting sucked by the propellers that powered the boat.

Fortunately, the operator of the bridge stopped raising the gangplank right on time as soon as he saw three pathetic-looking people hanging precariously on it, and after he heard the commotion that we caused from the crew and even some passengers who saw us. He then reversed, and the bridge eventually made its way back to the edge of the platform, until we were almost in prone position on the straightened bridge.

With hands and legs still shaking, I pulled myself up. I saw Aldwin and Lui do the same. We smiled at each other uneasily at first, and gesturing in a manner as if dusting our shirts. With a sigh of relief, we walked nervously over the bridge, feeling all eyes and grinning faces on us. We could have had an accident then – even fatal at that. All we thought then was that we should not be left on the island. So we did what we thought was the only option we had. Only after that incident did we realize that we could have just shouted at the crew of the boat to lower the plank again for us, without getting off the platform of the pier.

But despite that little misadventure in engaging in stunt activities, the Filipino in us still prevailed. After straightening up ourselves, with amused spectators all around us, we laughed our way up to our bunk beds, and breathlessly narrated our comic story to our other companions.

Not surprisingly, we slept very soundly that night.