As I mentioned in my previous story for Yahoo, I was in Angeles City, Pampanga for two weeks to do workation there. As my trip was nearing its end and it would be time for me to head back home to Cabuyao, Laguna already, a very spontaneous idea came to mind:
What if I travel somewhere else?
It was a weekend. I messaged my friends to ask if they would be available to go to Baguio City on Monday. It was just a stupid question at first, to be honest. How would we be available to travel when we’ve got work? But probably feeling the same itch to travel again after being cooped up for so long, they said yes. My employer, for one, immediately approved all of my leaves for the upcoming week (reason for filing: “mental health break”) as they never denied us having sanity breaks once in a while.
But as we were waiting for the approval of our application to the Visita app (Baguio City’s visitor information and travel assistance app), which is required to be able to enter Baguio City, we toyed around the idea of traveling outside Luzon instead. We were anxious that our application to enter Baguio City would get denied. Maybe traveling outside Luzon would be easier, we thought, than going to places like Baguio City or La Union.
True enough, we discovered that domestic flights have become a lot cheaper. The flight from Manila to Cebu was just around P900 ($18), while the return flight was just around P1,200 ($24). Prior to the pandemic, the average amount probably would play around P2,000 ($40) to P4,000 ($800). As we kept browsing, we also learned that entry to Cebu and many other domestic locations only requires a valid ID and the vaccination card for fully vaccinated people (and negative COVID-19 test results for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals).
Attracted to the cheaper flights and easier travel requirements, we thought it would be unwise to not take advantage of it.
Little did we know, that was just the first of many surprising discoveries that this trip would entail.
Entering Ninoy Aquino International Airport for the first time in 21 months was actually nerve-wracking not because of fear of getting COVID-19 in the surprisingly crowded airport, but because we were not entirely sure yet of the travel requirements. The government keeps on changing the travel requirements every now and then, so the lists are often different from one another. What if they suddenly require a negative RT-PCR test result? What if they require VaxCertPH? Would they deny us of our already-booked flights? Thankfully, they only looked at our valid ID, vaccination card, and our profile on Traze (a nationwide and unified contact tracing app).
The initial plan really was to just tour Cebu for three days; we were supposed to head back to Manila on Wednesday. But when we discovered that we could cross to Bohol with just a valid ID, the vaccination card, and an approved S-PASS (an online travel management system used for domestic travel when varying levels of travel restrictions were imposed in local government units), we eventually found ourselves riding the Fastcraft heading to Bohol on our third day. As to why exactly, that we did not really know. All we knew was we wanted to make the most out of that trip.
The fare had spiked though, from what was previously just P450 ($9), it is now P800 ($16) because of the social distancing policy in place; now, you pay for an extra seat already.
This was one of the reasons why we decided to stay a bit longer in Bohol. The round trips would cost us a total of P1,600 ($32), so, we thought, why not maximize our stay in Bohol? Instead of just going to the usual tourist locations like the Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, Loboc River, and the Man-made Forest, we thought we should also enjoy the beaches of Panglao and Anda, too. From what was supposed to be a two-day-one-night trip in what the locals call the "City of Friendship", we decided to just return to Cebu City on Friday.
The plan on Friday was to go to the beautiful beaches of Anda early in the morning and return to Tagbilaran City in the afternoon to catch the last Fastcraft trip heading back to Cebu City. But while we were in Anda, we were told by the locals that there would be no return trips back to Tagbilaran City anymore, unlike pre-pandemic when there would be round trips every day. Given that, we found ourselves stuck in the quiet, laid-back community of Anda with no extra clothes whatsoever; we just bought souvenir shirts that we could wear.
The last spontaneous adjustment to our itinerary happened when I learned that I have relatives in Tagbilaran City who would be available to meet me. So, as my friends headed back to Cebu City on Saturday, I stayed for an extra day instead so that I could meet my relatives. It was, again, out of the plan, but I thought that I was in Bohol already, anyway — another adjustment would not hurt. After all, this trip has been all about spontaneity and surprises since Day 1.
My friends and I were able to adjust our schedule and itinerary mostly because, surprisingly, rebooking of flights is now free. I am not entirely sure if it applies to all domestic flights, but from our experience, we managed to rebook our supposed return flight from Wednesday to Thursday, and then to Friday, and then ultimately to Monday – making our supposed three-day trip to an eight-day journey full of rebooking, recalibrating, readjusting.
We also got to befriend the owner of a Bohol-based travel agency. She was very excited to be welcoming tourists again so she helped us in any way she could – from finding us good lodging and booking our Fastcraft trips. Bohol, like many other locations, seemed to be ready to welcome the tourists back with such open arms and helping hands.
My friends and I were used to traveling; we were all colleagues working as producers in a news magazine show known for covering many human-interest stories across the country. But during this trip, we all agreed: we actually enjoyed this particular travel because we felt we are first-time tourists this time. Finally being able to travel again – which is something that was taken away from us in the pandemic – made us all very excited that we found ourselves being surprised by what traveling looks like now, post-pandemic.
I used to get easily annoyed by airport noise and slow ferry rides, but now, I realized how grateful I must be to be hearing them come to life once again.
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.