Epic Bus Rides and Bandit Stories

You know those situations that are only funny and silly afterwards but are awfully stressful and terrifying while you’re still going through them? This is one of those.

Sitio Bol-ogan, the jump-off point for the Dulang-Dulang climb, is located in the municipality of Lantapan which is about 2-3 hours away from Malaybalay by bus or jeepney. We planned on going there in the morning but we didn’t expect that finding a guide would take so long. I finally wrapped up the guide-hunting at around 2pm. The last bus trip leaves at three so I thought we’d have enough time to get to the Binahon farm before nightfall. Although both Sir Henry and Ma’am Perla were not there, they were kind enough to let us stay for the night.

We got to the terminal at 2:30pm but the dispatcher told us there were no more jeepneys and buses that would go all the way to Bol-ogan. We would have to take a habal-habal (motorcycle) to get there. Then he went on to tell us horror stories of bandits prowling at night with outsiders like us being the most vulnerable targets.

“You shouldn’t be travelling at this hour. It’s very dangerous,” he said in the most ominous voice he could muster. Part of me suspected he was just messing with us while another part was completely terrified and just wanted to call the whole thing off. Good thing I have a knack for being stubborn even in the face of mortal danger so we went ahead.

He also warned us against eating anything the locals offered. The food supposedly contains spells and supernatural things that would make us sick. (I’ve heard of these superstitions since I was a kid and as someone who eats absolutely anything and everything especially if it’s free, I can confidently say this is horseshit. If you have a sensitive tummy though, it’s better to be cautious with what you eat and drink. The power of spells may be questionable but amoeba is very real.)

The next bus was only going as far as Alanib, which was still a long way from Bol-ogan. The dispatcher recommended we get on it and just take the habal-habal from there. Another bus bound for Songco, which is much nearer to Bol-ogan, was on queue but the Alanib bus leaves first and he said we’d get to our destination earlier if we take this one. By this time my head was already filled with scary scenarios involving bandits, highway robbery and human roadkill, thanks to him.

We took his advice though and got on the Alanib bus. We cruised along the traffic-free highway and had a 20-minute stopover at a junction lined with sari-sari stores to wait for more passengers. After loading more people, sacks of rice, boxes of groceries and a couple of live chickens, we were off. Then it began to rain. Hard. I’m talking cats and dogs and the entire pet store. Water started leaking from the roof and fell straight on to our backpacks. We scrambled for our rain covers and had to make emergency repairs after Chiara’s backpack cover was damaged. I stared at the darkening skies and imagined how depressing it would be to be murdered by bandits on a rainy night. Our bodies would be discovered the next day, all drenched and muddied.

I asked around if there are still motorcycles at this hour going to Bol-ogan and was met with either unsure shrugs or disdainful shaking of heads. Really, people. You could at least be marginally positive and give us something to hope for. Fortunately, we learned that a fellow passenger, a high school girl, was also headed for Bol-ogan. Fine, she can hardly defend us from rifle-wielding thieves but at least we were with someone who knows where we’re going.

We got off at Alanib and I started negotiating with a habal-habal driver on how much it would cost us to get to Bol-ogan. He gave a rate of P100 per passenger. It was expensive but at this point, we didn’t have much of a choice. High School Girl then said another bus going to Songco is on the way (the same bus we bypassed earlier upon the brilliant advice of you-know-who). It would be a lot cheaper to take the bus and with the rain still pouring at full force, we’d be soaked to our bones if we take the motorcycle.

The Songco-bound bus arrived and we, along with about 10 other people, swarmed into it even though it was so packed passengers were already spilling out of the doors. Our backpacks made it harder to cram ourselves inside. I got into the back door while Chiara managed to hang on to the side railing in the middle. By then it was completely dark and the rain still won’t let up. The bus was filled mostly with chattering students and while in normal circumstances I’d be annoyed by all the noise, the lively banter and even the screaming girls actually eased my sense of impending doom.

The conductor, upon learning that we were going to Bol-ogan, pointed to an unshaven man at the back of the bus and said he was also headed there. I gave a curt nod and prayed he’s not a bandit. I know, I know, it’s awful to judge a person’s character based on his unruly beard. It’s exactly the kind of prejudice I’d be rallying against if I were in a more composed state of mind. But I was anything but composed at the moment so my brain was overrun with all sorts of gory theories and sick assumptions.

After about 40 minutes of travelling on pothole-ridden rough roads, we reached our stop and the four of us sought shelter at a sari-sari store. The guy who owns the store happened to have a motorcycle and offered to take us to Bol-ogan. Chiara and High School Girl went first while Mr. Unruly Beard and I chatted with the wife of the habal-habal driver. I’ve since shed off whatever mistrust I had against him. I was just thankful to have company.

The habal-habal came back for us and after a few minutes’ drive in the rain, we finally arrived in Bol-ogan. We still had to walk about 700 meters to the farm on a muddy uphill road. My shoulders and back were screaming in pain from the weight of my bag. We were cold, wet and hungry but every step brought a little relief knowing that we were getting closer to a proper roof and a warm bed.

We parted ways with our newfound companions at the gate, profusely thanking them for helping us get to our destination. It was only later that I realized I didn’t even get their names. I was too busy worrying about bandits, getting lost and getting wet. We didn’t see them again but High School Girl and Mr. Unruly Beard were among the kind strangers who helped us get through the epic Bukidnon adventure/ordeal in one piece.


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