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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, February 17, 2017
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Road trip


I made an unexpected road trip to Antique the other day to accompany my wife who thought it would be a good idea to have me tag along to ride a roro, enjoy the drive and at the same time get some precious post-Valentine’s together time. Aside from that, I suspect she had a sneaky motive: she’d get to ride in our family car instead of some rent-a-van during the 2-hour land trip from Iloilo to Antique.

We may be a family that enjoys exploring and traveling, but it was ironically our first to take our own car on the roro to Iloilo. The last time we did that it was with my late mother almost ten years ago. What made it even more exciting/stressful was not knowing that we would go until literally a few hours before the trip. In fact, I am writing part of this article at a car wash in San Jose, while waiting for the salty sea spray to be hosed off the car after the 2-hour roro trip and the 2-hour drive from Iloilo to Antique.

We planned to take the FastCat, the newest Bacolod-Iloilo roro service that my wife had been gushing about. She enjoyed the new vessel and its improved comfort over its competitors that she, as a regular of the Iloilo-Bacolod route, is all too familiar with.

As roro newbies who didn’t know how the system worked and didn’t want to be left behind, we left the house around 4:10 am and got to Banago by 4:30. The first surprise of our trip was discovering that the FastCat sometimes gets cancelled. It didn’t leave Iloilo for some reason that day so there was no 5 am trip from Bacolod.

Disappointed, my wife offered to take the regular fastcraft to Iloilo and take a van to Antique instead. But since we were already up before the crack of dawn and had made the necessary arrangements with our kids to be away, we decided to try to catch another roro instead.

We proceeded to Bredco and got ourselves on a 5:30 trip to Dumangas. The experience of getting our car aboard without any reservations could’ve gone better but I may have expected too much civility from the guy in overalls manning the boarding ramp at 5am in the morning.

Aside from the gruff dude, crossing the narrow sea was actually quite fun. The cool weather made hanging out at the open-air deck a breeze. It was there that we saw the seawater splashing and spraying all over the vehicles, ours included. My wife told me she thinks that doesn’t happen with the Fast Cat, so for those who consider salt spray an issue, prioritizing that option might make sense.

The older roro was cheaper but it was slower and it docked in Dumangas that according to Waze, is another 40-minute drive to Iloilo so we lost a bit of time because of that. Aside from that, car owners like me who have salt-spray phobia will end up shelling up another hundred pesos or so for a quick car wash (the second thing I did as soon as we got to San Jose,) so that has to be considered as well. In our case, we had no choice so we went ahead with it. The important thing was we still got to our destination safely and without incident.

Taking the regular roro instead of the canceled FastCat meant we got to Iloilo City at around 9 am instead of our original estimate of 7am. What good is newer and better if it isn’t there?

We quickly stopped for breakfast and coffee in Iloilo before proceeding to Antique. The usual suspects of tricycles and spots of construction slowed us down but the roads were generally decent and the trip was quite pleasant. I particularly enjoyed the twisty zigzagging roads at the latter part of the trip where I got to test our car’s all wheel drive capabilities and my wife’s resistance to motion sickness.

We only spent a few hours in San Jose. My wife held a couple of meetings while I did some exploring. One of the things I discovered was that the provincial capital of Antique doesn’t have a movie house. By 4:30 we were on the road again, on our way back to Iloilo. Including a stop at the Miagao church, the return trip took much longer as we got to our hotel in the city by 8 pm. I reckon that the rush hour traffic and the lack of streetlights slowed us down by more than an hour.

The following morning, we tried to catch the 8 am FastCat but we were running late so we didn’t expect to make it. However, despite getting to the port with literally just minutes to spare, we were able to buy tickets, pay fees, and load our car on the vessel. I didn’t expect it to be that easy and convenient.

The only disadvantage with the ease of boarding was not getting to see FastCat’s disappointing Iloilo terminal that is my wife’s only complaint as far as the service is concerned. But aside from that, she was right about the new service. It was clean, comfortable, and new. Even her claim that the car would be more sheltered from the harsh elements of the sea was correct. It is, however, more expensive than the usual roro.

I don’t do roro’s because I always had this impression that they were slow, uncomfortable, and a potential nightmare for careful car owners. Our impromptu roro trip this week showed me that I was wrong on most counts and our mixed FastCat experience showed us that while the quality and reliability of service may not exactly be first world, we are not stuck with third world options anymore either.*

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