hese past few days have been nothing short of extraordinary, both in a good way and a bad way. I've been thrust into the middle of a storm, literally and nonliterally speaking.

As I type this, there are about 30 restless people scattered around the small visitor's lounge of Liloan port at the southernmost tip of Cebu island. It's a day after Typhoon Ramon struck the country and we have been stranded here for nearly two hours. The Coast Guard has cancelled all boat trips due to the typhoon, despite the fact that the sea looked calm.

I'm exhausted. I feel bad and looked it. My hair is a mess, my eyes are puffy from lack of sleep, and my clothes are creased because I slept in them on the couch inside our regional office in Cebu City where I spent the night. I didn't bring extra clothes with me because I was planning to take the overnight boat back to Dumaguete. But that, too, was cancelled. Ramon messed up my schedule. (What can you expect from a storm named after a man?)

While staring at one of the two sea crafts docked outside bobbing gently on the water, I'm asking myself why the heck am I here?

Let me do a fast rewind back to October 7, last Friday, when I got a phone call that started it all.

On the phone was Miss Angie, the head of our central news desk in Manila, asking me if I had a passport.

My passport was clean as a whistle when it expired in 2007. I got the passport for a trip that never materialized. I have been putting off the process of renewing it. When I heard Angie ask me that question, I had a premonition that procrastination was about to bite me in the ass.

And it did. It bit me hard as I was about to find out.

So I told Angie my passport was expired. "Ay, patay," was her response, which is a Filipino expression one utters when things just got screwed up.

Angie passed the phone to Jam (from our MISD office) who again asked the same question. I gave the same response. "Why, what is this for?" I asked, a little nervous by now.

Jam then handed the phone over to Ma'am Bel (Capul), one of our directors. "Okay, Rachelle, you've been recommended to join the Journalist Visit Program (JVP) in Indonesia. Do you have a passport?" There's the dang question again.

After I explained (again) my passport dilemma, Ma'am Bel was more optimistic. She said it won't be a problem as they can request a Diplomatic Passport for me.

To say I was shell-shocked after that phone conversation is an understatement. I walked back to my desk in a daze and stared at my laptop screen where I have started typing the lead for a news story. The cursor kept blinking. I just stared and stared.

After a few more phone calls, I found myself holding the printout of the JVP itinerary. As I scanned through the sheets, it finally sank into me that this was really happening. It was for real. I was going to Indonesia. I was finally going on my first ever overseas trip.

Simultaneous to that thought was also the urge to bang my head hard on the wall for not renewing my passport earlier. If there was one hard lesson you should learn from my story, it would be that even if you don't have plans of going abroad, just go get a passport. You never know when you'll be offered a chance for an expense-free experience in another country.

So the weekend after that momentous Friday, I vigorously attacked the boutiques and department stores, buying up a wardrobe apropos for my IT in Indonesia: blazers and slacks for the courtesy calls to governors and Indonesia's Director General for Information and Public Diplomacy (I assume this is their version of the agency I work for); collared shirts for the tours and museum visits; a long flowy dress and a green pleated skirt for the dinners; and a couple of modest swimsuits for the romp in Bali that will culminate the 10-day trip.

Online, I Googled up all things Indonesia and the places that we're going to. I also sought the advice of my college buddy Shaun, a geodetic engineer who worked for 5 years at Weatherford Indonesia before he was promoted to (and I'm quoting our alma mater president here) a "hire-and-fire" position in Malaysia.

Shaun advised me to dress conservatively, wear long sleeves and cover my head with a scarf "ala US Ambassador Kelly when she was with MILF Chair Murad on the cover of the Inquirer." By Sunday, I was browsing through the racks of scarves and trying on long-sleeved shirts at the department stores.

That same weekend, my Mom (who is inordinately and embarrassingly proud of me) has been telling everyone about my trip while my Dad has already forwarded to the printing press his weekly column about how his daughter was going to represent the country in Indonesia.

By Sunday evening, my bags were packed. I was good to go.  

Come Monday, I showed up bright and early for work, where I worked tirelessly to finish everything that I need to finish before I leave for Indonesia at the end of the week.

I was pumped. I was working like I had a fuse lit up in my ass. I was so productive that I finished in a day about three days' worth of tasks.

It was in the afternoon that day when the phone rang and the ball dropped. Jam told me that there was another "private media practitioner" who applied for the slot. The choice is now up to the Indonesian ambassador who he wants to go on the JVP trip.

My energy level sank so low I could almost hear it thud on the ground. But all was not lost. "We still must work on renewing your passport because you still could be chosen to go on this trip. Once the embassy gives us the go-signal, you must be ready to fly." Jam has opted for the regular passport renewal route as the Diplomatic Passport has too many requirements.

She said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila has scheduled me for a personal appearance the next day, Tuesday. (A personal appearance is required for application and renewal of Philippine passports).

"But that's too soon and too expensive!" I protested. The round-trip airfare alone would cost nearly P10,000. So Jam arranged with DFA for me to make my personal appearance at the DFA Cebu office instead, where the travel expenses would be like, five times lesser.

I was already making travel plans to take the overnight boat ride to Cebu that night when Typhoon Ramon struck. Signal No. 2 was hoisted all over Visayas. I didn't push through with that boat trip.

The next day, Tuesday, I decided to go to Cebu via the land trip route. So I hopped into a pumpboat that would take me to Liloan. Fortunately, the smaller seacrafts were not banned from crossing the surprisingly calm seas.

I was seated comfortably inside the undulating motorized boat when I received a text message from my boss telling me that the fast ferry's trips (they travel faster and take passengers straight to Cebu City) were cancelled that day as the warning signal has been upgraded to No. 1.

I looked around me. The sea was so calm. Ramon will have to do better than that to stop me from taking this trip, I thought.

When the boat arrived at Liloan, it was a mad rush to the Ceres bus as the passengers scrambled to get a seat inside. At this point, I was only focused on getting a good seat, which to me means as far away from those overhead airconditioners blasting frigid air into your head. They give me a headache.

I found my good seat and settled in for the long, three-hour ride to Cebu City. It was nearly 1:00 pm and I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast that day. Food will have to wait until after I finish my business at DFA, I thought and dozed off.

We were nearly in Cebu City when the bus conductor tapped me awake to ask for my fare. I opened my bag's main compartment and reached for my wallet. I kept reaching around inside. Nothing. I opened the other two zipped compartments and looked inside. No wallet. My bag is big and deep so I shook it hard and reached inside all three compartments again. Nothing.

"My wallet's gone!" I almost shrieked at the conductor. I was panicking. I felt the eyes of the other passengers on me. The lady beside me tried to help and looked under my seat and felt around my chair. But there was no sign of my wallet.

I only had two P20 bills inside my pocket. The bus fare is P169. Plus I had to pay P1,200 at the DFA for the expedited passport renewal processing fee, not to mention the boat fare back to Dumaguete. I called up Ma'am Lindy in our Cebu office and asked for her help. "Don't worry, I'll have the driver bring the money over to you at the bus terminal. He'll wait for you there," she said.

So I told the bus conductor that I'll pay him at the terminal. He was nice enough to agree.

At the terminal, Benny (our office driver) gave me the cash and I paid my fare to the conductor. I asked Benny if  he could give me a ride to the DFA office (so I won't have to pay for the taxi fare).

By this time, our agency had flexed its muscle and Jam was able to pull some strings at DFA. I was met by the very well-spoken Mr. Angel Espiritu (who I assume holds a high rank at the DFA Cebu office) and he facilitated everything. The normal period for an expedited passport renewal takes 10 days. I need mine within 3 days should the Indonesian embassy pick me to represent the Philippines at their JVP. Strings are definitely being pulled.

I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect, plus I just lost my cash, my ATM card and my credit card. If not for the money lent by Lindy, I had absolutely no source of cash to see me through my stay in Cebu. Good thing the DFA staff in Cebu were wonderful. They were corteous and solicitous, just what my stressed self needed.

It was when I took off my coat for my passport photo that I accidentally touched my left ear and realized that I was missing one earring. Good thing I always wear faux jewelries when I'm travelling. Still, this pair of faux pearls was among my favorites. I started feeling a heavy weight on my shoulder. I tried to shrug it off and did the Menthos TV ad thing - removed the remaining earring on my other ear.

I arrived at DFA Cebu around 4:00 pm and I left at about 5:40. I walked out of the DFA building into a rainy night in Cebu (the rains didn't let up until morning the next day).

Despite things having gone smoothly at DFA, my morale was so low by this time. I lost my wallet. I just lost an earring. My losses were piling up. I was famished. I wanted to break down and cry right there on the street. I wanted nothing more than to go home and take refuge in my warm bed. But all boat trips were cancelled. I didn't have any extra clothes with me, or a toothbrush.

I walked around and ended up at Chowking where I had a quick dinner of noodles, lumpiang shanghai and fried chicken. The noodles I barely touched because it tasted and smelled weird, like rotten meat.

Benny picked me up afterwards and brought me over to our Cebu office where I crashed for the night on a couch.

The next morning, I was out of the office and on my way to the South bus terminal by 6:00 a.m. I caught the bus just as it was about to leave.

Because Signal No. 1 was still hoisted over the region, the bus was almost empty except for us four passengers. A bus inspector, seeing the rows of empty seats, joked: "What's this? A special trip?"

We arrived at Liloan port - a different one from the port I arrived at on my way from Dumaguete the day before - which was filled with passengers waiting for the Coast Guard to lift the cancellation on boat trips.

I decided to pay a visit to the port where I suspect I lost my wallet the day before. It was only a short pedicab ride away. I meant to ask around in case the person who found my wallet returned it there.

When I got there, I talked to a group of guys gathered around a sari-sari store. I explained what happened, expressing my concern over the ID and cards that were inside my wallet. "I don't mind the cash. I just need those cards back," I said.

But none of them knew anything about a lost wallet. They sounded helpful and looked like good, honest folks, so I handed out a couple of my business cards and asked them to contact me right away if they have news about my wallet. They promised to do so.

I went back to the Liloan port and that's where I find myself sitting for three hours now, killing time by typing out this blog post. There's no wifi here by the way, and my cellphone just ran out of battery juice. My parents are probably frantic with worry for me by now. I don't even want to think of where I'll spend the night should the Coast Guard continue its ban until the end of the day.

So why the heck did I do all this? Because I could almost see Indonesia, almost touch it, almost taste it. In my mind, I was already in Indonesia.

Is it worth all that I've lost and went through in the last 35 hours? Honestly, I don't know. I can't give an answer right now. I'll never know unless I get to go on this trip and experience Indonesia for myself.

But one thing I know for sure: even if I don't get to join the JVP, I can proudly say that I've tried my best, exhausted all means possible on my part - even to the point of ignoring storm warnings to jump into risky boat rides in the midst of a typhoon -  just to get that JVP slot.

Another thing I've learned: there is an adventurer in me after all.

It's all in God's hands now. His and the Indonesian ambassador's. 

So for now, my chase after Indonesia is still on.


  1. Aw, my heart goes out for you. But you're such an amazing writer! Your story/adventure gripped me from the beginning to end. (Had a nice laugh over "What can you expect from a storm named after a man?") When is this Indonesia trip scheduled for? Or did you already mention it and somehow I miss it? Will keep my fingers crossed for you. :)

  2. Hi Pom! Thank you :-)) It's supposed to be this Sunday, Oct 16. Everything was last minute since our agency received the JVP letter just last week. Right now it's a waiting game. I'm on pins and needles haha.

    You think I can cross over from Indonesia to Thailand for a day? :-p

  3. I was gonna suggest that! Well, until I saw the date anyway. I'll be in Hua Hin (a beachside city) with my hubby (who hardly has time to visit home) and son that whole week! (from Oct 16-22) If you can come before or later, come see me anytime. No need to bring your wallet with, just plane tickets (and a valid passport.. haha) will do. :D I'll email you my phone number. :)


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