Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends, Joan Didion writes in The Year of Magical Thinking. In her book, Didion alludes to the death of her husband; but I find this line striking now, as all I knew of life ended in an instant — the 15th of March 2020.
As I write this, it has officially been over seven months since President Duterte first imposed a lockdown. I have missed many things throughout those months: Mindlessly seeing my friends, getting my eyebrows waxed, spontaneously booking a flight on piso fare. But today, and many other days, I especially miss bus trips.
Before the pandemic, I had frequent bus trips to local destinations. As my job as a travel writer allowed me to work remotely, I was out -of -town the majority of the time. And although I love exploring foreign countries as much as the next traveller, I have always had an affinity for bus rides.
I first fell in love with travelling through bus trips.
When I was pursuing my studies in Baguio, I lived five minutes away from the local bus station. So whenever I needed an escape, I’d turn to travelling. For four years, I hopped on and off buses: to and from Cubao, La Union, Pangasinan, and Ilocos.
For me, every bus ride is reminiscent of my college escapades; reminiscent of freedom from the worries of the world. There have definitely been times I looked forward to bus rides over arriving at destinations. I guess it just feels somewhat magical to be in between places — to be nowhere for a while.
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Bus stops were especially something I was fond of.
It fascinated me how every stopover would provide diverse yet similar food menus. The dishes I ordered became a reminder of how rich our culture is — a route from Cubao to Baguio would allow me to order ginisang monggo at the first bus stop, then a bowl of pinapaitan the next. Through bus stops, my arguably micro experience with food culture has led me to crave for more knowledge about how heritage shapes food.
The pandemic took spontaneous bus rides away from me.
I must admit, it wasn’t easy for me to accept that I could no longer ride bus trips carelessly. The first days of the quarantine, I felt like I had no more escape. My world had shrunk a thousand times smaller; the walls were closing in around me.
I remember that it was a cloudy day, the 12th of March 2020. I had just finished packing my bag for a week-long trip to Baler: Seven sets of bikinis, three pairs of harem pants, denim shorts, my handy bag of toiletries, and one whole bag of T-shirts that I had no plan of bringing back home with me. The year 2020 was supposed to be the year I would have more surf trips, which explains why I packed as if I was moving out.
The same night I was supposed to head to the Cubao bus station, President Duterte announced the implementation of a community quarantine on Metro Manila starting 15 Mar. Although I wanted to travel to Baler despite that, my parents warned me against it. So I stayed in Quezon City, eagerly waiting for the day COVID-19 would go away.
It has been seven months since.
My bags are still packed, as I continue to hope for a miracle. One day, this will all be over, and I will be ready to head towards the bus station for another trip. I continue to pray for my favourite places — my second homes — to stay free from COVID-19. So as much as I miss bus trips, I do my part and stay home as much as I can.
I miss bus trips, more than I can ever express. But, I know for a fact that my next bus trip will be worth the wait.
The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place… You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that. — Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking