Monday, March 21, 2011

The Long Road Home

The Journey

The idea of buying a utility vehicle came about in the middle of the renovation being made in our home, and at the same time Nanay's increasingly frequent trips to the hospital. The latter had more weight, as there were several instances when we also rushed our nephew to the hospital running to the highway to catch a tricyle while the poor tyke was having febrile convulsions, and with Nanay's age and arthritic knees, she can no longer ride public transportation.

I went to six different dealers and private owners who were selling second hand cars (mainly because if we get a brand new vehicle, there would be car payments, and that would be quite a headache). My criteria was simple:decent-looking inside and out, preferably a Toyota since parts were available anywhere in the Philippines, fuel-efficient, sturdy and can withstand abuse and long travel- lastly, since our family, especially when my brothers are home on vacation, love to take trips to beaches around Leyte and Samar. I saw models ranging from Corollas to Honda City (but I heard Honda parts may be more expensive than Toyota), a Kia Sportage (but it was automatic and everyone was suggesting manual transmission), to an Isuzu Bighorn.

The final choice was a silver Toyota FX- still in good condition, owned previously by American Missionaries, and it spent most of the time in the garage so the mileage was below 50 thousand. A rare find for a second hand vehicle. We did a test drive around the city and the engine ran smoothly (very important, said my cousin), and so we went ahead with the paperwork and sealed the deal.

Shortly after the purchase, I had my first driving lesson. Just an hour at Mc Arthur Park, where the roads were wide and very few cars pass by. As any beginner, I struggled in coordinating the pedals and the stick shift, and I couldn't stay in one lane haha! (Lindsay Lohan isdatchu?) I did get to shift up to the 3rd gear, and travel along a straight road. Alas, it was pouring rain so it wasn't the most ideal driving condition: the windshield was foggy, I was getting wet because I left the window open to see the side mirror, and the road was slippery.

The real road test was our trip to Sulangan in Guiuan. My cousin drove seven of us, including my soon to be 85 years old grandmother to the miraculous Parish of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the churches I visited before taking the Nursing board exam. The distance was around 164 kilometers from Tacloban to Sulangan, making it more than 300 kilometers round trip! Eastern Samar's roads (especially Salcedo) are notorious for miles of car-wrecking potholes and rough roads- and in other parts, defective bridges.

Around 40 kilometers left to Sulangan, the car lost its brakes (turned out that the shop didn't tell us that the brake pads have never been replaced since its purchase). It was really quite a challenge, but luckily it was expertly handled by my cousin who, even during an emergency situation when Nanay had heat exhaustion, got us quickly to a hospital. We had the front brakes condemned at a shop in Guiuan before driving home with only weak brakes at the rear wheels. We arrived in Tacloban safely- after 17 hours of travel! The next day, we had a mechanic replace the brake pads, which from the long journey was the only thing which failed to pass the "extreme road test".

The Flood

After the Japan tsunami, the local weather station announced a "wind convergence" which caused heavy rains in Eastern Visayas, and in a single day cause water levels to rise around 2-4 inches per hour. On the evening of the 16th of March, flood waters started rising in our first floor. We moved all our things upstairs, but by 2am I went downstairs to discover that the water was still rising swiftly. In other areas- V&G Subdivision, the waters were waist deep, in Apitong neck deep, in Palo only the roof of some houses could be seen while the river raged on, in Nula-Tula there was a landslide.

Back at home, I decided that our family should evacuate. The Fx's floor was almost reached by the water, which was knee deep and sometimes higher outside the gate, and the exhaust pipe completely submerged in water. We asked the help of a neighbor to maneuver the car, while me and my nephews pushed the car four blocks to the highway (we were advised not to turn the engine on because it might cause extensive damage to the engine).

We parked it in front of our Barangay hall, while Nanay and the rest, with our essentials, rode a jeep to the city center. The Tacloban City Convention Center was being used as evacuation center and truckloads of people were being evacuated there. After parking it overnight, I had a mechanic look at it and voila! When we tested it, the engine still ran smoothly.

Coming home

I know by then that the FX was worth every penny. It survived both a long journey and a flood- after several days of rain (we stayed 3 days at a pension house), I was concerned of the security so we moved the FX to the City Hall parking lot. Early the next morning, I checked it and saw it was sandwiched between dump trucks used during the relief operations! I made the decision then to move the car back home.

I breathed a short prayer, turned the engine on, and with only 1 hour of first and only driving lesson, no knowledge on traffic rules, with only a few days old student driver permit- I drove the vehicle to the outskirts of Tacloban where our subdivision was.

Well thankfully, it went without incident. The ironic thing was, when I turned the sharp curve from the highway to the safer small road to our subdivision that was when I almost drove into a ditch! Turned out the previous night, a Starex went straight into the ditch and still remained there. I stuggled with turning gears in reverse, then coordinating in turning the wheels and the stick shift that several times I let go of the clutch and the engine turned off. I was so erratic that people started to gather at the Barangay Hall to stare at me (luckily the windows were tinted)- they probably thought I was a drunk driver or something.
The good thing about a second hand vehicle is that you don't really expect tip-top appearance. Over the course of a few days, I ran the FX into the neighbor's carport post, causing the a large dent and headlights to droop like intestines, I almost ran over a pedicab, snagged with a jeepney, and I still tense a little bit every time I drive. My friends tell me it is simply a rite of passage. Good thing we have a good mechanic who would fix things for like 100 or 200 pesos, as long as I buy the parts myself.

I now nicknamed the Tamaraw "Dama de Noche", because I only drive her at night or at dawn, where there would be less chances of me running into traffic authorities. Shhhhh!

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