Repatriation to the Philippines during a Pandemic (COVID-19)

Repatriation to the Philippines

The story of my repatriation to the Philippines begins with the reopening of Juan Santamaria International Airport and the only way of getting back to the land of promise being through the US, particularly Houston where our high school valedictorian by the name of Joey was wrecking havoc. After my Spirit Airlines flight got rescheduled and cancelled at least twice and the airline postponed the resumption of their operations to Houston, I conceded to flying with United Airlines. From there I was to fly to Manila through Taipei via EVA Air.

Acronyms

Before telling the rest of the tale, let’s equip you with Philippine-related acronyms that you’ll see later (if you survive that far, that is) in this post.

BOQ Bureau of Quarantine
LGU Local Government Unit (could be municipal or provincial level)
LSI Locally Stranded Individual
MECQ Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine
OFW Overseas Filipino Worker
PAL Philippine Airlines
PNP Philippine National Police
ROF Returning from Overseas Filipinos

Heredia

Even before boarding my first flight, my Houston–Manila itinerary had already been “tampered” in that the Taipei–Manila leg was no more, most likely due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines. I asked EVA Air if it was possible for me to just stay in Taipei and wait for the next available flight to Manila but eventually even the Houston–Taipei flight was cancelled. Meh. With the airline’s advice that even if I rebook it it might ultimately be cancelled as well, I decided that I’ll no longer fly out of Houston.

Juan Santamaria International Airport

Juan Santamaria International Airport

Like what a compatriot who took a United Airlines flight to Houston said, there was no temperature check before boarding the flight. The flight was full and there was also no temperature check upon arrival. What pandemic?

Houston

Immigration Officer: What are you doing in Houston?
Me: I’ll be staying here for three days then fly out from San Francisco on the 12th.
Immigration Officer: *stamps six months*

Repatriation to the Philippines: Houston stopover

I was supposed to have nine days in Houston ’til my flight to Manila if we didn’t pursue our original plan of going out of town. But that wasn’t really the case since we really had a plan even if the pandemic wasn’t getting any better. What’s a long layover stopover for, right? Anywhere was fine with me but when Joey suggested that we go to California since he hasn’t been to San Francisco yet, that was also the cue that I take a direct PAL flight from there to Manila.

Our first order of business after he fetched me from George Bush Intercontinental Airport was—wait for it—Jollibee. (So fetch, right?) I was to stay with him and his Filipino colleague and before I started my journey more than halfway around the world by A*Teens, I absolutely made it clear with him if they’re totally okay with me staying over for a couple of days given that I could contract the coronavirus before or during my flight. To think that I’ve never met his housemate!

Jollibee in Houston

When we arrived at their place, I was welcomed by Jane as if there was more than a hundred percent certainty that I wasn’t harboring the culprit behind COVID-19. An alumna of the same university that I and Joey graduated from, she was very cool and I must say that I felt from her the “vibe” that some of my friends claim. (Wow, you a psychology psychologist or something now, Nelsen?)

After putting down my things (and seeing the Amazon items I addressed to their address, gehee), we feasted on the food from home and had wine and cheese afterwards. When I needed a paper towel, Jane grabbed one and the following conversation transpired.

Jane (to Joey): Is he afraid of COVID?
Me: Not really. *grabs the towel from her*

That made me realize the accuracy of Joey’s reassurances that she’s also perfectly fine with my presence for a few days. Besides, I was in no position at all to answer in the affirmative (and not that I would). I could’ve been a carrier, for Chrissake!

I shared the same thought as the two scientists that while the media is focusing on the number of COVID-19 cases as they unfold, causing panic, the people should look into the fact that most actually recover from the disease, with the mortality rate being on those who were immunocompromised or with pre-existing conditions. They also emphasized that eventually all of us will acquire the virus and be immune from it, with or without a vaccine, because it’s simply how the world goes. Hear, hear!

Hosts in Houston

Joey went to work the following day so I had ample time getting to know Jane more during brunch. At night we went out for buffalo wings and some beers, with me winning the competition on who ate more wings. Why is it even called “buffalo” when it’s chicken?

Social distancing in Houston

Before long I was on my third and last day in the city and was already hauling my luggage into Joey’s trunk. After which, he renewed his driver’s license before we headed to the airport. Spirit Airlines not tagging one of my bags as overweight when it actually was was all the more reason to down beers before the flight to Los Angeles. (Thanks to his plastic for the discount at Landry’s Seafood House!)

Social distancing in Houston

Beers at Landry’s Seafood House

Los Angeles

The flight was jam-packed, if not full, and if you ask me, it was like any ordinary day by Vanessa Carlton, only that people had masks on. Given the time difference, we arrived at 9:00 PM and went straight to a shuttle which brought us to the car rental service. And can I say how awkward it was to take photos as a tourist? Screw it.

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Car rental service

The car assigned to us was different from what was booked. The best part? It smelled weed. Free weed in LA, bruh! Now, don’t get me going, but cannabis is legal for medical and recreational use in California. What a welcome, eh? As you get penalized when you return wheels that reek of the plant, Joey informed the rental company of the situation, just in case by the time the car is returned the whiff still lingers and we get charged for something we didn’t enjoy. Char.

Car rental service

While Joey mentioned before our trip—to entice me (as if I needed any enticing)—that it was actually the best time to travel because of less people, I still preferred saving bucks on accommodation. He asked people in California and in a heartbeat they were willing to take us in. Mind. Blown. In fact, in Los Angeles we stayed at Jane’s sister’s family where their parents were also staying.

“I should probably not breathe while in there” was my very first thought and expected that they won’t allow the senior citizens be exposed to us. It wasn’t the case, though, as aside from the family’s warm welcome, the parents also greeted us while we were served a late dinner. Not that I’m not one, but Filipino hospitality still never fails to amaze me.

We only had a day in LA so an optimal itinerary was necessary. I won’t dig into details in this post but in the end we did quite a lot. A Thursday well spent!

  • Dropped by Universal Studios Hollywood (guess what, it was closed)
  • Observed the Hollywood Sign from Griffith Observatory
  • Looked for our names in the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Fancied a burger and beer for lunch
  • Peeked into the Bradbury Building (guess what, it was also closed)
  • Checked out the Last Bookstore
  • Took a bite and gulp at Grand Central Market
  • Confronted the Walt Disney Concert Hall
  • Passed by the Petersen Automotive Museum
  • Savored the Urban Light at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • People-watched at Venice Beach Boardwalk
  • Soaked ourselves in the freezing water (because why not!)

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Los Angeles stopover

Jane actually took a breather as well and visited her family; by the time we arrived in the evening she was already there. We did karaoke with Coronas after dinner and Joey was nonplussed that I actually sing now—something that I never did back in high school even if everyone’s life depended on it. Beer pa!

Hosts in Los Angeles

Pacific Coast Highway

And then it was the day of the long drive ride to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway. We hit the road at ten o’clock and while I had a lot on my stopover list, we only managed to strike four. It must’ve been a different story if I were able to function behind the wheel. A shame, I knerr.

  • Sniffed around Oxnard Beach Resort
  • Had coffee and judged Turkish sweets in Santa Barbara
  • Settled at an Irish pub in Solvang, the beautiful Danish capital of America
  • Made a run at Bixby Creek Bridge after missing it #tanga

Repatriation to the Philippines: Oxnard stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Santa Barbara stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Solvang stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Big Sur stopover

We arrived at Berkeley past nine—after almost 12 hours! Without doubt it was a scenic route, but if you want to maximize stopovers, spending more than just a day is the way to go. It was tiresome, in a sense, being just a passenger so I could really tell how stressful it was for Joey because he didn’t want to arrive in San Francisco very late in the evening given that he was the only one taking the wheel (phrase reminds me of that song by Carrie Underwood). Sorry na!

San Francisco

Our host in San Francisco (technically Berkeley), Ate Teray, was a fellow Bisayȃ who’s from Davao. She took us to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and then offered us the beers that her son bought for his tasting. When he came down and, after some introductions, saw us consuming them, he took a sip from the can I was drinking from before I could even react. “There was definitely no escaping the virus there if I have it,” I thought. It was a brew of astonishment and disbelief.

Day 1

Joey only spent two days in the city while I had two more before the day of my flight. Like the other sections so far, I’ll spare this post from the details of what came about.

  • Looked for the College of Chemistry in the University of California, Berkeley
  • Got drunk Enjoyed some wine in Napa Valley
  • Crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in all its foggy glory (may be mundane to you, I know)
  • Judged people Checked for any buzz in Crissy Field
  • Witnessed a “half-Filipina” LGBT wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts
  • Saw a group of Bisayȃ Filipinos whose car was broken into by destroying its windows
  • Traversed the crooked section of Lombard Street downwards
  • Painted the Painted Ladies with disappointment my emotions eyes
  • Returned the drink-sharing favor to Joey by finishing his milk tea in Chinatown
    (“If one of us has COVID-19, both of us definitely have it now.”)
  • Fourth wheeled with Joey and his PhD schoolmate and his girlfriend for dinner

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Like our first night, we put on nightcaps and laughed our asses off with our host’s stories. Nothing beats talking in your mother tongue. The humor, for one, is just different and intense. And can I say how irresistible the Blue Russian Blue in the house was?

Nightcaps in San Francisco

Russian Blue

Day 2

On the day of Joey’s departure, Ate Teray took us to Cesar Chavez Park which was just next to the Berkeley Marina. As usual, it felt like an ordinary day except that people wore masks. Kites were up in the air with the cool breeze that was puffing. She drove us around before we had lunch at a place called Crepevine. We left her place around half past one o’clock and I couldn’t be more thankful to her.

Cesar Chavez Park

Berkeley Marina

Host in San Francisco

Being the hospitable people Filipinos are, Ate Teray actually offered me to stay with them until my flight. However, as it was my first time meeting her and with the person who was responsible for our meeting no longer around, it simply wasn’t happening because I’m a #shytype and it would’ve been too much.

Joey dropped me in Daly City where I booked an Airbnb bed and at past two o’clock, we finally parted ways. I decided to just acclimatize for the rest of the day in the four-bed bedroom and at night foraged the nearest Target by foot. It may have been spooky given the fog and the deserted streets just past eight, but you know what they say~ Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I was hungreh!

Airbnb in Daly City

Day 3

The last two days in the Golden Gate City witnessed episodes of me traveling on my own as if the world wasn’t fighting an enemy it couldn’t even see. At the end of the day, YOLO still clung to me. I was already in a place I haven’t been to and will probably never return to, so why should I sulk and just stay indoors? Of course, that didn’t mean that I was being reckless.

With salami and my ever reliable tripod (to hyphenate, or not?) as parts of my arsenal, the city was mine for the taking.

  • Started the quest for an excellent shot of the Golden Gate Bridge at Baker Beach
  • Risked falling off a ridge for a shortcut to the end of the world Marshall’s Beach
  • Took a million photos of a mist-engulfed Golden Gate Bridge
  • Probed the views from the Golden Gate Bridge Outdoor Exhibition and Battery East
  • Walked to and savored the Palace of Fine Arts
  • Met Ping at the Ferry Building and demolished empanadas
  • Biked through the Financial District, stopped over at the City Hall, and ended up at the Castro
  • Admired the social distancing circles at Mission Dolores Park
  • Didn’t have more than one beer over dinner #changedPerson
  • Painted the Painted Ladies in the dark
  • Rented another bike via Lyft and had the purpled City Hall all to myself
  • Came across evil racoons at the Ferry Park
  • Paused and reflected about life at one of the piers (it was lovely ♥)

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

It was so nice meeting Ping. Also Bisayȃ, she used to work at my first workplace and even though she did so when I was no longer there, through common friends we still got to know each other. I was initially hesitant to ask her out as I thought she was scared of exposure but it turned out she has always been very ecstatic to meet someone from the Philippines, even if it meant being in the middle of a pandemic. I wouldn’t have been able to experience biking in the city if it weren’t for her!

Rozel Batocael in San Francisco

The city’s slopes ultimately killed my legs that I gave up on seeing the Palace of Fine Arts at night. It was such a relief when I finally found a spot to return the bike, beside Van Ness Inn. Uber dropped me in Daly before eleven o’clock struck and I was more than excited to guzzle the remaining IPA’s from Target only to find out that some bottles were missing. Pisti nga housemates!

Day 4

Pale ale and the takeaway cookies (one of them was named “Lil Bitch”) from Hot Cookie in the Castro was for brunch the following day. When I got on my ride, I immediately had a hunch that the driver was Filipino and it was eventually kanfeermed after he mentioned that he wanted to buy a Red Ribbon cake. His was another case of being in the US for too long without visiting his motherland at all.

Me: Are you a Filipino?
Him: Hindi.

  • Strolled around Fisherman’s Wharf and saw Alcatraz Island up-close
  • Ogled Pier 39’s hullaballoo and its adorable sea lions
  • Revisited Lombard Street for a photo from the foot of the crooked section
  • Slurped ramen outdoors at Japantown and chased it with a big Sapporo beer
  • Finally stopped by the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption
  • Checked out St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (puslan man!)
  • Stood by the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge into the night

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: San Francisco stopover

That night I went back to Target to resupply and grabbed a pack of Absolut raspberry and lemongrass vodka soda. I couldn’t fathom the taste but it was definitely not to my liking. What a waste! It was also not to my liking when I found out in the morning that the remaining cans were all wiped out from the fridge. Seriously?! Gimme the damn CCTV footage of the kitchen!

Day 5

And so my “US tour”, as my high school classmate Naiza dubbed it, was finally coming to an end. My flight was at 11:55 PM and while packing I got an e-mail from PAL that the flight was moved to 1:10 PM of the following day. With a kitchen which needed constant cleaning, my drinks being stolen, and a roommate coughing like mad one night, it didn’t take long for me to decide not to extend for another night.

Travelodge by Wyndham near the airport was the place. It was a very excellent me-time given how I’ve managed to stay alive and in good shape after visiting the states with the most COVID-19 cases at that time. I ordered from KFC and just lazed around, watching old movies including Sydney White. It was truly such a shame that the eight-feet-deep pool just in front of my room was off limits. Boo!

Travelodge by Wyndham

Travelodge by Wyndham

A downside of the location was the absence of restaurants and stores nearby. I made my way to a store called Good N Rich Market in hopes of finding a good find. I’m used to long walks, but it felt like a very long one because it was nighttime and the streets were empty. There was even a part where paranoia got the best of me as I traversed a long and dark sidewalk beneath a flyover and two people were walking behind me. When I gained enough distance that I was out of their sight, I ran into the light. Haha!

Lessen learned: Never walk in anyone’s shadow to a destination at night in your slippers when you’re not familiar with the area. You never know when you’ll need to run.

Day 6

PAL had a very comprehensive information on arriving in the Philippines and traveling within the country. Hats off to them, even if one could say that it should be what’s expected since they’re the flag carrier. You have to preregister as early as a few days before your flight and the QR code generated will be your reference until your arrival. They might’ve been lenient because of the situation because like Spirit Airlines, my overweight bag wasn’t charged. *grins from ear to ear*

San Francisco International Airport

Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco to Manila

I was seated next to a man who was going home to visit his grandkids. He was chatty, which was really nice. He started off with wishing that no one is assigned on the seat between us before proceeding with telling me about the multiple cancelled flights he had before our flight. I never asked him but from what I read between the lines, he’s working in academia, particularly in the field of science. #judge

The forms which needed filling up were distributed even before the first meal was served. Man, I hate writing. Like the rest of the flights up to that point, no inflight booze was available. *cries*

Arrival forms

Metro Manila

I was religiously following a Facebook group even before commencing my repatriation to the Philippines and with the number of Filipinos going home, answers to my questions were readily available in posts and comments.

Arrival

Orientation was provided by the Philippine Red Cross and Philippine Coast Guard before offboarding. At 7:36 PM on a Friday after taking the non-OFW lane, I was finally seated in the airport. Each passenger was checked for the aforementioned QR code and those who didn’t have it were assisted.

Arrival in Manila

It was past eight when I bid my flight seatmate goodbye and had my swab test samples taken. Contrary to how others experienced it, it didn’t hurt and make me emotional. Perhaps following my Middle East-based classmate’s technique on holding your breath worked? Or maybe I’m just used to being hurt. *cries again*

Verification and payment booth

The next step was the hotel reservation validation by the Department of Tourism. At least two nights were required while waiting for the test result and the hotel had to be accredited by the Department of Health. I started the hunt for the cheapest available room for my dates as early as following the Facebook group but my reservations kept getting called off. In the end I managed to secure one at Manila Lotus Hotel in Ermita.

Hotel reservation validation by Department of Tourism

The hotel didn’t have a shuttle so I had a taxi ride arranged after the hotel validation. As normal as it sometimes is in the Philippines, I anticipated the taxi meter to run wildly or the driver, who happened to be Bisayȃ as well, to ask for more than where the meter stopped. Neither was the case. Just before ten o’clock hit, I was finally closer to getting home.

Manila Lotus Hotel

Manila Lotus Hotel

MECQ

As luck would have it, the capital was still in MECQ when I arrived and there were four more days before it’s lifting. Until then, no public transportation—including transport network vehicle service such as Grab!—and no domestic flights. WTAF… Really! I’m from an island down south of the country so the only key would’ve been teleportation.

Like what I read from those who paid for their swab tests, my result was out within 24 hours—in less than 12 hours to be exact. That meant I had the remaining day and night to figure out if I should wait out the MECQ at the hotel or move somewhere cheaper or free, in fear that the MECQ might be extended and my test result would no longer be valid as a requirement for further travel. But how do I move out, when there’s no public transportation?

On top of the accommodation predicament, the BOQ website where the medical certificate’s supposed to be available was a useless piece of shit nowhere near usable. I tried to retrieve my certificate twice but it was busted AF. I asked Naiza if she has any knowledge about it and said that she knows someone who might be able to help.

Fucked up Bureau of Quarantine website

Fucked up Bureau of Quarantine website

With my result being positive, I was already allowed to go out of the hotel so I checked the nearest PNP station to request for a travel authority which was required for any interprovincial travel. But thanks to MECQ, they halted the issuance of the document. Yay! Another problem added to the list! Clueless as to how to move on with my life forward, I scavenged a grocery for foods and drinks because the prices at the hotel weren’t the cheapest (but really good food) and being a non-OFW, I wasn’t subjected to free everything.

Red Horse

Eventually I figured out how to pull through the remaining MECQ days and around 12 hours after receiving my swab test result, an e-mail with my BOQ certificate popped out of nowhere into my inbox. Did that mean that my attempts at the BOQ website actually succeeded? I don’t know. But did I have another beer because of that? Oh, hell yes.

Bureau of Quarantine certificate

Pasig

Come the following day, I sent two of my bags via Lalamove (thankfully such services were operational) to Naiza for safekeeping since she rented a storage space and still had more than enough space. Hanna, a friend from my postgraduate certification, came to my rescue and I found shelter at her place in Pasig City since her son was out for the week. There was no other way for me to move out other than have someone retrieve me and for that I was even more thankful to her. *cries yet again*

Pickup from Manila Lotus Hotel

I spent three nights with Hanna and on my last night we were supposed to have drinks again but jet lag kicked in (#reasons) and I died a dishonorable death. What a chagrin! During my stay I also met and caught up with Lovely, a friend from my first workplace who was living just a building away. Like when I was in California, it felt really great being welcomed by people, especially that my swab test result may have been negative but getting infected after my samples were taken wasn’t out of the question.

Hosts in Metro Manila

Makati

In the afternoon of the day after MECQ ended, I transferred to Makati City for ease of getting a travel authority because of a PNP HQ that I know of. I was supposed to Airbnb at a condo but the management required a test result that was taken within the last three days so I instead rented a room in the same area where I lived for almost nine years.

Transfer to Makati City

Room in Makati

It turns out that the application for a travel authority had a cutoff time at 3:00 PM so I was only able to get a hold of the requirements. Each LGU has its own protocol and since we were already aware of it, Ma coordinated ahead with our LGU so I already had my certificate of acceptance ready. With one more day before my flight, I was still on track. I just needed to get that travel authority by hook or by crook the following day.

Travel authority requirements

Travel Authority

Laziness overpowered me that I didn’t turn up at my earliest when I could have so there was already a queue when I arrived at the PNP station. The guard on duty that day didn’t even know that the BOQ certificate counts as the medical certificate for ROF’s and shooed me. I quickly retaliated and thankfully one of the armed people knew its validity.

I felt the claim that ROF’s are treated with utmost importance when I was issued a travel authority ahead of so many waiting people in the line. There were around 15 people when I started waiting but my document was issued first. The BOQ certificate must’ve been taken with urgency.

Travel authority application

Travel authority

As a form of celebration for taking another step towards home, I took a break from Jollibee and Chowking deliveries and had a bowl at one of my favorite ramen places—Ajisen Ramen. Slurp!

Ajisen Ramen and San Miguel Super Dry

Later that day I learned about the website of our province where you could sign up to let them know of your arrival. It was obviously shorter than a short notice as I was bound to fly the next day but I still signed up anyway.

Provincial Government of Agusan del Sur

Rapid Test

As if my predicaments since landing on the country wasn’t enough, surprise~! My swab test result was no longer valid for Butuan City, my destination, because their LGU required a test that was taken within the last five days. And so I had to join other passengers on a PAL shuttle which brought us to their partner clinic for a rapid test. Pricey swab test down the drain and another expense thanks to MECQ yet again!

Rapid test in Manila

Like when I first read the e-mail notification that my swab test result was out, there was a mix of excitement and anxiety. I was prepared to get quarantined had my swab samples tested positive but still felt anxious and now that I was over it, the anxiety was on being unable to fly out of the capital when it’s just within reach. When my blood tested negative and at last I found myself at the gate waiting for boarding, I just had to gobble up cans of San Mig Light. Could’ve been my last, ya know.

San Mig Light

Butuan

After disembarking at Bancasi Airport, we were grouped by province. Those whose final destination was Butuan were the first to leave and, as far as I know, were escorted by their LGU to their residences. Passengers whose LGU’s transport services were already waiting at the airport followed suit while those who weren’t able to arrange and secure their pickup were brought to Butuan Sports Complex where their LGU’s would be fetching them. I was among such people.

Arrival in Butuan

Transport to Butuan Sports Complex

Sports Complex

We arrived at the complex before 3:00 PM and from there, communication and coordination between LGU’s were established for the retrieval of the stranded passengers. I received a call from the Agusan del Sur LGU and was told that the protocol is to never transport ROF’s with LSI’s for the reason that the former underwent swab testing. As the sun eased out I also watched the people thin out.

Butuan Sports Complex

Butuan Sports Complex

Butuan Sports Complex

One group was so frustrated with their LGU because they were bluntly told that no pickup is happening for them because it was a holiday. My horns would’ve grown longer had I been in their group.

Preggy (after calmly talking on the phone): The most bugô LGU. Tubagon pa jud ta’g “Holiday [man gud karon]”!

Dinner caused everyone laughter when it came in the form of sacks and, upon feeling grains of rice in the contents, someone remarked, “Looks like we still need to cook our dinner!” Apparently they were relief goods for everyone and Jollibee meals arrived later on.

Relief goods

Two transport services from our province came and picked up passengers but no matter how much I insisted that I’m fine with it, I was never taken in because I was from overseas. It was very frustrating considering that I was already just a stone’s throw away from my hometown. When the second driver eventually turned me down after I was very eager to get on together with only two people, I asked him to call someone from our LGU before I unloaded my luggage.

The answer was still a no but I was, however, given assurance that Butuan’s LGU will be coming in the middle of the night to pick me up and the only other person in the complex who was also from overseas and bound to the same province as I am.

Non-OFW

Now, my concern was, despite being from overseas, I wasn’t registered as an OFW, and the Butuan LGU was only supposed to retrieve OFW’s. I raised this over the phone and was advised that they already coordinated my identity to the group who’ll pick up the OFW at the complex. In my mind, there was never any truth to it. (Was I wrong?)

Aside from the two of us, the only other people who remained were those from Bislig City who opted to just wait out their LGU’s transport service in the morning instead of joining the rest of their townspeople who got an approval of a private van transport. I don’t really look for luxuries in life but I found a foam in one of the shelters so there was no reason not to use it as the night grew older and everyone braced for it.

Overnight at Butuan Sports Complex's grandstand

Overnight at Butuan Sports Complex's grandstand

At around 10:30, Butuan’s LGU actually came and, as I prophesied, they were only picking up one person. Yep, the lady from our LGU who I talked to on the phone was either a big fat liar or their message simply didn’t reach Butuan’s LGU in time. I have no issues and was ready to sleep at the grandstand but among the things that I truly despise in life, even more than promises, are assurances that are broken. And so I informed the nearest person in a hazmat suit of my situation and thankfully he considered, called their director, asked for my swab test result, and got an approval. Since they only expected one person, I could only be loaded at the back of the pickup truck with everyone’s luggage. Yes, please!

Transport to Amigotel Inn

Transport to Amigotel Inn

Amigotel

We were brought to Amigotel Inn and were bathed with alcohol (wouldn’t have minded if it was the potable one) after alighting. Some heads might’ve turned when they saw me enjoying the breeze at the back of the truck as it may have looked like a joy ride out of town. Since aside from being from the same province we were also from the same town, I was assigned in the same room as the OFW from the sports complex. From there I learned of his story on how he ended up taking a commercial flight instead of one provided by the government for free to OFW’s. “Nothing else could go wrong from here,” I assured myself. Kay quota na jud!

Amigotel Inn

Amigotel Inn

Bayugan

It was almost eleven already when the Agusan del Sur LGU picked us up. With all of us being from overseas, there was no chance in hell that I was gonna be denied a ride again. NCIH! *swearing emoji*

Checkout from Amigotel Inn

Transport to Agusan del Sur

Transport to Agusan del Sur

In less than an hour we were at the provincial stopover in Bayugan City where at that point we were to be picked up by our respective municipal LGU’s for one final ride home. But not after we were given lunch and passed a rapid test.

Repatriation to the Philippines: Bayugan stopover

Repatriation to the Philippines: Bayugan stopover

Based on the conversations that transpired, most, if not all, of the guys I was with were seafarers. It was past two o’clock when our LGU arrived and it was so nice to glimpse the two people I was supposed to share that ride with the night before, had I not been denied. Turns out they also spent the first half of the day at the stopover on top of spending the night there. In less than an hour again, we finally set foot in our town and were offloaded at the municipal quarantine facility.

Transport to San Francisco

San Francisco

Nope, definitely not the one in California but the one in Agusan del Sur. The quarantine facility was our high school until the day before our arrival, making the two of us among the pioneers at the new facility located far from civilization the town center.

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Quarantine

Before being converted to a quarantine facility with lots of cubicles, the place was formerly a facility which housed homeless children. The men were set for the cubicles while the women were to be housed inside the building (as long as “supplies” lasted).

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Municipal quarantine facility in Pisaan

Our town isn’t the richest so it might’ve been not that much to some, but hey! There’s drinking water and the facility’s cubicles provided privacy and had two outlets and a ceiling fan. There was also a starter kit which could be replenished. Choosy pa ba kung di ka naman makinis?

Quarantine cubicle

Quarantine cubicle

Visitors were allowed but only from afar so in no time my family dropped by and brought extra pillows, a blanket, a mosquito net, a heater, and instant foods. And oh, did I mention that there was Wi-Fi? Yessir! On our first night there were only three of us—the other one an LSI—so the connection wasn’t intermittent at all. Tough 3, y’all!

Ohana

There were exclusive restrooms for us aliens but they were common nonetheless and while it might’ve been an issue for others, I just kept getting my hands drunk with alcohol.

Common restrooms

As for the food, the municipality had a budget and we were not only provided with three meals but also two snacks a day. At some point people commented that we were like pigs being prepared for slaughter because we haven’t even digested our last meal yet when another one comes in. Not that I’m complaining, of course, but it was a fact and funny at that.

Food distribution

It became annoying, though, when some started complaining on the repetition of foods. It may have been thrown as a joke but it was a pain in the ears especially that some municipalities don’t even have the budget for a single meal. Weight gain? You bet!

During my stay I basically only mingled with my roommate at Amigotel Inn and another seafarer who asked me to install some software on his new laptop when he learned that I work in the IT industry. Err, I enjoyed unintentionally listening to other people’s conversations, too. Gehee. Except for really hot days, the only frustration I had was on the Wi-Fi.

I knew that two weeks wasn’t gonna be long and true enough, it only took some tweaking for nelsoft.org, attending two calls, rewatching Fushigi Yuugi, reading Bird Box and the second and third novels of the Southern Reach Trilogy, watching Klaus and the remaining episodes of Ancient Aliens Season 5, and, most importantly, using one of the sheet masks from Naiza. Hah!

Me-time

Rapid tests

Before I even knew it, it was high time to get out of my two-week sobriety. Hallelujah!

Protocol

Protocols vary from one LGU to another and in the case of our municipality when we arrived, ROF’s were required a 14-day quarantine while those who weren’t were to stay for only seven days. Every seven days since arrival a rapid test was performed and those whose blood tested positive were moved to a better facility next door for swab testing. If the swab samples also tested positive, they were taken to another facility which provided solitary confinement until such time that they test negative from the novel coronavirus.

People were supposed to just get out when nature calls or during food distribution but it wasn’t really followed since people are generally social and not everyone has a laptop or smartphone that they could finger. Also, the Wi-Fi became pretty much useless when people were already swarming the facility. Drinking anything alcoholic and smoking were prohibited but the latter was easily bypassed when I was there because the CCTV’s haven’t been installed yet.

Quarantine facility house rules

Takeaways

  • I’m more afraid of passing COVID-19 to others than acquiring it, because its effect/s on them could be way severe than what it did to me. And that’ll slap me with guilt. After all, even the young and the fittest have succumbed to the disease.
  • Some aspects of it may sound contradictory and as being selfish, but nothing’s wrong with asking for a helping hand. Even during the time of a pandemic, there are still those who are willing to 1) meet up with people who could be carriers of the disease 2) help people they’ve never even met before by welcoming them to their homes.
  • I took it upon myself to be vigilant of symptoms. Days before my first flight, my bowel movement was sort of acting up. It could’ve been diarrhoea. Or just my allegedly high metabolism in action. Then, days after the flight, there were muscle pains. Or they were simply a result of lifting all my heavy shit luggage. I even Googled if cracked fingertips is a symptom when I saw how mine looked. Each time I felt hot, I would whip out my thermometer to unravel a moment of truth. Finally, to check if I already lost my smell, I’d simply lick the back of my hand and sniff it—something I started doing in Colombia. Distasteful? Yeah, right.
  • Repatriation ain’t easy if you have a lot of things. When with no plans of settling down in a location overseas, avoid buying things because you might end up with difficulties disposing them. I lived in a fully furnished apartment yet I still felt that I had a million stuff on my shoulders. Unless you can send them via cargo which could be cheaper, baggage allowance is expensive especially when your luggage is overweight (and that is why you should have a handy weighing scale).
  • The government’s handling of OFW’s in their repatriation to the Philippines deserves praise. The moment OFW’s arrive at the airport until they’re back to their respective hometowns, everything—medical tests, hotel accommodations, foods, and all forms of transportation—is free. That being said, if you’re based abroad, make it a point that you’re an active member of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
  • Telling the people I interacted with in my schlong’s journey to inform me if they developed any symptom has always been in the bag. Nonetheless, truth be told, it may be the case that I already contracted the virus even before my repatriation began, was asymptomatic, and got over it. Another case would be the symptoms that I mentioned being actually those of COVID-19 but somehow I managed to keep it to myself and didn’t pass it to anyone until I recovered from it by the time I underwent swab testing. Immunity from the disease without ever knowing you had it is possible, after all.
  • Everyone has the right to be paranoid. If you feel that even your closest friends are hesitant to see or accommodate you, don’t be hateful. You will be bestowed with disappointment, yes, but always remember that to each his own so suck it up.
  • You may be among those who lost their jobs but a whole lot of people still have it way rougher than you. So if you managed to keep yours, all the more reason to stop being such a bitch about it.
  • As fancy as it may sound, knowing how to drive a car, not just bicycles and motorcycles, is actually also a life skill.
  • Christmas with my family until vaccines have already been widely administered.

Graduated: September 5, 2020 after 33 days of being on the “road”, one swab test, and four rapid tests

Nelson

View posts by Nelson
An outdated software engineer with the attention span of a fruit fly. Follow me on Instagram if you have one? Cheers!

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