That day.

My heart beats faster than a bullet train as I walked briskly like an ostrich in this not so ordinary day making the known and familiar path peculiar and unconventional.  Hunger and sleep deprivation is nowhere a concern.  It has been a long long walk, literally and figuratively speaking.

I came home.  To the home where my dreams were formed, personality and virtues molded, where my brothers and sisters from different mothers dwell, my immediate family gathers for an important occasion and the place I once left to temporarily bid farewell and confidently declare "I shall be back and you will be proud of me."  

8 November 2013- a day like no other - enigmatic, baffling and indecipherable. A day that changed the lives of every resident of the city. And two days after, the world knows where I am heading to, to my home - Tacloban City, Leyte.

Cliche and over-used as the statement may be, but, the world is indeed our classroom.  Our daily lives is a travel in itself, full of lessons to unveil.  If Saint Augustine is alive, he would have been more proud of the many disciples he has produced, all adhering to the mantra that the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. We all travel for varied reasons, for quite a number, to soul search, to unleash the adventure and thrill seeker trapped within their souls, to rekindle the bonds of friendship and love and for others to learn a new experience.  Inevitably, for the countless travels I had, the said quests have been attained.

To travel is an expensive vocabulary, we foresee if not plan a detailed itinerary, pack the essentials, wander, book for hotels, find the cheapest flights and capture through photographs as many vantage points as there are for a new and revisited destination.  But my homecoming to Tacloban City was a heart-stopping drama of epic proportions, a life and death encounter and a spiritual transformation shouting of hope and compassion.  I was simply traveling to see if my father and sister, childhood friends, relatives and neighbors were alive.

Super typhoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan) was everywhere in the news stands, studios, broad sheets and the airspace was populated of stories of its onslaught, the countless and massive destruction it had caused to the lives and properties of the Visayas region.  I was at the office that morning, confident that everything shall pass and the typhoon was like any other typhoon we have experienced since childhood.  Night time came and paranoia surfaced, there were no means of communication and the city was isolated from the world.  We have tried all means to get some information, valid or not.  I was desperate, confused and emotionally unstable.  Our mobile phones were opened the whole day and the days to come, alert of whatever way was possible of going home.  My mom who was based in Cebu reassured all of us that everything will be fine and GOD will find ways for us to be home.

By a stroke of luck and through some family friends at the AFP, my mother and a brother based in Cebu were able to ride the C130 plane in Mactan Airbase, while me and another brother at the Villamor Airbase in Manila, followed.  Due to limited slots, my brother, who is a medical doctor made it to the first batch for a medical mission, to arrive in Tacloban.  I was left behind yet I followed immediately. No telecommunication company was operational and I was left wondering of their whereabouts.  With the exception of two siblings working abroad, my whole family was there.  I prayed for their safety...prayed really hard.

Stories of storm surge alarmed my family.  For a 15 feet high of flood water, the possibility of having the same experienced in our subdivision is a given fact.  We live in a subdivision where continuous rain would cause tremendous flooding.  En route to Tacloban, to fight the negative thoughts was a battle, especially when near death experiences is what you hear from all those who survived and made it out of the city.  Thus, no one was spared.

Homecoming is an important event for me.  A series of  gathering with friends and dining on a table with my family served with the dishes you miss most have always been the scenario.  But this homecoming was different.  I was left alone.  Mobile phones were useless and so was money.  Food was the only means of survival.  Despite the warning on the news and rumors that spread like fire, saying that those who brought food would be mobbed and that Tacloban City was now a ghost town and a zombie land,  I cared less.  I am from Tacloban and why would I be afraid of home.  I brought as much supplies as my capacity can accommodate.

Upon arrival at Tacloban City, I know I have to find ways to go home.  It was total disaster.  I see no life. Lifeless trees, animals and even human lives.  I was prepared that no one will fetch me, I have no one to call to but with the kindness of some fellow Taclobanons, I hitched a ride and was dropped off at the Tacloban City hospital, the only passable entrance to our subdivision proximate to our house.  I was not even sure who was at home yet I have to go.  Then, I was greeted by a flooded knee-deep black water on the pavements leading to our house.  Should I go on?  I asked myself.

I was never prepared that this catastrophe shall happen in my lifetime.  I was here for a purpose and I have no right to complain.  Thus, I have to move on and disregard sanitation issues.  As I arrived home,  no one was there.  I checked on my bedroom and it was gone.  The second floor of our house vanished.  I sat at one corner and gaze at the surroundings.  Is this really home?  In a few minutes, my father arrived.  It was a sudden sigh of relief.  He told me my mom and siblings already evacuated our youngest sister, thus, my father was left home.  Even if we convince him to move out of the city, he was firm on his stand of staying at home.  That we have to respect.

We have to leave our father at home but he reassured us that he'll be safe and that threats of looting and other criminal acts are manageable in our subdivision.  And so, we were forced to move on with our lives despite the massive destruction of our home and go back to Manila to earn a living.

Due to flood and countless fallen lamp posts, I have to depend on myself on my way out of the city.  I decided to pass by Cebu via Ormoc City before going back to Manila.  There being no means of public transportation, I have to walk for miles to reach the downtown area for the terminal.  I felt I was lost in my hometown.  I even stopped at a church to ask for water albeit hesitant thinking that I am not a survivor and they need water more than me. But I have to disregard discomfort to survive.  The rubbles and bodies of bloated human corpse were a common scene of the city.  It was totally far from the city I have known for.  That day indeed changed my perspective of traveling.

As I arrived at the van terminal for Ormoc City, it was a long and disorderly queue.  The ticketing office was closed and that the next trip would be the following day.  It was nearly 4PM.  I don't know where to go, no mobile phones were available and almost all of my friends and relatives evacuated the city.  I tried walking for distances unmindful of the pain and hunger with nowhere to go.  "I could walk for miles until I find an available transportation to Ormoc."  I said to myself.  But my tsinelas (slippers) bruised my right foot causing an open wound.  Lakwatserong Tsinelas (wandering slippers) must have come to an end.

I could no longer go home as our subdivision was flooded and I might be infected with tetanus.  It was getting late and dark skies begin to hover on the horizon.  Never in my entire life had I imagine I would experience being scared of home.  I want to go out of the city by all means possible.  Nearly 5PM, a tricycle passed by and I called on the driver to have it chartered towards the airport.  I was desperate and had no choice.  I paid one thousand pesos, so unusual yet I acceded.

I travelled for an apocalyptic landscape.  The scene at the airport was even worse sans the smell of decomposing dead bodies that clinged into my shirt.  The queue was unimaginable for a highly urbanized city and like me everyone wanted to move out of the city.  Desperation comes and I have to ask for favors from a few family friends which my parents doesn't know.  We were trained to do everything in our own but this one is a special case.  By 6PM, I found myself onboard the C130 back to Manila.    

But my ordeal is definitely far from the multitude of stories shared by my close friends who survived the worst typhoon of all times.  I travelled to hear the unknown stories, to give hope and to weave them in this vast expanse, to make each one's perspective of travel change.

A week before the typhoon struck, my friend gave birth to her second child.  Her husband was working abroad and with a few househelps, she was basically the head of the household.  Their humble abode was newly furnished in one of the known subdivisions of the city.  Super typhoon came and massive destruction to the property was caused.  This friend of mine always travel to Manila and other parts of the country prepared with a wardrobe always suited to the occasion.  But circumstances changed.  It was a decision she herself has to make and no one to consult with for the safety of her family.  She can attest that no aid was given even after a few days from the typhoon, thus, she traveled wearing almost a lingerie (an exaggeration).  She has no right to sleep and rode the bus going to Cavite cuddling her weeks-old daughter.  On the countless PTA meetings my mom attended with her mom, I remember my mom sharing to me how kind her mother was and how proud she is of her daughter.  And yes, in our highschool batch she is our leader and everyone knows her amiable traits.  And even on this sojourn of life, she has made us all proud once again like her mother.  She has to temporarily leave the city for her family to start anew, but Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte will always be her home.  She is Joanna Pauline Elago-Modesto, a true warrior and descendant of Leyte.               

This is a testament that life changing stories can not only happen in finding one's self but in accepting the realities of life, to acknowledge the worth of even a tiny speck in this world we live in.

A hundred days after the super typhoon, our youngest sister, one of the survivors of the typhoon, celebrated her birthday at one of the most devastated barangays of Tacloban, the place where my mother spent most of her life and a portion of our childhood memories created - Brgy. Anibong.  If only we could give her the grandest birthday celebration, we could have done so but resources doesn't permit at the moment. 

We distributed food, notebooks and pencils to more than two hundred children of the barangay.  The smile on their faces was indeed priceless.  Despite the presence of passenger and cargo vessels washed ashore the residential areas, life has to move on.  This is a journey which they have to accept, a mark of Filipino resilience.

The people of Tacloban are now beginning to change the course of their life stories.  That day made them value more their loved ones, the drunkards remain drunkards yet visiting the church more often has been part of their itinerary instead of the bars; and the hopeless become full of compassion and faith.  GOD has a reason for making Tacloban City the site of the worst typhoon to hit the world, after all, our ascendants are all warriors and perpetual protectors of the Philippine archipelago.

Life is a constant change.  That day made me realize how possible life can change in a blink of an eye.  The joy, as a consequence of love and pain suffered to recognize that we have loved made my recent homecomings to Tacloban City a life changing phase of my travel life.

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  1. well-written, heart-warming article! Kudos Juls!

  2. wow julz congrats!ginbasa ko bisan halaba..likey

  3. we will rise above this panyero. I know it is easier said than done but I trust in our resiliency and that we, Filipinos, will overcome this.