If you travel a lot, doing it in pitch darkness while staving off fear and insanity by singing Eraserheads songs is inevitable.
Doing it on a scooter on a coastal road in Real, Quezon while trying to run away from monsoon rains is as good an opportunity as any.
Real is the Philippine version of a Mexicali border town, cheap, rustic and far enough away to escape whatever trouble the city holds: bills, a slave-driving boss, frustrated homicide, etc.
On weekends, it reverberates with the sound of freedom as small motorcycles zip by, sometimes in squadrons, sometimes one by one.
Getting there is a reminder of what going out of town really means.
Travelling on the expressways is like watching cut-scenes in a movie trailer. Everything goes by so fast,you hardly even notice the scenery. You just sit there and wait for the end credits.
Taking the winding Manila East Road is the book that the movie was based on.
The sometimes-paved road snakes up the Sierra Madre mountain range through obscure towns with names like Inuman (where Inuman Elementary School is) and Boso-boso.
Past Rizal and into Laguna, you travel through deserted tree-lined mountain roads where monkeys and views of Laguna de Bay lie in ambush around the next corner.
You eventually cut across farming towns where actual farmers from actual farms dry their palay on the side of the road, and where the only people not parked outside the cockfighting arena are just passing through.
Arriving in Quezon, three, maybe four, hours of hard riding through winding mountain roads later, you see hints of the beach, and the massive river that feeds into it. And there is something incredibly romantic about that, the idea of fresh water and salt meeting halfway.
Someone forgot to check the weather report for this particular trip and we ended up riding through the rain and arriving at a beach with water the color and consistency of chocolate.
Deprived of beach activities, we decided to wait until dark before riding on to the nearest town in typhoon weather for dinner.
Armed with little more than a raincoat, a reflector vest and force of will, we made it there and back. But not before scaring ourselves silly riding in pitch darkness and with nobody else on the road.
The angry sea to the left of us, dark mountains to the right, it was a defining moment for both the trip and our relationship. After all, weeping openly through the chorus of “Alapaap” because of imagined ghosts requires a much higher level of love.
Real, Quezon 2009