But the house I grew up in was less than an hour’s drive from the country’s biggest airport. My parents, on the other hand, who live in Massachusetts, grew up far from Manila on two fishing villages separated by about 4 miles of water (Daram and Zumarraga, both in the province of Samar), and I thought it’d be interesting to show people what it takes to get there when we visit. Maybe you can give it a try, if you’re ever in the area.
1. For the purposes of this post, let’s pretend we’re flying out of New York (or Newark, which is close enough). This means at least 20 hours of flight time (brutal). Your total travel time, of course, will depend on the length and number of your layovers, but the silver lining, if you’re willing to take advantage of it, is the opportunity to see some places along the way.
From JFK, for example, Emirates will stop in Dubai on the way to Manila. Others will stop in Seoul, Taiwan, Osaka, Hawaii, Guam, and so on and so forth. Still, yeah, it’s a long trip. Plus, it’ll cost you.
2. Next up is the 70-minute flight from Manila to Tacloban — straightforward, no more than $100 round-trip.
Although, you could also take the ferry, which takes at least a day. I did this a couple of times as a kid, and while it was exciting to me then, I wouldn’t recommend it now, what with the Philippines’ poor record of maritime safety.
This is where things get interesting, and where you have a couple of options.
3. When I go back to Daram and Zumarraga, I can usually find friends and family going there at the same time. This means renting a van and driver makes financial sense. It’s only about 25 miles, but the trip takes at least an hour because the road is narrow and dotted with people, dogs, fish drying in the sun, slow vehicles and more (no sidewalks). But really, the best reason to rent instead of going by public transportation is this:
(Alternatively, you can take a 40-mile bus ride from Tacloban to Catbalogan, a smaller city. You get to cross the San Juanico Bridge, the longest span over water in the Philippines. From Catbalogan, you can catch the boats that make early morning runs to and from Zumarraga and Daram.)
4. I also go by Babatngon because I have relatives with boats, and that town is the most convenient jumping-off point for sailing to Daram or Zumarraga. This, I think, is the best part of the trip (unless it rains): an hourlong boat ride on clear water, past sleepy seaside villages, uninhabited islands, fishermen hauling in their nets, giant rocks rising out from the depths. If you can tune out the gigantic diesel engine and stand the occasional rogue wave, it’s heaven.
5. Voila! You are in Daram or Zumarraga, where there are no cars. The fastest thing you’ll run into is a motorcycle, if that, and most people walk, bike or row to where they want to go.