Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
3

It isn’t cold in Manila like it used to during this time of the year (January), last year it was, especially during the evenings.  I noticed too that it’s smoggy all around the skylines blanketing against the monstrous buildings of Makati and Ortigas - vistas from the 4th floor of the building where we are staying.  Manila’s ecosystem is hostile to my senses that got used to, at least for the past year and a half in the “City in a Forest” (Puerto Princesa, Palawan that is), reason why I don’t normally stay longer in the capital city.  This time it’s only for 3 days and I’m off to the summer capital of the Philippines – Baguio City.
Last year I took 5-Star Bus Company to Ilocos Norte before heading too Baguio, but apparently the popular choice that ply the Manila-Baguio route is Victory Liner and believe it or not it is the first time (in my entire life) traveling via one of their provincial buses. 
The pictures on their website showing the seemingly friendly stewardess is quite an attraction that developed my high expectation. I was brooding over trying the Aircon Deluxe but I find it extremely steep at P750 versus the regular aircon bus at P455. 
I arrived before noon at the Victory Liner terminal located along EDSA in Pasay City where most of the bus companies are located.  The terminal is big, there is a sort of in-terminal hotel called Gran Prix just before the entrance along the main highway perhaps for those who’d like to stay a day or night and don’t want to go far. 711 convenient store is few steps away beside the gasoline station. An Avis car rental can be found inside the terminal right before the open lounge area. 
Victory Liner terminal entrance.


I was approached by one of the staff asking if my destination is Baguio and said that the bus is about to leave.  It was an aircondition deluxe bus so I asked how much is the fare, he said P750, followed with a sales pitch that it’s a non-stop trip, so I inquired the cost of the standard aircon bus, he said P455, so I said I’ll go for the standard, the difference was huge.  I asked then where is the standard or ordinary aircon bus and what time is it leaving, the reply I got was – just wait for it!  Isn’t he adorable?  Just cuz I didn’t opt for the pricey still-a-lot-of-vacant seats  deluxe bus, he quickly turned inhospitable.
I instead queued in front of the glass counter with the “Ticket Booth” sign and “Baguio” placard.  The two ladies sitting inside the ticket office don this nice red attire with valentine-red head gear which resembles some European budget airline crew’s uniforms (or Airasia’s?).   But quite honestly, the likeability factor ended there. 
Pretty red uniforms of ticket window staff, period.

As I was telling my sister sitting at one of the plastic chairs who commented that they look like airline crew, but truth of the matter is and as I simply put it – they are “department store sales ladies on an airline crew uniforms” - minus the congeniality.  At least, salesladies at department stores are pleasantly friendly equipped with ever- ready smiles and attentiveness, it did not happen here at Victory Liner’s ticket booth.
In contrast, I remember the 5-Star Bus Company at their terminal also in Pasay City, which I took last year on my way to Laoag have really helpful and friendly staff notwithstanding the less eye-catching uniforms, I don’t remember the uniforms at all but I remember the service.  Some people and that includes me particularly, retains sharp memories of those friendly services, more than physical niceties that do not necessarily add value to my personal comfort and convenience.
I think when you are working in a big company that has a monopoly of the market, you have the liberty to be proud –  at times bordering overconfidence that you occasionally forget the corporate culture that was built around the vision and mission of the company that you represent.  
So much for the organizational culture speech and getting back to VL.  I bought the ticket at the window booth for P455 + 5 for the insurance and waited at one of the benches until our bus parked on its lane in front of us.  To offset my disappointment though, the bus is relatively new, clean, has tall comfortable back seats, spacious – about 7 to 10 inches distance between my knees and the back of the seat in front of me – a good leg room I mean.  I made the right choice then of not spending the additional P300 for the Deluxe bus, I don’t think there’s much disparity that would compensate for the big difference in ticket price.

Yet again, here are some discomforts with this bus. 
As it started to move at 11:05AM, acceptable punctuality with only 5 minutes delay, the 32-inch flat panel TV hanging in front of the bus beside the driver started screening a compilation of live musical concerts from various Brits and American artists circa 80s and 90s on full surround-sound blaring volume that made all of the passengers wide awake for an hour and a half or so until it entered the north Luzon expressway where – at last – the live music concert CD was replaced with a Richard Gere, J.Lo and Susan Sarandon’s flick entitled “Shall We Dance”, nonetheless, the volume stayed as it is – perfectly audible up to the back row seats. 
I took out my paperback and jammed my ear canals with one of those in-ear headphones, started reading while the relaxing music mixes of Submerse is blocking the booming sound of the television, helped me took a nap until we arrived at Dau, Pampanga for a 20-minute break.  This bus station has the cleanest and swankiest toilet (or comfort room) that I have ever seen along the North Luzon route.  The 10 pesos toilet fee, I guess, is worth it rather than paying half on a filthy loo, this one has clean toilets, complete with dark-colored granite-designed sinks, liquid soaps, hand lotions and some other stuff, and I’m talking about the Men’s bathroom.
Dau bus terminal swanky bathroom.
The second stop was at San Roque, Tarlac station for 15 minutes, and then the second on-board movie was shown - Adam Sandler’s “The Longest Yard”.  Then I got tired counting the number of bus stops, the ones that I remembered were some passenger pick-ups and drop-offs at Rosales, Urdaneta, Binalonan and a 15-minute break at Sison, all in the province of Pangasinan.
San Roque, Tarlac bus station.

We arrive at the Baguio terminal half past 6:00pm and the temperature is 11 degrees C!
Basically it’s the myriad of stops and breaks during the bus trip augmented by the blaring TV that one has to endure to save 300 pesos (against the deluxe bus) and perhaps some couple of inches more space around your seat, some refreshments, a pretty stewardess, a non-stop travel, and a bus with a cubicle toilet. 
That’s more than a few!

Well, they did not call it “Deluxe” for nothing, ain't it?  But saving 300 pesos isn’t bad at all, I may as well use it for a better bed tonight.

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