Little did I know that my attempt to get around Marikina City, which was on community quarantine, as I went from Taytay to San Mateo in Rizal would get me stranded in some remote mountain barangay at San Mateo.
I should have stayed at Taytay, Rizal instead.
After a light rain that fell over Taytay the afternoon of the 16th of March 2020, I bade my goodbyes to my best friend Erik and his family. Tatay Lito, Erik’s father, warned me about the journey that I was planning to make that time for I would be starting late and rain clouds hovered over the sky as if it was a premonition.
It was a premonition that I foolishly dismissed.
Even if it was an uphill battle, as I gave up on pedaling and instead pushed my bike over the steep road going up to Antipolo, I still insisted into continuing on.
I can’t give up upon the journey for I was set to help my advisee in preparing for her final defense in her thesis as I would be also fetching my hard drive which I left her since January.
Even if the roads to Masinag were arduous and perilous for the bikers as they were both steep in the accent and the descent, I must push on as I promised upon my cousins in Tarlac that I would be helping them in their review for the incoming UPCAT, the entrance exam for the premier university in the Philippines. That promise was what fueled me into pushing on even though I have already surmised that performing the task of even pushing my bicycle and its 30 kg baggage to a ground 300 meters higher than sea level was already beyond my physical capacity, having lived a near-sedentary lifestyle of just monotonously going back a forth from work on a daily basis.
After 3 hours around 6 pm, I finally reached my first waypoint at Brgy. Cabadingan, Antipolo City.
There, I loaded my phone so that I could access the internet, only to find out that an enhanced community quarantine was being implemented throughout Luzon.
Maybe, I should have turned back that time. Even the storekeeper warned me of taking that mountain road to San Mateo at night. But my hubris and hardheadedness were already fed up with the regrets that befell upon me. So, foolishly, I continued on.
Even if the road that I assumed to be descending along the way turned out to be riddled with going up and down to various ravines, and even if I was already stumbling and taking prolonged rests, I continued on, as if I was having that summit fever that allured most of the tragic climbers into continuing on as the goal that they have been yearning on was right before their eyes.
However, that fever, in the literal sense, was one of the symptoms of the disease that has become a global pandemic. CoViD-19 plagued the Philippines, with the number of cases ballooning beyond the capacity of the medical facilities that were already understaffed and underfunded. In admittance to their complacency, the government issued the enhanced community quarantine which rather implemented like a lockdown. That lockdown stripped all of my plans away of their light as I continued biking along the pitch-dark mountain road.
It was the highest point of the mountain road. That part being a conserved part of the Marikina River Basin, there were no human settlements in the area to give an additional streak of light to serve as a guide across this eerily dark road with the only thing giving light was the after-colour of dusk and the head lamp of my bicycle.
The cramps became worse and worse as my legs gave up as my knees became unable to bend. Hence, total darkness surrounded me as I recuperated.
As I thought that the road would be downhill at that point, it was the situation that went downhill, as I stumbled upon a checkpoint. The guards manning the checkpoint directed me to go back. Being sympathetic to my situation, they attempted to convince their higher-ups to let me through, to no avail.
I was already physically spent. But I had no choice but to go back.
It was another uphill battle. This time, I lost, having stumbled twice as my legs straightened out again. I injured my right wrist in the process. I was just there, for minutes, lying on the grass. With no phone signal, with no one around, and in total darkness, the despair finally crept. The desperation turned severe as I pleaded for the passing police mobile to pick me up and detain me. However, they only stopped momentarily and then continued on.
A faint phone signal gave me a glimmer of hope. Immediately, I called that special person, telling her about my dire situation and informed her that I told her just in case some mishap happened. I was already in tears that time, with my determination turned into desperation, and my hubris being totally humbled.
By the time I reached a human settlement, I immediately went around to ask people around if there was a place to stay. Understandably, fearing a public health hazard, most did not accommodate my pleas.
Even so, there were a few that offered a helping hand. The human compassion indeed knew no bounds as they even fed me as they waited for some person in authority to decide upon my fate. Even though I was served monggo porridge (I hated meals with monggo in it, especially toge), the compassion that I felt from the people who looked after me made that porridge the scrumptious food that I ate for a while.
I was handed over to Kagawad Ryan of Barangay Pintong Bukawe in San Mateo, Rizal. He offered me a place to rent and stay for a month. His hospitality provided warmth amidst the coldness of my despair.
The place was one of the houses that he was looking after. The interior was not yet finished. Its owners were residents of Marikina City.
It is the place that I would be staying in for a month throughout the enhanced community quarantine. As the checkpoints required proof of residence to let me pass through, with my permanent address being on Cavite and with no way of making my present address of being a boarder at UP Diliman a valid excuse to let me through to those checkpoints, I would be stuck at this barangay for a month.
The phone signal was limited as it would require me to walk 500 meters to be on the coverage of a cell-site. With the community quarantine in effect, I cannot dawdle long in that cell-site, so communications for me would be seldom.
It was just me for a whole month in this empty residence. It would be lonely. With no people to constantly talk to, with no internet connection, the only saving grace was that I brought my laptop, therefore giving me an opportunity to write various write-ups, apart from the manuscript of my graduate thesis and the programming code for the simulations, for I have no choice.
Actually, it was not just me. I have a strange co-habitant as my companion. And to set an irony, it was the creature that was believed to be the source of the virus that caused this pandemic and this community quarantine: a bat.