Travel By Heart: Lamitan, Basilan – Part 02

 

I made the decision next morning, I will go to Basilan to accomplish what I set out to do… and that is to reach the farthest that I can south on a motorcycle. I paused for a while to plan for what I’m about to do. I can just spend a couple of hours at the capital city of Isabela, go around some populated spots then ride back to the port and take the next RORO going back to Zamboanga. I felt like my plan was solid… until I got to the port.

I was loitering around the port to try and figure out how to get tickets for the RORO when one of the port security guards noticed me. He was tall and dark skinned with a very imposing posture. Then he signaled for me to come close… and I did. Ever since I got to Zamboanga my guards were all up, I told myself I wouldn’t reveal details about myself to avoid attention and I will be cautious as to who I talk to. Then he asked me what I was doing there, I told him I was looking for a way to get to Isabela. Then he dropped the bomb on me and said: “That boat just left.” I asked him what time will the next one be, “3 hours from now” he replied. He quickly followed it up “But you can take the one going to Lamitan, it will be leaving in 15 mins.” I was like… “Fuck”.

By this time a crowd is starting to gather around us. Some people approached us, some lingered from afar. Obviously just trying to hear our conversations. I was not entirely sure what their intention was, but I think most of them were just curious about the guy all dressed in black with a motorcycle filled with stuff. The port guard that I was talking to noticed what was happening. Then he asked, “Are you from the media?” I think by now he has realized that I was recording everything on my helmet cam. I tried to remain calm, but honestly things were a bit tense. I have heard of stories of people trying to determine if you can be a target for kidnapping or extortion by asking you details about yourself. My mind was racing as to what I should tell him, hopefully, whatever would come out from my mouth would keep me safe.

I ended up just telling him the truth, “I’m not, I’m doing this ride as a personal goal. A bucket list of some sort”. I looked at his face and I was pretty certain he was not buying it. I tried to change the topic by telling him that I went to the Department of Tourism and they told me that Lamitan is a “relatively” safe place. Then I asked him if there is any truth to that. He wondered for a bit and said: “Yeah, it’s relatively safe.” After a moment of silence, he asked if I have heard of this news about a local government official that died on an ambush 2 years ago, then proceeded to mention a name and a location. I pretended to have heard the story but not in detail, I was hoping for him to elaborate… and elaborate he did.

“That was my uncle.” For the second time in this story, my reaction was (Fuck!). “Sorry to hear about him.” I replied. “I have been in a lot of firefights in Lamitan.” he then lifted his shirt and showed me bullet scar on his lower abdomen. “This is one of them… and there are thee more.” he said that as he lifted his pants to show me another scar on left leg. “I’m lucky to still be alive, despite this I would still say that Lamitan is a relatively safe place.” I found the situation disturbing and ironic at the same time. As with all interesting conversations that I had, I asked if I can take a photo of him. He quickly declined and said, “I can’t have my photo taken as I’m applying for a job that handles sensitive matters”.

Despite the very awkward conversation that I had with him, I decided to just push through with the plan. The only thing that has really changed was the destination. I tried to end our conversation by asking which boat is about to leave, he pointed me to it and asked one of his fellow port guard to guide me. As I rode towards the boat, I noticed from my side mirrors that he was following me. That seemed really weird, he instructed one of his mates to guide me only to follow me after.

As I parked my motorcycle inside the boat, I glanced at his direction. Now he is just outside of the boat, but now talking to a man wearing a yellow shirt. I know for a fact that they were talking about me, because as they converse their eyes were glued at my direction. I’m now doubting my decision, I was asking myself if all if the situations leading to this were all red flags. The boat has not left yet, I still have 5 minutes to change my decision.

Then the man wearing the yellow shirt started walking towards me.

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