Traveling together is always an intimate experience, a moment-to-moment of truth, a constant test forced by inescapable proximity with one another under new and constantly changing settings.
I’ve always regarded my cousins Sylvia and Regina and BFF Ana Belen as tested traveling companions; after all, we’ve known each other all our lives, from three generations back. No secrets between us, no surprises to be sprung.
Our friendship has been reinforced yet after studies and tours of Europe together as teenagers. Taking the first letters of our proper names (mine is Teresita), we called ourselves the RATS, and made a team of four, each with her own strength. We grew up on the same standards. We developed a sense of fairness and consideration for one another, understood one another’s quirks. We’re simply unabashedly fond of one another.
Our last long sojourn together was 10 years ago, and we discovered even then that not one of us had really changed, except in looks and age. The experience, in any case, was rejuvenating and memorable, full of laughter, as we recalled the past in the presence of the present.
We RATS are always dreaming of one last long sentimental journey together, and—especially if Vergel prefers to pass, and I don’t blame him—we hope to bring along, for practical purposes in a reversal of caretaking roles, our daughters, who, opportunistically, have started calling themselves the bubwits.
Recently, back from a trip to Japan, I surprised my husband and even myself with quite a few booboos. He likes to call them “miracles”—no one I know has a comparable sense of humor. In all fairness, I had to tell Regina—as would, too, the other RATS at the first opportunity—about my “miracles.” I have already revealed some of them here—driving back home for my forgotten yen, leaving my handbag at a train station.
A fresh miracle for the telling is about my failure to adjust my watch to Tokyo time, an hour ahead of Manila. I told our guide I needed to go to the restroom. The train was coming for us at 12:10, a whole hour and some minutes by my watch. I had all the time in the world!
In no time I heard Vergel calling out from the door of the ladies’ room: The train was coming! So soon? The nearest door was for Car No. 3. We beat it by the skin of our behinds.
Coming directly from the airport, Vergel had his backpack, my hand-carry and one suitcase, our guide had the other suitcase, and I had my bag and overcoat. Lugging all that, we walked the aisle in the opposite direction to our car—No. 11.
The train was such a steady bullet we scarcely felt unsteadied. Indeed, it was a wonder not only in speed but also in comfort. Once settled, our suitcases properly stowed, locked in their shelves, we snacked on delicious sandwiches and pastries we bought at the station. The bullet ride, an hour and 40 minutes, cost us a small fortune, but beat the bus we were catching, in spite of its four-hour-plus head start.
Reunited with our tour group midway to Takayama, I realized as soon as we climbed the bus that two of my immediate needs—neck pillow and sunglasses—were in my hand-carry, which had disappeared into the belly of the bus with the other bags. At a bathroom stop, I gathered the courage to tell Vergel. He did his comedy routine of sighing, rolling his sleepy eyes and shaking his head. But he went to the driver and made him understand.
From then on, I was out of his hair, sleeping well between stops, sunglassed and neck-pillowed.
How then can I travel again with any other companion, such as I am now? After Japan, I think Vergel has a good idea what he’s up against and, locked in for life with me, he seems prepared to take what joy he could traveling with me. At first chance we went shopping for two light four-wheel suitcases, a medium-size, for us to share, and a hand-carry.
For my part, I agreed to travel light, losing weight wherever I could. For Japan, I admittedly packed too much. We also agreed we’d be better off traveling in a smaller group, with a looser and lighter schedule.
Not even my miracles can discourage us now—this overage couple has just been bitten by the travel bug!