Diary of a Typhoon – Part 1

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

6:15 a.m.

I need to get home before the typhoon hits. I’m in a taxi, speeding in a southbound lane on the South Luzon Expressway, en route from Manila Airport to the ferry terminal in Batangas City. I’ve told my driver that we need to get there faster than the usual 90 minute ride so I can catch a ferry to the island of Mindoro, my home of thirteen years, before the Coast Guard cancels passenger boats. Normally I would take a bus, but the taxi will save time. If I can get to the port before the first boat of the day, I’ll make it home. I’m guessing the Coast Guard will stop boat traffic by noon.

I’ve seen the weather forecast and the storm doesn’t look particularly bad, but everyone seems concerned. Even my Philippine Airlines flight left Vancouver thirty minutes early last night and took a short cut, arriving an hour and forty minutes ahead of schedule. “The typhoon is coming this afternoon, Ma’am”, a flight attendant warned me as I was leaving the plane.

But the typhoon ISN’T coming this afternoon — at least, I hope it’s not. I’m a sailor and a navigator, and I know how to read marine weather charts. From what I’ve seen, we won’t be affected until after midnight tonight, so I should have plenty of time to get home.

8:10 a.m.

Goddammit!! I’m stuck in a hotel in Batangas City. My taxi driver was good, arriving at the port before 7:30, but it was already too late. I absolutely cannot believe that the bloody Coast Guard cancelled the boats YESTERDAY!! Yesterday?? Can’t they read charts?? What idiots! There isn’t a breath of wind or a ripple on the water.

So this is it — I’m only fifteen miles from my house, but I now have to sit in this shitty hotel room all day, doing nothing. According to the hotel owner, I’m lucky to have a room. Batangas is full of stranded travelers as unlucky as me.

I have to laugh at the hotel name, “The Come Inn”, where you can rent rooms by the hour. Hey, it’s the Philippines…

11:30 a.m.

There’s a minor chance that I might possibly be able to get a ride on a private outrigger boat, (a banca) through some friends. Though nothing has been promised, a phone call may come. This is what happens when the Coast Guard cancels the passenger boats too early. Everyone hires private boats, which are always smaller and less safe than the regular ferries. I’ve done it myself and would have tried at 7:30 this morning — except that I’ve got more than 150 pounds of luggage to contend with.

2 p.m.

The private banca didn’t work out. No one called me, and now it’s too late. I wouldn’t have hesitated this morning, but I won’t chance crossing any later than this. The Verde Passage may not look dangerous, but many people have died trying to cross it in bad weather. The wind can go from 0 to 80 knots in five seconds, and before you know it, monstrous waves are rolling your boat.

3 p.m.

There is some confusion as to the path of the typhoon. It’s shifting more to the south, closer to Mindoro, where I live. It drives me crazy that I’m not at home to help prepare. We live in a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Even a minor squall is bad at our house.

It’s not easy to prepare for a typhoon — the smallest potted plant can become a projectile, shattering glass doors and windows. My parter, Martin, is texting me, assuring me that he’s got everything handled. It’s sunny and calm, he says. Hmmm…

6 p.m.

It’s raining heavily now, though there is still not a breath of wind.

Just checked the latest weather update and the typhoon’s movement has slowed down. It’s now expected to pass near us at 8 tomorrow morning — which means that I won’t get home tomorrow. Bastards! Am still trying to figure out why the Coast Guard didn’t allow boats to run today. The 15-mile-wide channel was like a millpond. I want to be home!

7:30 p.m.

Very heavy rain with some light wind.

I’ve lived thirteen years in the Philippines and four years in Japan. I’ve experienced more typhoons than I can possibly count. When I was new to Asia, I looked forward to them, even hoped they would be bad. But after you experience a direct hit by a super typhoon, you don’t ever want to go through that again. I’ve laid on the floor all night, afraid the roof might blow off — and have heard the wind make a sound that does not seem to come from this world.

I do not want this storm to be bad.

8 p.m.

I’m going to bed. I slept very little on the flight from Vancouver last night and I’m exhausted. Who knows what’s going to happen tonight, if anything. I should sleep while I can.

The saddest typhoon for me was eight years ago, in the month of May. The day leading up to it was as beautiful as days ever come. Sunshine, birds nesting in the trees, butterflies seemingly everywhere. It was impossible to believe that a killer storm was on its way. A family of bats lived in my backyard and that evening I watched them fly off at dusk, as they normally did. But they never came home again. The typhoon hit at midnight, blasting the island. Trees fell all night and when the sun rose the next morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like a bomb had exploded in our yard. Birds’ nests lay on the ground, their eggs ruined, the parents gone. What struck me the most was the utter silence. It was as though the world was in shock.

Wednesday July 16, 2014

1:17 a.m.

I wake up to a rising wind. A couple of big gusts rattle the roof. I realize that I was so annoyed about not getting home today that I paid no attention to choosing a hotel that would be safe in a typhoon.

Stay tuned for Part 2…


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