By Ligaya Caban
The free spirit of the Filipino reflects in many forms. In the days of the Madjapahit and Shri-Visayan empires, he retraced the taro (yam) guided by the stars — paddling nowhere to discover somewhere. He is the gypsy of the seas, seafarer to the core.
In this millennium, there is Dr. Dante C. Bo, ship captain, be-degreed. His maritime career carried him to continents between oceans. Wanderlust egged him to drive in 15 days to 11 countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy.
The inspiring, grueling roll was between October 12-27, keeping dry in spite of the Octoberfest in the region. Yes, he was with his wife in the romance. Yes, he was a child sparkling at scenarios of peaks and snow. And a tourist bogged down with tolls and tickets, border guards and rules, new things to old habits.
Capt. Bo attended the annual Europe TSM officers conference held in Zadar, Croatia, October 10-11th, the only Filipino among 136 attendees.
Next day was free-time, often for sightseeing. Train is the usual mode complete with research and tour guides in each country. But there’s the hassle of waiting, transfers, walking distances and downtimes.
After evaluating things, Capt. Bo decided to drive throughout. One who can drive in Manila can drive anywhere. Just follow traffic laws (a challenge for Pinoys).
At first burst, the police was already on him for driving without a vignette sticker. It is a form of road pricing imposed on vehicles based on time rather than distance travelled as in tolls (usually imposed just on tunnels and bridges).
It is not to be confused with Schengen visa, a document issued to visitors of the Schengen area of 26 countries who agreed their citizens can have free movement as if it is one country.
Capt. Bo has the Schengen visa but not the vignette. A fine of E300, about PhP18,000!
His heart started racing, not only for the ticket but for the cost. He pleaded he is just an uninformed tourist, cajoling he loves Slovenia so much, beautiful Slovenia.
The officer relented with a 50% discount, still some PhP9,000 (which ticket Capt. Bo preserved and will laminate as a souvenir and a lesson he is still paying for on his credit card to date.).
The captain was waived penalty for using the fog light without the fog (maybe from a Pinoy habit of not discriminating when to dim or glare on the headlights). But he is conscious against using the horn (a Pinoy substitute for the break) as no one uses it there.
One should buy a vignette before entering each country. Borders are manned on little guard houses, so small Capt. Bo almost always misses the formalities on the next immigration officer just a few yards away. Embarrassing and nerve-wracking, to say the least.
But he is secured with his Schengen visa allowing a month stay and driving even without a driver’s license. He has seven other visas plus one for USA. Even the wife has an affidavit of support.
Hit and miss.
The two navigated with the GPS, often backing up on cross-roads. But they were never waylaid with the rosary, also a calming option whenever they see patrol cars.
He felt discriminated when the only one inspected at the border with 30 other cars. He was asked the standard where-are-you-going and how much money do you have. Capt. Bo was piqued given that he commands ships, on a vacation, not meant to skim on funds.
The longest stretch is France to Switzerland, darting through kilometers of tunnels. Roads are excellent, the speed hair-raising. In Venice 120kph zones, cars zoom 150-170, with flashy sports cars doing 200! He could almost hear curses with blinking lights signaling him to be aside due to his slow, careful drive.
Instead of carving roads by mountain sides, they dig tunnels like at Mont Blanc (White Mountain) highest in the Alps and the highest in Europe west of Russia’s Caucasus peaks rising 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level, ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.
The mountain stays in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley (Italy) and Savoie and Haute-Savoie (France) site of the first winter Olympics. The Mont Blanc tunnel is 11.6k (7-1/2m) built between 1957 to 1965 as a major trans-Alpine transport route.
The Switzerland to Italy tunnel bored through 23 mountains, fully lighted with blowers, with telephone and motor services. Vehicles use two tire types, one for summer for speed and another for winter for traction. Since his Fiesta car has summer tires, Capt. Bo must drive real slooow on icy roads or ice sleets.
On the way back to Croatia, they experienced a windstorm, bursting at 170kph enough to lift butts even when sitted. Again, the rosary comes to steady their nerves.
The whole drive was almost like the traditional Visita Iglesia (Church visits) during Lent as the couple were amazed on the architecture and histories of the churches of each country. But in spite of the ecclesiastical glow, only very few are really worshipping.
Instead, the churches are tourists spots for the so called Modernists. In the Netherlands, the church was even a venue for a non-religious event leaving empty beer bottles of the night party.
Every country in Europe has its own beauty, its own culture and faiths that unite — and in some differences, lead to war and armed incursions. There are castles of yore, as there are infras for growth and connectivity.
Amusingly, there are Pinoys every where jelling with whatever, with whoever. The couple even visited a friend with a 15 year-old child precocious on singing and the piano. Just as proud as the couple were, the welcome from each kabayan (fellow national) is as genuine as the hospitality in the Philippines.
That goodwill, that certain smile of the Filipino, Capt. and Mrs. Bo saw firsthand in their trans-national drive in Europe. It is not just a journey of selfies and views — theirs was epic in the sense of a new perspective of culture over pleasantries, of revisiting Filipino hospitality overseas.
At home now, the body aches are well-worth the unique adventure.