The sky was dark, threatening to pour rain. The TV screen on the airport flashed the typhoon signal numbers hoisted over the different parts of the country. We were getting restless as we waited for our flight black to Manila. An airline crew has announced on the PA system that Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 654 would be delayed for a few minutes. A super typhoon was expected to directly hit Eastern Visayas in less than 24 hours.
My husband and I started talking about contingency plans. If our flight is cancelled, we, namely the two of us, our two teenagers, my sister-in-law and her husband would re-book our flight and go back to the hotel where we previously stayed overnight. We didn't really plan to stay in Tacloban, Leyte on November 6, 2013. Seven months earlier in April, I took advantage of a promo fare and booked a flight for our family to Tacloban. From there we would travel by land for three hours to Biliran Island. The island, located north of Tacloban, used to be part of Leyte but became independent in 1992.
Biliran is not yet a popular tourist destination unlike Palawan, Boracay, or Bohol. But we became interested in this fourth smallest province in the Philippines when we saw it featured on a travel TV show. We were enticed by the host's lovely description of the volcanic island and shots after shots of its waterfalls, islets, sand bars, rock formation, hot springs, and white beaches. It has many natural attractions and accommodations are budget-friendly. Biliran seemed a perfect choice for our next vacation. We envisioned the trip to be a time for bonding, relaxation, fun, and adventure.
But on November 4, on our way to the airport, it drizzled. I uttered a prayer. Lord, we waited months for this trip. Would you please stop the rain? The rain stopped but when we reached Tacloban airport, it began to rain again. We were grateful that the following morning, November 5, the sky has cleared and we were able to chase three waterfalls--Tinago, Casiawan, and Casabangan. We were also able to dip our feet in the Mainit Hot Springs which is rich in sulfur and other minerals. Along the way, we saw rice stalks heavy with golden grains in rice fields and terraces. And the air was fresh and cool. Biliran offers such refreshing rural sights!
However, that night we heard the news that super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) was gaining strength and expected to land in Leyte and Samar by Friday, November 8. Our family prayed for the storm to weaken and hoped that we can still enjoy another day tomorrow. We were planning an island hopping adventure to Higatangan and Dalutan the next day. Since we traveled all the way to Biliran, we wanted to make the most of our trip and see what other natural wonders the place has to offer. Before we slept, I suggested that instead of going to Dalutan Island, we just go to Agta Beach. At least, we could swim, walk along the beach, and take some pictures for our Facebook profile. But my more adventurous son and the husband of my sister-in-law tried to cheer us up. "Tomorrow will be a brighter day. The rain and wind will be gone by tomorrow," they said. "Let's go island hopping!"
The following morning, November 6, we were greeted by the sun when we woke up. Despite news of a coming storm, it seemed that this day wasn't going to be spoiled after all. But we were still cautious. The report said that it's gong to be a super typhoon and even the President warned the people to take all the necessary precaution. After discussion, we decided to spend only half the day in Dalutan Island and then leave Biliran for Tacloban in the afternoon. We would leave Biliran a day earlier and stay in Tacloban. Our return flight to Manila is on November 7. At least, if it rains harder, we would be in Tacloban already and closer to the airport, closer to home.
But finding an accommodation in Tacloban at that time became a challenge for us. Because of last minute change in plans, we didn't have a reservation in any of the hotels or inns. If I had known about Wego back then, maybe our search would have been easier. We hurriedly moved from one hotel to another apartelle, from one pension house to another lodge in search of an affordable place we can stay in for the night. Finally, we checked-in at a hotel along J. Luna St.
The rain began to pour intermittently on November 7. Anxious not to be caught in the storm, we went to the airport more than four hours before our flight. We waited along with the other passengers for our plane to arrive and when it finally did, we clapped and sighed in relief. It was the last Cebu Pacific plane out of Tacloban bound for Manila that day. The following morning, we were appalled when we saw how viciously Yolanda pounded on Tacloban. For weeks, I could not get over the thought of what could have happened to us if we were stranded there.
I will never forget our family trip to Biliran Island via Tacloban that first week of November 2013. It's a reminder for me that whether we're on the road, in the air, at sea, at home or at work, we may plan and hope that all will go smoothly. But sometimes things happen beyond our control. We have to rely on God's help and change plans. There will be delays and calamities, surprises and revelations. Timing is critical and trusting God's leading is essential. These will help us move on to our next destination.