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The Long Trip Back Home: An Akron Resident's Return from the Philippines During the Pandemic

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RUBEN LUEVANO
Passengers waiting to board the ferry that would transport them to Manilla. For travelers stranded in the Philippines, reaching Manilla meant the possibility of finding an international flight home.

Since the pandemic began, many of us have had to get used to restrictions regarding masks, social distancing, and working remotely. Luckily, most of us haven’t had to do so while being stranded 8,000 miles from home at the same time.That was the story for Ruben Luevano, an Akron resident who found himself stranded in the Philippines for four months.

Four Months Stranded
Into the fourth month of being stranded, it seemed like it just turned into a daily task of constantly monitoring local news, national news, and world news trying to figure out when things would start to open up. Basically, all my domestic flights from the island I was on to Manila were always being cancelled due to the heavy quarantining and shutdown within the islands and inter island travel seemed to be the leg that was broken for me.

I wound up joining some stranded traveler groups on Facebook, which actually helped tremendously because we would all share information. One of the ideas had been ferry service, which some of the stranded travelers had mentioned that they had done just to get to Manila, the main capital which would then open up a huge opportunity and increase my chances of getting home.

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Ruben Luevano
Ruben Luevano waiting to board the ferry that will take him to Manila.

Attempting Ferry Passage
I made it to the to ferry offices, and I'm inquiring about passage from Bacolod to Manila. And they informed me that yes, they they do have passage and there's a few fairies coming up within the next week or so, and I get excited. And I'm like, Oh yes, here's my chance. And then they asked me for all of the proper documents to be able to purchase a ticket. Of course, I only have about half the documents needed to be able to purchase passage on the ferry.

So very disappointed, I leave the office and I make my way back to the bus station and go back to the town of La Carlota, which is the closest town to the area I was staying in, which was Sebucal and I start the process of gathering all of the necessary documents once again that I need just to be able to purchase a ferry ticket to get to Manila.

I make sure that I have all the documents needed and I'm just really happy at this point because I'm done jumping through all the hoops I need. I make my way back to the To-Go Ferry. I purchased my ticket, which I believe was on the 12th of June. Now I just have to wait for the date to come up so I can get on that ferry and at least make it one step closer to getting home.

I'm excited, I'm also a little sad because I'm leaving the island that had been my home for the past four months. I have to say bye to my fiancé who had been kind of my lifeline throughout this entire ordeal. Her family, her friends, and her support structure helped me get through the past four months and now I'm going to be on my own, on this ferry, traveling to one of the largest cities in the world and the largest city in her country.

Entering Manila
So the ferry made it in the following day approximately 11:00 AM or so, and I make my way through the traffic, the hustle and bustle, all the noises of a large city. I wind up finding a dormitory style, inexpensive hotel in Makati, which is kind of central in Manila. And I basically am just kind of existing.

I occupy my time by walking throughout the neighborhood and kind of just exploring to not be completely bored, stuck inside my dormitory. And of course every morning and every evening I would call my fiancée via WhatsApp on my phone, and we would have video calls and voice calls and just to kind of inform each other what's going on.

And I'm just looking forward in the future, keeping my hopes up, being absolutely terrified to open my email just to find another cancellation. And I was basically stuck. There was no going back.

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Ruben Luevano
Ruben stayed in the Manila neighborhood of Makati as he awaited a flight back to the U.S. Downtown Manila is off in the distance.

That's Akron resident and Kent State University employee Ruben Luevano. This is the second of a three-part series on Ruben's experience with returning home from the Philippines.

This audio diary was produced by WKSU's Jon Nungesser.