by Dylan Dellosa
SAN JOSE, OCCIDENTAL MINDORO—I should've been here at 7 in the morning. But of course, Cebu Pacific. So, it was almost lunchtime when I emerged from the San Jose Airport, disoriented and famished. I hailed a tricycle and asked to be taken to the town proper, itching to put my bag down and fill my tummy up. I didn't even have the energy to scout for a place to stay--I just went with the first option. Good thing it turned out to be the cheapest one, too. PHP 200 a night for a decent fan room with shared (read: possibly gross beyond imagination) toilet and bath.
Heading back out, I was greeted by the huge public market. "Food!" screamed every cell in my body. But no carinderia was to be found, and not just because it's a Sunday. Not cool, San Jose, not cool. Eventually I found one, curiously named Candida's. Yes, like *that* yeast. On any given day, they serve just three viands alongside an offering of unlimited [NFA] rice. Today, it was papaitan, igado, and ginataang langka. I settled for the igado, insisting on extra chilies. What followed was a rather forgettable PHP 40 lunch experience. Not that I had any expectations left.
The sun was hot out, forcing me to head back to the comfort of my fan room, where I reviewed my planned itinerary for the day. I was gonna catch a boat at the Caminawit Port, and explore the islands of Ambulong, Grace, Ilin, and Manadi. No such exploration happened. No one was going to any of the islands at the time. That meant that I'd have to charter a whole boat to myself if I so wanted to push through. That also meant shelling out at least PHP 1,500. And there's just no way I was gonna do that, no. So instead, I walked to the pebble shore, where mid-sized fishing boats were docked, and gazed at the afternoon sea.
A minute later, a kid sidled up to me:
"What are you doing here?"
"I'd wanted to go to all those islands. But I couldn't afford it."
"Do you have a wife?"
"What's your name?"
"Dave. What about kids?"
Some conversation starter. Next thing I know, his posse of 6 was already all up in my business, asking the very same questions I just evaded. All this interrogation happened on top of a capsized outrigger boat, its wooden hull creaking with every jolt and shimmy from the gang.
The next two hours were spent goofing around on the sand and in the water. We sure made quite a splash of it all, at the back of our minds the awareness of our fleeting time together. Or so I'd like to think. I've always had a soft spot for children and the elderly, those at opposing poles of youth and memory. And, damn, these kids didn't need to be told. They were at once maniacal and innocent and all things silly in between.
The sky started to turn orange, and we decided to call it a day. We waited awhile to get air-dried before walking out of the port area. The group slowly shrank in size and merriment as, one by one, the kids made their respective exits, until I was alone again, smiling like I'd won the lottery. Come to think of it, I may very well have.
by Dylan Dellosa
ROXAS CITY, ORIENTAL MINDORO—I was up at 3 AM. But that's more a function of the sketchy place I'd chosen to spend the night in than anything else. Twas in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, by the way. Still, I had every reason to expect I was ahead of my own itinerary. Much more so when I got to the Roxas Port in Oriental Mindoro at 8 AM, well before the supposed 11 AM boat trip to Odiongan. I was brimming with enthusiasm, but it was quickly replaced with confusion and despair. The 100-slot manifesto had already filled up by then, and I was to be Chance Passenger No. 5. Still, I had hope. Until the blasted boat left a little past 9 AM. And that was it for the day. "Bukas na lang ulit," announced the guard at the port entrance.
I took a deep breath and started down an unpaved path. Thus began my search for a place to crash for the day. I wanted the cheapest room, of course, but with access to the sea. I was not about to get marooned indefinitely. Half an hour later, I was settling in a PHP 400 fan room (with its own T&B) at Mitasha Beach. Juan, a dog whose fur was dyed pink by its owner one drunken night, greeted me cheerfully. He looked like Courage but moved like Jagger.
Iniw, the culprit behind Juan's hue, is Mitasha's resident caretaker, along with his sons Joseph and Jeff. All three have the kind demeanor of locals who'd take a stranger in like it was homecoming weekend. While others would ask for the payment upfront, Iniw asked if I'd already had breakfast. Not even a mention of money as he handed me the keys to my room. I suggested we just buy fish from the wet market, and Iniw happily obliged, tagging Joseph and I along. Needless to say, we enjoyed a hearty lunch in each other's company.
Back in my room, I took a nap to catch up on lost sleep from all the commute so early in the day. I woke up at 3 PM and promptly headed to the beach. The sand was dark gray and fine--think Nagsasa, only littered with pebbles of various patterns and sizes. The water, meanwhile, was a dark shade of blue and had ample waves to be sufficiently inviting. I waded in it for close to two hours, looking for interesting stones to take with me (I knooow). Not surprisingly, marble stones peppered the sand, owing to the proximity of the province of Romblon, the country's marble capital.
Having had my fill of the sea, I proceeded to give Mitasha's pool a try. Now, I typically stay away from swimming pools when a perfectly adequate sea is nearby, for the simple reason that it's just a crying shame. But this one's supposed to be of spring water steadily flowing from deep under. Try saying No to that. Didn't think so. Again, I had the pool to myself, and I was pleasantly surprised to find no trace of chlorine in the water. The fact that a bunch of teenagers were in it just some hours ago was something I was foolish enough to ignore.
It was nearly dusk when I went back to the sea to catch this:
Yep, it's something else, I know. I took all of it in and whispered a little prayer for life. Joseph beckoned me for dinner, so I quickly rinsed off. I also washed a few of my used clothes, as this trooper brought only three sets (no undies!) for the two-week trip.
I had dinner of leftover fish from lunch, which made me suspect that I'm not getting charged for boarding altogether. And I wasn't. Iniw, Iniw. Huddled in front of the TV, we engaged in banter that quickly turned to a drinking session.
Needless to say, I sondered my way through the whole thing, subtly probing into their lives--hopes, fears, and everything in between. At 11 PM, I excused myself, as I still had to get up really early the next morning (I couldn't afford to be stranded for another day, no). I chugged one final shot of old-school gin and bade the gang good night, then walked away grinning from all the stories I'd managed to gather. Naturally, Morpheus was quick to visit that night, however depriving me of any dream whatsoever. I still had plenty of nights ahead, he must've figured.
by Jerard Eusebio
CATANDUANES, Philippines--They call Catanduanes the Land of the Howling Winds because it is the first land mass in the region to meet the Pacific Ocean, its waves, winds, and typhoons. The province's name is a hispanised version of the beetle 'tanduan' that is commonly found there. The island is the Philippines’ 12th largest and once we were hovering over its capital Virac, from above, among the clouds, the weather seemed just what we hoped it would be. It was a good omen for the first leg of our Bicolandia journey.
by Dylan Dellosa
DONSOL, Sorsogon—I’d only ever heard of Donsol in the news, which often features the sleepy community in Sorsogon as home to the butanding (whale shark)—the largest non-mammalian sea creature on earth. This last bit, one must experience to truly grasp its meaning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
by Jerard Eusebio
Marinduque--Whoever said travelling during the Holy Week is a bust knows what he’s talking about.
On Holy Tuesday night, we boarded a bus that would take us to Lucena, where we were to hop on one of the Marinduque-bound ferries. Of course, at the Lucena Port, we were greeted by a thick crowd and long lines that went round in circles, all leading to the ticket booths. It was worse than we expected, in fact, we had to wait in line for about an hour and then again for the ferry’s arrival for a much longer time. We literally spent the rest of the night at the port, covering our faces with our trusty shawls until the crack of dawn. That’s what travelling during the Holy Week gets you. But if people were headed this way, there must be something worth seeing on the other side. (But then again, maybe they were all just heading home?)
Dubbed as The Heart of the Philippines, Marinduque rests on the geographical centre of the country. As if to rub it in, the island is shaped like a human heart, when seen from above. Of course, we couldn't see this when we were approaching it through the Balanacan Port in the town of Mogpog. A huge statue of the Virgin Mary greeted us, as well as the misty teal-ish waters of the port.
by Jerard Eusebio
PAOMBONG, Bulacan. I had missed the smell in the air that signaled our nearness to the water. Mahur had to point it out. As our tricycle blazed past different houses, I stuck my nose out and started sniffing. The smell escaped me completely. I don’t know if it was because I grew up near a lake, or if I was recovering from a passing cold I never quite acknowledged I had. But I trusted the humidity, what little of it my skin had started to discern.
There were four us—Chad, Jijin, Mahar, and I—jolting through a web of narrow streets. It was a late Saturday afternoon and we were headed to a place called Sta. Cruz. It’s a barangay, still part of Paombong in Bulacan, which is the province north of Quezon City. Mahar informed me that we needed to hire a boat to cross a body of water in order to reach it. I never thought Bulacan was near a body of water, much less that it had water snaking through its lands. (But then again, me + geography = a need to access Google Maps.) It sounded like an adventure, so that got me pumping. Of course, our main agenda wasn’t for leisure. The planning of the trip was conceived out of a need, out of a desire to take part in the padasal for Mahar and Jijin’s father, whose first death anniversary we were commemorating.
by Dylan Dellosa
After celebrating the turn of the year in Pagudpud, we headed off to the last stop in our Ilocandia getaway—the sleepy, mountainous town of Adams in Ilocos Norte.
A little past lunchtime at the Saud municipal beach, we hailed a tricycle that took us to the side of the road where Cagayan-bound buses pass. Joining an elderly woman with two bagfuls of merchandise, we stirred up the patience to endure a supposedly scant turn of buses for the time of the year. But no more than 15 minutes had passed when a near-empty bus came by, whereupon we promptly hopped onboard. The half-hour ride included traversing the famous Patapat Viaduct—AKA The French Riviera of the North—overlooking the Luzon Strait.
A light afternoon drizzle made the sight of strong waves lapping and breaking at the rocky shore even more dramatic and exhilarating. A couple of minutes later and the bus conductor called upon us to alight at the Adams jump-off point, where motorbikes awaited to transport people into the mountainous realm.
by Dylan Dellosa
BURGOS and BANGUI, Ilocos Norte. Following an overnight stay in Laoag, we set out for Pagupdpud to celebrate the turn of the year, but not without first checking out what the towns of Burgos and Bangui had to offer. We had bought a windmill fridge magnet as souvenir back in Paoay, and were dying to see the real thing. So we hopped on a Pagudpud-bound bus, paid the bus fare, and enjoyed the scenic view of the northern countryside during the hour-long ride.
It was a dreamy blur of green—rice fields, grasslands, mountains—dotted with the usual reds, the welcome browns, and the jarring purples of human activity. I remember asking a fellow passenger about what to expect in Burgos and in Bangui besides the famed windmills. The lady answered that she had only moved to Pagudpud almost a year ago, when she got married, and knew very little to help us out. I thought that was more than enough time to romance any unfamiliar place. But that was just me, I guessed. So I politely nodded, thanked her for her non-reply, and resumed my countryside rhapsody. Finally, the bus conductor called on us to alight at the junction to the Burgos Lighthouse.
Immediately we were approached by a tricycle driver, who offered to take us up (and back down) the hill where the lighthouse stood. For a PhP 100 fee, of course. We asked how long the path was, and learned that it was a good kilometer. But since it was barely noon and the breeze carried with it a nice chill—but mainly because we were cheapskates—we declined the offer and started to hike the paved trail that promised a beautiful view of the sea and the mountains at its end. It was a winding path with a gentle slope—no big deal. We were even greeted by this little fellow at the first turn:
by Dylan Dellosa
PAGUDPUD, Ilocos Norte. It was the last day of the year. Still reeling from a quick side trip to the towns of Burgos and Bangui, we boarded a bus that would take us to the one place we were positive we wanted to spend the turn of the year in—Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte. Possibly second only to Vigan in popularity when it comes to the north (Sorry, Laoag!), Pagudpud boasts of pristine white beaches and breathtaking sunsets, making it an ideal cool-down stop in a typically action-packed race through Ilocandia.
by Jerard Eusebio
I have a vivid recollection of myself eating a red orange empanada in front of the Paoay Church. It is a sunny afternoon and I’ve just sought shelter from the sun under a fire tree. I take another bite of my food and the flavours of vinegar and empanada explode in my mouth. A gentle breeze sweeps past me and my hair moves. My senses are taking all of these in.