Monday, October 6, 2008

THE GUY FROM COMPOSTELA

BEN LAO, a good friend and fellow mountaineer, went home recently from a long stint managing a bangus hatchery and fishpond in Alaminos, Pangasinan last November 2007. We met at a Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS) regular meeting last December 2 and I reckoned I last saw him in September 2002 during the Mantalungon to Matutinao trek. He was still the affable Ben that I used to know of and I observed that he hasn’t changed much except, perhaps, his girth.J

On December 8 and 9, CeMS decided to hold its Christmas party camp at Sierra Tree Farm in Gaas, Balamban, Cebu under the invitation of our gracious hosts, the couple Ramon and Ann Vidal of TWO outdoor sandals fame. In conjunction with that event Ben and me decided to meet again as he offered to pick me up with his FUSO light truck in our residence in M.J. Cuenco Avenue, Cebu City. I was then with my youngest son, Cherokee, who showed eagerness to climb mountains with me. What I liked about Ben is that he is very accommodating and would go out of his way to help or please someone or everyone else.

With his goodwill, he brought with him a videoke machine, a small TV, a DVD player, an amplifier and a pair of big MB Quatro baffle speakers and placed them at the back of the truck. We passed by Dennis Legaspi at his house in Mabolo and then ferried more of us from the Ayala Mall parking lot to Gaas. Years of inactivity, saw both us huff and puff as we climbed steadily to our camping site while Dennis, Cherokee and others sprinted away leaving us behind like a couple of squids who unluckily found themselves on dry ground.

He even offered Cherokee and me the use of his newly bought Coleman tent while he decided to brave instead the noted Gaas weather and slept outdoors after the merrymaking and the singing. After our program ended, Ben again volunteered to chauffeur all of us back to our respective homes. Man, I couldn’t find a nice gentleman just yet as good as ol’ Ben when it came to being so helpful. The guy could even dish out a piece from U2 without breathing!

Then, later, I saw a lot of Ben. He took his chance to climb with the group last February 16 from Mantalungon, Dalaguete to Osmeña Peak and traversing down to Basak in Barili while I took a bus to rendezvous with them at Matutinao in Badian. During the night we all met at the beach resort in Matutinao just in time to attend a CeMS meeting unfolding there. Ben was with Daddy Frank Cabigon, Nonoy Edillor and Boy Toledo and they were in another table “stacking hollow blocks”, er, playing mah-jong. J They enjoyed the moment and I was lucky I was able to catch up three full bottles of Red Horse Beer. Later, Ben, Boy T and me took possession of the only three bamboo divans at the resort and slept on it.

In the middle of the night I thought I heard a loud sound, or was it the sound of a running chainsaw? I thought then that I was dreaming but when I awoke, I learned I was not. Ben was causing the turmoil on the place through his SNORES and I noticed Boy T’s place vacant and saw him asleep sitting inside a multicab and, a little while, inside a vacant cottage, then back to the cot, the multicab and the cottage again.

It was obvious that everyone was evading Ben during their sleep like a plague and it was obvious also that I possess a pair of plugged ears to withstand an imitation of the sound of an engine room nearby. I am a good friend of Ben’s and I appreciate all his gestures of kindness. Don’t you know that mosquitoes are, sometimes, irritated by loud noises and Ben emitting high-decibel snores are good enough to protect me from them. Oh, such kindness is hard to come by these days. JJJ

The next weekend on February 23, I went to Estaca, Compostela to answer an invitation by Ben to spend the weekend at their family’s beach house. Many CeMS people went there too. Daddy Frank Cabigon, Jon Consunji, Boy T, Doc Abe Manlawe, Paeng Tura (+), Nonoy, Grace Ventic, Glenn Lao, Glenn Domingo, Boy Olmedo, Julienne Rosales, Jecris Dayondon, Andrew Flores and Joy Tongco were there.

I arrived at 8 PM when the PUJ I rode in evaded a police checkpoint on the highway and took a circuitous route entering Tayud, passing by a seaside route in Catarman and exiting just ahead of the Liloan public market just in time to watch Jon, Paeng, Ben and Doc singing mic-less to an America hit on DVD. On an adjacent large cottage nearby, Joy, Nonoy, Boy T and Daddy Frank were concentrating on their hollow-block filing project. The soothing sounds of the four singers goaded me to sleep early on a cot in a corner of Ben’s cottage and they were singing a song from the Eversely Brothers.

Just what had happened in Matutinao, Ben performed another virtuoso performance with nary an audience, except me, who was the only one born stone deaf at that time and able to withstand a boiler room a few feet away.

In the morning we boiled water, cooked rice and prepared breakfast using firewood or by just pouring charcoal inside a round hole topped off by a steel screen where we placed pewter, a pot or a pan.

Then on March 8, Ben volunteered to ferry climbers from CeMS and USC-M and other mountaineer friends with his FUSO Elf for Mount Manunggal during our signage project. We at CeMS, through the sponsorship of AYALA MALL and in cooperation with the Municipality of Balamban, DENR and Barangay Magsaysay, decided to erect seven 2-feet by 4-feet steel signboards on seven strategic places at the camping area and vicinity of Manunggal to educate visitors how to stow their wastes properly and leave the area free of garbage. One signboard touched on the value of the Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Everyone participated actively knowing that we will be leaving behind a legacy for others to follow. Beside the glowing campfire coaxed to life by Doc Abe, Ben became a storyteller and all ears were tuned in to his topics about some unforgettable experiences, the supernatural, his jokes and the spiritual side of life.

Later, I went to Compostela again on March 15, together with Cherokee, when Ben and Boy T passed by where I lived. Ben drove Boy T’s KIA Pride and it was 7:00 PM. An hour later, we reached Ben’s place and Boy T’s family were there to welcome us. Sleeping time meant also the time Ben’s power plant would start its snoring session and I saw Cherokee finding trouble sleeping that night and I accommodated him beside the cot where I slept and he slept soundly. We left the place the following day in the morning, just in time to watch Manny Pacquiao beat Juan Manuel Marquez on TV.

Again, on Black Saturday, March 22, Ben and Boy T invited me to Compostela and Cherokee tagged along. We enjoyed the sun, the sea and the solitude and silence brought on by the Lenten season by bathing in the sea at high tide at noon. Boy T’s family was also there and they enjoyed Ben’s stash of DVD movies from morning to sundown until the wee hours of the night. Under a full moon light, we slept inside Ben’s tent on the grassy portion of the beachfront.

On Easter Sunday, we repeated the simple joys as was yesterday, but this time, the tide was higher and we stayed longer in the water. At 4:00 PM, we all packed our things for home. Ben drove a van and ferried us all to our respective homes; first, to Boy T’s place at Lapulapu City, then, to mine at downtown Cebu City. We brought one plastic bag of chico fruits, which were abundant in Ben’s place in Compostela, and shared it with my grandsons, Jarod and Gabriel, and wife, Vilma.

The following week after that, I received a text message from Ben that he would leave Cebu again to take on a job as fishpond manager in Balayan, Batangas. He promised to be back by December, which I know, he will.

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