Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I LEFT THE OFFICE in Mandaue City at ten thirty in the evening of April 30, 2010. I will take an overnight trip far north to Daanbantayan and, from there, cross over to Malapascua Island early in the morning to retrieve a package and bring it back to the mainland.

I will not be alone. Eddie Alberca will be with me and he will drive the Toyota Revo over two small cities and nine towns, a distance of roughly 138 kilometers, more or less. The Revo's fuel tank is three-fourths full and the astern and flank windows are taped with the election posters of Tito Sotto – a senatorial candidate for the May 10 election which are a few days away and we are Vic and Joey. (Just joking).

By the time we got past Danao City, the North Hagnaya Road becomes a challenge for a sleep deprived driver. Although well-paved, the lighting leaves a lot to be desired especially at the stretch between Carmen and Catmon. The highway is built on the cliffside where the Camotes Sea is ever patient in waiting to catch a seaward fall.

The sky is cloudy, depriving us full moonshine and what few lights illuminating in the dark, becomes a blur, as Eddie stepped on the gas hard to reach our first destination before three in the morning then sleep three more hours before crossing to the island. That is the plan and, as each and every plan, it could stick or it could change.

After an hour, we are still in Catmon and nearing Sogod town but with much safer road conditions. By the time we reached the village of Damolog we switched to the highway that climbed over the Panugnawan Hills in Tabogon where the dreaded Eme Cliff is located although not as threatening as before because of aggressive road widening efforts by the DPWH.

The sudden late night shower presented another problem with Eddie as the now-wet downward turns made the road slippery. We are now in the middle of our destination and Eddie was very careful to the obstacles we traversed and negotiate but, by the time he is on a flat grade, he set hard the pedal and accelerated the Revo to 200-220 Kph!

We reached Bogo City at around twelve thirty midnight and made a brief stop to refuel and for some well-deserved midnight snacks to pep up ourselves against Lady Starlight. Then we hit the road again and the AUV screeched its wheels as it made a speedy right turn to the junction were Bogo, San Remigio and Medillin meet.

In Cebu, the only (and almost) straight roads that ran for several kilometers are found only in Tuburan and in Medellin. And Medellin is the longest of the two and we were now cruising at top speed here. We reached the Daanbantayan District Hospital at 2:15 AM and decided to end our journey for the night. I gave Eddie the whole Revo compartment while I looked somewhere flat to lay down.

I found one under the awning palm leaves of a young coconut tree where there is a work bench in which there are recent dry wood shavings accumulating underneath it. I spread the shavings evenly and placed my light sleeping bag over it. A folded vinyl tarp is ready beside me, just in case it rained. Meanwhile, a large bat screeched overhead and flew away, probably disturbed over my unwelcome company.

I woke to a beautiful dawn of May 1, 2010. I looked at my cellphone clock and it says 5:15 AM. Washed my face and body with a wet face towel near a water tap. Eddie did likewise and he complained something like mosquitoes throwing him off into fits of discomfort last night. I thought he used the Revo's aircon?

We left the hospital at six and proceeded to Maya Wharf – the gateway to Malapascua Island, to Kawayan in Biliran Province and to some small islets. Eddie and I had been here in June and then me with Patrick in October, both last year (2009). I always looked forward to eating in a hole-in-the-wall joint here that specializes cooking freshly-caught bounties of the sea. The old lady instantly recognized us and provided a table and seats and free servings of the bottom end of a cooked milled corn.

In the wok where two steaming big pots. Eddie grabbed open the first lid and he was all smiles. We just had a treat of a rare seashell, locally known as tipay  or Mother of Pearl oysters (Pinctada Maxima), sliced up in small cubes and cooked with a thick sauce concoction. Very juicy! In another is a soup from a fresh anduhaw fish. A little girl passes by to sell a large bowl of fresh shrimps and we paid it outright for our own exclusive consumption. The dear old lady even offered to cook the shrimps for us free. Wow! What a treat indeed!

After that sumptuous breakfast, the dear old lady, again, offered to sell and cook for us her cache of a large but fresh squid kept inside her ice cooler as our food for lunch if ever we would come back by noon. A big YES was our reply. And, as before, we paid for that without any hitches. I will have that squid by noon, I promised myself, but, first, I have to finish our work.

The boat that is to ferry us to the island is moored amid sea. In going there we have to ride a small boat that is steered by pushing a long pole to the sea bottom and it cost ten pesos a ride. Once on the boat, we sat on the lee side where we would be away from the waves. The boat captain charge fifty pesos per trip per passenger and there were many passengers and tourists – local and foreign – on board.

The waves were choppy but there were no large swells. Saw a sea gull dive and splash down into the water and coming up with a fishtail caught in its beak. Did the feat over and over again until my attention is caught by a large sentinel rock in between mainland Cebu and Malapascua hosting a lone beach house. Looks abandoned and, perhaps, left by the owner to deteriorate. The islet is bare of vegetation and I am absolutely sure that there is no water source except ferried from the mainland.

The boat slowed down as it got past an imaginary line marked by a floating buoy. The skipper steered the wheel left and right as it followed an invisible channel blocked here and there by anchored boats of the same design – with outriggers and painted white. As the engine is shut off the polemen started their work pushing and grunting. A water splashed and down goes the the anchor on the starboard side as the front pole man tried to push back hard to slow down the boat's approach to the pristine shoreline.

Just before the prow touched sand, I was now up and running on the beach. Old habits die hard, don't they? I couldn't believe I could still do this with a pair of arthritic knees and approaching middle age. It's just a fluke maybe with the soft pearly white sand cushioning the impact of my landing. Maybe? But, I don't care. I am in MALAPASCUA.

I walked the beautiful beach line carrying my camera with Eddie behind me. Rows of this same outriggered boats are secured along the beach with nylon ropes which I have to pass over or under it. Meanwhile corralled beach houses faced parallel with the shoreline as a five-meter easement is implemented by the island-village authorities giving access for everyone – poor fisher folks or rich resort owners – to the sea.

Due to the presence of these pricey resorts, food and water costs have risen as well. A tube of ice costs five pesos and a ganta of rice is sold at ninety pesos! This is too much for the tourists and visitors and how much more for the local folks. Nevertheless, this is much cheaper compared to, say, Boracay. The good thing about Malapascua is, it ain't crowded and sewage is almost absent in the water.

Malapascua has excellent dive spots. Thresher sharks abound here in sheer numbers. The deeps here is their haven. The first time I was here, I ate a freshly-caught juvenile thresher shark cooked in coconut-milk soup and it was excellently done. All fishes and seashells are cooked and eaten here fresh from the sea for electricity is a rare commodity here. Power is switched on only at six in the evening and shut off at 10 PM.

Shouldering the package on my right shoulder whose weight, I estimate, to be about 12 to 15 kilos, I went back to where I came from over unstable soft sand where my shoes were buried under the added weight. I climbed to a waiting boat and glad to set down my cargo on the deck and enjoy the fresh breeze cooling away my heated up body. The boat filled quickly with tourists and visitors and cargoes.

In a while, the pole guys started their work and the boat retreated away from the shore and took a reverse right turn then the skipper's mate pulled out a cord from below deck and the engine coughed to life. It is business time to cross the channel once again back to the mainland. Two other boats left the shore one after the other tagging behind us while another boat coming the opposite way passed by us.

As the boat slowly approached the unfinished quay of Maya, pushed and counter-pushed by all these polemen, I instantly remembered about the waiting squid whose chopped up meat is cooked in its black splendor. Impelled by this thought, I forgot, then and there, that I have arthritic knees and I also forgot that I am approaching middle age. I jumped from the prow into a huge boulder that served as a rampart for the quay even as the guy lines have not yet been secured to the missing bollards. This is no fluke, I assure you. This is an old habit that refused to die.

I walked briskly up the slope into the Toyota Revo parked right across the kitsch eatery where we did our breakfast hours ago. Eddie came after me gasping for breath and sweating profusely. I left the package secured inside the Revo while Eddie turned on the engine and cooled himself with the built-in aircon. I walked across and went inside and examined the pot where the squid is cooked. The dear old lady upon noticing our presence have re-heated the food in its – you're right – black splendor.

We left Maya Wharf an hour-and-a-half later after consuming a flat bottle of Generoso Brandy mixed with Cobra Energy Drink. I laughed at my reddish face in the mirror resulting from that mixed drink yet I am quite sober and the Revo spurted down the highway and, for the first time since last night, I could see the landscapes clearly. The camera came in handy and I picked my shots at great speed. The result speaks for itself that the camera is drunk!

At Catmon we looked for a gallon of a locally-fermented alcoholic drink made from the sap of coconut and found one after considerable search all over the town. This drink is called tuba and I am buying it to drink and celebrate a safe trip. But I cannot consume one gallon even with Eddie and Patrick helping me but I could age the rest and convert it to vinegar.

Finally, we arrived at Mandaue City at three thirty in the afternoon. I filled Patrick with lots of stories especially with the food trips we had in Maya Wharf and Patrick knows I am not talking about a yarn. He just promised me that he will look forward to another trip there which he did on June 11, 2010 and after that, it was his turn to bloat me up with his tales of the food trips.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

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