Friday, March 1, 2013
I ALIGHTED AT the wharf in Larena, Siquijor in the afternoon of May 1, 1984. Inside my head, the Queen's hit “Radio Gaga” kept ringing in my head thanks to my sister's Walkman. I walked a little distance and I saw my neighbor, Allan Salazar, naked to the waist waving at me. He looked like someone who had been born here.
Like me, he is visiting Larena, through the invitation of the Lozano family, to celebrate their town fiesta on May 3. Glad to be away from the packed small outriggered boat that groaned as each wave splashed its deck where, part of me drenched in salt water. Allan is all smiles as he approach me and led me to Maxim Lozano's house.
It's my first time on this island province noted for its tales of witchcraft and black magic. I do not believe in such myth but, anyways, I am quite prepared for any eventualities. Just in case. My grandmother made sure that I bring a crucifix for protection and I laughed at her. Without her watching, I surreptitiously stashed a small silver crux into my wallet.
My head is swinging as Maxim, his mother and his father, Livio, welcomed me. It is 4:00 PM and I was served native delicacies and quite enjoyed the rest of the afternoon as my hunger faded away, my appetite raised up the more with funny tales from Livio. Livio's jokes centered on the colorful folks back in our neighborhood.
It is small-town hospitality at its best. Maxim's older brother and my fraternity brother, Mic, arrived and entertained me. Mic took me on a tour to his cousins Dodong, Jojo, Freddie and Ahmed. They are all big guys and all pack a Colt. 45 (except Ahmed) for they are all Constabulary. They were quite glad to see me come and I ate dinner there.
This brood used to live in the Cebu City neighborhood were I, Maxim, Mic and Allan lived but they have transferred to A. Lopez Street in Labangon some five years ago. Just the same, they are company. I would cast my lot with them anytime in a basketball game and they are all over Larena like folk heroes.
Meanwhile, I slept my first night in the ancestral house of Mic and Maxim. I expected my first encounter with an imaginary night creature but nothing came. Or maybe I'm just too drunk to care. Whatever the outcome, I think any unannounced visitations would have resulted to a very grave result to the visitor. My aura of protection might have taken cared of that. I think so?
In the morning of the second day, everybody were very busy except me and Allan. This is the eve of the fiesta of Larena and the islanders prepare grand grand meals, breakfast through breakfast, just like anywhere in the Philippines. Everybody is welcome to come and go to any house to partake of a meal, humble or grand it may be.
Night came and it is the most important affair of Larena. A beauty pageant was held and a dance concert by the home-grown Etcheverri Band ensued after that. Everyone danced and gyrated to the cool danceable rhythms dished out by the group even with the very funny and own-composed “Ang Budbod sa Tanjay”.
After a bout of early morning hang-over, I finally compelled myself to rise from the bed at almost twelve noon on May 3. The town plaza is crowded with visitors, vendors and townsfolk crisscrossing each other to their own destinations and notions. I ate my second day with full stomach and remained idle after that. The following day is just the same.
On May 5, I tasted island life to the max in Larena. On a white-sand beach, me, Allan and the whole Lozano clan and their visitors dipped hides into the very clear sea waters. Fermented coconut sap, locally known as “tuba” and its other variety, “bahalina”, were served as an intoxicating drink. It is a good alternative from three whole nights of beer!
Everybody waded into the water and, from far-away, somebody stepped into a sea urchin. Everyone, I mean the folks from Larena, came to the rescue and hunted every sea urchin lurking beneath the sea and eat its raw meat. I joined in and Mic and Ahmed showed me how to extract its raw contents from its shell with them lethal thorns and sucked it. It is good learning and somehow it added to my survival knowledge.
Then a fisherman came with a tree-climbing crab, which is known as “tatus” here. Everyone scampered to look for a big pot and one came with a big and empty cooking-oil tin can as an alternative cooking vessel. Ahmed placed the huge crab and a third of water were poured into the square can and secured the top with a piece of plywood and GI wires. A fire was started and we cooked the crustacean.
In a while, pandemonium broke inside the tin can as the water start to boil. The sides of the can exploded in outward dents and small holes as the poor creature inside struggled for its life until it died down. Thinking that the crab is already cooked, everybody waited with baited breath as the wires were unrolled by Ahmed and the plywood removed from the lid. To our dismay, the crab tiptoed in the inch-deep water uncooked, with only the tips of its six appendages showing the red color that indicate as the only part cooked.
Then and there, Ahmed slammed the cover back and added more water. More firewood were added and a big fire consumed the whole lot. The result is the envy of every glutton. The meat is thick, very juicy and of the purest white. The orange-colored fat is very enticing but I wouldn't part with it. (I learned later that it contained Omega-6, a good cholesterol). Overall, it is very very delicious! It is the first, and my only time, to eat a climbing land crab and I am craving for more, if God wills it.
During my time on the beach, Mic, being the most cerebral of the Lozano clan, averred to me that only the uplanders own most of the small fishing boats beached on the shore. I asked him why is that? He gave me a very heady answer: It's because the lowlanders opted to seek their fortune in other places like Cebu and abroad and sold or loaned their properties to their relatives living in the interior. That is a rather sad reality but advantageous to the poor residents.
I embarked on another boat on May 6 for Cebu. The small boat is packed with passengers, baggage and cargoes and everyone is there. Sometime later, an American married to a pretty lass from Siquijor tried to intimidate us by showing his Buck knife after we ogled at her pretty wife. Freddie answered back by casually showing the butt of a Smith and Wesson caliber .44 revolver causing the red-faced foreigner to fold his Buck to its hidden recesses.
We left the passengers' quarter and slept on the empty liferafts at the top deck. Wind chill caused a very cold situation and we used our socks as mittens to give us some semblance comfort so we could sleep comfortably. In the morning we reached Pier 3 and it is home territory again. The waterfront is my playground; as well as that of Allan’s, of Maxim’s and of Mic’s.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
First photo by Kang©francis b i ♣
Second photo by Kamilmaan
Third photo by Stefan Kontradowitz