Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A CHRISTMAS WEEK IN MINDANAO

THE BOAT THAT I AM boarding is beginning to get full. I hate to travel in a passenger season. Mrs. PinoyApache insists that we should and there is no other time or other way. She would go to her place of childhood to celebrate fiesta in her village and then spend a week there and Christmas. Going with us is our son, Rocky, and grandsons Kurt and Jarod. Good thing, we are travelling light.

Today is December 19, 2015 and the TransAsia boat is scheduled to depart at 19:00 for the Port of Iligan. I looked for our cots but people are already occupying there and feeling comfortable. It is really confusing and chaotic. Some cots are assigned to two persons. Passengers are complaining. To placate us, we were assigned cots with different numbers by the lady purser and then another set of passengers came to claim theirs which we are now starting to feel at home. Shucks!


We were supposed to leave yesterday for the Port of Ozamiz but it was cancelled due to inclement weather and my wife had to arrange, in her typical street smart way, for us to be accommodated with this boat to Iligan. Typhoon Nono is wreaking havoc in Luzon while Tropical Storm Onyok is threatening Mindanao. Because of these two weather disturbances, people are being inconvenienced.

Two personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard assigned to MV TransAsia-8 begins to count passengers before the 19:00 ETD. The boat stalled for more than an hour and a neighboring boat bound for the Port of Cagayan de Oro left its berth. The Coast Guard does another recount. Waiting. It is already 22:30 and our boat had not budged from its berthing space.

Meanwhile, the lady purser is deluged with a crowd of complaining passengers. It was not really her fault though. Some crews reassigned cotless passengers to ones where there are legitimate occupants such as ours without her knowledge and she gets all the blame. I suspect, some crews are very enterprising in passenger seasons. The lady purser did a good job of checking her irritation and seeing to it that all passengers have cots to rest during the trip.

The Coast Guard does another run of counting people using a smartphone application. Ingenious! Later, chance passengers are forcefully sent off the boat. There may have been discrepancies between loading capacity, actual passengers and the travel manifest. In the old manual way of counting, these may have been easier with money talking but, with phone apps, it gets very complicated. The boat finally leave port at 23:30.

I wake up at 05:00 the following day – December 20 – with the boat rolling on the waves amid sea. The southern end of Cebu is still visible while up ahead clouds indicate a land mass. The boat canteen only sells instant noodles and water at a price! Good thing brunch was distributed else it would have been very stressful for us passengers. Once the boat entered Iligan Bay, the rough seas begins to mellow. It slid through Kiwalan Cove and docked at the Port of Iligan at 11:00 and we got off it fifteen minutes later.

We transferred to the terminal and choose an airconditioned bus bound for Pagadian City. It is a nightmare at the terminal as passengers jostled for space to get into the bus door. I forced my way in heaving my Habagat Viajero above my head where I settled at the farthest end of the bus. I see Jarod and my wife and, later, Rocky and Kurt. We stood on the aisle for a long time waiting for the bus to move – about 20 minutes – and when the bus travelled for the Port of Mukas – 130 minutes.

I get to see the rest of the coastal towns and communities of Lanao del Norte which I failed to do so during my stay in Kiwalan when I was a younger man in 1986-87. When the bus stopped at the junction to Mukas, we literally hit the ground running and filled quickly a parked tricycle bound for the port. Everybody were in a hurry and we have to imitate everyone, in “World War Z” fashion.

We settled at the uppermost deck of the “roll on-roll off” vessel as it slowly lurch across the Bay of Panguil at around 15:30 towards the Port of Ozamiz. It was just a 30-minute ride and the stress of travel is beginning to wear off on my entourage when we learned that relatives would pick us up once we are in Ozamiz City.

A red Toyota Avanza arrive with SPO1 Michelle Fosgate driving and her sister Ayen Abuton as companion. We stop for a meal first at the first Jollibee outlet we saw and proceed without much further ado for Barangay DC Mantos, in the town of Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur. It is already dark when we arrive at out hosts' (Michelle and Ayen) bungalow. A room is assigned to me and my wife while another room for the boys. It was a tiring trip and an early rest is most welcome.


The following day – December 21 – is the eve of the feast of the community of DC Mantos, which was known by its old name of Sicpao. First thing in the morning, Vilma and I visited their family cemetery which is just walking distance. There is a hint of a sunny warm morning, even this early. Some of my wife's relatives came to meet us and we all get updated of events during our absence. The last time I was here was in 2000. Vilma and the boys were here two years ago and their connection here are still current.

The younger ones gets on to ride motorcycles with their younger cousins while I just stayed with my wife and gets a waft of the carabao meat that is now being cooked at the back of the house where there is a dirty kitchen. I understand, there were four swamp buffaloes that were slaughtered at dawn and some of the meat were brought here. I went to check the back if there is anything I could do to help.

I have brought a Leatherman PST and a Victorinox Trailmaster and, maybe I could help. Both have sharp but small stainless-steel blades and I would like to test these blades against the tough meat of the carabao. Across me the helpers found their kitchen knives getting dulled time and again slicing the meat and they were using wrong honing stones, which were the coarse ones. Taught them a better material to sharpen their knives.

I am summoned by a cousin of my wife, Aga Dilao, and I am whisked astride a motorcycle for the direction of the main part of the village into his home. They had prepared carabao food also as their main fare and, oh, how I love carabao food! Another of her cousin, Dandan Apale, and her brother, Jay Mantos, join me. A 750 ml bottle of Tanduay Rum 5 Years is waiting at the side sans ice. This is interesting.

Later, another cousin, Brett Mantos, arrive and, seeing that the bottle is half-ignored, took matters into his hands. He would be the “gunner” and the bottle ran its course quickly than expected. It was served almost full to a glass! Then a small bottle of Chivas Regal gets the same treatment. I need to go back to Camansi immediately and Aga is gracious enough to drive me back.

I am tipsy and I am famished again. My wife provided me the main fare: carabao meat! I got my taste of carabao stew (Local name: bas-oy) and another carabao stew called “linat-ang kabaw”. The former has a bit of a bitter taste on its soup which I liked so much. I willed myself to eat as much as possible. It is not everyday I get to eat carabeef. I am not sleepy but I remembered carabao meat being sliced at the back and I return to help.

In the middle of my task of slicing the meat, both the Leatherman and the Victorinox got blunted and I have to sharpen it against the bottom of a ceramic cup and refined it with the bottom of an empty bottle until such time I have finished my lot. In this comparison, the Victorinox remained superb, by virtue of its longer blade length. It even accidentally cut into the tip of a fingernail which such depth that the other could not.

Finished my task and take a rest reading Staying Safe by Juval Aviv until my eyes get drowsy and I slept. Woke up early evening, in time for dinner. Carabeef. How lovely! There are carabeef soups of “bas-oy” and “linat-an” and then there is carabeef steak. Then carabeef adobo is added to the table.


December 22 – Fiesta Time. I opt to rest and forego breakfast but Mrs. PinoyApache is insistent and I have to rise and take a seat around the dining table. I am in her hometown and I have to tiptoe a lot most of the time. The lady cop, meanwhile – Michelle – who is our host, is going early to assume her duty in faraway Ramon Magsaysay town and that leaves only Ayen to set the house on order with all the kids and the teens.

With almost nothing to do, I decide to visit my brother-in-law – Verio Balat – and see what’s cooking? Some of the carabeef fare are found there and I decide to munch some to pair it with the strong rum. When I think I am a bit tipsy, I return to the bungalow and take a well-deserved rest. I really need this vacation. I have been working hard with my employer for a stressful eight years. After this, I will work for a few days and pass my courtesy resignation. I am done.

I read the book and take lunch and read again. In the waning daylight, I stole a motorcycle and decide to look for an Internet cafe which I found on the next town of Molave. There is so much to do like reading emails and scan my Facebook updates after an absence of five days. Left after two-and-a-half hours and arrived just in time for dinner. Slept early quite full.

The morning after – December 23 – me and wife decide to visit his ailing father. Suffered a stroke years ago and is taken cared of by his other sons. He was not feeling well but was glad that we are here. We go back and I return to my book, then eat lunch, and finish the book in mid-afternoon, which is what I intend to. Now, I could rest my eyes.

Waking up near dusk, my eyes egged for anything to read and my attention is cast on Michelle’s book, 7 Healthy Ways for Healthy Living. I read a few pages when dinner is called. After a few social calls, I return to the latest book and gain insights on how to live simply and healthy, which is very appropriate, considering that I am experiencing right now a good dose of luxuriant food high in fats.

The house is busy today. It should be for everybody since it is Christmas Eve. I go to the back of the house after breakfast to help in the slicing of vegetables with my Victorinox. Ah, another feast in the making. I bet carabeef will be replaced by another set of food. When I am done, my natural instinct lead me back to the book when lunch is called.

Two different dish of fish are the main fare with local pasta on the side. A bowl of carabeef steak – remnants of the last three days of meals – gets its piece of table space which I cannot ignore. The book is a magnet now and ever and I need to finish it before we leave back to Cebu, which would be a day or two after Christmas.


By mid-afternoon, I shift back to the dirty kitchen area to help roast chicken and to rest my eyes from seeing so many letters. Jarod gets his lessons roasting chicken when the urge of reading called my attention. The comforts of a cool bed in a late afternoon rushed me instead to dreamland.

Dinner came and a lot of relatives are coming over for the Christmas Eve supper. The house is full and I have to socialize. I believe, after this meal, we all would go to Tangub City. I do not have an idea yet but people are overly ecstatic at this chance. Two vehicles provided by Vilma’s cousin, Doc Tuesday, and everything is in order.

It is a cool night, as we cruise on an almost empty highway passing by Mahayag, Molave, Tambulig and Bonifacio. After a series of lighted arches, set apart each other by a kilometer and with different themes, we arrive at this small city off the southeastern part of Misamis Occidental. I have never been to Tangub in daylight but, here I am, in the midst of a brightly-lighted city square.

They have a Christmas-themed park stocked with famous landmarks of different countries in almost life-sized replicas bedecked with multi-colored LED lights, flowers and painted in pastel and gaudy. Pagodas stood side-by-side with castles and wonderland which awed child and adult and the not-so-rich and poor alike. Christmas is really for the children and the children once in us.

I wake up to a foggy morning. Christmas Day comes right on schedule here in DC Mantos. I used to enjoy foggy Christmas mornings when I was a child in my dear Cebu but it is all gone now and forgotten. Maybe climate change has got something to do with that. For the whole morning, I greet everybody a Merry Christmas and dole out P50 and P100 bills to child and teen. Me and Vilma visit her father and I press for her right of a property due her which was instantly approved.

The rest of the day crawled lazily as I sulk my eyes reading. By late afternoon, I stole again a motorcycle and proceed to that Internet cafe in Molave and greet people in Facebook. Although there is a festive mood in the air, most people insist in staying indoors while a few walked in groups carrying musical instruments. I go back after more than three hours suffering a seasickness syndrome caused by a slow Internet speed.

I finally finished the second book on December 26. I learned a lot from this book and I may have to apply what I read starting 2016. This book will guide my eating habits and my lifestyle next year since I will be a year older and I have no more regular means of income for I will be jobless. Before lunchtime, we surveyed the area where my wife’s property is located. My eyes are fixed on a lot which is quite advantageous to us.

The last day of our vacation came and some relatives will miss our presence, especially the cousins of our boys. I believed every day and night was a party for them since they were all absent all the time except when they need to take a bath, change clothes and ask for money. We left in the afternoon in the same Toyota Avanza, this time driven by my wife’s younger brother Arnold.


We arrive at the Port of Ozamiz and we carry extra cargo of a sack of rice, another smaller sack of sticky rice and a cartonful of banana to a Cebu-bound ship. All the boys are in and I think it was a wonderful Christmas vacation for all of us. We thank Ayen and Michelle for insisting that we visit them and to everyone down there who entertained us and accommodated us in any way they can. Thank you and God bless!



Document done in LibreOffice 4.4 Writer

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