The weekend that my cousins and I were supposed to fly down to Bacolod for the Holyweek, it was called off and we made an alternative trip to Mindoro. I had been to Puerto Galera before, but I had not explored the other side of the island. This was for me another journey with zero expectation, but with a hundred percent optimism.
If we’d pushed through with Bacolod, we probably had been busy participating in the Semana Santa with our Angustia. Born from a family of devout Catholics, Angustia (aka Pieta) was an heirloom passed on to us from the great great grands. Our aunts travel every year from as far as Davao and Manila to prepare the carroza and dress up the Angustia (a figure that depicts Mother Mary cradling the wounded Jesus Christ on her lap). This is especially meaningful to them because my grandfather painstakingly restored it from the state of serious decay, after years that it was noticeably missing from the Santo Entierro procession. I remember as a grade schooler, that Holy Week would coincide at a time when my mother would cut my hair really short, like a bob (being summer and all), and as we were the ones helping out on the carroza after the procession, folks would ask for their handkerchiefs to be wiped on the Angustia for blessing, calling out to me “Ari pa, toto” (here, boy!) –apparently mistaking me for a male. With a sour face, I would grudgingly take their handkerchiefs while I’d silently curse them for the slip-up, thus somehow taking away whatever potent powers they believe was caught into the handkerchiefs. My aunts have been saying it’s high time they pass the responsibility on to us, I mean our generation. Because of that, by default we are expected to be in Bacolod every year, and thereafter, to look after the Angus.
Nonetheless, Lisa and I, together with our families, found ourselves on the bus heading to Batangas port on the early Wednesday morning. It was a perfectly hot sunny day and the kids were running up and down the roro vessel while I was battling a bit of seasickness. My cousin Ed was kind enough to use his uhrm, authority, to exempt us from having to get into a long line of passengers to buy our tickets. We were privileged enough to almost be the first ones to sit on the air-conditioned lounge. Bad idea, however. Five minutes into the trip, after a small meal of beef strips and rice, Gabby was nauseous and was vomiting his guts out. I led him out of the lounge for some fresh air, but he fancied being outside more, so I had to endure the clammy, salty air for the rest of the trip.
When we got to Calapan port, my aunt was down at the ramp waving at us. It was nearing sunset, there was an aura of quiet and calm, and I suddenly had that instinct to sing “Ploningggg!”, as I remember the movie being predominantly set on some seashore, and everything was small and quaint and nostalgic. As an aside, I love small and quaint places---the more off-beaten, the more shy and self-effacing the people appear, the more I am attuned to it. I found it rather ill-bred therefore when someone once off-handedly declared that Saigon (Vietnam) was “one big toilet”. Wow, I would never say that of another country, unless my opinion had been borne out of a very bad encounter, or I was just plain bigoted. Even so, there must surely be something in a place that would more importantly reflect its history and culture, in its artifices and people, and not its urban planning, or lack thereof. To travel is to keep an open mind to new things and experiences, and to give due respect to the territory. Unless otherwise I went on a business or shopping trip, then I will be compelled to shut up about it and keep my ignorance to myself .
At 4pm we headed down to Anahaw. Personally it wasn’t much of a beach, but I didn’t expect much either. We didn't choose Galera because it was peak season, and all we were looking forward to was a breather and the company of family. My cousins and I treat each other like sisters, it’s a bond that I have to thank my aunts for instigating, as their brood of 15 is not a joke, though they have somehow managed to pull the clan together and kept the closeness firmly on ground level. The sand on the beach was as black as the night, there was nothing very appealing about the resort, but the kids couldn’t care less. They scampered off with their swim rings and buckets and shovels before we could even admonish them to stay close by. My shooting chance proved nil as the light was gone, but still I tried. I was wishing I had a wide-angle lens, but I wasn't about to rant and go mental about impossible things. I consoled myself with a few snapshot moments, and forgot trying to be a flickerite. Dinner was spent lounging at the pool side as we went on and on about our childhood, joking good-naturedly about the way we were back then, and the way we still are presently, while the children were just being gloriously happy in the water. It was all I hoped for in a way.
The next day, more cousins arrived. The women found an occasion to walk around town a bit before we did our marketing. There were no malls in Calapan, just one two-storey building where everyone does their grocery shopping. The folks prefer to get their stuff from the wet market and small shops for their dry goods, but otherwise, they seem live a simple, almost primordial existence here. But the traffic light was a revelation. One time, we reached an intersection where a modern-looking traffic post loudly went tick tick tick, almost like a bomb was counting down to explode. We crossed the street in a huff, but in our confusion thought it was a go light, and someone behind us shouted that it was a stop, but we walked on anyway. They were very mindful not to get caught or be penalized. Funny thing is, the streets were a mere one-third size of a city street in Manila, and in Manila people are foolhardy enough to cross the wide streets at any time they fancy, even if they risk colliding with a speeding vehicle. In Calapan, you sense the discipline, you’d hardly see a candy wrapper on a gutter, and people cross on pedestrial lanes, and not anywhere else they please. Hard pill to swallow, eh?
Well, anyway, it was all a swimming affair in Mindoro, as we spent Thursday in another resort, and Friday in a different beach. It was a great experience among our little kids and they hit it off admirably. So it was with us and our spouses. Oliver suffered a bit of a snag though, as he had a gout attack, but all that paled in comparison to the other things. The food was marvelous, fresh and splendidly cooked by my able cuz-in-law Jona. Our hosts were great, and it helped that we had service deluxe anywhere we went, and vip treatment at the port, courtesy of my aunt : )
I also learned how to play tongits, and took pleasure in my so-called beginner’s luck (hey I won around a hundred bucks!). I used to frown on card games, and I kept repeating this story to everyone, that I spent most of my teenage years with grandparents who never passed an afternoon without a session of mahjong or Panguingue, but I never learned to play them because I had a self-imposed aversion to it. Someone taught gin rummy though, and I really enjoyed it, but as long as it didn’t involve money, I never considered a game chancy like gambling. Now that I am adult though, I regret not learning to mahjong, especially on occasions where the skill becomes your meal ticket to inside conversations and witty repartees. So, I’ve resolved to learn mahjong this year and bug, even niggle, my cousins about it. Saturday afternoon, we were on the roro back to Batangas, and we heaved our tired but blissful souls back home.
I have not forgotten about Bacolod and our Angustia, eventually. The thought subdued me from all the noise in my surroundings during the bus trip home. Even if I wasn’t physically present, I mentally walked with my aunts in the procession, closed my eyes in unison to their prayers and reflections, and on a very personal level, acknowledged God in the center of what I had done in the past three wonderful days.